Monopoly, Anyone?

My friend and blogging colleague The Erstwhile Conservative just wrote an interesting post on multi-billionaire Sheldon Adelson, a man who was listed by Forbes as the 8th richest person in the world this month with a net worth estimated at $40.8 billion dollars. I was prompted to look up his biography and found that when he was in his 30’s he had “ . . . built and lost a fortune twice” already. But, he had a flair for wielding money and that led to his current status as a “casino magnate”. The post was occasioned by GOP presidential hopefuls seeking his financial support at Adelson’s invitation.

credit:  politico.com

credit: politico.com

magnate n. A wealthy and influential person, esp. in business

Mr. Adelson is similar to another billionaire magnate, Donald Trump. Like Adelson, Trump has also gained and lost fortunes – he has been in bankruptcy at least three times. Both men have a disdain for the poor and speak often of socialism and deplore any government schemes for “redistribution of wealth”. This is not new rhetoric – the same was heard during the Gilded Age of the late 19th century. They like to push the notion of charity, noting that conservatives give more than liberals. Of course they do. Wealthy liberals are rare.

How did these guys get to be so rich? As the EC mentions, Adelson “earns” about $32 million each and every day from his Las Vegas operations, but that verb is marvelously flexible and hardly means the same thing for them as it does for, say, the guy who fixes your leaky roof. I think they do have a flair for the work ethic, or at least did, but I also think they have a flair for risk-taking and have benefitted from bankruptcy laws that favor such risk.

It’s kind of like the board game of Monopoly. If you’ve ever played that you know that whoever first gets ownership of the bulk of hotels and houses then becomes unbeatable. And, like in Monopoly, the laws give you a good chance of starting over. Heck, if you get big enough you can get consideration as “too big to fail”.

A Different World credit:  www.nytimes.com

A Different World
credit: http://www.nytimes.com

What’s depressing about these guys to me is that they use their wealth to deprecate those who are down on their luck, implying there must be something fundamentally wrong with you if you haven’t succeeded financially. This is a pervasive theme among conservatives and it’s a convenient dodge. Even George Will, a man whose intellect I used to respect, endorsed in his column recently the opinion that “a large part of the jobs problem for American men today is that of not wanting one”.  Try telling that to the long-term unemployed.  There is plenty of evidence that because of the great recession brought on by the profligate spending after 9/11, they are permanently stigmatized.

They say the first million is the hardest. What does one do after the first billion? Not to mention 40 billion. Messrs. Trump and Adelson have apparently decided to take up politics as a hobby. This is redolent of the lyrics in Fiddler on the roof:

If I were a rich man,
Yubby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dum.
All day long I’d biddy biddy bum.
If I were a wealthy man.
I wouldn’t have to work hard.
Yubby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dum.
If I were a biddy biddy rich,
Idle-diddle-daidle-daidle man.

The most important men in town would come to fawn on me!
They would ask me to advise them,
Like a Solomon the Wise.
“If you please, Reb Tevye…”
“Pardon me, Reb Tevye…”
Posing problems that would cross a rabbi’s eyes!

And it won’t make one bit of difference if I answer right or wrong.
When you’re rich, they think you really know!

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About Jim Wheeler

U. S. Naval Academy, BS, Engineering, 1959; Naval line officer and submariner, 1959 -1981, Commander, USN; The George Washington U., MSA, Management Eng.; Aerospace Engineer, 1981-1999; Resident Gadfly, 1999 - present. Political affiliation: Independent, tending progressive as the GOP recedes from its Eisenhower roots.
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7 Responses to Monopoly, Anyone?

  1. Jim in IA says:

    The wealth of the richest is beyond comprehension. You get into numbers I would call astronomical. The top-heaviness of wealth of the richest few is obscene.

    I recently listed to parts 1 and 2 of this Bill Moyers interview.

    http://billmoyers.com/episode/ian-haney-lopez-on-the-dog-whistle-politics-of-race/

    They discussed the efforts to tear down the social safety nets for the poor with the use of certain terms heard by their opponents called dog whistles. It is resulting in the biggest wealth disparity in a hundred years.

    Excellent interviews. I hope readers will watch.

  2. Jeff Little says:

    One wonders if they are suffering from some of the same conceits that the rich of France in the late 1700′s suffered. Does Kevin Leary saying that income inequality is a glorious thing because it motivates really sound that different from Marie Antoinette saying “The peasants have no bread? Why, let them eat cake!”

    History will have a special place for today’s billionaires, but exactly what place that will be depends on whether they are stopped from meddling in politics before or after Great Depression II starts. (Of course if before, then that will prevent Great Depression II).

  3. PiedType says:

    I don’t expect the obscenely wealthy to give up all or even most of their wealth. But there’s a point at which you have achieved and/or bought everything you could possibly want or need for several lifetimes and still have a massive amount of money left over. At that point, a lot of people would consider doing something with it to better the society from which they and all those billions came.

    I don’t believe in wealth redistribution in principle, because someone else’s money is not yours to redistribute. And I’m not sure what one’s “fair” share in taxes ought to be. But I don’t think billionaires and their ilk need or should be allowed to hide income to avoid paying taxes, when they are already so wealthy they can’t possibly spend everything they have.

    I don’t know how Bill Gates’ wealth ranks compared to these men, but he’s my idea of how an extremely wealthy person should behave. He has all the money he could ever need and he’s using much of the rest of it to help others. He’s using it to help improve the world.

    • Jim Wheeler says:

      @ PiedType, Jeff Little and Jim in IA,

      PT’s suggestion of Bill Gates as an exemplar of giving by the wealthy inspired me to some research. I note that Bill is still the wealthiest person in America and he has been so-ranked for 15 out of the last 20 years. He’s worth $72 billion and I conclude from that that his percentage contribution is likely less than that of many middle-class people. Now that’s not to denigrate the good he and his wife have done with their foundation. They’ve put a lot of effort into figuring out how to leverage the donations efficiently, as in the efforts to vaccinate the world and to eliminate malaria. Clearly, you can’t just throw money at problems and so I must agree that he’s probably top of the list. Warren Buffet and his son are good too. But, does Bill give until it hurts? You tell me.

      I found a cogent article on the rich and their giving which I’d like to share with everyone. It was in The Atlantic last year. Here are some excerpts:

      One of the most surprising, and perhaps confounding, facts of charity in America is that the people who can least afford to give are the ones who donate the greatest percentage of their income. In 2011, the wealthiest Americans—those with earnings in the top 20 percent—contributed on average 1.3 percent of their income to charity. By comparison, Americans at the base of the income pyramid—those in the bottom 20 percent—donated 3.2 percent of their income. The relative generosity of lower-income Americans is accentuated by the fact that, unlike middle-class and wealthy donors, most of them cannot take advantage of the charitable tax deduction, because they do not itemize deductions on their income-tax returns.

      Wealth affects not only how much money is given but to whom it is given. The poor tend to give to religious organizations and social-service charities, while the wealthy prefer to support colleges and universities, arts organizations, and museums. Of the 50 largest individual gifts to public charities in 2012, 34 went to educational institutions, the vast majority of them colleges and universities, like Harvard, Columbia, and Berkeley, that cater to the nation’s and the world’s elite. Museums and arts organizations such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art received nine of these major gifts, with the remaining donations spread among medical facilities and fashionable charities like the Central Park Conservancy. Not a single one of them went to a social-service organization or to a charity that principally serves the poor and the dispossessed. More gifts in this group went to elite prep schools (one, to the Hackley School in Tarrytown, New York) than to any of our nation’s largest social-service organizations, including United Way, the Salvation Army, and Feeding America (which got, among them, zero).

      Underlying our charity system—and our tax code—is the premise that individuals will make better decisions regarding social investments than will our representative government. Other developed countries have a very different arrangement, with significantly higher individual tax rates and stronger social safety nets, and significantly lower charitable-contribution rates. We have always made a virtue of individual philanthropy, and Americans tend to see our large, independent charitable sector as crucial to our country’s public spirit. There is much to admire in our approach to charity, such as the social capital that is built by individual participation and volunteerism. But our charity system is also fundamentally regressive, and works in favor of the institutions of the elite. The pity is, most people still likely believe that, as Michael Bloomberg once said, “there’s a connection between being generous and being successful.” There is a connection, but probably not the one we have supposed.

      • PiedType says:

        I’m going to have to quibble with what seems to be The Atlantic’s idea that the rich should direct their philanthropy to the poor instead of to, say, universities, museums, conservancies, etc. We should appreciate what they do give and enjoy what they have funded, not criticize them for what they don’t give or for giving to what we think is the wrong beneficiary. It’s their money; it’s their choice.

        I’m certainly not going to criticize Gates or anyone else for not “giving till it hurts.” He gives plenty and does a lot of good. So does Buffet, as you pointed out. And many others. How much is enough is not my call. After all, they aren’t obliged to give any.

        • Jim Wheeler says:

          I don’t think the author of the Atlantic article is trying to get the rich to change their habits, he’s just saying that’s the pattern. But, you’re right that they aren’t obliged to give anything at all, which is the reason he and I think that taxation is a more sensible way to achieve a healthy and prosperous society. If that’s your goal, that is.

  4. Pingback: Monopoly, Anyone? | SOCIALISM: the Informant

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