The necessary condition for civilization is food security. There can be no art, music, literature, science, technology, medicine, and even social media if every member of society spends his or her waking hours trying not to die of starvation. Food security implies that only a certain portion of people are engaged in food production, leaving others to invent the internet or to dream up schemes for world domination. Luckily, there is something that can make it happen. It’s called intensive (rather than subsistence) agriculture and it was invented about six thousand years ago, just around the time that the world was created according to the Jewish calendar.
Intensive agriculture, has a flaw however; it requires hierarchy. Some folks have to dig ditches and others have to tell them where to dig and make sure they don’t slack off. There is, alas, no telecommuting in agriculture. It also requires vast resources, vast wealth that is, to be concentrated in one place and be available for use at the command of single individual, or at most a small group of individuals. You simply needs lots of manpower, tools, food, latrines, everything, to build the kind of infrastructure that is needed to grow vast quantities of food, store it until the next harvest, and protect it from pests and vermin, of both the animal and the human kind. Collecting and deploying this kind of wealth requires a certain type of person: ruthless, smart, decisive, willing to take high personal risk. Most of us need not apply; we simply ain’t got it. Those who have the right stuff have been called various names throughout history: gods, kings, princes, chairmen, party leaders, billionaires.
You may be surprised to know, but from the perspective of this column there is no difference between Jeff Bezos and Chairman Mao. Both are men who grew to control vast concentrations of resources, meaning that they had the final say in how these resources would be deployed. Whether purchasing the Washington Post or investing in a nuclear arsenal, lots of money had to be spent and someone had to have the authority to spend it. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the congresswoman from New York has remarked recently that being a billionaire is immoral. If I had to guess, it has something to do with how “unfair” it is that some people have gazillions, and others, well, not so much. I am not sure, but I am willing to venture a guess that Ms. Ocasio–Cortez does not consider president Barack Obama immoral. And yet, for the eight years he was president he controlled resources vastly greater than any billionaire. Perhaps then AOC’s quarrel is not with the amount of resources controlled by a single individual, but with HOW that individual came to be in the position to dispose of such vast wealth or wealth equivalents.
AOC is not inventing anything new here. Soviet communist party leaders and their current Chinese counterparts have long justified their free use of airplanes, palaces, and every possible luxury, items that would indeed cost billions, by saying that all of that was not theirs, that unlike pig capitalist billionaires they were using it on a temporary basis, “borrowing” the wealth from its true owners, the people, while they were in office and when they left they would revert to their two-bedroom apartments on the wrong side of the tracks. Of course, if you believe that and you ever wonder why YOU are not a billionaire or a president, take a hard look in the mirror. Putting aside the fact that many of these dictators have no intention of ever giving up power, those who, like president Obama are obliged to do so, go back to multi-million dollar mansions, not two-bedroom walk-ups. There is no substantial difference between being a successful business person and a successful politician. Both need one fundamental skill: they must earn the ditch diggers’ trust. It doesn’t much matter if the trust is expressed via a vote in the ballot box or purchasing a share of company stock, these people need charisma, and ruthlessness, and an unlimited supply of megalomania. Finally, both politicians and business leaders promise their voters and investors the same exact thing: less ditch digging and more TV watching from their couches. What does it matter if the road to less ditch digging and bigger big-screen TV’s is paved with promises of increased stock valuations and dividend distributions or government handouts like free everything? In the end the promise is the same and so is the result. Promises may be kept, some free stuff may show up, the stock price could appreciate, but for every cent of a promise kept the guy or gal making the promise will make a solid buck for themselves.
There is nothing immoral in being a billionaire, certainly not any more so than politicians like Obama who enter politics with nothing and exit with hundreds of millions. What is immoral is trying to fool the people that either the billionaires or the politicians are on their side, that either one of them gives a damn about the ditch diggers as long as they keep digging and keep voting or buying stock for their cherished 401(k)’s. From all the bartenders with economics degrees, and there are many thousands, only Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez convinced enough people to trust her with their votes to be elected to Congress. That alone means that she is resourceful, decisive, brave. Her voters deserve to hear from her the truth rather than tired communist tropes. Sadly, that is not what they are going to get. Ms. Ocasio-Cortez is no different from an old-fashioned Texas oil baron; having struck oil, why would he move on before the well is dry? AOC has discovered that the abysmally ignorant generation of her peers is fertile grounds for class envy and old-fashioned Marxist manipulation. This is her oil well. It will make her very rich indeed and she is certainly going to pump it for all it’s worth.