Affluence

By Georgie Bright Kunkel

No matter how many experiments there have been in maintaining a society in which everyone is equal, they have been short lived. My own grandfather took part in the first family cooperative colony in Port Angeles but soon some were more equal than others and it disbanded. Competitiveness won out. Those who were clever and industrious rose to the top while those less able to cope fell by the wayside.

In years past, millionaires flaunted their wealth by building mansions filled with imported furnishings and hired many servants to care for it all. If you have ever visited Hearst Castle you know what I am talking about. But as poverty stricken people rose up against those who were rich it was no longer acceptable to live in such luxury openly. Millionaires began to create foundations donating a certain amount to causes that would ingratiate them to the rank and file of the population. When previously the rich threw lavish parties where they could show off splendid ball gowns and tuxedos, they now officiate at fundraising events for charity.

When I decry society’s allowing the rich of the world to amass more and more of the wealth while others are in need of food and clothing I am told, “But the Bill Gates Foundation does so much good in the world.” People secretly envy the one who has managed to amass millions. They don’t question that such foundations are playing god with excess profits.

After more people in this country could afford automobiles and fine colleges, the rich separated themselves from the ordinary folks by buying into a space mission. Between 2001 and 2009 a rich person could buy passage on a Russian Space Agency flight costing between twenty and thirty-five million dollars. Starting in 2013 it is planned to offer this private passage once more. Remember when the rich would request that they be frozen after death so that when a cure for their disease was found they could be thawed out and treated? Pretty far out, right?

The problem with the greedy is that they begin to take too many chances and finally the house of cards collapses. In the case of this country, our government once more stepped in to bail out capitalism when it burst its seams, so to speak. Then we tighten our belts for a while and since we don’t seem to be able to force the one-percenters to pay their fair share, all we can do is complain about what we can complain about—the public schools. After all that is something the public controls. We even decided in the most recent election to give away our citizen controlled school funds to charter schools that do not answer to our own state department of education. The affluent among us won’t shed a tear when the public schools are diminished. They can escape them by sending their children to private schools.

In this country we don’t talk much about a class society. We don’t realize what the upper classes are doing. Instead we look down on the lower classes whom we believe haven’t made the right choices. We envy the affluent but since we in the middle class rarely mix with them it doesn’t bother us that they are creaming off more than their share. As so many philosophers have lulled us by saying, “Gratitude for what we have is a healthy state of mind.” I will write more about this phenomenon in another column. For now, I can’t focus on whether I am better or worse off than I was last year or the year before. I must live each day to the fullest without worrying about it all.

Georgie Bright Kunkel is a freelance writer who can be reached at gnkunkel@comcast.net or 206-935-8663.

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