Bob Bates —
Most thinking humans for a long time have known an effective societal problem-solving process: (1) identify needs, (2) identify ways these can be met, (3) apply analysis, prioritizing, and strategic planning to deliver solutions, (4) coordinate necessary labor, equipment, and distribution operations to address the problems, and (5) continue follow-up procedures to work out any bugs and improve each part of the overall system.
Hardly anyone could argue that, if there are problems to be dealt with, such an approach is not only feasible, but doable, especially given the brainpower, expertise, and available resources we can nowadays bring to the fore. In this “information age” comprehensive, sophisticated, and detailed computer programs can easily be designed to do initial run-throughs (virtual formats and revisions) to streamline the process. Such applied intelligence can not only be done over short periods of time, but pave the way for efficiency in various subsequent applications.
We, at different levels of society, are already doing much of this—but evidently on a limited basis. Surely such actions are not extensive enough or there would not continue to be such pervasive problems as poverty, hunger, malnutrition, insufficient housing and shelter, barriers to adequate healthcare, preventable illnesses, continuous unemployment and accelerating underemployment—just for starters of a long list of inadequacies in a society that likes to think of itself as the best our world has to offer!
This essay is not an anti-America rant. It is an openly challenging question as to how and why we, as Americans, can on an ongoing basis not seem to be overly bothered that our society and the people who run it are perpetuating if not exacerbating evident flaws and failures permeating America’s way of doing (or not doing) things.
Just for a moment, pause and genuinely ask yourself whether you believe that essentially no matter who you are, where you are, whatever racial, ethnic, or religious group you identify with, we all share the same (or very similar) basic needs and dreams.
It is a reality that from a worldwide perspective fully 40 percent of people subsist on $2-or-less a day! Over the past decade this disturbing statistic has been documented and reaffirmed by the United Nations and other independent study groups. Would you say that, in comparison, Americans have it good? Yet, just look at how, in general or specifics, we complain and moan about how tough and stressful and unfair life is for us as Americans. Are we that unaware and self-centered? Perhaps worse, are we purposefully ignorant of many injustices and sufferings that so many others live with every day?
What makes the current state of the United States and the world particularly disgraceful is that, whether we are willing to openly admit it or not, we know we can do better! And, given the prolific advancements in knowledge, communications, technologies and means of applying these, we indeed are able to create a just, compassionate world that can functionally meet almost every human need while maintaining dignity and sufficiency for all.
Let’s just take the last 30 years and recognize some of the changes that have become commonplace, yet are big-time contributors to the structural degeneration of our country.
- Widening gaps between the elite 1/10 of 1 percent, top few percent, “haves” and “have nots”
- Gross disproportionalities in uses of money, property, power and influence
- Frequent abuses and arrogant actions by the powerful, almost with free rein
- Exorbitant (if not obscene) salaries and benefits for CEOs and corporate upper management
- Steadily declining workers’ pay and benefits
- An exponential increase in food pantries, serving millions
- Political parties and influence groups/lobbyists controlling much of the national economy
- A massively crumbling, disintegrating national infrastructure, long in need of restoration
- Military expenditures consuming around half of our national budget
- Out of control increases of medical and pharmaceutical consumer costs
- Often unpenalized massive-scale abuses by Wall Street/stock market/hedge funds
- Domestic and global corporate welfare and tax loopholes
- Elected officials beholden to most of the above rather than the people they represent
Note that all these deal with money or access to/control of natural and structural resources, and what I will call “institutionalized rigged systems.” In the “big picture” should not we all be asking of elected officials and business leaders How Much Is Enough? And, up close and personal, how about asking of ourselves, families, friends, and communities how are we—through our lifestyles as consumers and participants in our American systems—perpetuating these problems?
Just from the perspective of the last 30 years, even a cursory look at the above problem list shows how average citizens (“us people”) have gradually passively consented to and accepted such cumulative changes. Our basis as a society of representative democracy, majority rule, opportunity for all, and protection of the less fortunate is in great distress. It seems our ways of thinking and approaches to problems have largely failed us to this point. Is it fair to say that to a great and increasing extent our government, civic, and business leaders favor those with money and power at the expense of the general populace?
When I was a kid (60 years ago) we used to play “If I were King for a day.” Each of us would offer an action that we wished would come true. In our immaturity often these were unrealistic, but at least it got us thinking about what it would take to make the world a better place for all. In this context, here are some bold proposals. If you think they are naive or unrealistic, please assess your reasoning as to why. Keep in mind the extensive potential of the internet and other mass means of communicating ideas, all of which combined can reach a vast audience. If anything should “go viral” in a constructive and near-universal sense of being beneficial, it should be ideas and proposals to help shape a better world, don’t you think? Hopefully somewhere out there are some people who know how to “spread the word” to millions. As a starter suggestion, why not launch a “King/Queen for the day” movement, share it widely, and direct it toward those in positions to help make needed changes happen?
Following are some kernel concepts for consideration (in no particular order). Modifications of their validity and application are welcome. These ideas all involve issues of “How much is enough?”
As a starting point, let’s address those fortunate folks who undeniably have far more than enough for a comfortable, if not luxurious, standard of living. We all know who they are: billionaires, millionaires, celebrities, major athletes—really, anyone who’s pulling in near or more than, say, $200,000 a year. The wealth and recognition these folks get comes directly or indirectly from having “made it” through opportunities America has provided to them. Now is the time for them to give back into a system that gifted them with their opportunities.
Big business has gained more and more benefits from America’s structure; now is the time for them to contribute back into the system that gave them such opportunities to build wealth.
Taxation codes that allow, especially, corporations to evade paying their fair share (or, incredibly, pay nothing!) must stop; now is the time for Big Business to contribute to this country’s needs commensurate with their opportunities within a capitalistic system generous to their success.
Eliminate hedge fund operations; these are essentially “legalized guarantees” to open-ended profits. If they have a right to exist, but people whose needs for food, shelter, and a living wage are not being met, what does this say about our nation’s institutionalized values?
Mobilize a national workforce of able-bodied people (along the lines of those operating effectively during the Great Depression of the 1930s) to address infrastructure, environmental, and public needs. Perhaps some of these could be done by current military personnel, who are well trained and increasingly available for constructive endeavors.
Apply lottery systems to raise funds for national, regional, and even local programs and operations. But, cut back the big payoffs (let winners pick a program and have it named after them); everybody wins in such an arrangement.
Instead of the US stock market, securities, and investments systems employing so many people at six-figure salaries, establish a core arrangement run through comprehensive computer operations that can not only do the work of thousands at far less costs, but do it more efficiently. Why do we have the current institutionalized daily “money games” pitting “winners” versus “losers” when a more civilized arrangement could make everyone winners: companies, investors, brokers, citizenry and the country as a whole?
In tough times, the US has used arrangements of surcharges and user fees to raise needed monies. How many segments of our society could (and should?) be contributing to the general welfare of this country to help address a host of needs?
Many routine opportunities to raise needed monies exist. How about things like small fees attached to the purchase of tickets to sporting events, concerts, theaters? Or attached to the purchases of excessively large houses, low mpg vehicles, private planes, and so forth? Or an automatic small tax on expensively priced dinners at luxury restaurants, or on luxury spa visits, luxury vacations, etc.? Accumulatively such fees would be substantial, and those with the deep pockets who would be contributing would not be hurting.
These are just a few ideas. What modifications or additions do you have?
Keep in mind that the intention is not at all to impose any penalties on the wealthy, but to recognize that America’s elite, rich, and wealthy strata are surely capable of more than comfortably living on a little bit less, and that most of these folks are already well aware of this. One would hope that their hearts are big enough to be compassionate and contributory to genuine needs, circumstances mutually affecting us, and human concerns larger than their spheres of having more than enough!
We live in an age when unless we all start cooperating for the common good, a sad future lies in wait for us. An evident but so far unlearned lesson is that each and every life on planet Earth is worthy of recognition and dignity. In a society that has largely established one’s value according to money and material possessions at the expense of inherent human worthiness of a basic sufficiency in life, we must arrive at answers for How Much Is Enough and how are we going to proceed from here? The time is now. What do you think?
3 thoughts on “How Much Is Enough?”
Very nice piece, Bob. And a GREAT profile picture to boot.
Depressing article…..not really, but the statistics/observations about our culture are quite disturbing. I wonder about one point. How much is enough for the !%? I’m observing that “enough” is never enough, as the desire to make or take more and more is unquenchable, leading of course to “suffering” from a Buddhist perspective, but few CEO’s practice Buddhist principles, which they might scoff at. thanks for your article, really 🙂
Maybe the heart of this essay would be two particular paragraphs: the one alongside the graphic caricature of “sitting atop a heap of plenty,” and the closing paragraph. For generations of Americans our schools & general culture have repetitively ingrained information & an accompanying mindset that tend to condition us into variations of “We’re #1.” Many probably accept this without question & tend to react in partisan ways of “us versus them” when their cherished worldview is challenged. (This is, in itself, a topic for extensive sociopsychopoliticoreligio development, no?) Close to or just below the surface of our moral & ethical nature, we are aware of unjust inequities throughout our country, but it seems at least a couple things (make your own list) have seemingly overpowered our individual will to express & act on our outrages. One, our major institutions are failing & two, mass inculturation of trivialities consuming too much of our waking hours are eviscerating our character. Were it not for inspirational individuals, service groups & organizations, & grassroots efforts aimed at positive, compassionate, life-affirming goals it would be difficult to retain any practical degree of optimism to cling to in our journeys on the road ahead . . .