Next to the window in my study, where I can’t but see it every day, there’s a framed cartoon from an old edition of the National Lampoon. It’s a spoof of a Medici rose window from the cathedral in Florence, and depicts a laughing camel leaping with ease through the eye of a needle. The superscription reads: “a recurring motif in works commissioned by the wealthier patrons of Renaissance religious art,” while the Latin inscription on the window itself is “Dives Vincet,”or “Wealth Wins!”
Here in the rural upper Midwest, it seems every other person has a pole barn. Usually it’s full of old tires, a trailer, dozens of tools gathering rust, coffee cans loaded with lug nuts and screws. Ed and Edna’s place is pretty typical. Edna's cupboards, bureaus, garage, attic and spare bedroom have been crammed full of things that define her. (“Oh, you know Edna Furbelow,” says her neighbor, “she collected Hummels.”) Now that Edna has died and her husband’s pole barn has finally gotten emptied, everything must go.
Ten years ago, even five years ago, the American market economy was the model for and the envy of the world. The marvelous flexibility of our economy, our belief that “change” is a good word, our constant striving for innovation were and are factors that make ours an economic system that can compete with—and beat—any other.
To worry publicly about the increasing disparities of wealth and income in this country is to invite the charge of fomenting “class warfare.” Nevertheless, consider: Top CEOs earn 1,000 times the pay of an average worker—a ratio that has increased exponentially in the past three decades.
Suppose you and I were on the dock at the Boston Tea Party in 1773. Suppose you, being well heeled and generous, gave me a dollar (in 2002 currency value) and, a second later, gave me another. Your means and generosity were lavish, so you and your agents kept giving me and my friends a dollar a second, night and day, 365 days a year.