While most of the country baked under an unprecedented heat wave last week that shattered over 40,000 heat records, killed at least 46 people in the United States, and now threatens most of the US corn crop, the legendary right-wing columnist George Will appeared on ABC’s This Week (full video in link) to announce that in his “expert” opinion, the cause of this weather can be reduced to “one word: summer.”
Every time mother nature produces a somewhat freakish weather occurrence (be it the recent Mid-Atlantic derecho wind storm, the 2011 Texas drought, or Hurricane Katrina) the ever shrinking club of prominent climate change skeptics crawl out of the wood work to proclaim that this was not the work of global warming. While they are correct in a very narrow line of reasoning (no one weather event can be blamed on any one other event), there is no denying that current climate trends are disturbing. The 10 hottest years on record have all been since 1997, and June 2011-June 2012 ranks as the hottest 12 month period since accurate records were first kept. Continued warming will likely result in devastating flooding from sea level rises, and “Dust Bowl” like desertification of huge areas of farm land from “megadroughts.”
The deniers are out in force this time with the standard George Will “I grew up in central Illinois in a house without air conditioning” this is just summer line, the novel, “I will produce a graph that makes it look as if the weather” is not warming tactic, or, my personal favorite, the “Global Warming exists, but it is good” approach.
Conservative columnist George Will reaches over 50 million readers (Source). Reading his articles is not something I normally enjoy, but this week's column -- if the tongue-in-cheek tone I detected is really there -- was quite fun. And it may provide some hope for us communist liberals:
[The rich] are getting diminishing psychological returns on their spending now that luxury brands are becoming democratized. When there are 379 Louis Vuitton and 227 Gucci stores, who cares?
The rhetorical question at the end is what makes me believe the column is tongue-in-cheek. Although, I've never seen "Louis Vuitton" or "Gucci" at Waterloo Records, so I'm not certain what he's talking about. Moving on:
America's richest 1 percent of households own more than half the nation's stocks and control more wealth ($16 trillion) than the bottom 90 percent.
Wow. I know this is true, but it's still shocking to see those numbers.
That used to be guaranteed because supplies of many positional goods were inelastic - they were made by a small class of European craftsmen. But when they are mass-produced in developing nations, they cannot long remain such goods. When 40 percent of all Japanese - and, Fortune reports, 94.3 percent of Japanese women in their 20s - own a Louis Vuitton item, its positional value vanishes.
And here is the crucial point: what happens when the status symbols (re: positional values, in Will's terms) of the filthy-rich can be just as easily acquired by the mere super-rich? Before we extend invitations to the pity party, let's think this one through.
Adam Smith argues for the "invisible hand" theory of economics -- that an ideal economy is one controlled by a dictator whose only goal is to maximize trade. Competitive markets will maximize the economic pie --- whether or not anyone has a fair share of that pie is irrelevant, so long as the pie is as large as possible. What is happening now, though, is that -- for the filthy-rich consumers, at least -- their economic pie is maximized. All of their utilities have reached their ceilings, so until technology expands the supply line, they have no where to go with their money. What happens then? Will turns to our money-market hero, Adam Smith:
As Adam Smith wrote in The Wealth of Nations, for most rich people "the chief enjoyment of riches consists in the parade of riches, which in their eye is never so complete as when they appear to possess those decisive marks of opulence which nobody can possess but themselves."
Because the merely affluent are diminishing the ability of the very rich to derive pleasure from positional goods, philanthropy might become the final form of positional competition...When rising consumption of luxuries produces declining enjoyment of vast wealth, giving it away might be the best revenge.
So perhaps the final result of capitalism is, in fact, charity? A fun idea to kick around, in the least.
For all those super-rich reading this right now, I should let you know that the hot new philanthropic status symbol is to see who has donated more to the TexBlog PAC. Show us the money!