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Money, Money, Money

Scripps-Howard News Service 9.25.02
Balint Vazsonyi

People are getting angrier and angrier when it comes to money. Senator John McCain is obsessed with getting it out of the election process. Callers to radio and TV programs complain bitterly about big money running the world. Academics write scathing diatribes denouncing the shameful way we allow money, instead of higher principles, to serve as our guide.

This last one is the most familiar to me. Growing up in Europe, the intellectuals who provided the overwhelming majority among my acquaintances held up their noses at anyone who spent his life pursuing a business. It was in that state of mind I arrived on these shores in 1959.

A long process of discovery followed. Eventually, in the 1980s, I started a TV production company and, in trying to raise capital, met the American business community. Unlike in Europe, they turned out to be of significantly more active and exciting intellect than the majority of our academics.

Without that experience, I might never have understood America. Europeans have written libraries full of their dreams about a classless society. To this day, it remains a dream. Americans discovered the only practical avenue - money. They created a society of free movement in every direction - up, down and sideways - with the result that everyone can make as much money as the person is capable of making. And money being the defining commodity, no one has a lasting advantage over anyone else.

Yes, there is "old money," and new money. If yours is new, you can - in the immortal words of Liberace - cry all the way to the bank.

If you find it shocking that money influences elections, why not propose an alternative? Let's elect the loudest. No, let's elect the prettiest. No, no. Let's elect the cleverest, the ones who have written the books on social justice, books which usually led to tyranny and mass murder.

Think for a moment. Not everyone can be loud. Not everyone can be pretty. Not everyone can be clever. But, in America, all have an even chance to make money.

So, the next time you ask why the rich should get certain positions, why not those who had failed at everything or never tried, remember: This is the only country where you have the freedom to try and fail as many times as you wish. In Europe, you fail - you are gone. Here? Be our guest. The only terminal failure in America is not trying at all.

These thoughts have been prompted by all the highfalutin rhetoric about the views of "the international community," our "allies" and - last but not least - all the "wonderful people" who took out a full-page ad in the New York Times last week to distance themselves from America. In these circles America's money-driven ways are regularly held up to ridicule and compared unfavorably with the respectability of the old cultures around the globe.

Right.

Pakistan has been "with us all the way." The amount of money they received up front was astronomical. The Russians "oppose our action in Iraq." Except, if we guarantee the 7 billion dollars Iraq owes them, all will be fine and dandy. France demands "a voice." Except, if they get access to Iraqi oil, the "voice" is no longer important.

"No blood for oil."

Sure. Why die for one's comfort so long as there are plenty of Americans who are willing?!

An amazing, little-respected property of money in America is its flexibility. Did you know that elsewhere prices only go up? Alone in our land do they move down as much as up. Amazing, but the rest of the world can't quite put it together.

They dislike us for having so much money. Except when they want it. I will never forget asking a diplomat in the 1970s how his cash-strapped country could afford paying a million dollars in dues into the coffers of the United Nations. "The arithmetic is easy," he said. "We pay a million in and end up getting 5 million of American money out, one way or another."

Yes, money is horrible. It's lowly. It's demeaning. We must get it out of public life. We must replace it with sensitivity, tolerance and social justice.

I propose that we replace foreign aid with recorded speeches by Noam Chomsky, welfare checks with photographs of Susan Sarandon, and amend the U.S. Constitution to guarantee John McCain's reelection without his having to raise a cent.