Money, Money, Money
Scripps-Howard News Service 9.25.02
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
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
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
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.