Sam Polk’s piece in Sunday’s New York Times chronicles his journey from greedy derivatives trader to nonprofit founder. It brings the concept of “wealth addiction” into the mainstream.
Is “wealth addiction” really an illness? Left untreated, the accumulation of wealth generally doesn’t lead to ruined life, or death. But Polk claims that this malady tears apart the social fabric, and hurts us collectively. Polk writes: “Wealth addicts are responsible for the vast and toxic disparity between the rich and the poor and the annihilation of the middle class.”
I think it’s valuable to consider the psychology of the ultrarich. What drives their behavior? Maybe it’s important to call out extreme asset accumulation for what it is: pathological fear-based hoarding, a scarcity mindset in the midst of abundance.
But even more important is to examine the system that enables such behavior. How do the ultrarich accumulate so much wealth, and hang on to it? Corporatism enables such behavior, with four simple methods:
- a corporate charter that criminalizes putting any priority ahead of shareholder profit
- an upper income tax rate of less than 40% (the upper rate averaged around 75% between 1932 and 1981)
- corporate lobbyists influencing lawmakers to loosen regulation on Wall St.
- media corporations that glorify extreme wealth
We aren’t going to address extreme income inequality by rehabilitating Wall Street traders one-by-one (or by waiting for them to become moderately enlightened and drop out of the rat race). We’re going to fix radical income inequality with a return to historical, more sensible progressive taxation, intelligent reform of the corporate charter (California’s “Flexible Purpose” and “Benefit” corporate structures are a good start), restricting corporate access to lawmakers, and support for independent media.
Four causes, four solutions. Questions? Difference of opinion? Please comment below.