I have been reading Frances Hardinge’s magnificent Fly Trap (aka Twilight Robbery) to my household, and I was reminded of something I had written about her worldview, a few years ago. One of the themes I had identified in her work was this: Wealth is always obtained at the expense of the impoverished, and the more invisible the impoverished are the worse their conditions will be.
And it occurs to me that this is something that I believe, and that I don’t know that other people believe it. I mean—in some sense, the point of capitalism is that wealth is obtained by creating value. Creating a thing, a service, a technique that someone values… There was a recent sorta-semi-controversy when it turned out that Bernie Sanders is a millionaire. He wrote some books! People wanted to read those books! There was value transmitted from him to them, and he reaps his just reward therefrom. In what sense can I argue that his wealth was obtained at the expense of others?
And yet, it still seems to me that—nothing against the Senator!—wealth is obtained at the expense of the impoverished. If not directly, then through the systems and structures that tend to concentrate wealth and poverty. And, as I said above, it being indirect means that the conditions may be worse than those of the obviously and visibility exploited.
And yet, of course, I’m in favor of people writing and printing and distributing books. And I am in favor of people creating and distributing pizzas, and songs, and trousers, and medicine, and yarn, and pens with green ink and felt chisel tips. I was in a craft store the other day, and was (as I often am when I walk through such places) amazed that a business can make a profit selling specialty supplies for scrapbooking and wood carving and flower arranging and stenciling and making latch-hook rugs and hand-painted canvas shoes and beads and clay and cakes and a dozen other aisles I didn’t walk through. So much creativity! So much joy! Such an enormous market. It’s wonderful, and also awful—how much of those supplies were made with prison labor, and how much of that packaging will be in landfill mountains and drifts of oceanic plastics, and how much waste… y’all know this stuff already. Everything is complicated, nothing is easy or free.
But really, what I’m wondering is: do most people in this country think something along the lines of: Wealth is primary obtained and accumulated through the creation of value, and the creation of wealth alleviates and reduces poverty? Or more along the lines of the theme I attributed to Ms. Hardinge?
Does Gen-Z tend more toward the assumption that a wealthy person is prima facie guilty of breaking the world, while Gen-X tended more to the assumption that had improved it? Is it more regional than generational? More variation within groups than differences across them, of course, but still, as a matter of trends and aggregates and cultural assumptions, I wonder if wealth accumulation is viewed with suspicion more than it was.
Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,