The Comedy of Wealth?
OURS IS THE AGE OF BILLIONAIRES. From a mere dozen in the early 1980s to more than a thousand today, their numbers have surged along with their influence. The world’s most prosperous individuals earn incomes that exceed those of entire nations.1 For the rest of us, such riches are a dream. “That’s the state to live and die in! … R-r-rich!,” proclaims Mr. Boffin in Charles Dickens’s novel Our Mutual Friend. The philosopher Seneca, however, thought otherwise, declaring two thousand years ago: “A great fortune is a great slavery.” If he was right, who will free the billionaires?
“Leave No Billionaire Behind!” The placard caught my eye as I scanned the crowd assembled on Central Park’s Great Lawn. That Sunday morning in the park, women carrying parasols and clad in elegant gowns, tiaras, and satin gloves, and men in tuxedoes and top hats or Great Gatsby-like lawn-tennis whites, mingled against the backdrop of New York’s skyline and a blue summer sky. Some played croquet and badminton, while others sipped champagne from fluted glasses (Figures I.1, I.2, I.3). Famous photographers snapped their pictures, journalists interviewed them, tourists and locals ogled them.2 Were they celebrities? Consider their names: Ivan Aston Martin, Iona Bigga Yacht, Phil T. Rich, Alan Greenspend, Robin Eublind, Meg A. Bucks, Lucinda Regulations, Tex Shelter, and Noah Countability, among others. And their signs:
“Corporations Are People Too”
“Privatize the Park: Keep off the Grass”
“Widen the Income Gap”