The New Yorker recently published an article about Elizabeth Warren, one of the many hopefuls for the esteemed position as Democratic nominee in the 2020 Presidential race. While this article is not intended to be an official endorsement of her candidacy, it is based upon a reaction that I had to what some believe is a controversial proposal of her campaign that seeks to reduce wealth inequality in this country. The article reflects upon her famous take down of John Stumpf, former C.E.O. of Wells Fargo, Warren said to Stumpf during the 2016 Senate Banking Committee hearings, “But what have you actually done to hold yourself accountable? Have you resigned as C.E.O. or chairman of Wells Fargo? . . . Have you returned one nickel of the millions of dollars that you were paid while this scam was going on?”
Of course, Warren wanted him to be held responsible for his actions in one of the biggest financial scandals in recent times, but more than that, she was calling out predatory corporate behavior and the nonchalance of the wealthy and their predatory actions taken in the name of making more money. Perhaps this is not a quality reserved for the wealthy, perhaps this is built into human nature somehow and that given the right set of circumstances, humans will take advantage of one another in order to better themselves. Where does this come from? I began to think. What does this remind me of? An image came to mind immediately after digesting the article. I began to think of my Mom and something she taught me a long, long time ago.
Let me illustrate what I mean with a little story. Two young children are playing at the park with one another. One of them, let’s call him Frankie, has a bag of M&M’s. The other child, Benny, has none. Benny looks over at Frankie longingly and asks, “Can I try some of your M&M’s?” Frankie pulls the bag in closer and turns a shoulder do Benny, “No!” Benny begins to cry. Frankie’s Mom is sitting on a nearby bench. Her ears are perked up by the sound of a child crying and looks up to see her Frankie standing near a crying Benny, worried that Frankie’s done something wrong. She immediately puts down her book and walks over to the two children.
“Frankie, what’s going on here? Why is Benny crying, did you do something?”
“No Mom, Benny wanted some of my M&M’s and I don’t want to give him any. They’re mine.”
“Now Frankie, that’s not very nice. You have enough to share. It’s good to share what you have with others. Now please give some of your M&M’s to Benny.”
“But MOM! They’re mine!” cries Frankie.
“We share what we have with others Frankie. Now please give some M&Ms to Benny.”
Frankie reluctantly hands the bag to Benny who timidly receives it, pouring some of the bounty into his hand. Mom walks away, and the two children go on playing gleefully. Mom thinks, “See that wasn’t that painful now was it?”
NYMag published an article in June of 2019 about the wealth disparity. The title alone is enough information to understand the gravity of the situation. “The One Percent Have Gotten $21 Trillion Richer Since 1989. The Bottom 50% Have Gotten Poorer.” We have serious inequalities when it comes to wealth and to valuing our fellow community members. Why is it so difficult for people to want to share the wealth with those who do not have it? I believe the answers lies in the belief structure of the system. There’s an assumption that those who have the wealth somehow deserve it more than those who do not. They worked harder perhaps? Or they perform a function that is somehow more important than others? These assumptions are where a large part of the problem lies. They are in fact just assumptions, and they are nearly always untrue.
It does not take a research scientist to know that there are millions of people working tirelessly, often juggling multiple jobs just to pay the rent and put food on the table. There is no correlation between working hard and having a lot of money. Sometimes it’s actually the opposite. When it comes to being paid more for jobs that are more highly regarded, we need to reevaluate how we’re making these decisions. From an equitable perspective, it does make sense to adjust income for someone who had to undergo lengthy and expensive education in order to be qualified for a specific position such as a physician, but in reality, the highest paid individuals are more likely to be in the business sector with a measly bachelorette degree. We reward people who can sell things, who can make money, without regard for the consequences business has on our health or our environment. This is a seriously flawed system when we value a salesperson more than someone who is tending to our children and our elderly. Where’s Mom when you need her?
All of us our necessary. Without one spoke, the wheel will not turn properly, at least not forever. How do we make sure we all keep contributing to society in a sustainable and regenerative way? We share our wealth so that everyone can participate, have a home over their heads, eat nourishing foods, take care of their bodies and their minds, spend time with family and friends, be happy and safe. This will not be easy because despite those lessons from Mom when we were younger, we’ve all been brainwashed to believe this is the way. Yes, brainwashed. As soon as we all start to acknowledge that and look behind the curtain, a change will come. There’s enough for all of us. Let’s get to work!