It’s glorious to be rich
November 29, 2006
This being Aspen, this being the start of the Christmas season, what more appropriate subject could there be than … money!Not to be too cynical – heaven forbid! – but over the years, we’ve all watched as Aspen, the town, has changed into “Aspen, the Resort,” then “Aspen, the Product,” and now at last, “Aspen, the Real Estate Market.” And, at each step along the way, the price tags have ratcheted up.By now, even a naive chucklehead like me has to admit that money has become … well, not the Root of All Evil, just the Root of All.Not that that’s a bad thing, of course.Money is fun.Or, as those consummate capitalists, the Communist Chinese, now declare (I am not making this up) “To get Rich is Glorious.”Of course, one of the problems with money is that not everyone can be rich. I don’t mean that as a lament (It’s sad!) or as a protest (It’s wrong!). It’s just a simple fact, a law of economics. If everyone’s rich, then no one’s rich. What “rich” means is “having more than anyone else.” If everyone has $50, someone with $1,000 is “rich.” But if everyone has $1,000, then you’re back where you started.To put it in more relevant local terms, if everyone could live in Aspen, then Aspen wouldn’t be worth living in – and it wouldn’t be Aspen (not the town, the Resort, the Product or the Real Estate Market).To shift back to the wider view, the capitalist system (which, for better or worse, seems to be the only system that actually works) requires winners and losers.Let’s not get into esoteric debates about “formation of capital” or “structural unemployment.” Let’s just accept the fact that not everyone can be rich. And, as John F. Kennedy once said, “Life’s not fair.” In the end it all means that some people will be very rich and some people will be very poor.So?So here’s the deal: As rational beings, we may need to accept the fact that some will be rich and some will be poor. Fine. But as decent, ethical beings, we also need to accept the responsibility to soften the impact of that cruel equation on those who are the inevitable losers. We can’t make them rich, but that doesn’t mean we have to let them starve.And that brings us back to Aspen, which has become – along with all those other identities I just heaped upon it – “Aspen, Home of the Super-Rich.”Earlier this year, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett – two of the richest men in the world – made headlines by giving tens of billions of dollars to charity. They both pointed out that they had accumulated so much money that there wasn’t any point in leaving it all to their descendants.A rapacious Texas oil man once said, “Money’s just a way of keeping score.” A lot of rich folks are fond of that line. It’s a way of saying, “I’m not greedy. It’s not about money. I’m just playing the game of life … and I’m winning.”If that’s the case – and let’s be charitable and say it is – those same super-rich “winners” should be willing to follow the example of Gates and Buffett and give some huge honking slabs of cash to charity. (Remember, guys, you’re not in it for the money.)But they shouldn’t be the only ones.And now we really are back to Christmas in Aspen. This is a glorious, glittering time of the year. I know we’re not all rich – far from it – but most of us are pretty damn lucky … if only to live here.So I will cheerfully argue that we should all try to find a little bit extra that we can send along to help those who really need our help. And I will suggest that we should send a good chunk of that to help the people right here, in our valley, who need it.It’s a time to count our blessings – and share them. I know I’ll be writing checks to a couple of area food banks this week.How about you?Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His e-mail address is email@example.com.The Aspen Times, Aspen, Colo.
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