We discussed it sitting on the floor of a Princeton married graduate housing apartment a few minutes walk from The Institute for Advanced Studies: “How much is enough? At what point is one ethically obliged to give any further income away?” It’s the question I hope congressional leaders will consider this weekend. Who can afford to contribute more to the common good? Who has enough wealth to ‘enhance’ federal revenue without suffering? In short, who should pay more taxes?
One of the gathered grads proclaimed, “once you have had nothing, there is no such thing as too much.” He grew up overseas in an agrarian community that had yet to enter modern age. Those of us from comfortable backgrounds could contemplate the subtleties of class and judge the extremities of ostentation performed by the nouveaux rich, he would not. I can respect his refusal and accept his observation. Nonetheless, selfishness born of need remains selfish.
My British husband was raised to despise those with tastes defined as “ott (over-the-top)” or “too too.” The gilt chairs and capacious comb-over, which capture Donald Trump’s aesthetic above, embody the ethos most loathed by the “country” politicians that stood up to courtly excess and demanded republican governance and economic moderation in the 18th century on BOTH sides of the Atlantic. Tragically, the nation that came into being with these principles reneged upon them during the Reagan administration and has yet to reclaim them.
Bollywood movies are filled with maniacal multi-millionaires hoarding wealth in pursuit of power. The films’ inherent critique of greed seems quaint compared to the endless justification of crass accumulation as ‘job-creation’ that fills American airwaves. India’s new generation of robber-barons have no precedent. When the Carnegies and Rockefellers ruled the US, India remained a jewel in Britain’s courtly crown. Novelty does not excuse the gross disparities between Mumbai’s skyscrapers and slums. However, history should hit US leaders over the head with the insanity of their stances. I hope Sunday’s small screen show of speaking across the aisle will prove me wrong. I fear I will have to put in a DVD to see sense.