I was writing this in response to something Will Shetterly
said in his blog - the response started to get long enough to feel like a blog entry in its own right. What Will said was this:
But I will quibble with one thing: The rich do the dividing by taking the lion's share for themselves. Perhaps my seeing the world in terms of wealth is as invalid as ktempest seeing it in terms of race, but I think having a billion dollars while people are homeless is more meaningful than the melanin in your skin or the shape of your nose.
But I still haven't a clue how you get the rich to share. It's kind of the antithesis of what you need to be rich.
See here's the thing: the rich aren't taking the lion's share for themselves. Well, some are, but for most, the lion's share just came to them. They aren't necessarily sharing, that much is true, but as often as not, they didn't try to take the lion's share for themselves - it just arrived at their doorstep.
Consider my case. You very generously exempt me from being one of the mean non-sharing rich folks, but here I am. When I was in India last year, the locals treated me like a rock star. The waiter who took care of us at the Shangri-la hotel hung around our table and didn't want to go away. There were people who we met, who took care of us, who earn less in a year than we spent there in a week. People hassled us on the streets because to them we looked like bags of money.
On the road to Dharamsala, at an intersection in north Delhi, there was a lady with a baby who came up and banged on the window and demanded that we give her money. And I didn't, because I was afraid that if I opened the window, we'd be mobbed and overrun - there were at least a hundred thousand people there at that intersection, and not one of them was someone who made as much money in a year as I had in my pocket.
So you can't say I'm not rich. You have to admit that I'm rich, even if by American standards I'm middle class.
So then how did I get this way, and why don't I share? I got this way by accident. By pure luck. I happen to have developed an interest in computers when I was a kid. And then I ran into someone who's made a name for himself in the business, and he asked me to do something, and what he asked me to do wound up being important, and so I got famous in my tiny little microcosm. And now here I am. I didn't plan it, or expect it.
And when someone in need came up to me on a road in north Delhi, I didn't share my wealth with her. So I am
one of the mean rich people you're talking about.
Okay, Bill Gates has billions. He's richer than I am. But he didn't get there by screwing anyone either. He got there by luck. The owner of CP/M-86 didn't have time to talk to IBM, so Microsoft got the deal. And Microsoft took the money and did something useful with it that made them even more money. And Bill had a ton of Microsoft stock. So now he's the richest man in the world. And despite how much I despise Windows, and I do truly despise it, I can't say that Bill screwed me to get rich.
So the corollary to that is that Bill is no more a bad guy than I am a bad guy. Bill gives away more money than I will earn in my entire life every single day of the year. I suspect he gives away a larger percentage of his wealth every day than I do. So if you are saying that Bill is a bad guy, be honest: you're saying I'm a worse guy.
And this is why I think that approaching the question of rich and poor as if the rich are screwing over the poor is nonfunctional. I think it doesn't work. Yes, there are rich criminals, and that's maddening, but there are poor criminals too. What's wrong with both is that they value their happiness over others' sufficiently that they take what isn't theirs. The problem with both of them is that they hurt us. They are more alike than they are different.
The problem with Bill is that everybody isn't as fortunate as he is. It's not that he's rich. And that's the problem with me, too. And if I could fix it, I would. And in fact that's why I practice Buddhism: because I have seen the world, and how it works, and I know that I can't make the world a better place simply by reaching out and tweaking it. We need works, it's true. But we need something more than that - call it faith, call it insanity, call it synergy, but don't call it beating up Bill Gates, because that ain't going to work.