PRIMAL SCREED/James McCarty Yeager

Follow the Money

Washington, D.C.

Always remember this: It's not your money. If you have any, you're just its custodian. Right on the face of it it says the money belongs not to any State or any individual (or even to the federal government): it says the money belongs to the United States of America. Collectively. In real life, (a concept that embraces matters far beyond the material,) the United States of America is merely acting as the agent of humanity. Humankind is in turn widely thought to be merely the agent of some (either disputed or disputatious, depending on your theology) higher power. But for all legal and most practical purposes it can and must be asserted that money actually belongs to the country, not to the momentary paper-holder.

The principle of stewardship derived from the country's ownership of money has been vigilantly obfuscated by capitalist orthodoxy. However, the fact that the duty of stewardship on the part of money-holders has been suppressed and ignored does not mean it does not exist.

Since the economy is, in origin, merely the excess output of families, there is a way to think about collective rights and duties that is not dominated by the current corporate monologue. Conceptually, corporations are merely families after having undergone cancerous growth, psychic dismemberment, and the wounding lack of all public accountability.

Accordingly, we are justified in dismissing corporate habits of the last hundred twenty-five years as a momentary aberration which, like all deviations from the historical mean, will be completely obliterated by the actions of the future. (The modern corporation dates to the Credit Mobilier of fragrant memory. It was a shell created in the 1870s to more efficiently loot federal transcontinental railroad subsidies and bribe Congresscritters, newsmen, religious leaders and state and local officials, all while underpaying workers kept at a safe distance from any munificence by straw men and sham corporate intermediaries.)

Corporate defenders have fostered a peculiar heresy now so regularly repeated that many mistake it for approved doctrine, namely, that ownership conveys complete possession, possession conveys utter power, and power conveys absolute immunity. It may be remembered that the nobility once asserted the same total control over the material world at its command. But nobles were at least limited by death, from which no corporation suffers, and were ultimately wiped out as an economic force, a possibility which corporatists with a sense of history might ponder.

A country and its fostering of public wealth are inextricably linked; some countries, such as our own, are so rich that they can let individuals be wealthy. But public wealth, as symbolically represented by physical bits of money, does not sustain its people unless widely distributed. Societies have striven to achieve a sustainable level of distribution, yet even including our own, few have succeeded.

The most famous effort was that of the Huns, who were constrained by their mobility to carry all their wealth upon their persons with the result that nobody, not even Genghis Khan himself, could be all that much richer than his idlest stableboy. In fact, the principal wealth of the tribe was its animals and its weapons, all of which were distributed; as was the gold, worn by the women. But there is a limit to how much jewelry any one person may wear. Ask the late Mrs. Khan, or Liz Taylor.

It is useful to remind its alleged owners that the currency they hold is certainly not an absolute substance and is, in fact, a creature, not of their strength or virtue, but of our collective faith and effort. As such, those with lots of currency or its equivalent have responsibilities that the deprived do not. The right to spend at will implies the corresponding duty to govern will and self so that spending benefits more than either. Yet almost no fortune survives three generations ... Perhaps this is nature's way of compensating for the fact that, as Anatole France will inevitably have reminded Bill Gates' little daughter as soon as she is old enough to read seriously, "Behind every great fortune there stands a great crime."

Acquisition aside, the things we do with money are as morally important as the things we do for love. While the notion of spending restraint is foreign to, say, every assault vehicle owner in America, it is preached by the rich who mostly own such $40,000 behemoths. They, whose choices are large, often chide the poor for making a mess of the few available. Yet most of the rich did not become so by careful husbandry. In strict statistical fact, most wealth is inherited, and always has been, even in viciously entrepreneurial societies such as our own. The rich are almost uniformly members of what M.W. Guzy in the July 15th Progressive Populist called "The Lucky Sperm Club."

The class warfare conducted by the rich upon the poor includes such elements as enforced servitude to corporations, nutritional deprivation by advertising, legal vassalage by loan contract, educational inferiority by tax starvation, usurpation of government by campaign contributors, and law enforcement for the benefit of property. When those of fewer assets than the norm then try to organize and point these things out, the hired national editorialists bleat, "Don't do that! It's class warfare!"

A society in which the possession of money heightened the possessors' sense of obligation to the community from which the money arose would have fewer gated communities and more parks, fewer charities and more taxes, fewer weapons and more schools. To achieve such a change, political activity is not only necessary but inevitable. Stewardship of the country is accomplished by the stewards of the money as well as by those elected by all of us. That's why the rest of us have to watch them real close. The trick is to watch them closer than the guys with the money do.

James McCarty Yeager, an observer of the nation's capital from the leafy glades of Bethesda, Md., may be skewered (even praised, or anything in between) electronically at

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