When billionaire hedge fund manager Stanley Druckenmiller gloated that the Fed's strategy of quantitative easing was a boon for people like him, I thought, "Well, what do you expect from a pig but a grunt?"
Not a very flattering thought, I admit. I will need to pray about my attitude towards the rich. However, in addition to the disposition of my heart, I also began reviewing my own thinking about the easy money policy of the Fed.
I have been mostly positive about it, particularly since its alternative, austerity, seemed to fall disproportionately on the backs of the poor and working poor, people who can least afford it.
If this is austerity, taking away the already meager help offered to the poor, give us cheap money instead. And perhaps, given the upbeat economic news of late, maybe the whole gamble worked out.
But then I heard, yet again, the shameless gloating of the wealthy. And at first, I was angry. When we hear the likes of hedge fund managers gleefully announcing how they are fleecing the system with impunity, all while the incomes of most Americans stagnate or decline, while the gap between the wealthiest 10 percent and the poorest 10 percent continues to grow, as the struggling poor are targeted by budget hawks in congress, I get to feeling that we've not made any progress, not really, not substantially.
Of course, the whole idea of easy money for the rich would be a little more palatable if there was a serious proposal for redistribution on the table, but that seems to be nowhere on the congressional radar. And as Druckenmiller himself points out, the trickle-down theory has largely proven itself an illusion. Why? Perhaps because neither the "trickle down" nor redistribution theory changes the fundamental culture of greed. Absent a culture change, they simply stoke the flames of already dishonest behavior, legislative gridlock, and charges of class warfare.
Let me be clear: I am in favor of a more aggressive model of wealth redistribution than we have at present, whether or not the root problem of selfish ambition and greed are changed.That being said, I do think we, as a society, need to go to the root of the problem, a problem which has only grown. We may be experiencing a bit of a "bump" in our economic reality, but the tumor of greed and selfish ambition continues to swell beneath the body politic.
How do we excise this tumor or at least slow its growth?
One possibility occurred to me as I walked to work this morning: Take a page out of the Republican playbook. Enroll the super-rich into something analogous to the workfare programs in which the poor are required to participate as a condition for receiving welfare payments.
What would it look like to enroll hedge fund managers, bank CEOs, and their kind in a version of workfare for the wealthy? After all, they have seized the vast majority of their wealth in this country not because of their "works" or their merit so much as their "wealth" -- a wealth which, by Druckenmiller's own admission, was derived from U.S. monetary policy rather than any intrinsic talent or merit.
In other words, we as a nation have cultivated a white collar "welfare queen" by the name of Donald Trump.
Maybe as a nation we could go to the root of the problem with Mr. Trump, a person who seems to be an iconic representation of the moral and ethical arrogance of those who love money in America.
Enroll Mr. Trump as well as the top 400 earners in the United States in programs committed to acts of social welfare or, as I would prefer, ordinary acts of mercy: clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty. Place them in communities where those who live sacrificially are their primary teachers. It must go beyond charity, beyond the ability of the rich to endow universities, and erect buildings named after themselves -- these only contribute to the sense that the super-wealthy have nothing to learn.
The idea of workfare was to move people from conditions of dependency not only into jobs but, crucially, into a culture of economic independence. Welfare recipients were to be formed by the culture of profitable work. In the scenario being proposed here, the wealthy would be enlisted in communities that have dedicated themselves to works of mercy.
Communities like, for example, the Cherith Brook Catholic Worker, in Kansas City, MI. As a community in the tradition of Dorothy Day, its members have voluntarily adopted the condition of poverty. Each week, they welcome people, their friends, off the streets for showers, for breakfast, and always ordinary human fellowship. A week or two in a community like Cherith Brook, a community dedicated to works of mercy in solidarity with the disenfranchised, might not culminate in a dramatic transformation for Mr. Trump, but it would at least interrupt the cycle of greed and self-aggrandizement so common with the super-rich.
If this sounds high-handed, so be it. It is certainly no more high-handed than requiring workfare for the poor! More crucially, the price-tag of not intervening dramatically and visibly costs not only Mr. Trump but also our whole society.
Liken it to performing an intervention with an abusive, self-destructive alcoholic. An alcoholic you happen to love. Alcoholism is not only a disease that destroys the heart and mind of the alcoholic, it destroys families, communities, it mars our collective past and our hoped for futures. We hear the rantings of Mr. Trump and hedge fund managers late into the night. Maybe it's time for our society, the people who live on Main Street, to lovingly and firmly intervene so that he, and the rest of us, may begin contribute to the moral and ethical character of our communities.
Of course, there's always the option of doing nothing. But the prospect of doing nothing is more saddening than even the disease itself.