The Sick Culture of Wealth

Bill Maher wants us to think about “the sick culture of wealth,” or America’s unseemly worship of obscene wealth. In June 2015 we learned that Minnesota dentist Walter James Palmer was responsible for slaying one of Zimbabwe’s most beloved lions, named Cecil. Palmer apparently shot Cecil with a bow and arrow, but did not kill him. His safari group then tracked the wounded animal for 40 hours, ultimately shooting and killing him. Cecil was skinned and beheaded.

Maher calls out this kind of brutal behavior, available, of course, only to the wealthy:

When a dentist has $60,000 to drop on a safari, that’s when we know there’s too much sugar in the soda. In America, being filthy rich is the greatest good. If you’re a dentist, you’re not rich like that. But if you save up, a couple of times a year you can splurge on something ridiculous and at least look like it. Because in the Game of America, where money counts for everything, this is how you let other people know you won.

It’s OK to have money and it’s OK to make money. It’s even OK to make a TON of money. But as stated in the Bible, the love of money is the root of all evil. Pope Francis knows it, too:

How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality.

The Sick Culture of Wealth

Just how bad is income inequality in America? Consider some of the findings from the 2011 study Building a Better America–One Wealth Quintile at a Time: the top 20% of U.S. households own more than 84% of the wealth, and the bottom 40% combine for a mere 0.3%. The Walton family, which owns the WalMart stores, has more wealth than 42% of American families combined.

When asked in a poll, middle-class Americans estimated that the CEO-to-worker pay-ratio was 30-to-1. And the middle class believes that ratio should ideally be 7-to-1. But the reality? CEOs are paid at a ratio of 354-to-1. Just fifty years ago, it was 20-to-1.

According to a Pew Research poll, most Americans believe the economic system unfairly favors the wealthy. Yet 60% still believe that most people can make it if they’re willing to work hard. Unfortunately, reality doesn’t bear out the optimism.

“We always hear about the sick culture of poverty. What about the sick culture of wealth?” Maher asks. Maybe it’s going to take a little middle-class introspection. Or as Sheryl Crow put it in her song Soak Up the Sun: It’s not having what you want, it’s wanting what you’ve got.

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About Brian V. Lee 566 Articles
Brian V. Lee provides bankruptcy, foreclosure defense, business turnaround, and litigation services to clients in the District of Columbia, Virginia, and Maryland. Brian was the Washington, D.C. state chair of the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys from 2016 to 2018.