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  • Writer's pictureD. Randall Faro

Affluenza

      Affluenza is a portmanteau of affluence and influenza. While not a formally recognized pathological mental condition, the term is increasingly being used to describe a malady that plagues the ultra-wealthy. Ballpark description: a painful condition of overload, debt, anxiety, and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more.

      The existence and level of pain surely varies from one ultra-wealthy person to another, but numerous studies verify one commonality: having effectively unlimited amounts of money affects changes in the brain. Super wealth is associated with less empathy, clouded moral judgment, a sense of class superiority, and a proclivity to addiction (one of the primary being the addiction to money). Behavioral scientists largely concur that the more money one has, the more focused on oneself a person becomes, while growing less sensitive to the welfare of others.

      Yet it appears to be part of human DNA to want more and more and more. For the uber-rich, in most cases more is never enough. For the good of the whole community, the quest for financial increase upon increase begs for some limitation. It can be actualized in two ways.

 

      Option 1: Self-limitation. Any individual can choose to be satisfied with less. For instance, a person can decide to by happy with a 50-foot, $500,000 toy boat instead of spending $300+ million for a 400-foot luxury yacht. Or, one can be thankful for a 5000 ft2, 5-bedroom home (for two people) as opposed to a ginormous 66,000 ft2, 7-bedroom, 18-bathroom house (for two people). It is an empirical fact that for just about all of the world’s billionaires (Forbes currently lists 2,871, 813 of them in the U.S.), self-limitation is not in their vocabulary.

      Option 2: Governmental limitation. Read: taxation. For the betterment of the whole community, governments impose all sorts of limitations on the populace. Speed limits, zoning restrictions, firearms control, anti-trust regulations, to name a few. Taxation is one way of working toward fairness in the sharing of a nation’s resources. Notice: I did not say equality . . . but fairness.

     

      I am not lobbying for some utopian goal of everybody having the same amount of everything. But what justice prescribes is that everybody has enough. While incentive and industriousness are admirable qualities that should result in personal recompense, the question is one of limits. When one person’s assets are worth a hundred billion dollars while hundreds of thousands of people in the same society have barely enough to stay alive, reasonable limits have been far overreached.

 

      When Dwight Eisenhower was the U.S. president (1953-1961), there was a 90 percent tax rate for the super-rich during his administration. Eisenhower explained it this way: The super-rich could avoid the high taxes by investing their money in things that make America stronger. If they wanted to avoid high taxes, he said they could invest in business expansions and higher employee wages. They could give a million or two to tax-exempt non-profits that feed, house and clothe poor people of America, among other things. And the rich who “suffered” these high taxes still lived like kings and queens.

 

      An enormous amount of money can be a curse or a blessing. Keeping it all for oneself and wanting to accrue more and more generally leads to the curse of affluenza. Using the lion’s share of one’s wealth for the good of others is a blessing . . . both to others and to oneself.



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