Gewgaws and Greed, Parvenus and Politicians

What propels lust? Lust for power; lust for wealth; lust for … well plain lust. The latest in acquisitiveness by parvenus and politicians centers on stolen German luxury cars smuggled to Poland (a mere 50 miles from Berlin) and beyond, in the former Soviet Union’s orbit of influence. ‘Come to Poland, your car is already here’, has become a German joke playing on a travel slogan. Equipped with GPS-using anti-theft devices, the cars have been traced to luminaries such as the Ukrainian Minister of Justice, close associates and family of the President of Tajikistan, and other eminences favoring a Mercedes or BMW. None can produce valid purchase documents.

The ads for expensive watches are on the increase, showing up even on the back covers of left wing magazines socialist in outlook. They tout transparent mechanism display, complications i.e. ridiculous extra features, tourbillon mechanisms, a really difficult to construct doodad increasing accuracy, etc. There might have been a point to all this thirty years ago when regular watches were not the most accurate. Then out of the blue, time measurement was changed forever by the advent of the quartz crystal. Vibrating at over 30,000 cycles per second, it was unmatched a hundred fold and more by any mechanical wizardry. Now for a few dollars one can get a throw away watch keeping better time than any $100,000 mechanical masterpiece. Many in the new generation eschew wrist watches all together: time is available on cell phones accurate as an atomic clock can be. But their desires have yet to be teased by the advertising juggernaut.

So why the craze? Perhaps the reason is the same as the designer names plastered over personal items. Or, people who can afford one will buy a Mercedes — the mechanic’s best friend according to Consumer Reports — and not a Toyota the ultimately reliable, trouble-and-worry-free transportation almost as comfortable.

Unfortunately, the ever-increasing gross domestic product economic model becomes fallacy in a world where climate change places our survival at risk. Very soon we are going to have to ditch the GDP for the GDH (gross domestic happiness) and a competitive world for a cooperative one if we are going to stand a chance as a species. Instead of rampaging powers around the globe, the world needs communities of sharing, of preserving and protecting, not just the resources but us in a future climate-ravaged planet. It requires cooperation to limit emissions, and a radical shift in mind-set to curtail useless consumption.

When Christmas shopping mania takes hold, one cannot help but be reminded of Keynes’ dictum. In a trade-deficit country easing monetary policy benefits its trading partners. Every little toy, gizmo, gadget, doodad, gewgaw, knickknack, furry creature, or whatever, is made elsewhere, mostly in China. And the watches? They come from Switzerland. Their secret to a strong currency is to buy a hunk of metal from abroad, put enormous value-added into it, and sell it to the vanity-stricken abroad including the leader of certain developing country with a per capita annual income of $1,300 accused of sporting a $20,000 watch. He is of course a billionaire, his business having received a substantial boost from his politics. The previous strongman in the same country is now on trial, put there by people he displaced. Clearly, he lacked Mr. Putin’s ability to deliver a decisive stroke as in the case of Mr. Khodorkovsky.

Such are the ways of a world hurtling towards a climate catastrophe.

Arshad M. Khan is a retired professor. He can be reached at: Read other articles by Arshad M..