The Grandiose Irrationality of “Surplus-Capital”

Real human needs are easily defined, and rational economic policies on a global scale could readily fulfill them.  Yet in the last 50 years, the disastrously fraudulent, supply-side economic policy has resulted in the truly astounding accumulation of wealth by less than one-hundredth of 1% of the world’s population.  The rationale for this “neo-liberalism”: drastically reduce taxation of the wealthy, drastically reduce regulatory and labor costs for the big investors, and–voila! — these incredibly enterprising entrepreneurs will have the mega-capital and mega-incentives to “create prosperity,” which will then inevitably, in the now-infamous phrase, “trickle down.”

Yet wealth-concentration has now reached such an extreme that, in the U.S. alone, over 500 billionaires ride roughshod over the hapless, wage-frozen populace, a populace largely condemned to lifelong indebtedness in its elusive (illusive?) quest for long-term financial security.

Meanwhile, in this topsy-turvy economic universe–as billions struggle to fulfill their basic human needs–the mega-billionaires play with certain options regarding their mountains of “surplus-capital”:

  1.  Infiltrate virtually all moments of daily experience with marketing, thereby browbeating the populace into ignoring their basic, unsatisfied needs–directly them instead to  “desires” and “cravings” for gadgets (toys), “luxury” merchandise, wildly overpriced housing, and (last but not least) an endless supply of vulgar “entertainment” (and its concomitant, non-nutritive snack “food”).
  2. Utilize the political apparatus (thanks, Citizens United) — to create problems, which then require expensive “solutions.”  Also known as “foreign policy.”  Despite the end of the Cold War thirty years ago, this remains a remarkably “easy sell.”  Every so often, cook up a “world crisis”:  border tensions, “terrorism,” mysterious troop movements, ad nauseam.  Heavy investment in the “defense” industry remains incredibly profitable– what with public acquiescence, lack of DoD auditing, etc.  (Moreover, share-prices predictably go way up–as soon as a lot more Hellfires or cruise missiles are on order!).
  3.  Use this treasure-trove of capital for bizarre, self-aggrandizing projects which offer no benefit to humanity but are the ultimate in status-display (cf. Thorstein Veblen’s classic Theory of the Leisure Class, 1902).  Such is the grotesque vanity involved that palatial estates and private virtual-fiefdoms are no longer enough.  For these demi-gods, one’s name must be emblazoned across the heavens–in rockets-to-nowhere (Bezos, Branson, Musk, ad nauseam)!  But more fundamentally, such infantile narcissism reveals the pathetic pointlessness of their hyper-addiction to wealth-accumulation.  Like Icarus, they fall back to Earth, only to sense uneasily the pointlessness of such momentary “glory.”

Meanwhile, a struggling humanity looks on, baffled and appalled by the conspicuous waste involved–but suspecting that such rockets will one day take jaded, billionaire-sybarites on luxury tours of lifeless, barren destinations which mirror their emotional void within.

William Manson is the author of The Psychodynamics of Culture (Greenwood Press). Read other articles by William.