Thursday, March 27, 2014

Stretching the Billion Dollar Rubber Band

Meet the poster child for the One Percent. Sheldon Adelson makes $32 million … a day.

Sheldon made his money in computers, casinos, and gambling. He’s the chairman and CEO of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation. Some might describe him as a college dropout (City College of New York) who amassed his billions from the moral weakness of his fellow men. Others might call him a shrewd businessman. Or maybe he just had gambler’s luck.

Sheldon’s hobbies include journalism (as a boy, he sold newspapers in Boston; today, he owns the Israeli daily newspaper Israel HaYom); computers (in the late 1970s, he and his partners developed COMDEX, the computer industry trade show); and politics (he spent more than $92 million to help GOP candidates in the 2012 elections).

While $92 million buys a lot of campaign ads, to Sheldon, that’s a drop in the bucket. His net worth is $40.8 billion. If Sheldon Adelson were a country, his net worth would place him at No. 95 out of 183 on the International Monetary Fund’s list of nations ranked by Gross Domestic Product. That’s right, one man, Sheldon Adelson, is worth more than half of the world’s nations.

Now, Sheldon wants to use his money and influence to elect politicians who will support his proposed ban on Internet gambling. GOP candidates are scrambling to announce their disgust at the immoral practice of online gambling, as Sheldon has. Oddly, none, including Sheldon, have condemned offline gambling… an oversight that certainly has nothing to do with the fact that Sheldon owns a worldwide network of casinos.

We must ask two questions: First, Is it good for society for one man to wield so much power and influence that will affect the lives of all of us? Regardless of whether such an individual is well-intentioned or self-serving, should any single person have such power? “Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely,” as Machiavelli’s aphorism goes.

Second, Is it right for one individual to rake in $32 million a day – or $4 million per hour during the work day —  while millions of hard-working people struggle to pay their bills, often choosing between food and medicine? No one is begrudging Sheldon’s success; his Horatio Alger story of having made himself into one of the world’s richest men is as admirable as it is remarkable. But, as Jacobean poet and preacher John Donne (1572-1631) wrote, “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” Every individual is part of something greater than himself – society.

We are all interconnected, as spokes to the hub of society. Like the rest of the One Percenters, Sheldon didn't grow his money on trees; it came to him, through the paychecks of ordinary, middle class men and women. Inside each of his casinos, members of society spent money gambling, served each other drinks and meals, performed as entertainers, and provided the utilities to keep the bright casino lights turned on.

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809–1865), a French politician and philosopher, wrote: “The social contract is an agreement of man with man; an agreement from which must result what we call society.” The social contract maintains a balance among members of an interdependent society. Like a rubber band, the contract may be stretched but its elasticity is finite. When the minimum wage worker earns $7.25 an hour while One Percenters like Sheldon Adelson earn $4 million during the same hour, the social contract is precariously out of balance. And we all know what happens when a rubber band is stretched too far.

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