Rich Man Poor Man in the Time of Pandemic

Yacht styles of the rich and famous

Yacht styles of the rich and famous

Looking across the lake at the orchards and vineyards on a sunny spring day in the South Okanagan it’s easy to momentarily brush away the fears of a global pandemic. Not the worst place to be locked down.

With the infection rate and death toll rising at a fearsome pace and the economy tanking in the virus’s toxic wake it is a moment for quiet contemplation. One thought that comes to an idle mind is that the global pandemic presents the ‘haves’ of the world an opportunity to step up or to be held to account.

Last year we were in Fort Lauderdale at spring break walking the boardwalks and, from the safe vantage point of age, enjoying the scantily clad revelries of the young and carefree. Good times. Great vibe.

During a canal tour showcasing a stunning array of waterfront mansions with massive yachts docked in front, thoughts of something amiss dulled the holiday glow of the Florida sun. As the guide noted the palatial pile of this or that captain of industry, I couldn’t stop wondering about all the employees toiling away at barely liveable wages to keep the titans living so large.

How many workers annual salaries would it take for the upkeep of a boat that burns hundreds of gallons of fuel an hour. How many minimum wage hours to pay the taxes on a second, third or even fourth home? How much more could the workers make if the captain of industry gave up the boat and the holiday house in Fort Lauderdale and put that money back into the workers’ kitty?

The ostentatious consumerism on display during the Fort Lauderdale canal cruise is nothing short of obscene in a country with millions of kids reliant on school lunches for their daily nutrition. It is said revolutions begin with the rising price of bread or rice. Maybe in today’s world of conspicuous consumption a global pandemic will affect change.

Governments in all countries considering industry bailouts should make it a condition that the CEOs and other executives take massive salary cuts. If the head of a cruise company, airline, hotel chain or casino is making 50 million a year cut it down to one. They might have to sell a home or two, but they’ll get by. Call it the cost of corporate socialism and put the savings into the pool for the workers worried about keeping food on the table.

It is time for the super wealthy athletes and owners to do more than kick in a few bucks for laid off stadium employees. Tom Brady is reportedly ready to sign a $30 million a year deal. After 20 years in the NFL he is already fabulously wealthy. His super model wife makes more than he does. If Brady was a real hero, he would throw the whole $30 million into the communal pot to help mitigate some of the damage his friend the President has done to the country.

Defenders of Brady and other overpaid athletes like Lebron James, Tiger Woods et al, will point to the many charitable endeavors they champion. True and good, but what personal sacrifice does it require of somebody like Woods or James to give a few million here or there as a tax write-off. Give enough so you can only afford the Bentley and one palatial home and I’ll be impressed.

The same holds true for Hollywood A-listers, rock stars and business titans. I’m talking about you Michael Douglas, Bono and the Walton family. Give back enough that it hurts a little. Donate the private plane to the pandemic effort and fly first class instead. Give the Rolls, the Range Rover and the Porsche Cayenne to a food bank and buy yourself a used Lincoln to keep the economy going. Sell the New York apartment and the place in Aspen and put all the money into pandemic relief.

Even ‘poor’ politicians like Bernie Sanders have two or even three homes. Bernie keeps a place in Washington in addition to his regular residence in Vermont and a summer place better than what most Americans live in. Senator Richard Burr, whose name shall go down in infamy for profiting while his constituents face financial ruin, is said to be a politician of modest means. Even so, he was able to offload up to $1.7 million in stock before the market collapsed, which should help in his coming retirement with a fully indexed government pension.

The Senate and House are filled with millionaires and the Trump cabinet with billionaires. Ousted politicians use their connections for cushy jobs in the private sector at ten times the salary of the average worker. Former Presidents parlay their fame into tens of millions on the speaking circuit while taxpayers making minimum wage foot the bill for their security. Yes, I’m talking about Liberal icons like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, who just augmented his Washington D.C. manse with a million-dollar-plus summer home on Cape Cod. Nice place to self-isolate between cruises on even richer friends’ yachts. It’s a long way from working with Chicago’s poor to the Cape.

To be clear, I’m not a raving communist begrudging those better off than me for enjoying the fruits of their labour or unique abilities. Smart, talented, hardworking people are entitled to live well. It’s the capitalist way most of us believe in. How well? That is the question in these low times of the pandemic. And how much should they give back for the common good with millions of their fellow citizens worrying about feeding their families.