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Form Wealth Management

Riches can be the road to an over-abundance of ego

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February 11, 2014 | 02:04 PM
It was recently reported widely that there is a growing disparity in income between the well-to-do and those who are not. One percent, it is said, own nearly half of the world’s wealth. The rate at which this inequality is increasing seems to be the greatest in the U.S.

There were many dire predictions accompanying these facts. None, however, were as bothersome as this: history has clearly demonstrated that material largesse is commonly attended by an equally sizeable poverty of intellect.

This is, of course, unless you allow for the inflated estimate of themselves that the well-off are all willing to provide. after all, if you make a lot of money, then you must be “unique,” or somehow possessed of special “powers” and abilities. This nonsense was long ago discredited with the dismissal of so-called “Social Darwinism.”

People who are good at making a buck are most often little use at anything else.

Two examples should suffice. In Periclean Greece there was a scruffy-looking gad-about, with unwashed and unkempt appearance, who roamed the streets of the ancient city state in a tattered robe and worn sandals, constantly browbeating his fellow citizens on matters of “right conduct,” justice,” “truth” and other such debates.

He was universally castigated as a nuisance. Finally, he was tried and condemned to death; forced to drink a cup of the poison hemlock. At the same time, there were powerful merchants in the city. Those of renown who were viewed with the greatest esteem for their fortunes and public notoriety.

They held sway in matters that affected the Greek economy, and those who looked to their livelihoods hung on their every word. The dirty, bothersome and hirsute vagabond was a man named Socrates.

He, along with his intellectual progeny, Plato and Aristotle, are largely responsible for founding what we have come to describe as Western Civilization. Not even one name of those who held great power in their wealth is remembered. Not one. Their legacy is naught but dust.

Henry Ford was one of the first billionaires in America and, needless to point out, would have had to be called a “trillionaire” if measured in today’s dollars. Henry was an ignorant tinkerer. Described by Nation magazine this way: “ ... a Yankee mechanic, pure and simple, quite uneducated, with a mind unable to “bite” into any proposition outside of his automobile and tractor business. He has achieved wealth, but not greatness.”

Harry Bennett was kept on Henry’s payroll for one purpose. To employ whatever number of thugs or mobsters might be needed to “punish” those who had the audacity to dispute the “great man’s” will. this included beating or even killing any of his workmen who might try to organize a union.

It is interesting that at the Battle of the Overpass, the carnage was largely complete before any members of law enforcement arrived to restore order.

Mr. Ford was not only a billionaire and shrewd moneymaker; he was also one of our nation’s most virulent anti-Semites. Since he was virtually illiterate, he bought the Dearborn Independent and hired a shill to sit with him for hours on end to copy down his vitriol, and then publish it in his “newspaper.” One of his most ardent followers wrote this: “Every year makes them (the Jews) more and more the controlling masters of the producers in a nation of 120 million; only a single Great Man, Ford, to their fury, still maintains full independence.”

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The author? Adolph Hitler, writing in Mein Kampf.

When Henry Ford set out to end World War I aboard his “peace ship,” he gathered about him a manifest of self-styled “activists.”The enterprise was a massive failure. He was summarily ignored by European diplomats and heads-of-state. The Rev. Samuel Marquis, who had accompanied Ford on his Quixotic quest, said that Ford “ ... would stand a better chance of achieving his ambitions if he avoided areas where he had no experience.”

The real problem with the extraordinary shift in the distribution of wealth is that the wealthy spend too much time telling each other how valuable and important they are. And actually believing it.

The only thing to fear is their willingness to use their sizable checkbooks to compensate for their egregious lack of credentials for anything but making more dollars.

And their “lawlessness.” This is the capacity to pay for a living style that allows the “rich and famous’ to think they are above the law; that they are somehow exempt from the restraints and conventions that guide more “common” men and women. It permits them the illusion that they move in circle and behave in ways that are not bound by the normative rules of everyday life. All of this combines to remind us of the follies of those like Henry Ford, who could not only conjure his silliness but act on it. Therein lies the real danger.

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We are left with more and more people with ever larger and larger checkbooks, who can not only wander down the corridors of their own distorted and shallow imaginings, but actually try to put these rubrics into practice.

Money is its own worst fool.

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