Andy Serwer, editor-in-chief of Yahoo Finance, has just addressed an open letter to Donald Trump. He begins by congratulating the billionaire president of the United States on the current success of the American economy before segueing into a polite but acerbic critique of Trump’s legacy, in which he laments, in no uncertain terms, the growing inequality of income and wealth that he noticed has accelerated during Trump’s term of office. At the same time, the daughter of another American billionaire complains that, even in the Vatican, billionaires, swiftly becoming an oppressed minority, aren’t getting a fair shake.
Jennifer Gross is the daughter of bond investor Bill Gross. In June 2018, Forbes evaluated his net worth at $2.5 billion, which placed him higher in the rankings than Jamie Dimon, though Gross is far less of a media celebrity than the CEO of JPMorgan Chase. After filing for divorce, however, Gross’ wife of 31 years became a billionaire in her own right, taking away a cool $1 billion. This has reduced Bill Gross to relative poverty as his net worth consequently now clocks in at a mere $1.5 billion. These are the kinds of dramas billionaires have to live with as they struggle to survive in the cutthroat world of finance (and marriage).
Jennifer Gross’s fortune is unknown, but her father appears to have done everything in his power, even with his now meager means, to take care of his 44-year-old heiress. She recently purchased a penthouse in New York for $28 million.
Jennifer appears to be active in her father’s philanthropic William, Jeff and Jennifer Gross Family Foundation, at least active enough to represent the foundation at a conference on “Science and Ethics for Happiness and Well-Being” organized by the Vatican. She originally intended to talk about the important issue of “goal-setting and gratitude,” but reacting to the recent outcry about the legitimacy of billionaires, she changed the topic of her speech to “defending the role of the wealthy in society.”
She explained: “I do think we need to treat everyone as human beings. It has become very popular to bash billionaires. There is no solidarity in that. It creates separation between us and ultimately unhappiness.”
Here is today’s 3D definition:
The result of the refusal of the underprivileged to socialize and sympathize with the wealthy on the lame pretext that the wealthy have isolated themselves in impenetrable gated communities and high-security dwellings protected by technology and well-armed security services
Gross made her case in compelling terms: “I would caution against vilifying an entire demographic and treating them as if they don’t have the right to become fully human.” Yes, billionaires are seriously threatened by their loss of human rights.
Some might complain that Gross’ thinking and even her choice of vocabulary lack originality. “Vilify” has become the standard word in every billionaire’s discourse as they unanimously complain about the dangerous drift toward intolerance of the nation’s most generous benefactors.
The Daily Devil’s Dictionary has already noticed how Jamie Dimon and Leon Cooperman have adopted the “vilification of billionaires” mantra. Former Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein offered his own outburst. Steve Balmer, former CEO of Microsoft and owner of the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team, went further, calling it “this crazy vilification.”
As expected, Fox News picked up the buzzword and borrowed the billionaire’s fury. Fox & Friends’ Brian Kilmeade proclaimed: “There is [sic] only 700 in the country, and the vilification of successful people I think is unsettling.” Kilmeade is no billionaire, but he is a “successful” person and probably feels attacked as well.
Catherine Perloff, who covers wealth and venture capital for Forbes, could find no evidence of attacks by any of the other speakers on the billionaire class and wonders what may be the source of the Gross’ indignation. Though raised a Catholic, Jennifer Gross seems to have missed the verse in the Bible (Matthew 19:24) where Jesus said: “[I]t is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”
That sounds much closer to vilification than the 2% wealth tax that Senator Elizabeth Warren is proposing. Had she been paying attention, Gross might have noticed that the Vatican’s head of state, Pope Francis, recently complained that “‘the wealthy few’ enjoy what, ‘in justice, belongs to all.’” This again goes well beyond what Senator Bernie Sanders and Warren have been preaching in their Democratic presidential primary campaigns.
Gross apparently reacted to the words of one bishop who cited the famous verse from the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” She interpreted this as meaning that the wealthy cannot be happy. No one is better positioned than Gross, in the comfort of her $28-million Lower Manhattan penthouse, to confirm that the wealthy are very happy indeed.
Among serious analysts of today’s global challenges, a strong consensus exists that the two most serious problems humanity is facing are climate change and economic inequality. Steven Pinker may argue that the proverbial “rising tide lifts all boats,” as the sheer amount of wealth and material goods in the world is constantly increasing. But the problem of accelerating inequality goes beyond whatever the bean-counting of statistics can tell us and translates as a profoundly psychological and sociological problem of power and empowerment accompanied by a disruption of the very idea of moral and social values. Together this describes a deep and intractable crisis of civilization.
The systematic rewarding of the accumulation of wealth sends a simple message about what our civilization has become: Money is not only the key to exercising what begins to resemble a monopoly of power but, more crucially, it has become the sole measure of value, the factor that settles all arguments.
In the political realm, we are now witnessing two interpretations of how the growing wealth gap works and what can be done to respond to it. There are those who see capitalism as a train that has already begun to run off its rails.
This reading of our economic history maintains that there are simply too many people and institutions endowed with power (i.e., money) for a significant number of them even to consider putting on the brakes for fear of losing their own momentum. This remains true even when they are at least peripherally aware that the train’s momentum may be fatal. People who favor this interpretation of history’s evolution are the pessimists. They see revolt or collapse as the only possible outcome.
Then there are the optimists who think that palatable reforms may stabilize the speed of the train and keep it on the rails. The politicians — typically Democrats — who propose corrective reforms now divide into two groups: the bold and the meek. Sanders and Warren, by proposing concrete steps to redistribute the wealth, represent the bold. They hope to find mechanical ways to slow down the train. The meek believe that with the right kind of balanced leadership and the brand of rational decision-making they feel they themselves are good at, all will return to normal and the crisis will be overcome. They identify with the establishment and the rules of the past.
Then there are those — possibly a majority — who dismiss the whole idea of interpreting the issue and see it as pointless, a waste of time. Capitalism is what it is, they tell us. And in any case, seeing how powerless we are today, what the hell can we do about it anyway? The average indifferent citizen of our democracies, who either doesn’t bother to vote or votes but doesn’t bother to think before voting, falls into this category. So, it would seem, does Jennifer Gross.
The planet is threatened. The economy, for all its superficial success, is out of control. And because we no longer have the capacity, the means or the will to interpret the issues we’re faced with, democracy itself has become dysfunctional. As popular revolts emerge across the globe and political crises in democracies become not just commonplace but routine, the billionaires at least have the leisure to watch it all play out on TV in their multimillion-dollar dwellings.
Jennifer Gross’s father, Bill, now retired, confesses that even after his ex-wife absconded with 40% of his fortune, he has little to complain about: “I have enough for myself. All I need is a pizza at home and a car and a TV set to watch the Lakers.” So long as the price of pizza remains stable and his car doesn’t break down, everything should be fine. And even if his car does break down, the LA Lakers will still be on TV.
*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.