I always liked the Aesop fable about the grasshopper and the ant. The ant spends the summer storing up grain and supplies for the coming winter while the grasshopper sings and plays the fiddle and, in some tellings, ridicules the ant for wasting the idyllic days with industry. When winter comes the ant is warm and well provisioned while the grasshopper is cold and hungry. When the grasshopper comes knocking on the ant’s door for a handout, he is in turn roundly castigated by the ant for wasting the plenteous days of summer with idle pursuits when he should have been working to store up provisions.
The grasshopper is turned away to die in the ancient versions of this story, and invited in to sing and dance in exchange for the ant’s largesse in some more modern iterations. I like the versions where the ant shares his bounty better than the ones where the grasshopper dies. This may be because I am now forced by circumstances to consider that I have in fact become one of life’s grasshoppers.
There are more modern versions still—sarcastic ones but apocryphal nonetheless—where government intervenes on the grasshopper’s behalf, condemns the ant for greed and acquisitiveness, confiscates the ant’s wealth, and redistributes it to the grasshopper. The left-leaning sensibilities of our modern world, the re-spinners of this yarn would have us believe, have turned Aesop’s wisdom upside down.
I am not a communist, not a socialist, not a Marxist. I do not believe in the forced redistribution of wealth. I do not think it is a good idea to strip the risk-takers and innovative thinkers of the comforts they have managed to accumulate for themselves by industry and perseverance and to give it to a bunch of lay-abouts in the interest of social fairness. I think doing this is an excellent way to guarantee the end of progress and the diminution of wealth and quality of life for society as a whole.
I am still, however, as I have already pointed out several times, a vengeful bastard. So if you are talking about stripping the executive helicopter from Joe Gregory (Lehman Bros.) or the $6,000 suits from Jamie Dimon (JP Morgan) or the Manhattan apartment from Lloyd Blankfein (Goldman Sachs) or the multimillion dollar bonus from any one of several thousand bank executives and traders who profited hugely from the financial troubles that are still troubling the rest of us, and giving that stuff to me, then I say go for it. It’s only fair. After all, these scalawags precipitated a forced redistribution of wealth in the name of unabashed capitalism, and they remain, not just unrepentant, but proud of their accomplishments.
These yahoos, just like the muddling managers I used to work for, have broken the system that sustains them, and now, while the victims of their shameful duplicities, frauds, and ignorance languish in unemployment, despair and powerlessness, they are engaged in self-congratulatory celebrations of their return to profitability. They made the hard choices, they say, they took their lumps such as they were, and emerged stronger than ever from the wreckage they caused. Who in their right mind does not believe that these lugubrious flim-flammers should be rounded up and horse whipped?
Ah, but I digress—easy when you are a grasshopper, and even easier when you consider that, in the current circumstances, the ants have not fared very well either. In fact the ants may have suffered worse than us grasshoppers. They certainly had more to lose at the outset.
Sometimes, when I think of what might have been, I am glad that I didn’t give up the life I had at the time in order to make a better one in the future. Sure, I worked hard for what I got, but I didn’t give up as much life balance as I could have in order to accumulate stores for my future. And what I did get I mostly spent when I got it—better in retrospect than denying myself for a future that was going to be stolen from me in any event. How pissed would I be then? Pissed enough perhaps to have joined the Tea Party so I could go to rallies with crackpots and stare at Sarah Palin’s bosom.
As a grasshopper I depend on the ants. Their surplus is my birthright. Not all of it mind you, just the amount they are willing to give up for my fiddling and dancing. This is not without precedent. There are others who add no value to our economy, but still manage to fare very well on stipends for their entertainment value. Tom Cruise comes to mind, Brad and Angelina, virtually all the various Real Housewives (very few of whom it turns out really are), Paris Hilton, Perez Hilton, the Kardashians, everyone from Twilight.
These are just the most egregious examples I can think of. Arranged into categories, professional athletes, entertainers, artists and writers, celebrities of every stripe are useless in terms of their ability to add to the collective wealth of society. These people are all paid from the stores of the real producers among us, and many of them are paid very well indeed. They are paid so well that a lot of actual productive workers aspire to be just like them.
Now there is a world turned upside down, although it may be as much due to the attendant fame and sex appeal as to the pay scale. Who would not rather be tricked out in the resplendent colors of the grasshopper above than the drab monochromatic uniform of the fire ant I wrote about some days ago? On the other hand, if one were going to try to relieve Jamie Dimon of one of his resplendent suits, who would not rather have the formidable resources of the fire ant at his disposal? The fire ant’s arsenal though is the exclusive preserve of power mongers and rebels. In the world where I live, the world where fables are mostly just entertainment, the ants would mostly rather be grasshoppers.