Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A New Modest Proposal

For Preventing the Very Rich from Being a Burden to Their Country and for Making Them Beneficial to the Public

The Dow is still dour and the stimulus is anything but stimulating. Government bailouts are now on a scale that would appall the staunchest fans of FDR and LBJ -- and still we're told it's not enough. Soup kitchens and bread lines are looking less like yesterday's newsreels and more like tomorrow's news. Even China doesn't think our money is worth the paper it's printed on.

Meanwhile, conservatives decry the growth of socialism while stuffing as much federal booty into their pockets as they can. I say, for once, the conservatives are right. Bailouts and stimulus packages are the wrong approach. We can neither buy nor spend our way out of this economic apocalypse.

There is a solution, however – an obvious one, when you start to think about it.

Forget socialism. Think cannibalism.

It is time, finally, to eat the rich.

Imagine it. In one move we could quell the bubbling rage Americans feel at Wall Street's insatiable greed while feeding thousands of deserving souls. Eating the rich would make Jon Stewart's treatment of Jim Cramer look like a happy ending at Madame Wong's House of Oriental Massage. It would feel good and taste good at the same time.

Remember the French Revolution? It too was preceded by financial crisis. Two draining wars had left the country bankrupt, and the nobility had rigged the rules to avoid paying taxes. After centuries of abuse, the peasants took matters – and many of their blue-blooded patrons – into their own hands.

Substitute Bernie Madoff for Louis the 16th, AIG's Edward Liddy for Marie Antoinette, a set of Ginsu steak knives for the guillotine, and voila! An all-you-can-eat buffet of the finest Americans America has to offer.

True, the French did not cook and eat their former overlords. But then, consider their bathing habits. Bad now, worse then. I'm talking freshly showered, highly pampered American flesh unsullied by the rigors of hard labor, with a sprinkling of coriander and a hint of fresh basil.

It's the perfect recipe for our troubled times.

Consider these numbers. An average 180-pound adult male provides roughly 70 to 80 pounds of meat, or about 300 McDonalds Quarter Pounders. Given the corpulence of the rich, one would expect even greater returns – for Rush Limbaugh, say, triple that amount.

Sweetbreads like the brain, pancreas, and kidneys would stretch the rich's food value even further. (However, I'd recommend avoiding the liver. No matter how much you love paté, the volume of toxins you're likely to encounter in the livers of the obscenely rich are almost certainly fatal.)

Once we've disposed of their carcasses, what remains are their assets. The Forbes 400 – or, as I like to think of them, the Quarter Pounder 120,000 -- controls over $1.5 trillion in assets alone. That would pay for 47.2 million new teachers, based on the average starting salary of $31,753. It would buy health care for 190 million Americans, based on average annual costs of $7900 per person. It would buy a hell of a lot of fries and still have money left over for millions of McSlurries.

We could feed the hungry, employ millions, shore up our nation's crippled educational system, care for those who can't afford to care for themselves, and all it would cost us is 400 lousy billionaires and a handful of Weber grills. A bargain at twice the price.

Expand this progam to the top 1 percent of Americans – who control over a third of our nation's wealth – and the benefits increase exponentially. Those 3 million Americans could feed the other 297 million for months; spreading their assets evenly over the general population would effectively give everyone a massive bump in salary, expanding discretionary spending by an order of magnitude. Recession? Stagnant GDP? Dwindling dollar? Gone in a heartbeat. It's boom times all over again.

And when these people pay their taxes (because the poor and middle class largely do pay their taxes), there will be money to repair our crumbling infrastructure and ensure the security of our financial system. It's a win win all around.

Naturally, some will object to this proposal on moral grounds. The taboo against consuming human flesh is strong. But gross immorality is what got us here in the first place. The bankers and brokers who brought our economy to the brink of collapse had no qualms about cannibalizing our future and no limits to their gluttony. They've been face down in the trough while millions lost their jobs, their homes, and their hope.

I don't think we'd need to eat all of the rich. A few well orchestrated meals would likely convince the rest to stop acting like swine. They could start by giving the money back.

History doesn't lie. When the people have finally had enough, they rise. When they get angry enough, taboos slip away. Whether they march on the Bastille with torches and pitchforks or on Bear Stearns with knives and salad forks, the result is the same. Blood flows just as easily as money.

It's food for thought.

-- The WitList (with apologies to the ghost of Jonathan Swift.)



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