Sunday, April 21, 2019

The love of money.

New cars today have a lot more bling than they did when I bought my last car in 2008. Remote door locks were just becoming a thing, and you had to pay extra for high-end stuff like cruise control. Now, it seems, electronic keys and cruise control are pretty much standard.

Another thing that was brand new in 2008 was satellite radio. Back then, I thought it was a crazy idea -- why would anybody pay for radio when they could get it over the air for free? But then the radio business changed and stations seemed to switch formats all the time, and I couldn't find an oldies station that played more than the Beatles and a few other hits I'd heard a million times before. (This phenomenon is worse for people who worked in top-40 radio. Each radio station used to have its own music director -- an actual human who decided what songs to play. Now stations are programmed by consultants who use committees called focus groups. Members of focus groups always give high ratings to songs they recognize, and in the case of oldies, they recognize songs because they got a lot of airplay. But even now, the guy who gave them all that airplay is heartily sick and tired of them. Like retail-workers-at-Christmas-carol-season tired of them.)

Anyway, I had pretty much quit listening to the radio in the car, except for my own CDs. And then I got Eli, who came with a trial subscription to Sirius XM. Once I found the '60s and '70s channels, it was all over. I'm hearing songs I haven't heard in decades -- including this one by the O'Jays from 1974.

For a moment, let's leave aside the irony of hearing a song about the evils of money on a radio station I'm paying to listen to, when I first heard it over the air for free.

It did, however, get me thinking about morality and how things have changed. Wikipedia says what spawned the song was a Bible verse, specifically 1 Timothy 6:10. It's the one about how the love of money is the root of all evil. I've seen a few truncated versions of the verse -- most often, "Money is the root of all evil" (the Monkees had a sampler on the wall of their pad), but also the snarky "Money is the root of all."

But the original text is about the love of money, a.k.a. greed. I'm no biblical scholar, and maybe a Pagan shouldn't be sticking her nose into this at all -- but my understanding has always been that simply having money isn't the problem. Money is neutral -- neither good nor bad. What's problematic is grabbing and hoarding as much money as you can.

I find it interesting that back in the mid-'70s, this song got a lot of airplay. Not long after, though, we started to see wealth, and the pursuit of wealth, put on a pedestal -- and some of the biggest pushers of the idea were megachurch pastors who told their faithful to send money to fund their big church buildings in order to glorify of God. I guess their mansions and fat bank accounts were meant to glorify God, too.

This idea that wealth is okay as long as you're not a miser seems to have fallen by the wayside, though, in this new Gilded Age, where the top 1% of earners in the US make, on average, 26.3% more than the bottom 99% combined. That's higher than the income disparity in the last Gilded Age. In 1928, just before the Great Depression, top earners made 23.9% more than the rest of the work force. What's more, income inequality has risen in every state since 1975. That's right about the time the O'Jays were singing about the dangers of the love of money. What a coincidence, huh?

A certain faction of the American public talks about making America great again. I think going back to those mid-'70s values, when the top 1% of earners made just 8% of total US income (compared to 22% in 2015), would go a long way toward that goal. I'm not saying America was perfect in the '70s. It wasn't -- not by a long shot. But at least the middle class had a decent standard of living back then.

I'm moving right along with the first draft of Treacherous Ground. April has been a busy month, but I'm happy to say that I'm at 40,000 words as of tonight, so I should have no problem making it to 50,000 words by the end of the month. That puts the book on track for publication in mid to late June. As always, I'll let you know how it goes.

These moments of cautionary blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

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