Alain de Botton is a modern-day philosopher, one I think may be more famous in future centuries that right now. His insights on everything from romance to video games deal with our problems here and now. This article “What the rich really want, and why we should give it to them” is an example of his wisdom applied to an issue ramping up in prominance – the domination of a small group of overly influential citizens, and its impact on the general happiness of societies.
But de Botton goes to the heart of the matter – social power is not about money, it’s about love.
Surveying the problems of Capitalism, the standard response of the left has been to suggest that one simply tax the rich more. But this fails to grasp, and therefore properly to exploit, the real psychological motives of the rich. The rich only pursue money fanatically (to our great collective cost) because wealth appears to be the primary, most objective source of honour in the modern world. If only we can fix how honour is obtained, we will be able to redirect their mania to more socially beneficial ends in ways that don’t demand that the rich become ‘nice’.
At present, a natural inclination is to force the rich to give up their wealth using the instrument of new taxes, but this strategy simply won’t work. The chances of people running away and taking their assets with them is too great. We know that entrepreneurial energy and competitive drive can too easily be depleted; the economic balloon can deflate and all will suffer. We need to go down a different route. We need to harness the talents and drives that the rich are currently using to squeeze the earth and its people too hard – and ensure that these energies are made to address the collective needs of society.
The aim should be to seduce the rich – to make them want to benefit their societies in return for giving them what (we know) they deep down really want but haven’t until now reliably been able to get except through money: namely, honour.
It’s an incredible, simple insight – this is all simply about good feelings and love, though the impact of it is damaging the people and the planet. If we want a chance at a happy society, we must create a greater economy in applause, of all things.
Society should do a systematic deal with capitalists: it should give them the honour and love they so badly crave in exchange for treating their workers as human beings, not abusing customers and properly looking after the planet. A standard test should be drawn up to measure the societal good generated by companies (many such schemes already exist in nascent form), on the basis of which capitalists should then be given extraordinarily prestigious titles by their nations in ceremonies with the grandeur and thrill of film premieres or sporting finales. It might be something to go after their names (for example, RC: Responsible Capitalist), a title that would have some of the same associations as the Nobel Prize, the Victoria Cross and the Pulitzer prize – in other words, a fitting target for the most ambitious and narcissistically craven and damaged people in society to strive for.