By Richard Ray:
Contrary to everything we seem to idolize in American culture, Greed is never good.
So when the news was announced that a 26 inch Leonardo da Vinci painting of Christ titled “Salvator Mundi” sold for a record shattering $450 million with fees at auction by Christie’s, I could not help but shake my head at the crazy world we live in. The painting is allegedly the only da Vinci held by a private collector. Allegedly because the paintings authenticity has been challenged. The painting had also been criticized for being overly restored. Personally, I thought it was just ugly. I am admittedly no art connoisseur, but I dare to say that some of you may have better Jesus portraits hanging on your own wall, but now because its a da Vinci instead of bad art it’s worth a fortune. The contrived manufacturing of the art industry deserves another day’s attention, today I am more consumed with the conspicuous wealth disparity in the world today.
I am an avowed, materialistic, capitalist. As such I struggle with both the concept of counting someone else’s money or telling them how they should spend it. However, growing up poor and having the ability to travel extensively throughout the US and other parts of the world, it is painfully clear that facts such as: “More than 70 percent of the world’s adults own under $10,000 in wealth. This 70.1 percent of the world holds only 3 percent of global wealth. The world’s wealthiest individuals, those owning over $100,000 in assets, total only 8.6 percent of the global population but own 85.6 percent of global wealth.” (Taken from inequality.org) or as Forbes reported, the 10 richest billionaires have a combined amassed wealth of 505 Billion dollars are really indicative of problematic wealth inequality that goes well beyond sensationalistic statistics.
I do not know who the buyer of the painting was or how he/she amassed their wealth. I will take a rather cynical stand, and say that most extreme wealth is built off the backs and sacrifices of others. Whether it is technology firms outsourcing to third world countries to take advantage of their ability to pay laborers as little as $50-60 dollars a month to build their components, most large companies maximize their profits to the benefits of a relative few as opposed to those who build the company or are dependent upon it for their livelihood.
I understand that it a premise of capitalism, but that premise has been largely overshadowed by greed where such a small percentage of the population is receiving the benefits of all of this amassed wealth. Rich individuals and companies historically pay far less of a percentage of their taxes than regular people. Does that enormous wealth trickle down to the rest of us in either stimulating the economy or allowing people to live better? I argue it does not. Before Sam Walton died he had amassed a fortune now worth well over $100 Billion. His children, splitting his fortune are still three of the wealthiest people in the world. However, is there anyone who would argue that Walmart pays adequate wages that allows all of its employees to live comfortably? How easy would it be to have Walmart raise hourly wages and provide insurance to allow employees to live more comfortably? How much more money does the Walton family and its shareholders need? Arguing for profitability without humanizing those effected by bottom lines is a short sighted approach.
This is not about socialism. This is about humanity and saying at what point is enough money enough. $450 Million spent on a painting to hang on a wall could instead be used to help people in India and Africa have clean and sustainable water on a daily basis. The buyer of the da Vinci may already give billions and if he or she does I applaud them, but instead I see such ostentatious consumption and displays of wealth far outweighing the giving to help others that are far less fortunate.
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