Eat The Rich

I’ve been saying this a lot lately and kind of hoping someone will get bothered or curious about it, but no one has, so I am going to gratuitously explain why I think it’s important that we all make “eat the rich” our own mantra.

First of all, why eat the rich? They don’t taste very good. They are usually past their prime and pumped full of preservatives and chemicals. Plus there’s the tangential concern that cannibalism is frowned upon in our society.

Being rich is immoral. I was convinced of this by A.Q. Smith’s article “It’s Basically Just Immoral to be Rich.” Many utilitarians have made similar arguments, most notably Paul Singer, a philosopher who promotes philanthropic giving to the extreme. Other supporters include Jesus, several Old Testament prophets, and quite a few theologians since then. The long and short of Smith’s argument is that it doesn’t matter how you got rich, the extreme amount of suffering and struggle caused by poverty gives rise to an ethical burden on the wealthy not to keep their wealth.

While this isn’t an unpopular opinion in the history of ethics, it’s an unpopular practice, especially under capitalism.

If you find yourself wealthy, give your money away, like most of it, anything more than, say, $70,000 per year. If merely gifting makes you uncomfortable, create jobs. Pay your employees better.

This last bit is a concession to resistant capitalists. Giving people cash is a pretty sure way they will get their needs met, but cash assistance is unpopular because we view poverty, not wealth, as morally reprehensible.

Let’s refocus though, because we were talking about eating rich people, not convincing them with moral philosophy to change their ways. There’s a carnal difference.

I want wealth to be suspect. I want the accrual of large sums of money to be so repulsive in our culture that rich people are afraid to be rich. I want them to be performatively philanthropic, because to be wealthy is worse than cannibalism.  

(If you are feeling defensive right now, it’s either because you are rich, or you wish you were rich, and you should feel ashamed of yourself and your perversion).

So eat the rich. While you may want to dismiss such a directive as hyperbolic, it is meant to erode our collective agreement that being rich is a moral good. It is not.

Eat Jeff Bezos. Eat Brett Kavanaugh. Eat Elon Musk.

Then, make policy changes. Make it easy to get food stamps, cash assistance, and housing assistance. Make it hard to be wealthy. Because our spending on social programs is peanuts compared to the massive amounts of capital accumulated by the wealthiest people in the world, wealth accrued while evading taxes, wealth accrued while employees subsist on government assistance, despite working full time, wealth accrued while benefiting from a system that supports white, straight, cis, able-bodied men, and actively excludes everyone else. Stop worrying that someone who gets a few thousand dollars per year in government benefits is gaming the system, and start worrying how someone making millions of dollars in a year is evading taxes. Impose steep inheritance taxes.

Our culture is so biased toward protecting wealth, that we are still just fighting for a living minimum wage, but there has been no discussion around a wage ratio. This would create a dependency between the lowest paid workers and highest paid workers. If a CEO wants to make a lot of money, their employees also need to make a lot of money.

I do want to make policy changes, but until then (and maybe even after), I will do my best to be performatively repulsed by the rich. I won’t keep my distrust private. If you’re rich, I think you are bad and deserve public censure until you prove otherwise.

Eat the rich. They are the leeches of our society.

Eat the rich. They are bad at sharing.

Eat the rich. They break laws and use their money to cover it up.

Eat the rich. They don’t put their money back into the economy, but you do.

Eat the rich. They live in gated communities.

Eat the rich. They voted for Trump.

Eat the rich. They are liars and thieves.  

Eat the rich. Eat the rich. Eat the rich.

When I was Homeless in Seattle

In 2013, I was homeless.

It was 5 months, August through December.

I was lucky, because I never had to sleep outside.

I put all my things in storage, and I slept on some friends’ couch or my then-boyfriend’s couch.

I had a small selection of clothes and I went everywhere with my laptop (borrowed from a friend who had an extra one).

I was working, but couldn’t afford a place by myself. Honestly, I still can’t.

The uncertainty, the stress of applying for food assistance, the strain on my friends’ lives who helped me, the daily anxiety, it was awful. Thinking back on it, I can’t imagine what I was thinking starting a relationship while I was in that situation. I didn’t tell my boyfriend I was on food assistance, but he knew I was homeless—even half joked once about how I was dating him for his money. All of this reminds me of how classist this particular boyfriend was and all the reasons why it’s really good things didn’t work out.

During this time, I also read an article on poverty by Linda Tirado, author of Hand to Mouth. If you haven’t read either, I encourage you to do so.

My parents kept telling me to move back to Minnesota. My therapist and I agreed that I should keep trying as long as I was working. Moving back would have meant giving up at the time.

I almost moved to the eastside to rent a room from a friend of a friend. She wanted $500 per month (which today sounds like a dream). I was making about $1500 per month after taxes and I wanted to save up for a deposit on an actual apartment. I couldn’t afford a third of my monthly income for temporary housing. I could only afford $300 per month. She didn’t seem to understand and kept offering the room at $500, like I could somehow just be flexible. Also, I was off food assistance now, because if I worked a full 40 hours per week, my gross earnings put me $20 over the cutoff. So, I had to pay for food, a bus pass, my cell phone (still a dumb phone), my storage unit, student loan payments, and still have enough money in three months to put a deposit down on an apartment—three months was the length of my contract for the job I was working at the time.

Then help arrived: my cousin was moving from California to Seattle. His parents were financing him until he got on his feet, and they offered to rent a 2-bedroom apartment so that I could stop being homeless.

They covered most of my rent and utilities for 2 years. I floated my cousin $300 for rent when I was working (which was only sometimes).

By the time I moved out, I had a full-time job with benefits. While I still can’t afford Seattle rents, I can afford to live here with a roommate. But it took 2 years and a lot of money from my aunt and uncle. I lived somewhere nice with in-unit washer and dryer. I basically won the lottery.

It’s important to understand some things when you are talking about helping homeless people.

 

  • People need what I got—2 years of housing—but sometimes, most of the time, they need it from the state, because their family doesn’t have the kind of resources my aunt and uncle do. Being able not to worry where I was sleeping changed my life. I overcame the worst of my depression and anxiety. I kept my room clean—like for the first time in my life. I bounced back from injuries caused by an accident on a bus. These are things that people in ultra-tiny houses and temporary shelter don’t have space to do—literally or metaphorically. I’m not saying we need to give every homeless person in-unit washers and dryers, but our standard for getting people off the streets needs to be better than a roof and four walls. It needs to be better than a dormitory filled with strangers. People need breathing room. They need keys and doors with locks to keep their stuff safe—even shabby stuff. And they need enough security where they aren’t constantly worried that tonight is their last night indoors. That includes people suffering from mental illness and addiction.

Seattle, huge swaths of it, has forgotten this—and perhaps never bothered to know in the first place. They think it’s ok to dehumanize and demonize people on the streets. These are not lazy people. They are people who started out without a lot and got less and less, even as the people who started out with enough got more than they knew what to do with.

I continue to be in favor of the employee head tax that the city council just repealed. I am in favor of a state income tax and capital gains tax. There is no imaginable reason why we should have two of the richest people in the world living in King County while we have more homeless people than New York City (a city with 11x our population).

The way we treat our most vulnerable matters. It doesn’t matter if we protect big businesses. They have so much going for them, because they already have enough. We need to take care of the people who don’t have enough. Those people, you’ll find, will most often be people of color, neural a-typical, LGBTQIA+. They will be the people whose families have neglected them, whose generational wealth has been stymied over centuries of oppression, who don’t have affluent aunts and uncles. If we’re going to be a progressive city, we need to do this and do it right.