Are modern billionaires just hedonistic, selfish hogs ?
To me, the answer is yes.
I am listening to a CD lecture course on the Italian Renaissance. In Florence in the 14th and 15th centuries, some families gained enormous wealth. What did they do with that wealth ? They commissioned great artists to make beautiful art - much for the public. They commissioned public buildings to celebrate the greatness of ... Florence. Not themselves. Oh, they did want their memory preserved. But they recognized that the way to do that was to do great things for the people.
Florence had regained knowledge of the classics and that knowledge created much social pressure on wealthy persons to do acts of greatness. Aristotle had said in Nichomachean Ethics that regarding money, virtue required magnificence from a person of great wealth: magnificence meant doing great things with the wealth for the public. And "great" meant not just expensive, but wonderful , beautiful, and tasteful. Wealthy Florentines ensured quality both by specifics in the contracts and using committees to hold contests with all great artists permitted to enter. The commissions for art, sculpture, and architecture also paid well, ensuring top creativity and quality.
And it worked. Florence was the flower of the renaissance and its treasures are still recognized as truly great.
Here's a quote from Pericles given by Thucydides about a virtue of the Athenians:
"We cultivate refinement without extravagance and knowledge without effeminacy; wealth we employ more for use than for show, and place the real disgrace of poverty not in owning to the fact but in declining the struggle against it."
And Athens in the fifth century was a locus of greatness in architecture, knowledge and culture.
Who among the modern mega-rich emulates the magnificence of Andrew Carnegie who donated everything to create libraries in multitudes of small towns in America, including my home town? Following Pericles, his great wealth was quickly used to increase the intellectual capabilities of the entire nation. It was not hoarded in trust or a named foundation to perpetuate the glory of the donor.
Who uses the money for magnificence or to increase knowledge and / or quality of art, sculpture, letters, architecture ? Who does acts of great magnificence for the public ? I can think of none.
Not even the Gates Foundation does acts or deeds of magnificence. Buffet simply gives his money to the Gates Foundation. Hedge fund billionaires mostly build palaces for themselves or buy old paintings. They create nothing new or magnificent.
I've written on this subject before. It vexes me. The public needs to exert social pressure on billionaires to show the classic virtue of magnificence. Social pressure works. If worthless billionaires were ostracized or ignored, perhaps they would get it. And do something great with their great wealth.
Word of the Day
"Hypomania" - noun [$10]
Hypomania means a minor form of mania.
Sentence: A worldwide hypomania of social pressure on billionaires to do something magnificent with their great wealth could make the 21th century a truly great time for mankind. The skills are out there among the people. The wealthy need to hire it to do acts of magnificence.