If there’s a shred of doubt in your mind that the United States is in the throes of endgame empire, look no further than The New Yorker June 7, 2021: The Money Issue.
Every issue of The New Yorker follows the same format: stylish cover art; “Goings on About Town” (which I skip, since I live 216 miles from New York); five “Talk of the Town” vignettes (which I read to confirm how nutty New Yorkers can be); a short-ish profile, “Shouts and Murmurs” (conscious comedy, though hardly the rag’s only humor), three long-ish articles or profiles on various subjects written with a consistently liberal slant; a short story; The Critics (books, films, exhibits, podcasts, television, theater, music); culminating in Cartoon Caption Contest. Round the issue out with a few poems (which I never read), a dozen cartoons featuring neurotic elites (which I always read), interspersed with thumbnail sketches on any page that suffers excessive wordiness. That’s your standard issue.
A few times a year, The New Yorker tacks a title on top of the Table of Contents (The Technology Issue, The Style Issue, etc.) that cues the reader to a thematic connection, usually between the cover art and the four profiles. Not the depth of saturated focus of, say People Magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive” issue. Just a nod that the content of one image or article might relate, and inform, the others.
The recent “Money Issue” boasts classic Depression-era imagery: Deco-inspired cover art of blocky figures with gears, T-squares, and shovels; toiling beneath skyscrapers and aero planes. Within are four profiles of men who make a lot of money. Not a gear nor a T-square nor a shovel among them. Millions, billions, earned by manipulating lines of code, fraudulent representation, hutzpah, and greed. Often shrouded by the illusion of public good.
Kurtis Minder, a geek who’s found a career negotiating between ransomware attackers and those hacked, is portrayed as a genial, dedicated guy. One comes away from his short-form profile thinking, “Bummer the world needs this service, but lucky for us, we’ve got this guy.”
The three long profiles are significantly less benevolent.
Joe Freedman, founder and CEO of the California-based private equity firm Paladin Healthcare Capital, purchased troubled Hahnemann Hospital in Philadelphia. Within eighteen months, he closed the closest thing Philly has to a public hospital (which also served as Drexel University Medical School Teaching Hospital), moved back to LA, and bought an eight thousand square foot mansion.
Next up, Chamath Palihapitiya, billionaire former Facebook wunderkind. These days, he pushes SPAC’s (Special Purpose Acquisition Companies) that allow corporations to raise funds without the hassle and scrutiny of an IPO. The deals have left many investors in the red, even as Palihapitiya’s fees run up to 20% of the stake. The article offers equal parts SPAC novelty (i.e. untested and prone for abuse; refer: junk bonds circa 1980) and celebrations of Mr. Palihapitiya’s hubris. The quote unquote Indian minority believes that he has been so ill-treated in tech-white Silicon Valley that he’s on a social mission to change the nature of the game for the small investor. How that mission plays out is significantly less clear than the ginormous bottom line of his personal wealth.
Closing out this fearful financial trio is Rich Paul, LeBron James’ agent, and founder of Klutch Sports Group, which has taken the tactics of championing an individual star’s welfare over any teams to new heights. (Sign a healthy multi-year contract with a middling franchise, play a year, then go sluggish and demand a trade to an upmarket city.) I don’t know, or care, much about the business of basketball. But my son summed up the gist of Rich Paul: “The guy’s great for his star players, and he’s ruining the NBA.”
By the time I finished “The Money Issue,” my stomach wretched at the world we’ve created. Forget the cover art that celebrates a connection between money and honest work. Forget the mild-mannered geek trying to work through criminal activities heretofore inconceivable. The real money guys of our world parachute into a challenged yet essential facility, milk it dry, and fly off without regard for what’s left behind. Or act precisely like the white guys they rant against, while cloaking personal greed in syrupy social pablum. Or maximize the return for the individual, team be damned.
Did no one at The New Yorker think, hey, “How about we profile someone doing good things with their money?” Even better, perhaps an article about the useful limits of money? Or the de facto poverty of a society that uses money as the sole measure of value? I am jaded enough to know that ethics, spirituality, and common welfare are twenty-first century traits for chumps. But as I read these profiles of insatiable, angry, never-satisfied winners, I can’t help believe that our society is too crooked to ever be righted again.