What constitutes the great American sin? Consider an antecedent in this week’s Torah portion, “V’Etchanan” (“I implored”)—Deuteronomy 3:23–7:11. My commentary involves door-to-door sales, carried interest and mega yachts.
Re Torah, Moses implores God to let him lead the Israelites into Canaan. God, angered by Moses’ previously striking a rock, rather than speaking to it, to get water for the people, had told Moses he would not cross the Jordan. God says, “Rav lach”—“You have much” (Deut. 3:26, translation: Richard Elliott Friedman). Question: Can we ever have enough?
The great American sin—at least one of them—is leaving money on the table. Only suckers fail to sweep up every dollar. Your net worth is $500 million? Loser! You’re not a billionaire. Your worth comes to $4 billion? Loser! You’re not worth $10 billion.
Of course, you can always overstate your assets.
The Christian Bible—1 Timothy 10—teaches, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” The love. Money isn’t inherently bad. As Tevya the milkman says in “Fiddler on the Roof,” “It’s no shame to be poor. But it’s no great honor, either.”
The lust for money is unhealthy. A New Yorker (8-8-22) article, “The Hard Sell,” expounds on this. Big bucks can be made selling door-to-door, and writer Tad Friend profiles a D2D wonder named Sam Taggart. Be wary of what you wish for.
“The best door-to-door salesmen can earn more than a million dollars a year,” Friend writes, [solar, alarm systems and pest control lead the way] “but it’s a punishing way of life.” Every sale is accompanied by multiple turn-downs. A solar salesman confesses, “The only way I get myself out of the house is that I made a sacred commitment to get one person to say no to me every day, and I try to experience that no as an uplifting event that I’m getting paid for.”
But a million dollars a year is chump change to investment bankers, corporate giants, oligarchs and TV/internet bloviators. They clutch at every last dime and donate to Congressional candidates, who support their notion that taxation is inherently bad. So, Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D.–Az.) yanked from the tax and climate bill the elimination of the carried interest loophole private equity investors continue to enjoy.
Makes sense. No one should have to settle for a mega yacht only 125 feet long when 200-footers better display one’s accomplishments. But even that’s small potatoes.
According to superyachttimes.com, over 70 yachts longer than 100 meters (330 feet) are afloat today. Jeff Bezos is having built a 417-foot sailing yacht that will cost north of $500 million. Your circumstances are humbler? You can buy the 60-meter (198 feet) Kaiser (2011), for only £49.5 million (roughly $59 million).
Surprise: Size doesn’t always matter. The Malaysian-Chinese businessman Robert Knok owns History Supreme. According to atlasmarinesystems.com, it’s a mere 100 feet long but cost $4.8 billion. (Yes, with a B!) Materials include 10,000 kilograms (22,000 pounds) of gold and platinum.
Back to Moses. Richard Elliott Friedman comments that God tells the prophet to quit complaining; he’s lived 120 years and done great things. But if even Moses believes he’s left money on the table, can the rest of us ever have enough?
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