What’s an accumulator? In the best case, it’s somebody that collects a lot of what they like. They accumulate a lot of it, because it pleases them in some important way. When accumulation is relatively healthy, it’s accompanied by a deep appreciation of the nuances of whatever it is that is being collected. The accumulator becomes something of a connoisseur.
Sometimes, though, when accumulation goes too far, the accumulator accumulates to excess. They take far more than they need. This is bad when it means that there isn’t enough left for everybody else. It’s also a bit of a sad pathology, really. When accumulation becomes an end in itself and what is collected is not appreciated or valued, only the act of accumulation is, then there is a problem. Also, when the accumulator displaces all other aspects of life to focus on accumulation of excess, it’s not a good situation.
Let’s take a few accumulations and examine some open questions. Let’s look at stories, music, art, money and power, for instance.
A person that collects and retells good stories is called a raconteur. They care about the social connectedness between people that makes a good story relatable. In this case, the accumulation is in the service of redistribution. That’s a reasonable case for accumulation, especially since stories are essentially ideas and if shared, it means two or more people can accumulate the story, instead of just one.
Music is an interesting case. Since the millennium, studies have shown that people collect more music than ever before, but that it goes in one ear bud and out the other. If a millennial pays for music, it is an act of supreme generosity and support for an artist. Otherwise, studies show they just don’t pay. They tend not to be interested in supporting the long term career of artists, through their difficult years, until the artist develops and grows into somewhat of a musical genius. Music, to millennials, is largely disposable and consumable. Here today, gone tomorrow, replaced by some new music or other.
Here are some open questions that arise from that cultural shift. If nobody pays for music to be made, who will make it? Where will the new music come from? Do you want the music that is made to be made amateurishly, in somebody’s spare time, or would you prefer the quality of the music to reflect the hours and effort invested in crafting it? If you won’t pay for the hours and years it takes for music to be refined and perfected to a professional level, then who will? Are you reliant on a few damned fools making music while starving, or else being from wealthy enough circumstances that they can make music, full time, without worrying about paying the bills, living somewhere, eating and staying warm? These are not incidental questions. They are central to how music is made from now on. If you want to accumulate music, then presumably you care that it isn’t thrown together by people chancing their hands in a bedroom studio. You want it to carry certain qualities of performance and finish and to be good examples of the art. If you want that, how will it happen, if nobody pays for the creation of that art?
Art, in general, is something else that people accumulate, though frequently as a tax avoiding proxy for currency or investments. Capital gains tax is advantageous for many people, so art becomes the capital. In other words, it is accumulated for its other properties as a financial instrument, not its inherent beauty, quality, aesthetic value, workmanship or the skill and vision of the artist. Those other qualities are only significant to the art’s function as a financial instrument in that they create a market for the art in question.
Given that the production and marketing of an artist’s output needs to be able to create this widespread reputation and desire, to make a viable market for the art, then who should fund all that effort? If you go to web sites, such as http://www.whopaysartists.com/ , you learn that while some art patrons and people pay for art to be made, most don’t. Even prestigious, money making events prefer the art to be donated. In some cases, the money paid, when broken down against hours taken to create the art, works out at less than or comparable to a minimum wage. So again, the question arises: do you want all art to be made by minimum wage artists? Like hamburgers or subway sandwiches? If we want art made with care, which involves people dedicating their working hours to creating it, who funds that? Do we want all art to be made in spare time hours by enthusiastic amateurs, or by starving “professional” artists barely able to survive on what they make, or by people foolish enough to go broke doing it, or by the independently wealthy artists that can afford to play around with art and not worry about where the money will come from? Won’t a refusal to pay fairly for art affect the quality of the art made? Do accumulators of art even care about the quality of the art they collect, or is it simply a numbers game to them?
How about money? If you accumulate money, what purpose does it serve? A stash of it might seem like a form of security, but during the Bolshevik revolution, many wealthy families woke to discover that their assets had been confiscated by the state, overnight. They were instantly broke, because their accumulation of wealth, represented as a bank balance, was simply deemed to belong to the state from that day forth. They had no way to protect and defend their accumulation. Sure, some had antiques, precious metals, furniture, diamonds and jewels, which they had to trade for food to survive. In the end, the smart people came to understand that even these monetary substitutes were worthless, when you were hungry. You couldn’t eat the silverware. There are many that came through this experience that started to accumulate something more readily tradable than money and jewels, in a survival situation. They began to accumulate highly desirable, non-perishable but non-essential foodstuffs, such as sugar, which become scarce, when times are hard. Those things, they found, could always be traded for fresh vegetables, eggs and milk.
The accumulation of money, such as happens when wealth inequality becomes exaggerated, as it is in the present day, suppresses demand. When there is no demand, there is no production and no jobs. Why invest in creating plant and employing people to make things, when nobody can afford to buy the things that are made? Wealth inequality does not, in fact, cause the so called job creators to create jobs. Customers do. Customers need money to spend. When all the money has been accumulated in a few people’s pockets, they simply cannot spend enough of it, fast enough to sustain an economy. So if you are a money accumulator, why are you doing this? What end game can you foresee that doesn’t end with you being unable to eat the food, breathe the air and drink the water either?
Power and influence is something else that some people become drunk on accumulating. It seems as though they like not only the opulence and indolence that having power brings, but also on being able to rule over fellow human beings, without any legitimate claim or characteristics to warrant doing so. People begin to think that power is equal to money and that money, alone, bestows power upon them. This only remains true while money is wanted by those that don’t have it, because they think it is the only means of enabling them to live and survive. There are many examples, throughout history, where money failed to do that, so it became worthless and hence the powerful, whose power was vested in their money, became powerless.
Some open questions for those that accumulate power and money are whether they think they can live as islands. Do they think that connectedness to others and the environment, social capital and mutual empathy, compassion and mercy are worthless? They seem to believe this, because they attribute no (or only token) monetary value to these things. Do they believe that with enough money, they won’t need a well educated populace that enjoy good health and public infrastructure? If so, who will provide their opulence? How will they keep their own disease and infirmity at bay, if ill health is widespread and there are no doctors, because none were educated? How will an ambulance reach them, if there are no roads, or even infrastructure over which to send a cry for help? In the end, Stalin died because nobody could risk treating him, for fear of being held accountable for his demise and then being shot for allowing the beloved leader to die. It was safer to stand by and watch him suffer, than to treat him or try to save his sorry life. That’s ultimate power – the power to scare everybody away.
In the short term, accumulators go to extremes because everything seems ok, for now. They can’t imagine that a lack of future, well-made music and art or of social connection or a polluted environment or the absence of education, widespread health and public infrastructure will threaten them. They imagine they can buy their way out of these threats, or cherry pick from the art and music that already exists. But these threats do not disappear with the application of money or by rummaging through back catalogue. It’s as sure as night follows day. Once those things are gone, the world becomes a poorer place for all; even the accumulators that thought they had a lot. When the economy has been destroyed and the artists have all starved, wealth and power can’t buy anything. There’s nothing to buy.
So the ultimate question for accumulators that are doing so at the expense of the producers is this: why are you doing something that will result in not only harm to the producers, but also harm to yourself, as well as to all of society and culture?
Short of having a death wish for themselves and all of humanity, I cannot imagine an adequate, acceptable answer to this question. A death wish, of course, is not adequate or acceptable either.