Spreading the wealth around

There has been lots of talk recently at both the state and federal levels of a minimum wage. I’m sometimes tempted to ask why not a maximum wage, but I freely acknowledge in our system that is nonsense. Profit is the key motive, which drives entrepreneurs and moves our capitalistic society forward. Think Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates. Or a century ago Andrew Carnegie – there are libraries all over this country because of him.

In our own day like Carnegie, John Wood is the Founder of “Room to Read.” Wood left his position as Microsoft’s Director of Business Development for the Greater China Region to dedicate his life and money to helping poor children in developing countries read. He has established over 12,500 libraries for them. He has built more than 1,500 schools and supported 13.400 girls so they can graduate from secondary school.

But I’m also thinking of less generous millionaires and multi-millionaires. They seem to spend their endless money in the weirdest ways. Money is no object. In extravagant hotels and restaurants, they’ll pay $40 for a soda and cheeseburger. That could feed a struggling family for weeks.

Forty-dollar cheeseburgers, however, are small potatoes. Dennis Anthony Tito, a multi-millionaire engineer, who was the first space tourist for eight days in 2001, is now planning to spend more of his millions to take a 501-day trip to Mars in 2018. Millions of bucks just for a Mars flyby. Dare I wonder how many of the world’s needy would Tito’s money feed, cloth and educate?

But it’s not just super-rich space tourists with big egos. How about the obscene salaries of many athletes? Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees makes $29 million a year, $275 million on his 10-year contract. How much of that, like Carnegie, Gates and Wood, does he give to make our world better and more literate? Damn little, I’d guess. But how many teachers’ salaries would $275 million fund? How many counselors in our schools? How many police officers in our streets? How many jobs in our communities?

The wealth we have is not really ours. It is a gift on loan to us. It is meant for us to shelter and help ourselves and our families, but also to help others, to heal others, and enable others to live more fully. Our money is like manure. If we pile it high and hoard it, it grows moldy and fetid. If we spread it on our fields and gardens, it nourishes the earth, makes things grow for ourselves and for others.

Gates, Buffett, Carnegie and Wood spread their money around. But how about Tito and A-Rod? My guess is that vanity is part of it all. And it’s not only the super-rich. How could we forget politicians and John Edward’s four hundred dollar haircut?

And how about the military? President Dwight Eisenhower had it right when he said, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.”

Let’s hope that folks and governments with money to burn don’t burn it, but spread it around to help heal our troubled world.

Daniel O’Rourke lives in Cassadaga. His column appears on the second and fourth Thursday each month. A grandfather, Dan is a married Catholic priest. His new book, “The Living Spirit” is a collection of previous columns. To read about that book or send comments on this column visit his website