What is happening in our world? Who is doing what? what is going on now? These are questions that will be answered. Enjoy.
Playwright Ayad Akhtar on the Financial Trickery of Our Monetary High Priests
When you have money, you can do anything. You can make a few billion dollars, do penance, and resurrect your reputation. What was Bill Gates but a bully and impostor pawning off a second-rate product on the American public and the world, under investigation by the government before he departed the arena and fashioned himself into a holy saint? You don’t even have to go to jail. You can buy the jail.
The 1980s represented the time in our history when any other competing value besides money—because there have been other competing values—disappeared, and that’s why I’m writing about that era [in Junk]. The personal freedom to make as much money as I want, to buy whatever I want, became the only national value. And these libertarian ideals were embraced by both sides. But in the wake of that, everybody’s left on their own.
We started to make things in order to generate debt. GM was making cars to create loans that would yield a higher return. When this abstract activity of finance begins to take over real creation, it’s a different kind of taxation without representation. We are squeezed at every point of contact with the larger system. Fees for this and percentages of that—for your cell phone and your student debt and your ATM fees—it’s never-ending, this constant bleeding of the American people. There’s no room to breathe. You can’t actually get above water.
Identity politics is the thing everybody is distracted by while the country continues to be sold out from under all of us, generation after generation.
Finance is at the heart of almost every decision being made, whether it’s personal or national, municipal or corporate. There’s no other competing force in American life. There’s no competing force on the global stage. Identity politics is the MacGuffin. It’s the thing everybody is distracted by while the country continues to be sold out from under all of us, generation after generation. We have allowed the high priests of finance to shape our national policy and our psychic lives. And from this dead end we will not be rescued anytime soon.
I have $49 in my wallet. I need to go to the bank. I have a Lincoln Center ID that gives me a 10 percent discount at the café.
The contents of Ayad Akhtar’s wallet.
My dad made and lost a lot of money twice in his life. I think the second time he lost a ton of money was when the tech bubble crashed. And he said to me, “Look, I made it. I lost it. I made it again. I lost it again. I’ll make it again.” He is incredibly generous. His tipping policy is twice the bill, basically. My mom is always worried that he is too generous. So they compensate for one another. I’m very frugal. I’ve had so many years of really not having much money in [New York]. I’ve been here twenty-two, twenty-three years, living—well, not quite hand to mouth, but not much removed from that. And now that I’m more comfortable, those habits haven’t changed. They’re deeply embedded in me, I think. Money is not—although I write about it and think about it—something that I spend a great amount of time preoccupied by in my personal life.
Money is not a fixed reality. It’s all relative. What seems like a lot of money to one person really isn’t that much to somebody else. There are people who spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a vacation. It’s easy to say, “Well, that’s egregious.” But the truth is that proportionally it’s really no different from what I’m doing. Money cannot buy happiness. In fact, I think money buys you a lot more grief than happiness. There have been studies that have shown that after a certain point, there is no increase in well-being. I think we project a lot of things that are not about money onto money, and I don’t think any good comes of that. We live in an era of capitalism where limitless accumulation seems to be the ideal goal. So anything less than that is not the fulfillment of the ideal.
This article appears in the December 2017 issue of Esquire.