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Friday, 07 February 2014 06:42

Message to Multi-Billionaire Sam Zell: No, the 1% Don't Work Harder


azell(Photo: Andrew Huff)Sam Zell is known around Chicago as a bit of a brash, blunt multi-billionaire.  After making his fortune in setting up massive real estate funds (REITs) and then diversifying into Mitt Romney style buy and strip apart corporate acquisitions, he purchased the faltering Chicago Tribune in 2007.

At a televised conference Zell held with the staff, one journalist asked him how he would ensure that, in essence, the bean counters wouldn't be compromising the reporting in the Tribune and its other major media holdings (including the Los Angeles Times). Zell glared at the reporter and simply responded, "F*ck you!"

Zell's primary approach to saving the Tribune empire was to drastically cut staff, including journalists, and sell off assets, but he didn't have an instinct for the media world and ultimately the Tribune corporation went into bankruptcy.  Eventually, Zell sold it at a loss to some other investors.  

This is just some background on the man who just the other day claimed (according to an article reposted ironically in the Chicago Tribune) that people "should not talk about envy of the 1 percent, they should talk about emulating the 1 percent. The 1 percent work harder, the 1 percent are much bigger factors in all forms of our society."

As the Huffington Post reported about the context of Zell's audaciously self-serving statement:

When the going gets tough, the rich dudes stick together. Or at least rich dude Sam Zell did in an interview with Bloomberg TV Wednesday.

The billionaire chairman of Equity Group Investments backed up fellow rich guy Tom Perkins, who set off a firestorm when he recently compared the "progressive war on the 1 percent" to Nazi anti-Semitism in a letter to the Wall Street Journal. (He laterapologized for using the word "Kristallnacht" but defended the overall "message.")

"I guess my feeling is that he’s right," Zell said when asked by Bloomberg's Betty Liu how he felt about Perkins' stance. "The 1 percent are being pummeled because it’s politically convenient to do so."

It warms the cockles of one's heart to hear such an affirmation of plutocratic solidarity.

Of course, being a multi-billionaire generally requires a narcissistic ruthlessness that allows one to fleece people without the least bit of compunction.  It also enables many in the 1% to indulge in the fantasy that they are actually contributing to embettering society, rather than just accepting the fact that they are extraordinarily skilled at avaricious scheming on a massive scale.

If Zell wanted to see someone work hard, he should get himself down into the gritty world of a coal mine.

Or he might consult with one George W. Bush, who infamously responded (at a 2005 town hall meeting) to a divorced mother who worked three jobs: “You work three jobs? Uniquely American, isn't it? I mean, that is fantastic that you're doing that." 

When you work three jobs -- or just one minimum wage job -- you don't get lavish vacations in exclusive resorts around the world, flying first class or on private jet.  You're lucky if you get any vacation at all.  Of course, you also have the stress of worrying about all the unpaid bills and the cost of daycare.  Then there's finding an apartment you can afford that doesn't have too many cockroaches, too much lead paint, or too many mice running about.  

But to Sam Zell, that's not working hard, apparently. However, that mom that Bush called "uniquely American" is neither unique nor someone who works less hard than Zell.  She is just living day to day, laboring to survive and to get her children fed; meanwhile, Zell -- in between deals -- is tooling around Chicago or somewhere else in the world on one of his many legendary top of the line motorcycles. (A Forbes profile of Zell offers this description: "Zell, nicknamed 'the grave dancer,' is a notoriously aggressive businessman who enjoys the thrill of riding his motorcycles in risky places like Caracas.")

George Romney, when speaking to CPAC in 2013, followed Bush's lead in praising the hard working class American who struggles to get by by laboring long hours and multiples jobs:

Romney talked about entrepreneurs, religious leaders and members of the armed forces as examples of America's greatness. He then praised "heroes in the homes of the nation."

"Single moms who are working two jobs so their kids can have the same kind of [things] other kids at school have. Dads who don't know what a weekend is because they've taken on so many jobs to make sure they can keep the house," said Romney. "We're a patriotic people. The heart of America is good."

Most Americans like the ones Romney described likely aren't working multiple jobs out of patriotism; they're trying to make ends meet at a time when average wages are plunging even as overall productivity goes up.

Plutocrats such as Romney and Bush love to praise the laborer who toils endlessly to meet his or her family's needs, but they advocate policies consistent with the notion that Zell peddles that billionaires work harder.  It's pretty rare to see a 1% with sweat on his or her brow, unless it is during a workout with a trainer on a private island in the Caribbean. Otherwise, the most exercise that they get is slamming down the phone after screaming at a human resources director to fire 60% of the staff at a newly acquired company being stripped down for flipping for a profit.

Sam Zell can engage in all the fantasy that he wants that his four or five billion dollars -- and his "grave dancing" strategy of acquiring wealth -- are benefitting the nation.

Such were the delusions and sense of entitlement of Maria Antoinette and the last Tsar of Russia.

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