The other day I was outside an ice cream parlor and I saw a pair of tired parents sitting at a table watching their son and daughter eat ice cream. The blond boy, who couldn’t sit still, was running around and climbing on a mechanical hobby horse singing, “I wanna be a billionaire…” After looping this first line of the song around a half dozen times the mother got miffed and said, “Stop singing about it and do it…then you’ll have somethin’ to sing about.” Which made me think, is our society building a generation of little drones who will be running around and stepping on each other to make a billion dollars? Then I thought, well, that’s not too far off from how things are now.
The song he was singing was Travie McCoy’s “Billionaire.” Here is a sampling of the lyrics:
“I wanna be a billionaire so fricking bad
Buy all of the things I never had
Uh, I wanna be on the cover of Forbes magazine
Smiling next to Oprah and the Queen”
This song is the pop culture manifestation of the idea that one must have wealth to be happy. But the song is a new chapter in the myth that money buys happiness. The new message is that people don’t simply want to be wealthy anymore; they want to be disgustingly wealthy. What happened to simply wanting to be a millionaire?
It seems as if many people no longer dream about simply finding a respite from toiling away their days working, but rather they dream about acquiring the kind of wealth that one needs to buy big ticket material possessions like personal jets, third homes and Bentleys. As a result, people do not seem to be thankful for what they have because it just isn’t enough.
“Take a couple million and throw it in the air,” sings McCoy. Although to do such a thing is obviously insane. This line is an exaggeration of the ease with which we waste things in our culture. In fact, about a quarter of all food produced for consumption in the United States, per year, is thrown away. We live in a society of individuals who waste more than many people can eat in poorer nations, yet paradoxically they want more—much more.
On a generous note, Travie sings about all of the good things he would do if he had a billion dollars like buy cars for people and adopt children. This reveals another paradox; many people believe that they must be rich in order to help others. Why must one wait to be rich in order to help other people out?
Furthermore, it is wrong to perpetuate a system in which an individual can amass a personal fortune in excess of a few million dollars. It is wrong because it means that an individual controls far more of his allotment of resources. As a result, many other people on the planet must do without. Let’s not forget that 50% of the world lives on less than $2 per day.
Instead of trying to become a billionaire how about aspiring to be something useful like an artist, a teacher or a doctor? These goals are easier to achieve than becoming billionaire and far more useful for society. Also, the aspiring individual will have fewer moral quandaries.
The underlying problem is that so many people have the dream of being filthy rich without stopping to consider the toll of that pursuit on their fellow inhabitants? If everyone wants to be rich we can never discover the balance necessary for human progress.