How Much is that Simulacrum in the Window?

When America’s wealthiest families start beating the drum for estate tax repeal, remember this heartwarming story of canine cathexis from Leona Helmsley:

[Helmsley’s] instructions, specified in a two-page “mission statement,” are that the entire trust, valued at $5 billion to $8 billion and amounting to virtually all her estate, be used for the care and welfare of dogs, according to two people who have seen the document and who described it on condition of anonymity.

This news reminds me of part of John Chung’s fascinating article Money as Simulacrum, which comments on the unreal differentials of power created by contemporary inequality:

In 2007, the average amount of compensation for the top 25 highest paid hedge fund managers was $892 million. The compensation for the highest paid manager was $3.7 billion. . . . Earlier this decade, the price of some paintings broke the $100 million mark. Single family homes also have broken the $100 million mark this decade. To the ordinary person, such amounts are beyond comprehension. Such numbers are the product of a different world, a different reality that bears no resemblance to the reality of most people.

Perhaps the numbers seem unreal, even unimaginable in an increasingly innumerate society. But the power they manifest is all too real, all too able to shift scarce resources from increasingly hungry persons in the developing world to spoiled pets in ours.

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