Virtual Princes, Virtual Wealth

I start by asserting that the fundamental sources of true wealth are in the earth and the sea. Some people create new wealth by transforming the lives and minerals grown in and extracted from these two sources into useful things for themselves and others.

A third level of wealth arising from these transformations is created by those who transport these useful things over land and sea (and through the air, beginning the 20th Century) to those who will use them.

The land and the sea are our wealth, not money, and not decorations such as jewels and mansions and other excesses.

What stimulated this train thought was my reading of The Leopard, by Tomasi di Lampedusa.

The fictional, but real, “Prince of Salina (‘The Leopard’),” was a noble in the Southern Italian province of Salerno, Sicily, until it was co-opted then dissolved by the beginnings of the new Italian State in 1861.

The Prince owned land, inherited from his ancestors. The residents of his lands were his de facto subjects.

Historical kings and princes of both sexes were in their exalted and privileged positions because the wealth they possessed, the only true wealth—land and its fruits, and the means through which they are transformed into useful goods.

With privilege came the princes’ responsibility for their subjects, sanctified or at least supported by the Church, which also owned extensive lands. Some princes and princesses acted in ways to warrant respect and fealty from their subjects, others didn’t. The ones who didn’t were sometimes overthrown by their subjects, leaving political vacuums to be filled by other princes or by new forms of governance.

Today, princes no longer, for the most part, own land. They own… well what do they own? Shares in large corporations, both privately owned and investor-owned (i.e., with shares traded on stock markets).

The Prince was depressed (about the politicians and their soldiers dissolving the status quo and creating new, more complicated social and political structures). ‘All this shouldn’t last. But it will, always; the human ‘always’ of course. A century, two centuries … and after that it will be different, but worse. We were the Leopards and Lions; those who’ll take our place will be little jackals, hyenas; and the whole lot of us, Leopards, jackals and sheep, we’ll go on thinking ourselves the salt of the earth.

Who are the princes of today? Are they leopards and lions, or are they jackals, hyenas, or other animals? (Let us not discuss politicians who are, with exceptions, lackeys of today’s princes.)

Here is the net worth of the “top ten” (measured in billions of dollars, 2018; source = Forbes Magazine).


A few of these ten people hold real wealth, that is, land. Jeff Bezos, the Koch brothers, and the Larry Ellison family are among the holders of the largest privately owned tracts of land in the USA:

From: “AMERICA’S 100 LARGEST LANDOWNERS 2017” (Source)

1. John Malone
2. Ted Turner
3. Emmerson Family
4. Stan Kroenke
5. Reed Family
6. Irving Family
7. Brad Kelley
8. Singleton Family
9. King Ranch Heirs
10. Pingree Heirs

28. Jeff Bezos

55. Koch Family

91. (Larry) Ellison Family

What are these landholders doing with the land? In 2015, ninety percent of U.S. farms were small, family operated farms, with under $350,000 in annual gross revenue. These small farms, however, accounted for only twenty-four percent of the value of overall farm production. Large-scale family farms with at least $1 million in gross revenue made up only 2.9 percent of U.S. farms but contributed forty-two percent of total production. Nonfamily farms accounted for only 11 percent of agricultural production. (Source)

So, it seems that these landholders, are not, by and large, farmers or ranchers. (However, seeing the name “King Ranch” on the list warns me not to be too glib.)

Landholders in 19th Century Europe, and in prior centuries, tended to live on the land they owned or controlled on behalf of a monarch, each being a part of the community they dominated and supported. They presided over important cultural/religious events and defended their territory from invaders and usurpers who endangered the wealth, that is the land, which was truly the people’s because their lives depended on it.

Now, as seen above, in the USA ninety percent of land in production is owned and managed by small families. These are small but true principalities, insofar as state and national taxation and other laws will allow them to be so.

But back to the dollar-wealthy princes worth billions.

Many of the wealthy people and corporations listed above own things that create wealth, such as machines which serve farmers and miners and oil drillers and those who harvest the seas. Evermore, however, we see wealthy people who are in charge of keeping track of things and in holding and transmitting information. Information is now in the cloud; we have entered a new age of virtual, non-tangible reality.

Hence, we now have non-tangible, virtual princes to pay homage and fealty to. We have become dependent on the virtual tools and information they dispense. We see their corporate names throughout the world, and we see diminishing differences among capital cities.

The narrator of The Leopard makes these observations as the Prince of Salina lay on his deathbed:

“…  (T)he significance of a noble family lies entirely in its traditions, that is in its vital memories; and he was the last to have any unusual memories, anything different from those of other families…”

 

Posted in Books & Literature, Economics, Government & Politics, History, wealth | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

I Declare this as the First Day of Spring in Stockholm

Opinions differ on the day Spring arrives, especially at the northern latitudes, Stockholm’s being 59 degrees north.

Fruits and vegetables at “Haymarket” (Hötorget), near today’s objective

The Vernal Equinox occurred locally on 20 March, and today is the 22nd. Until today, the temperatures for the past many weeks were consistently between -10 and zero degrees Celsius. Last week the streets and paths were ominously slippery with layers of ice and hardened snow. The gravel strewn by workers cannot always be on every slippery patch and cannot be strewn immediately and everywhere after every ensuing snow or freezing rain.

But today! The local temperatures ranged between 5 and 10 degrees, the ice and snow have melted sufficiently to allow people to stride without worrying, not allowing the sound and feel of the crunch of gravel beneath their feet to detract from feeling their regained freedom and the warmth of direct sunlight.

Yes, the sun. At this latitude and time of year, it shines directly in your face from the south on a clear afternoon such as today. The days are currently advancing in length at 5.19 minutes each day—that’s thirty-six minutes in a week.

But these facts and numbers are not what gave me the feeling of spring today. It was my walk from Sankt Eriksplan to Hötorget, warmed by the radiance of the sun and my visual impressions along the way.

Along Oden Street (Odengatan), some of the cafés and restaurants had already placed chairs and tables on sidewalks which were occupied by customers facing the brilliant sunlight of the early afternoon. Flowers vendors were displaying their offerings for those preparing for the Easter holiday, including birch branches with colored feathers affixed to their ends.

I turned right on Queen Street (Drottningsgatan) which leads directly downtown and from which I will take a slight jog at the end, to reach my objective: a coffee shop near Hötorget to have fika with friend Eric Gandy.

I was grateful to have sufficient time to visit a favorite used bookstore on Queen Street (Antiqvariat August) which was having a 50%-off sale. Oh, joy! I bought, for 45 Swedish Crowns (around US$5.50) a biography of the Italian Baroque composer Antonio Vivaldi (translated from the French to English), about whom I know too little, but whose music I treasure.

Further along Queen Street at the intersection of Wallen Street (Wallengatan), I was struck by the beauty of a building I had passed by many times without noticing.

At the corner of Drottningsgatan and Wallengatan

The feeling of Spring sprang mostly from the attitudes and energies of the people I passed and strode along with on my jaunt of around an English mile. Jackets, including mine, were no longer fastened to the neck, scarves were absent or loosely hanging, gloves were stored in pockets or purses.

And, the days are longer than the nights for the next six months.

Therefore, I declare: Spring!

Posted in Books & Literature, Music & Musicians, Stockholm | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment