Poor Babies — Rich Fools

A rich young man came to Jesus, wanting to know how to be part of Jesus’ program. He protested his righteousness. He kept all the laws with vigor and precision. He was worthy of applause. Jesus looked at him and loved him, poor self-deluded soul. “You lack one thing,” Jesus said, “go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” We read in Mark 10:22 that he went away bitterly disappointed, “for he had many possessions.

The news reports bring us the testimony of another aggrieved rich man. Billionaire hedge fund manager Leon Cooperman took to CNBC to complain about the GameStop short squeeze debacle. Cooperman is CEO of The Omega Advisors. According to the Daily Mail, he was convicted of insider trading in 2016. Cooperman was a guest on CNBC’s Fast Money: Halftime Report. He blasted a group of amateur investors that banded together, primarily through a group on Reddit, to buy and hold GameStop stock.

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

The result has been a combination of chaos and comeuppance for several hedge funds and their managers. According to Cooperman, it’s all the fault of those people who don’t belong in the halls of economic power and privilege. So, he vented his frustration to what he thought was a sympathetic audience. The bemused slap back online and in print was immediate.

“So yeah, the hedge fund managers are pissed and when they get pissed they rip out their Bloomberg terminals and throw them through the wall of their $27 million penthouses and then yell for their maids to come clean everything up and also to make them a sandwich,” Bess Levin writes in Vanity Fair. “Alternatively, they go on CNBC to complain that this is bullshit and unfair and not the way any of this is supposed to work.”

Levin quotes Cooperman’s concluding rant to demonstrate her point. “The reason the market is doing what it’s doing,” Cooperman yelled at the interviewer, “is people are sitting at home getting their checks from the government, okay, and this fair share is a bullshit concept.” One could have almost expected tears and a floor-rolling tantrum at this point. “It’s just a way of attacking wealthy people,” he shouted. “It’s inappropriate and we all gotta work together and pull together.”

Who, precisely, is this “we” of which Cooperman is a member?

This is another way into the system of White Male Supremacy – the power and privilege, the wealth and whining, that is foundational to this system. One of the essential marks of that system is the absolute imperative to keep the Insiders Club small, male, and white.

A fundamental part of this white identity is to limit the pool of the potentially privileged and to shrink that pool whenever possible. Any attempts to expand, to democratize, that pool is resisted and regarded as an alien invasion. The system that seeks to limit access to the arcana of the stock market is the same system that seeks to shrink voter rolls in order to sustain the power of the actually privileged.

Worse yet, what is exposed is the entitlement mentality of the white male insiders. Those giggling, goofy day traders on Reddit – they don’t “deserve” to be part of the system. They aren’t qualified and shouldn’t be allowed. They are part of the “unworthy poor” upon whom every system of privilege is built. The only thing that makes the poor unworthy is their poverty. So, the system, of necessity, must keep them poor to keep them unqualified to participate.

In her excellent book, Damnation Island, Stacy Horn quotes the journalist, Junius Henri Browne in 1869: “Poverty,” Browne wrote, “is the only crime society cannot forgive.” Now, it’s not that the GameStop gang were all eating out of dumpsters, but they were hardly in Cooperman’s class. They could not be forgiven their “not rich” status and committed the unforgivable sin of invading the provinces of the privileged.

When power is distributed, the privileged experience that equalized equity as loss. Thus we have this hilarious spectacle of aggrieved whining which Cooperman displayed on behalf of his class. One of the things revealed in this display is the infantile lack of resilience on the part of those coddled and swaddled in the receiving blankets of privilege and power. We see that same infantile behavior in the halls of Congress – whether on the part of insurrectionist invaders or on the part of the QAnon crazies.

We know that Junius Henri Browne was quite wrong in his itemizing of unforgivable crimes. In the system of White Male Supremacy, being Black, Brown, or Asian is also unforgivable and beyond repair. As those made “unworthy” by the system of White Male Supremacy have invaded the provinces of racial privilege, the response has always been swift and violent.

The real powers in this system are a small group of white men who, since the 1660’s, have persuaded impoverished white men that race is a more important marker of privilege than class. So, the actual privileged have used the potentially privileged to police the unworthy and prevent them from escaping bondage and accessing power.

When the unworthy find ways around the system – such as using the rules of the system to punish the powerful – the insiders cry foul. At such moments, the irrational stupidity of the system and its beneficiaries becomes transparent. Leon Cooperman was simply performing a role in that system. If he weren’t so godawful arrogant and willfully blind, one could almost feel a tiny bit sorry for him.

No, not really.

All of us beneficiaries of the system know how it works – especially we who are white, male, and “not poor.” We have pretended not to know for centuries, because it benefits us. Once in a while the blinders are lifted a bit. Now is one of those times.

Whether the GameStop incursion is entertainment, opportunism, or economic rebellion is not so important to me. It is another revelation that the system, as Ijeoma Oluo notes, “works according to design” – most of the time. When it doesn’t, there’s a lot of privileged squealing. The question is whether this peak behind the curtain will produce any real change in the system or the players.

We’ll see. But I’m not optimistic.

Neither is Jesus. “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!” Jesus observes. “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” I’m not all that worried about Mr. Cooperman’s eternal fate. I trust God for that. But I don’t expect him to have some personal epiphany in the next few days that might change anything in his world.

Yet, I’m hopeful against hope that the System can be resisted. “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God,” Jesus concludes in Mark 10:27, “for God all things are possible.

I don’t know what that means in this case, but I hope it’s true.

I don’t know what that means in this case, but I hope it’s true.

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