At a party given by a billionaire on Shelter Island, Kurt Vonnegut informs his pal, Joseph Heller, that their host, a hedge fund manager, had made more money in a single day than Heller had earned from his wildly popular novel Catch-22 over its whole history. Heller responds, "Yes, but I have something he will never have . . . enough."
Enough. I was stunned by the simple eloquence of that word—stunned for two reasons: first, because I have been given so much in my own life and, second, because Joseph Heller couldn't have been more accurate. For a critical element of our society, including many of the wealthiest and most powerful among us, there seems to be no limit today on what enough entails.
We live in wonderful and sad times—wonderful in that the blessings of democratic capitalism have never been more broadly distributed around the globe, sad in that the excesses of that same democratic capitalism have rarely been more on display. We see the excesses most starkly in the continuing crisis (that is not an extreme description) in our overleveraged, overly speculative banking and investment banking industries, and even in our two enormous government-sponsored (but publicly owned) mortgage lenders, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, to say nothing of the billion-dollar-plus annual paychecks that top hedge fund managers draw and in the obscene (there is no other word for it) compensation paid to the chief executive officers of our nation's publicly held corporations—including ...