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The Art of Greed:

When Necessity is Not


Necessarily the
Mother of Invention

It is not the economy. It is the human being. It is


unquestionably imprudent to think otherwise. Ever since
1601 when the English East India Company dispatched its
first outing to the New World in search of ill-gotten gains—
thus “inventing” capitalism—there has been a knee-jerk
reaction to the accumulation of wealth as if it were some
sanctified system, for the good of all, at the expense of
workers sweating to accrue it for their persons in charge,
and an arrangement, while not perfect, that is the best of
all those available. Time and time again this pact has
degenerated systematically into chaos and has caused
immeasurable misery for hundreds of millions hoping to
receive some “small change” from this frequently corrupt,
obviously flawed, unsigned treaty coordinated between
employee and employer—but by the employer. Economic
dodos even study these cycles of stupidity pontificating,
with coloured pie charts and factitious, “horoscopic”
mathematical theorems, on how it is just normal that
fractures in the technique of administering an economy and
financing its stock market are a matter of historically
recurring routine. (William H Gross, managing director of
Pacific Investment Management [www.pimco.com] and Las
Vegas blackjack expert, is reputed to use gaming juju when
calculating stock buys; and, my uncle Lester Wood, Merrill
Lynch executive in the old days, told me flat out: “Gamble
the [stock] market to lose.”) Will someone please tell me
when this 400-year-old ruse used deceptively to gain
another’s confidence, this swindle, will pass into oblivion
for the good of all of us?

I have lived in three “capitalistic” countries: The “very


rich” DisUnited States of Northamerica (1944-1975); the
very poor Venezuela (1975-1983); and, the very poor “rich”
Italy (1983-to the present). I am privileged to have had an
eclectic view of poles apart standards of living, and I delight
continually in putting them side by side. From my analyses
of my assessments, I have drawn many interesting
assumptions. But above and beyond the statistics, reports,
studies, examinations…what have you…I have concentrated
particularly so in endeavouring to comprehend the
individuals breathing in these settings.

D
uring the intoxicatingly, capitalistically-maverick
Judeo-Christian democratic years (1974-1982) when
some Venezuelans binged on the lucre culled from
the exorbitantly high prices ($40.00!) of their liquid gold, I
curried favour in an affinity with high governmental
functionaries. Venezuela was in the pink of graft and
corruption and Caracas was their capital. A time when all,
except Venezuela’s poor, were drunk on spending and
buying. All you needed was a telephone, a telex machine,
and a rented room—your mini “office.” People were
importing and exporting unrestrainedly. Whisky, cars,
electronic equipment, clothes—even two snow ploughs! If
you named it, you could buy it. Venezuelans were so “rich,”
they qualified to take out billion dollar loans in the
DisUnited States and Europe which they still have not been
able to pay back. The feverishness was so overstated, my
friend Fernando, a government official, came running into
my office one morning at the Ministerio de Informacion y
Turismo brandishing a copy of El Nacional with the new,
higher posting of a barrel of Venezuelan petroleum, then
blurted out—his eyes flooded with tears—for all, including
me, within ten kilometres, this squawk in Spanish: “We’re
going to fuck you gringos for good!” Fernando could not
forgive and forget—as millions of his compatriots—the
decades of exploitation suffered under the thumb of
despotic foreigners. His hate was such that when I asked
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him, to calm him down, how he was going to go about
“fucking” the gringos, he retorted: “We don’t know yet,
but you can be sure we’ll do it, gringo!” Little did we know,
at that time, a Hollywoodish actor was waiting in the wings
of the White House soon to play his most eminent role, soon
to bring down the curtain on the Venezuelan bacchanalia of
the late 1970s and early 1980s.

The halcyon existence of this laissez-faire licentiousness


was orchestrated by Los Doce Discípulos—twelve mafia-like
Venezuelan families who reigned heavy-handedly over the
core economic sectors of their country including foods and
beverages, the print and TV media, building construction
materials, energy, banking and others defining Venezuela’s
prominence as an underdeveloped country on its way to
being developed. All of these crime syndicates possessed
strong business affiliations with the DUS, Europe and other
industrial nations on the economic go-go. These cliques of
money lords lived in a world of their own. They were
segregated from the realities of the horrible human
condition that was sapping the vitality of deprived
Venezuelans who were barred from them by bullet-proof
glass, security guards, electronic alarms, dispensation and a
disgusting haughtiness which wreaked from the disdain the
“peers of the realm” held for their disadvantaged fellow
countrymen. If you went to fiestas with well-to-do
Venezuelans, the guests’ pearl-handled pistols were laid out
on the coffee table, or, if there were children in the home,
stashed high up on a China closet. They talked about how
many airplanes their families’ businesses had, in what
universities their lovely ones were enrolled in the DUS or
Europe, in what condominiums in Miami they had purchased
apartments, in what Dade County banks they had hoarded
ready money ripped off their government, in what five-star
hotel in Europe they had sojourned last summer…on and on
and on. These nouveau riche were dressed to kill in Italian
designer clothes ticketed overstatedly at up to $10,000 a
part of the pack, they wore diamond rings and thick gold
chains and other sparklers that sparkled with the Dom
Perignon champagne served in crystal goblets. At wedding
soirées where a thousand party-goers might be gathered,
they inebriated themselves on imported wines and whiskies
and munched on mounds of gourmet foods the leftovers of
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which hundreds of poverty-stricken people outside would
wait to scrounge for after the splurge of gaiety had
terminated. For every action there is a reaction. Hugo
Chávez was the upshot to that bizarre, hedonistic lunacy of
cruelty and indifference which exemplified the dog-eat-
dogism of that era. None of the Los Doce Discípulos ever
conjured up the mere inkling that millions and millions of
Venezuela’s destitute populace would spring out of their
bondage and stipulate a better life, a better Venezuela.
How could it be that a few thousand of Venezuela’s “upper
class” made enemies of millions of their own fellows! Why
were they so stupid? We’re going to fuck you gringos for
good….

I
know a man in Prato, Italy not far from where I live who
is particularly interested in his “image” and how it is
perceived by others. And I would like to tell you about
him.

I became acquainted with this individual some time ago,


and met him for the first time in his office. The more I came
to know about him, the more I was struck with
astonishment. And even as I begin to tell this story, I am
tempted to pinch myself to convince myself that I am not
dreaming! This true story is for me a very poignant one
indeed.

The personage under discussion is a business consultant


(commercialista), a very successful one at that—if one
would judge by appearances only. He is always answering
his cellphone. He drives an enormous white automobile
equipped with the most up-to-date electronic gadgetry. His
office, with three secretaries, is outfitted with computers,
fax machines and other modern office accruements not
always found in Prato. The room adjacent to his
administrative centre is crammed with books and economic
magazines and journals mostly written in English. There is
a book in Italian he himself wrote and published personally
but which few people have purchased but which he has
given hundreds of gifts of. He represents many companies,
and is often so busy in his office, he tells his secretaries to

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inform certain callers that he is out of town. He is twenty
seven years old, uses Valium drops to calm his nerves, and
is under doctor’s care for an ulcer. If you look at the left
arm of his huge, expensive leather desk chair, you will see
that it is worn through to the “bone” from his nervous hand
rubbings. And he has told me, kidding of course, at least
three times—Freudian-slipping all the way—the following:
“If I don’t go crazy, I’ll go to jail!” (Kidding, of course!)
Naturally, he dresses to kill. Elegance is all around him. If
you enter his place of work, you will be impressed
immediately with an inordinate amount of framed pieces of
paper which—with the exception of one oil painting of his
beautiful, childless wife—are dedications to him for some
honour or other, for some diploma from one university or
other, for some seminar or other he has frequented.
Although he never went to university in his own country, he
has testaments to his scholarly savoir faire from many
institutions that seem at first to be reputable and of an
inestimable quality. All of these certificates are, as might
be expected, framed in very elegant, costly wooden borders
which enclose them. You would be fixed deeply.

Get ready to pinch yourself…

Two of these qualifications are from a school in California


where this character studied for less than two months. The
diplomas state clearly that the man swotted successfully
and fulfilled regularly the requirements for not only a
Master’s degree in Economics, but even a Doctor of
Philosophy degree in Economics. Under these two enclosed
parchments is another boxed declaration, a bit smaller,
written on false United States’ Department of State
stationery attesting to the facts that the two degrees are in
buona fide, and signed not “by…for…” but forged for the
United States’ Secretary of State his very self!

Get ready to pinch yourself…

If we lean towards another wall in the room, two more


sheepskins will be seen. These are from a university in

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Switzerland, and they proclaim that this twenty-“sevenish”
someone has studied for not only the Master of Business
Administration, but still—hold on!—another Doctor of
Philosophy in Economics! (To date: MA, PhD, MBA, PhD!)
Are you counting with me?

Get ready to pinch yourself…

One of the truths of the matter here is that this somebody,


to qualify for his Swiss PhD, purchased a PhD thesis—of a
student recently “doctored” at a very famous United States’
business school—from a company in Ann Arbor, Michigan
and well-known throughout the degree-getting world, had
that thesis translated, and then submitted it in order to
receive his Helvetian documents conferring honour and
privilege.

Get ready to pinch yourself…

The most recent foray by this man hungry in his extravagant


quest for recognition of his adroitness in business relations,
has been the enrolment in an expensive “by post” course,
with audio-visuals and brilliantly designed study guides, for
yet another MBA (MA, PhD, MBA, PhD, MBA!!!) granted by
an English school which I was informed, by an Oxford
professor, is perhaps the most respectable of its kind and
which is much-touted throughout Europe. And with all of
these pegs, our fox wants to return to a famous business
university in his own country to—you guessed it!—TEACH!

Get ready to pinch yourself…

While he reads some English, especially economic


terminology, he cannot—I swear!—communicate in English,
and if you call to speak to him in English, one of his
secretaries will tell you right off that he is out of town! Call
again? Still out of town.

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Our heavily-“degreed” perpetual student, ever on the
march to nail another “HONOUR” to his wall to impress his
clients, has larceny at heart. If he is to be a purloiner, he is
going to be the best of sharks. His determination and verve
would move you. If it is everybody’s business to steal, he
will do it better. He is an artist. He does what he does
because he loves its labour for its own sake. (Cannot we, at
least, admire him for this?) And the joy he affords his dear
mother and father, as he sits next to them at Mass every
Sunday morning in his parish’s almost empty church, cannot
be computed in Earthly terms.

If you ask him if he thinks what he is doing is “eccentric,”


he will respond with a boyish grin—his baby face shining,
his blue eyes twinkling: “Everybody’s doing it!”

Authored by Anthony St. John in Calenzano, Italy


25 October 2008

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