Helium is one of the most popular elements in the whole universe but here on our home planet it’s hard to come by. Most of it is buttoned up somewhere under the Great Plains. It was first isolated on Earth in 1895 by Sir William Ramsay, who was actually looking for argon. (Sir Ramsay was the Christopher Columbus of chemistry.) And what with its usefulness in party balloons, and fancy medical devices, and talking funny, and suicide, and blimps that don’t blow up, and freezing people’s heads, and the like, people have been busy liberating it for about a hundred years.
Where Your Money Goes
Problem with that is once you pull it out of the planet, it goes flying into space and you’re not getting it back again. You’re just not.
So it’s like money. In fact it’s so much like money, we’ve got a stash of it Fort Knoxed away in Amarillo, Texas. That helium reserve got underway in 1925 so that we’d have plenty of juice for airships and then later it became important as a coolant during the Cold War, in case you were wondering how we kept it Cold for so long. And it’s so much like money that even though it was calculated we would run out of it right around now, the US Congress directed that our reserves be sold off to private parties as quickly as possible, in the hope maybe we can print some more.
Money, of course, is only as meaningful as we can all agree it is. We all have to agree, wink-wink, that our slips of paper, or whatever ethereal magic happens between our phones and our bank accounts, are worth something; that they represent something. For instance, work. You dig me a moat for my castle, I give you money in some nice portable form, so you don’t have to be paid in melons and bags of barley. If money does represent work, it does not do so in a logical fashion. If it did, immigrants bent over in the bean fields would be rolling in champagne and caviar, whereas hedge fund managers would be clutching cardboard signs on freeway ramps. One of the problems with it is that the people what have the money write the rules. ‘Twas always thus, but it’s been a lot starker in the last forty years.
Kids! You might not believe this, but it’s true. When I was your age, we could pay for college as we went, with summer jobs and part-time work. We could study philosophy and art history, and then we could tumble into some job somewhere that may or may not have anything to do with our education, but more with how close it was to where our boyfriends lived. We didn’t necessarily make much money, but we could at least live comfortably with a roommate or two (in Boston) or have a complete one-bedroom furnished apartment (in Portland) with no first-and-last, no references, no job lined up, and nothing but a credit card to our name. And still have food and beer and go to the movies. Later, maybe, if we saved, we could buy an actual house. Nobody lived in their car or under a tarp on the median strip.
Then Ronald Reagan came around and decided to tap the work reserve. He told us our union brothers and sisters were holding us back, and that we could send our money uphill to the hedge fund managers and instead of everyone making a living wage and exchanging money with each other, we’d have a shot at the big time. There were a lot of taxation rates changed and legislation passed and all of it was real real good for the people who already had money, and our own work was worth less and less, because the wealthy decided to take more of the fruits of our labor for themselves, and they write the rules. Fifty years ago, we could make a living. Now, our money has been diverted to the billionaires, and no matter what they tell you, it’s not coming back. It’s flying into space.
If we were wise, we’d quit sending all our money into space. We’d treat billionaires like the moral failures they are. And everyone would get a balloon.
Vote. Vote like a person who knows how much is enough, and how much is too much.