The Nation's Pulse

Street Level Anti-Capitalism

A Florida tour guide’s resentments are worthy of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and his president.

By 4.8.13

Send to Kindle

It’s not what I signed up for, but I recently got a three-hour Marxist lecture while taking a boat ride on the intracoastal waterways of Fort Lauderdale.

“That waterfront mansion coming up on our left is Alamo car rental money,” said our guide on the cruise. “Think of that the next time you put down your money to rent a car.”

He didn’t mention that Alamo started out with four small locations in Florida, pioneering the pro-customer concept of unlimited mileage.

“The family that owns that big white home on our right with the columns had another luxury home a few blocks away on the water,” he continued. “They tore it down and built this one that’s bigger than anything they need.”

He didn’t mention that the tearing down and new building created jobs in construction, trucking, and manufacturing, plus the subsequent jobs that were created as those new incomes were spent and rippled through the economy to other sectors.

Additionally, our guide didn’t elaborate on which equity experts or central planners would be in charge of establishing what we “need.” I, for example, didn’t “need” that boat ride.

“You’ll see this next large home on the right has a tennis court on the water behind the palm trees,” was the guide’s next editorial comment. “The owner of this house bought the waterfront home next door for $10 million and tore it down to build his tennis court. That’s the only $10 million tennis court in town.”

Then we hit the jackpot of envy as we approached the biggest super-yacht in Fort Lauderdale, the 282-foot Seven Seas.

“That’s Steven Spielberg’s yacht,” he explained. “He bought it three years ago for $350 million. It’s for rent when he’s not here for $1 million a week. He’ll probably make the $350 million from directing Lincoln. Think of that when you’re putting down $10 for a movie ticket.”

Our guide had it a bit wrong. The price of Spielberg’s yacht, by most accounts, was $200 million. And the rental is $1.3 million a week, making it the world’s most expensive yacht charter -- and that’s not including the tequila, lobster, 26-person crew, or gas.

And the gas isn’t peanuts. With a tank capacity of 70,000 gallons, a Seven Seas fill-up at $5.50 a gallon is an eye-popping $385,000.

Still, what you get for $200 million, or a $1.3 million weekly rental, is an onboard infinity pool with a 15-foot glass wall that doubles as a movie screen, plus a spa, massage room, cinema, a technologically advanced communication system, a helipad, a sophisticated anti-seasickness system, four guest staterooms, and a large master suite with a grand stateroom, study, screening room, and a private deck area with a Jacuzzi, all by Nuvolari & Lenard, an Italian interior design company in Venice.

For trips to the shore or just monkeying around, the Seven Seas also has two boats onboard, a 35-foot tender and a 30-foot open sport boat.

Missing an opportunity to jack up the class warfare, our guide didn’t mention that Spielberg is on “The Forbes 400: The Richest People in America” list.

Still, he’s only number 125 with a net worth of $3.2 billion -- not big money among “The Forbes 400.” Wal-Mart’s five richest Waltons have a combined net worth of $115 billion. And from all those tons of Snickers and M&Ms we’ve consumed, three members of the Mars family have a combined net worth of $51 billion.

Our guide might not see it this way, but no one forced us to buy M&Ms and the Waltons have significantly improved the standard of living of millions of middle class and poor people by selling cheap.

At the close of the tour, a college kid from Canada was waiting next to me to depart. “Whaddya think?” I asked. “I think that guy is pretty bitter,” he said.

Bitterness can come easily if one sees the economy as a fixed pie, a world in which the rich can only get a bigger slice by making everyone else’s piece smaller.

In the first sermon he heard delivered by Rev. Jeremiah Wright, entitled “The Audacity of Hope,” a young Barack Obama got a straight dose of this blame-the-rich ideology.

Succinctly, Wright explained the source of a “world groaning under strife and deprivation,” a “world where cruise ships throw away more food in a day than most residents of Port-au-Prince see in a year, where white folks’ greed runs a world in need…”

The blame for misery in Haiti in this scenario goes to super-sized buffets, not Papa Doc, Baby Doc, and the other brutal and corrupt dictators who grew spectacularly wealthy while raiding Haiti’s treasury and leaving the people of Port-au-Prince stuck in abject poverty.

Instead of focusing on a corrupt public sector, the devil in Wright’s analysis is the private sector, “white folks” with too much food on capitalist cruises.

Cutting back on the size of cruise buffets, of course, won’t put more food on the plates in Haiti. Just the opposite. There’d be less hunger in Haiti if the country developed a flourishing tourist industry with more cruises and bigger buffets.

That’s not, however, how Obama saw it that day in church. In his first memoir, Dreams from My Father, Obama described his emotional reaction while in church listening to Wright’s racist and vitriolic sermon.

He wrote that he noticed “a light touch on the top of my hand. I looked down to see the older of the two boys sitting beside me, his face slightly apprehensive as he handed me a facial tissue.… It was only as I thanked the boy that I felt tears running down my cheeks.”

Unfortunately, Obama wasn’t crying in the pew because he saw a crowd of worshippers being duped into a self-defeating worldview. Instead, he used the title of Wright’s sermon as the title of his second memoir, The Audacity of Hope, and stayed in Wright’s church for another 20 years.

Like this Article

Print this Article

Print Article
About the Author
Ralph R. Reiland is the B. Kenneth Simon professor of free enterprise and an associate professor of economics at Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh.