It says a lot for the spirit of the turbulent times that we are living in one in which Karl Marx’s Das Kapital is staging a comeback as a bestseller. Fears are again rife that crisis-ridden capitalism is on its last legs. The tottering fortunes of capitalists as indicated in the Forbes 2008 rich list have become the subject of vicarious pleasure.
The latest rankings show that tycoons like Mukesh Ambani, Lakshmi Mittal and K.P. Singh have suffered a massive diminution of their net worth, thanks to the stock market meltdown. Since the latter hasn’t bottomed out as yet, these rich people are only going to get poorer — as if the nasty, brutish and prolonged slump has become a great leveller a la Marx. The rich getting poorer hardly implies that the poor are getting richer. Banish those millennial thoughts. Even Das Kapital does not go that far. The erosion of the tycoons’ net worth is only notional. Once the stock market starts revving up, their net worth, too, will go back up again. These rich continue to lead the lives they lead as they draw CEO remunerations. Pink slips are only for poor labourers. Just because their net worth has taken a hit, capitalists are unlikely to tighten their belts and watch their phone and travel bills. Don’t they earn what they spend while we spend what we earn?
Also banish the thought that Mukesh Ambani, for instance, is moping over his loss of wealth. Perhaps he, too, is getting vicarious pleasure that the stock market carnage has altered the rankings. After all, how nice is it to become the undisputed richest Indian ahead of that Mittal fellow.