Tom Clyde: Life at the top
January 24, 2014
The Sundance Traffic and Film Festival is over for the year. Tickets for next year go on sale any day now. I was mostly successful in avoiding the whole mess, skiing Deer Valley from the Jordanelle side so I didn’t have to come into town at all. I managed a couple of days at Park City, and ended up driving around to Kimball Junction because S.R. 248 was backed up so badly. But overall, I got through it unscathed. Sundance was a total failure when it comes to producing snow, so we were deprived of both powder skiing and the delight of watching soon-to-be-famous women in open-toed shoes mucking around in the slush. I assume the City will address this in the debriefing.
Normally by now you begin to hear reports about movies people saw. I probably shouldn’t call them "movies" because this is Sundance, and they are "films." There are usually a few that sound good enough to look for when they make it into normal channels. A lot more of the reaction is in the "you wouldn’t believe the terrible movie I saw yesterday" variety. Documentaries about things that should never be documented are always popular. But this year, the only buzz is about the crushing traffic. If there were movies shown, they didn’t draw much attention.
The air in Salt Lake is smokier than a Sundance bus stop, and traffic from the valley was heavy as people sought refuge from the smog. Throw in the slopestyle and halfpipe events at PCMR and it got a little busy. But it’s over and done with now. Nothing left to do but round up the last remaining groupies who are sobering up in a rented mansion near you, and get them back on a bus to California.
Every year, I’m appalled by the garish excess surrounding Sundance. It’s hard to find a parking place for your private jet at the Heber airport. Millions are spent retro-fitting buildings on Main Street to create a week-long marketing presence, the limos, the huge parties, all the give-away stuff. I’m sure it’s all sustainably produced excess, but when it goes to the dump this week, it’s just excess. But the excess of Sundance pales in comparison to some figures on the world’s distribution of assets that came out this week.
Oxfam, an international group that pays attention to poverty (so the rest of us can ignore it), came out with some new figures on wealth distribution in the world. The report is shocking. One percent of the world’s population controls 50 percent of the total wealth. To reduce that to kindergarten math, which is the only math I can do anymore, if the world had 100 people, and 100 jelly beans, one person would have 50 jelly beans, and the other 99 people would share the other 50 jelly beans, which works out to less than half a jelly bean each.
They also calculated that there are 85 people whose combined wealth is equal to that held by the economic bottom half of the world’s population. In other words, 85 people have as many jelly beans as 3.5 billion people, who can’t all be mud-hut dwellers. Eighty-five isn’t enough to fill all the private jets parked at the Heber airport. Three and a half billion, on the other hand, is a crowd. It’s almost as many people as there were trying to get into Park City on S.R. 248 the other day.
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Oxfam didn’t propose any solutions to the disparity. Lynching the 85 and handing out their stuff to the 3.5 billion would, theoretically, double the combined net worth of the 3.5 billion. But those on the very bottom would still be destitute because raising their net worth from $10 to $20 doesn’t relieve much poverty. On the other hand, lynching the 85 and looting their stuff has some appeal. Remember the French Revolution.
Among the 3.5 billion who make up the poorest half of the world’s population, there probably aren’t many who are reading the Oxfam report on their Internet news feed. People without electricity tend to have bad Internet connections. So they may not realize how out of balance things are in the world’s economy. Ignorance is bliss, or so the 85 like to think. What they don’t know can’t hurt us.
I have no idea how to solve that kind of problem. But I’d feel slightly better about it if we managed to raise taxes in the United States high enough that people flying to Park City just to go to the movies had to fly commercial. First class is OK, but if you are going to the movies in a private jet, maybe you could be doing a little more for the 99 percent.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.