Some of the richest Americans are using their wealth for the common good. Businessman and investor Warren Buffett, Microsoft's founder Bill Gates and financier George Soros are just a few of the billionaires who have dedicated much of their fortune to improving society. In his first novel, Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us, consumer activist Ralph Nader imagines how much more they could do.
Drawing characters from real life
The novel opens in January 2006, not long after a string of disasters. Hurricane Katrina has battered the U.S. Gulf Coast, a massive quake has killed tens of thousands in Pakistan and deadly bird flu has begun to infect people. Warren Buffett has invited 16 of his fellow billionaires to a meeting in Hawaii.
"I use 17 very rich, enlightened, older Americans in fictional roles," Nader says. "A good many of them I've known over the years and so I extend some of the good things they have done in their life to a much, much higher level," he says.
In a passage from the book, Nader has Buffett start the meeting by highlighting the most pressing issues of our time:
"My friends, what brings us here is a common foreboding- a closing circle of global doom. The world is not doing well. It is spinning out of control. Its inhabitants have allowed greed, power, ignorance, wealth, science, technology and religion to depreciate reality and deny potential. With our capitalist backgrounds, it's easy for us not to be beguiled by the plutocracy's self-serving manipulation of economic indicators. We know how wealth is being accumulated, defined, concentrated, and stratified. Why, four hundred and fifty of us have the wealth equivalent to the combined wealth of the bottom three billion impoverished people on earth."
'Ten pillars of re-direction'
In Nader's fictional world, the group of media moguls, Wall Street tycoons, Internet executives and corporate leaders come up with a strategy to put the world back on track while improving the lives of those living in poverty and ignorance. They sum up their plan of action in what Ralph Nader calls '10 pillars of re-direction.'
"The first pillar, the first stage improvements, deals with economic inequality. That's health care, renewable energy, adequate food - there are a lot of hungry children in the United States - and adequate housing. The second redirection is take back control of the Congress from the commercial interests and the corporate lobbyists who swarm over the House and the Senate. The third is electoral reform, to have cleaner politics and more candidates on the ballots to give voters more choice. The fourth is to try to do things with the well-being of posterity in their mind," Nader says.
In Nader style, characters form a political party
Other goals include reinventing the media so people have a voice in it, and buying into every industry in the country so they can institute more ethical business practices. Nader also has his characters form a new, small political party.
"Small parties have usually been the pioneers. They are the ones who put forward the improvements, and although they may never win an election, they put the pressure - they focus these changes - onto the major parties that in many cases eventually adopt them," he explains.
Nader says he chose the super-rich to be the heroes in his work of fiction because, as in the real world, social re-direction requires money. "You can't have people movements, and have organizers and mass media and all the expensive things that have to be paid for without a significant amount of money."
Hundreds of wealthy individuals all around the world, Nader says, are willing to spend their money to make a difference. They may just need inspiration and guidance. "There are some very enlightened super-rich people around the world, in many countries, in Europe, Asia, South America, Africa, but they often don't know what to do other than to give to charity, which is good, but this [the strategy in his book] is money given to social justice, to the shift of power, so that the many have more power than they have now. Charity is important, but it's social justice that prevents hunger in a society. While charity will provide soup kitchens to feed the hungry, which is important on a day-to-day basis, we should not have hunger and starvation in the world, anywhere," he emphasizes.
Nader says Only the Super Rich Can Save Us offers a roadmap to a practical utopia and he hopes his book sparks a national debate about change.