In 1782, the French writer Louis-Sebastien Mercier wrote about the foolishness of wealthy Parisians who were hoarding silver plates, gold ornaments and jewelry in their homes. “The wealth in our midst is becoming sterile,” he wrote. “The silver and gold that is not passing from one person to another is not creating what they can create, as if they were buried in mines in the bowels of the earth. Instead of all of these quantities serving the rich alone, what was needed was paper money that could have served the lower classes of society. It would have developed endless branches of industry that we are not yet aware of.”
Since those words were written, 234 years have elapsed and paper money has been around for generations, but it appears that Paris in its excesses has not changed at all. This week it was the bad luck of American reality show star Kim Kardashian, a modern royal of sorts, who was in the French capital for Fashion Week when, late at night, armed thieves entered the 8th Arrondissement luxury apartment where she was staying. They tied her up at gunpoint in the bathroom and stole her property – a jewelry box whose contents is estimated to be worth $5 million along with a ring that on its own is worth $4.5 million.
My heart goes out to the reality star who has fallen victim to this unsettling act of violence. It’s entirely immoral to attack someone this way in their home. But then is it ethical to have a ring worth $4.5 million? If I’d had such a ring, I could have bought half of the building in the heart of Tel Aviv where I am at the moment. If I were to go a kilometer in any direction from here, I could buy an entire building.
I don’t envy Kimmy. Her extended family has inspired dozens of foolish articles for me to read over the years, moments of welcome nothingness to interrupt tiring work. But the Paris robbery makes one wonder about her wealth. Pictures of her that show up daily on the social networks feature diamonds and other precious stones along with a host of items worth more than the proceeds from an entire lifetime of labor.
Five months ago she posted a video on Snapchat in which she had three rings on: $36 million worth all told. Should anyone be allowed to wear such wealth on a regular basis? And what could have been done with them had they been converted into cash and reinvested into the society that surrounds Kim Kardashian?
I’ll stick my neck out and say: There was no crime committed at that Paris apartment. It might even represent the face of justice. With the encouragement of Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, the French police are currently mounting a search for Kardashian’s thieves. Even if it can be assumed that the robbers don’t intend to pass out the jewels to France’s needy, it’s hard not to imagine them as the modern version of Robin Hood. As far as is known, they didn’t physically harm anyone, but they may have taught the world’s wealthy a lesson about the dangers of a culture built around showing off and gaining attention.
About a year ago, economists from the World Bank revised the international poverty line upwards, saying that at under $1.90 a day, it was impossible to sustain oneself with dignity on Earth. No one, however, has bothered figuring out what the wealth line is, beyond which one cannot sustain an existence that respects one’s fellow human beings.
On second thought, this line actually was drawn in blood sometime over 200 years ago, in that same city of Paris. Seven years after the publication of Mercier’s “Tableau de Paris,” with its criticism of the wealthy, the French Revolution began, sending many of those hoarders of silver and gold and jewelry to the guillotine.
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