A couple of weeks ago I was teaching in Tucson.  During my weekend break, I went to Los Angeles to visit my parents.  On Sunday afternoon we went to see a special exhibit at the LA County Museum of Art.  But before we went inside the gallery, we had to go look at “The Rock.”

The Rock is a new ‘art’ exhibit that now inhabits a large outdoor area on the museum grounds.  In the middle of a few acres of sand and gravel, which in LA weather turns into an unpleasant, hot, dusty, patch of desert, sits a boulder the size of a two story house.  Underneath this boulder is a concrete walkway that allows viewers to pass under the rock.

This exhibit was created at a cost of $10 million dollars.  Most of that money was spent transporting the rock from its original location in Colorado.  The rock is so big and heavy that it could only travel a few miles a day, meaning that it took months to get to Los Angeles, a city, like all American cities, that lacks good schools for thousands of children, and has hundreds of thousands of people trapped in poverty and substandard housing, among other problems.

The money for the exhibit came from private donors.  

I wonder what it’s like to have so much money and be so disconnected from the lives of the majority of people that you can give away hundreds of thousands of dollars to move a rock.  

Recently there has been a lot of discussion about income inequality in our country.  Much of this discussion has been in the form of statistics.  How much more the CEO makes than the line worker.  How 400 people in America control as much wealth as the ‘bottom’ 150 million.  How the top 5% of income earners make 50% of the total income in our country.  

These statistics are horrifying, at least to me, but I feel they are often ineffective at giving a true picture of where we are as a society in terms of our economic condition.  Yet here in LA, the truth is written in stone.  

The $10 million dollars could have gone to schools.  It could have gone for food or healthcare or housing.  But it went for a rock.  And not only that, but these are the same folks who insist that they not be taxed more because it would somehow hurt our society.  Yet the only ones who would be ‘hurt’ would be them, and their ability to spend huge sums frivolously.  

As we contemplate our current government shutdown, I think we must also be clear that these billionaires are also the same people who are pulling the strings in Washington.  They are the ones who pay the lobbyists, and fund the PACs and the political parties.  They are the one who our government is truly responsive to.  And their goal is simple: get more and give less.  

Oh, but you’ll get to go look at a rock while the wind blows sand in your eyes.