What follows is yet another economics lesson from The Simpsons. The show has been on for nearly 30 years and is just packed full of tidbits like this:
Episode 11, Season 3 Burns Verkaufen der Kraftwerk (air date 5 December 1991) involves Mr Burns selling his plant to Germans and going into retirement. Throughout the episode, Mr Burns’ retirement antics lead to public ridicule (in one scene, Burns is playing boccie with some other old folks. He is barely able to throw the ball a foot, and the others laugh insultingly). The culmination is when Burns and Smithers walk into Moe’s, where Homer and the other plant employees are drinking. Homer had just been fired by the German plant owners and lashes out at Mr Burns. The whole bar joins in mocking Mr Burns, and he leaves embarrassed. Outside the bar, Mr Burns has a revelation: “What good is money if you can’t inspire terror in your fellow man?”
Mr Burns learns an important lesson, one so often forget in conversations of wealth inequality and “the 1%.” Money affords one no power. Mr Burns is the richest man in town by far, and certainly wealthier than Homer, and yet that matters not one bit in their exchange. Homer is able to cut Burns down to size without any fear of repercussions. What can Mr Burns do? Throw money at him?
Mr Burns’ power came from his owning the plant, not from his money. As plant owner, he has power over his employees (to the extent they decide to work for him) and he has a legally protected (and connected!) monopoly, which affords him some level of power, but that is more due to political connections. Strip those away, and Burns is powerless (even though he is richer. He sold the plant for $100,000,000).
Money does not give power, inspire fear, or destroy individuals.