What Money Gets You

In the past two years, I’ve heard “the rich” vilified. In the past six months, I’ve heard how “the rich” are coddled and catered to. In the past two days I’ve heard how “the rich” are uninteresting and nobody likes them.

Talk about “the rich” is beginning to take on the characteristics of bigotry. Merriam-Webster, would you do the honors? “Bigotry is the state of mind of a bigot:¬†a person obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially: one who regards or treats the members of a group…with hatred and intolerance.” Thank you, Merry. Buy you a drink later.

I get that the gap between rich and poor is escalating in this country. A high school diploma is no longer enough to guarantee you a factory job that you can keep for life and pays a wage that will allow you as a single earner to buy a house and send your children to college. But the cost of college has already escalated out of reach of most people, so those who want to use higher education as a ticket to the middle class dream have to first put themselves in debt, so that even after they’ve graduated and are working better-paying jobs, they’re still starting out in the negative.

But who are these uninteresting, coddled, predatory rich people that everyone hates? Are they the people on shows like the Real Housewives¬†franchises? Are they the folks that millions of people watch, read about, whose products they buy, whose lives they support? If that’s what the bigots are talking about, what they hate, I understand that completely. Watching people do nothing but consume is supremely uninteresting and panders to all the wrong instincts in people – a desire to be like them in their grossly unnecessary levels of consumption.

But I’m lucky enough to know some folks who have made a lot of money because they’re smart. They think about problems and come up with interesting solutions and then work to make those solutions available to other people. That’s the hard part. It’s easy to solve your own problems, but other people don’t always know what they want or want contradictory things.

Talking with people who made their money making stuff is fascinating. When your ability to solve problems isn’t limited by the money it takes to build the solutions, you can think big, crazy, fantastic. And they do. Big, crazy, fantastic ideas that become the Segway, antibiotics, pants.

So before you go badmouthing the rich, think about whom you’re disparaging. If it’s one of the larvae that clog the television, chewing their way through the retail forest with their platinum card teeth, I’m down. Consumerism is supremely uninteresting. If you are attempting to distinguish yourself by what you buy, you are doomed to fail. But if you’re badmouthing those people who are out there thinking about the next great thing they’re going to build, you’re missing out.

What I Have

There’s something very uncomfortable about having. The recent protests against the profligate rich have framed the debate as being between the haves and the have-nots, but those labels can be applied to any group who feels oppressed. Any group fighting for civil rights is a have-not. Frankly, anyone who’s in a position to feel dissatisfied with their lot probably thinks of themselves as a have-not. And they despise those who have.

graph showing average income

It only takes a little over $150k a year to be in the top 10%, and the more you make, the closer you are to the 1%. In California’s Silicon Valley there are plenty of firms paying this kind of money.

 

So, if you have money, you can’t possibly feel good about it. Even if you donate to charities, help the poor, etc., you’re still a rich bastard living on the backs of the poor.

My father, who is on the Board of Directors for the ACLU in Arizona, does a lot of work on behalf of those people who are being racially profiled and unfairly persecuted by local government. Arizona is a haven for old, scared, politically conservative white people, and the government there thrives by playing on their fears. My father is Mexican, and looks it. My mother, on the other hand, is Scottish. I look like my mother, and therefore, no one would ever think to ask me for my immigration papers if I were ever to be pulled over. But that fact causes me nothing but shame, as does the fact that I was born in Arizona in the first place.

I’ve been happily married for nearly ten years to a man who’s interesting to be around, well-read, likes thoughtful political discussions and foreign films, etc. In short, we’re very well suited and get on like gangbusters. We often hear remarks from people about how obvious it is that we have a great relationship. That’s heartening, but I also hate to bring it up, because I am friends with a lot of people who are either in crappy relationships or wish they were in some kind of relationship but aren’t.

I guess the long and the short of it is that I’m happy. I have a good life, and I’m enjoying it, but at the same time I’m eaten up with shame because I know that so many others aren’t happy, and a lot of them think that I don’t deserve to be happy either. I don’t think anyone’s so unrealistic as to say “If every single person on earth can’t be happy, no one should be happy,” but it does seem that an alarming number of folks live by “if I’m not happy, nobody should be.”

I hope that a lot more people are like me. Enjoying happy, fulfilling lives, but doing it quietly, so as not to bother anyone.