The Poor Rich

A new poll of the rich was conducted. There is an article about it at the Star Tribune. It brings up something I have been thinking about: we should be able to expect more from the rich and they constantly disappoint us. Example, the article says “Three of every eight wealthy people don’t feel an obligation to give back to their communities financially.” How do they think they got rich? Could they have gotten rich in other places as easily? The answer is no: they got rich here because we have a society and a government that creates opportunity. We have a talented work force, a large economy and an environment that allows people to succeed to disgusting degrees. Why is it that people with plenty become more selfish than people with little? Almost half of rich people feel no obligation to give back? That is ludicrious.

Which brings up a quote I heard: luxury dulls the character. Many (not all) of the rich people in this country could not cut warm butter with their character.

The article also states:

“By far, the top concern of affluent investors is sustaining and increasing their wealth,” according to an online survey conducted by Harris Interactive for Community Foundations of America and HNW Inc., a financial services company.

So the richer you are the more preoccupied with wealth you become. Far from being the freedom that so many think it is, wealth becomes a drug like crack cocaine. These people are drug addicts. This is clear in many ways: the Enron’s, the mutual fund scam, the CEO pay issue. The common factor here is that the richer you are the more important it is that you get richer. How fucking dumb is that. Where does this bottomless greed come from?

But what really makes me laugh is that also high on the worries of the rich is what a bunch of losers their children are. The article states: “Nevertheless, six out of 10 say they worry that wealth will spoil their children.” So the message to their children is, accumulate wealth, do not share it, but be fearful of what morons your kids will be as a result. Nice.

Lest I be unclear, wealth is not bad. I am happy that I live in a country that allows us to create wealth for ourselves. I am not advocating class warfare and my remarks are not based on envy of the rich. I could be rich if I wanted. I see how people do it and I’m not willing. If you want to pursue dollars above all else, go for it.

My point, besides the fact that rich people are drug addicts and their drug is money, is that we as a nation have to have some rational on how we can continue this great nation moving forward. Benjamin Franklin, one of our brightest founding fathers, was concerned that the welfare of the nation would be jeopardized if wealth were allowed to grow unchecked. Bill Gates, Sr.’s book “Wealth and Our Commonwealth: Why America Should Tax Accumulated Fortunes” sums this up pretty good. We have a duty as a nation to make sure that the extreme wealth of the few does not unbalance the promises of our great Constitution. As one reviewer of the book said “With the estate tax repeal proposed by the Bush administration, we might be facing the future that Teddy Roosevelt feared-where huge fortunes amassed and untaxed would evolve into a dangerous and permanent aristocracy.”

If the rich do not recognize how their fortune was made possible by the country as a whole, the country as a whole will need to remind them. This is why progressive taxation is good. This is why the estate tax is good. Rich people are lucky. There is no person that would rather be poor and pay no taxes than be rich and pay a lot of taxes. This is where I expect more from the rich: quit bitching about taxes, quit bitching about “class warfare”, quit being petty, pampered snobs and be the great people you could be. Be the great people you should be. Be an American first.

6 thoughts on “The Poor Rich

  1. Insightful comments regarding money as a drug, which it certainly is, but I think that the idea behind wealth as a ends to itself is not limited to the rich (I don’t mean to say you imply it is). I agree with luxury dulls the character, especially in the middle-class.

    I think the pursuit of wealth as an end reflects an absolute lack of purpose in American society. I, being a student, can assure you that the majority of business students have no idea WTF they are suppose to be doing. All they do is buy into the game behind the business world, that is they view the idea of school as a means to get a job (instead of the means to get an education) and they view a job in a cube world as some sort of achievement and a measure of who you are. I’d say a majority of them don’t know why they are going into business: they just want a job to get money.

    So what you end up with is a growing generation of people who have no real interests, who have no real passions, and who are too stupid to realize that going to meetings for 6 out of 8 hours a day doesn’t mean you’re important – it means you’re wasting your time. They buy into all of the BS that comes with the corporate world (not saying companies are bad, obviously they create wealth and provide service, but anyone who has worked in a large corporation knows about the ridiculous nature of certain aspects of your job). People tolerate and buy into the BS not because people are stupid by nature, but because they have one goal: money. They think, “Well, I am not sure if I am really doing anything in this meeting, but it will help me get that promotion to project leader, and therefore more money.”

    As a result, these are the same people who grow into the upper-middle class that fills those houses that all look alike in the suburbs and views their car as part of their life’s achievements. They do it because they have no other real measure.

    I might be getting too pessimistic here, but I think there comes a point when people, deep-down, really feel that they might not be happy with their jobs and realize that the money wasn’t the answer – but by then it’s too late: kids, house, cars and you can’t do anything about that. So they just hold on long enough until retirement, looking at pictures of their kids in their cubes and say, “This is what I’m working for. I’m not working for the money, I’m working so my kids can have a better life.” Not an ideal place to end up.

    The very rich are influential (they can get Jimmy Buffett to play at their birthday parties, and have shareholders pay the bill), but politics is driven by pandering to the middle-class’s ideas about America. As long as the middle-class is too stupid to realize a grand vision of America, because they are busy trying to get a 1.5x cube in the corner, society will take a long time to make any sort of headway. It’s the middle-class I’m more worried about.

  2. not as well thought out as your first response, but here goes: maybe rich greedy people were once poor and got very little help from anyone (rich people or otherwise) and so became self concerned enough to not repeat their response.

    I know two kinds of people with money – the kind who were once poor, and the kind where their family has always taken care of them and haven’t ever *had* to take a leap of faith to make something happen.

    unfortunately I’m not (entirely) in one of either of those groups. BUT I will say that I’m more generous with my time than my money, and even if I had money, I think I’d continue in that manner.

    so, is financial greed still greed? is time more valuable? I’m not really trying to defend people with money – they don’t need it, but people with a bit of luxury also have the luxury of sitting on boards for non-profits and bending over backwards with their time for charitable causes… not sure if that counts, but I think it should.

  3. While I agree with a lot of what you say, I have to go a different direction from you on this one. The rich are not the enemy and few problems can be solved by simply redistributing wealth.

    When you add up the taxes I pay, its 50% of what I earn. Add up the Federal Income Tax, State Income Tax, FICA & Medicare withholding, the FICA & Medicare withholding I pay on behalf of my employees, state & federal unemployment tax, franchise tax, property tax, sales tax and you get a big number.

    What do I give back to the community. I contribute good paying jobs (above scale for my area), good health insurance (Blue Cross PPO with a $20 co-pay), short term disability, long term disability, 75 K of term life insurance, a 401K that matches dollar for dollar up to 6% of my employees pay and is vested immediately. I provide tuition reimbursement, excellent job training and a stable employer. I provide flex time so my employees can juggle their schedule to meet the time needs of their children and loved ones. I have loaned money to employees out of my own pocket when they were faced with an unexpected cash hit.

    I give generously to the local American Diabetic Assocaition chapter. My company sponsors training & education for people with specific respiratory ailments and for diabetics.

    On top of all of these things I pay about 50% of what I earn in one tax or another while my employees pay more in the 0-35% effective rate when you compare the same taxes. I assure you they do not pay enough to cover the costs of their children’s public school educations (approximately 7K per kid per year in my state) plus their pro-rate share of roads, social services, police, fire, etc.

    So lets add this up. Its not enough that I create jobs and provide a lot of expensive employee benefits and pay through the nose on taxes. Now I am supposed to feel guilty that I do not give more while the people who make less do not even want to pay enough taxes to cover the government expenses they consume. You say my deomographic does not want to give enough and I say too many people want to take too much. I pay for my way, pay for the ways of others and all I hear is that I should give more because there is still a little blood left in my veins. This is insane.

    I could take examples from any demographic group and demonize them in much the same way you have demonized the rich here or the way Hitler demoized the Jews. This sort of approach proves little except the prejudices of the person who is speaking. Besides, a government that does not respect personal property rights eventually has a problem with motivating its workforce. Take a look at the former Soviet Union if you want an example. If guys like me are bled enough, then eventually you will have fewer of us putting everything we own into a business and working our butts off to make it succeed. We are not some milk cow with an infinite capacity to be milked for the spending priorities that you deem most important.

    Yes there are some wealthy people who are not interested in giving back, but there are also a heck of a lot of poor who are not interested in giving back either. People who may not have money, but also refuse to donate their time to deserving causes. Neither the wealthy or the poor should be given a blanket characterisation according to their worst examples.

    I contend there are a lot of hard working, successful business owners who deserve to keep what they have earned and who have made their communities better through their efforts.

  4. To Dan:

    I agree with some of what you say. I’ve paid every tax in the world and then some. I don’t want anyone, the rich included, to pay more than is necessary. That is why I consider myself a fiscal conservative. But, as I’ve said elsewhere, it is not effective to tax poverty. It is the wealthy who always have and always will bear more of the burden. I don’t see any problem with that. If you have benefited more you have, in my opinion, a responsibility to do more, especially considering the vast amount of rich people that inherited their money from mommy and daddy. Generational wealth will be a danger to this country; it really already is a danger. My essay here was a (rather spiteful) appeal to the rich of this country to be proud of their vast ability to make a difference and not hoard their wealth in a haze of luxury and hedonism.

  5. I can agree with you up to a point. I used to work for a bankruptcy turnaround company and most of our clients were second or third generation wealth who were incapable of even maintaining what their parents and grandparents had built. Its sad to see junior run something into the ground that his remarkable parent had built through intelligence, hard work and good luck.

    Still I do not think the solution is to remove wealth at the death of the person who earned it. If you define any group by its worst examples, then you are going to miss the mark. Many of the second and third generation family members do a remarkable job and use their inherited wealth in highly constructive ways. Even if they do not, however, I still say the person who earned the wealth is entitled to give it to whoever he or she wishes. I am a big believer in private property rights.

    Do you have children? I have a little boy and I can tell you that my biggest reason for doing everything I do is for his mother, him and the future children we hope to have. I want to give them a good life. I want to give them the best educational advantages and security I can provide. And its not just my children I wish to help. I want to feel like my work improved the lives of my grandchildren and their children too. If you take away my ability to help future generations of my family, then you are effectively putting a cap on my ambition and my motivation to add to the economy. That means you are putting a cap on the number of jobs I will create and the number of people I will provide health insurance. Something to think about.

    While I can agree with your opposition to hedonism and useless lives wasted in luxury, I want you to see there is a lot more to the wealth redistribution approach than just getting rid of soft, wasteful hedonists. Its also about cutting the motivation of the productive first generation and taking resources out of the hands of a lot of well educated and well trained second generation family members who are capable of using the resources wisely and productively.

    As for what I give back, I think I already give back my fair share and a few other people’s fair share too. I agree there is no need to tax someone on wellfare, but when 50% of the population pays no taxes and 75% takes more than they give, then I think we can get out from behind the “taxing the poor” argument. This is just a matter of having someone else subsidize the discretionary income of many Americans through a “progressive” tax structure. What we have here is a cynical demographics play by the Democratic party. They buy votes by telling you someone else should pay for your government services and make you feel good about being entitled to have someone else pay your way. The Republicans are not any better because they also try to buy your votes. They trade billions of our taxpayer dollars to special interests for millions in campaign contributions and then use their “contributions” to buy elections through marketing blitzes on an uniformed and apathetic electorate.

    The whole system is screwed up, but I think you miss the mark when you say the enemy is the rich. At most, they wealthy who are useless hedonists are a secondary problem. The real problem is a corrupt and broken political system that gives incentives to elected officials to do things that are against our collective interests.

    Lets reform the campaign finance laws and come up with meaningful ways to attack pork barrel legislation. As a fellow fiscal conservative I hope you can see how this should be our first priority.

  6. Dan said, “Do you have children? I have a little boy and I can tell you that my biggest reason for doing everything I do is for his mother, him and the future children we hope to have. I want to give them a good life. I want to give them the best educational advantages and security I can provide. ”

    I just had my first son in March. I can honestly say that I don’t have any plans to pass on any substantial inheritance to him, regardless of how rich I get. Quite frankly, I don’t think I’d be doing him any good by leaving him a bunch of money. Of course I want to provide for a good future for him by, for example, making sure he gets a great education and learns how to live as a happy and hard-working person. I think generational wealth is bad and I think it is weird that rich people think it is good.

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