Columnist Doesn’t Get Anger
Directed at the Super Rich

This post is a letter I’m sending to New York Times columnist Paul Sullivan after he wrote two Wealth Matters columns discussing the horrors of suddenly being worth $350 million instead of $500 million. Here is an excerpt for some context:

BEATING up on the wealthy seems to be the order of day. I suspected that. But a recent Wealth Matters column touched a particularly raw nerve. It looked at how even people with sizable fortunes were concerned about money in this recession and the impact that could have on the rest of us.

Readers rejected the attempt to understand the concerns of the rich. …

The vehemence in these e-mail messages made me wonder why so many people were furious at those who had more than they did. And why are the rich shouldering the blame for a collective run of bad decision-making? After all, many of the rich got there through hard work. And plenty of not-so-rich people bought homes, cars and electronics they could not afford and then defaulted on the debt, contributing to the crash last year.


I think you fail to understand why Americans are upset in your article, All This Anger Against the Rich May Be Unhealthy.

First, if I hear one more whine about how hard the super rich work, I’m gonna fall off my chair laughing until I cry.

You insult construction workers, truck drivers, school teachers and librarians to even IMPLY that those who are rich work any harder than the less rich. Perhaps the rich work smarter, or choose more profitable careers, but please get off that tired, self-righteous high horse.

Consider: I have a friend who worked in education for more than a decade, and her salary never exceeded $40,000. I know a high school teacher who sells real estate in the summer just to provide his family with a reasonable middle class existence. Because these people work incredibly hard raising our children, they should be America’s best-paid citizens, not the worst.

Americans are painfully aware how stupid our compensation system is, especially when they look at CEO and sports-hero pay. Heck, read this story to see how our taxes are helping to make bankers fabulously wealthy. Americans looked the other while they could buy a nice house and felt some upward mobility, but that time is gone.

Second, I don’t think Americans are as mad at the upper middle class, which is experiencing intense economic pain.

I think they’re mad at those who made millions and billions trading OUR money in a phony financial system. Then those rich Americans rubbed it in our face, by flaunting their wealth via 16,000-square foot houses, $100,000 cars, enormous boats, private jets and over-the-top vacations. Worse, those who profess tough individualism ran to the federal government hat-in-hand, begging for bailouts.

Americans are angry not just because of the Bernie Madoff-type scams, either. They’re angry because they were sold a cultural LIE: that we could own big houses with granite countertops and that housing values would go up forever. It’s not nice to promise a great life and then take it away.

And while many of the super rich earned their wealth, there are plenty who became rich through exploitation. Some real estate agents, mortgage company executives, subprime lending company owners and their ilk draw a lot of ire because they essentially mislead or outright screwed our siblings, aunts, cousins, friends, etc.

Third, you need to understand just how uneven the playing field is.

The most important factor is education. In the states I’ve lived, the only way to get a decent education for our kids was to live in a high-priced neighborhood. Consider the options of financially struggling parents:

  1. Live in a tiny apartment, condo or house – if one can be found. (In some CA neighborhoods, even that is not possible.)
  2. Live in a city or state that has open enrollment, wait in line in the cold, and then drive your kids across town twice a day.
  3. Use whatever meager wealth you have to send your kids to private school.
  4. Move out to the exurbs where the school facilities are new and the teachers still filled with hope.
  5. “Shop” for better educational opportunities in different cities or states.

Health care is another example of our uneven system. Besides the difficulty and cost of obtaining insurance for our families, try going to a doctor or hospital in a crappy neighborhood. In North Scottsdale, you are treated like a guest at a fancy hotel; in Upland, California, you wait for more than two hours to get ANYONE to see your miscarrying wife. (Upland is a wealthy neighborhood, but the hospital also serves the less financially fortunate in the surrounding area.)

The same goes for road quality, available services, university access and of course, job availability and quality.

Fourth, keep in mind, the financial system exists to serve capitalism, not the other way around.

The system is supposed to provide liquidity for more real ventures, such as manufacturing and business formation. Instead, the markets have become a wealth-making tool for the sake of the already wealthy. We should ask ourselves: Is there a Capitalistic reason for all this financial activity or is it just a way to transfer wealth around while camouflaging exploitation?

Keep in mind, the markets also steal our best and brightest to make up phony “quant” formulas when they could be reinventing physics, solving the energy crisis or finding the cure to cancer.

Look, I could keep going on, but as you wrote, Paul, all this anger at the wealthy is “not healthy.” Neither is losing your home or health insurance, but hey, that’s a small price the super rich are willing to pay as long as it’s not them.

But being a dad blogger, I’m glad you eventually turned your column to focus on children:

(Financial psychologist Brad Klontz) is even more concerned that this obsession with money and blame will affect children. He said the risk is creating a generation that distrusts investing and associates wealth with greed.

That’s rich. Where was the concern before the economic crisis about kids associating wealth with self-worth? During those heady economic days, our kids learned that bigger homes were better, buying property we couldn’t afford made sense and that those who didn’t jump at foolish opportunities would be losers.

If you want to cry about Americans’ growing distrust of the wealthy, fine. But Paul, please don’t tell me you’re defending the rich for the benefit of our children. It’s a cheap parting shot.



6 thoughts on “Columnist Doesn’t Get Anger
Directed at the Super Rich

  1. AJ

    ‘Realtor’ is the second job of a great many people. Who isn’t scrambling to figure out how to scrape by as our country crumbles? Oh yeah, the super rich.
    In my town, I know a barber, retired pro athlete, computer store owner and quite a few college graduates (who couldn’t find work) who have all become realtors, or massage therapists or other service industry jobs that offer the flexibility to fit around their first occupation.

  2. JH

    1. We let the free market determine compensation, except for in education and public service careers – these salaries are generally set through legislation. The salaries you think are low are mainly in education or public service. How is capitalism responsible for holding these people down when their salaries aren’t even decided by a free market?
    Also, the careers you listed – teaching, construction, driving buses – can have wealthy people in the ranks. Read the Millionaire Mind for the story of a wealthy bus driver.
    2. People aren’t held back because it’s so hard to make sure your child goes to a “top” school. People are held back by this mentality that “top” schools are necessary for success or even just a decent life. That line of thinking is also an insult to the many hard working teachers with low pay at these middle level schools that apparently aren’t fit for students according to most people.
    If a parent provides a safe home environment, makes sure the student shows up at school and takes advantage of whatever resources are available at a school, and emphasizes the importance of getting an education, then that student is well positioned to get a great education and prepare for a great career. No struggle to survive in order to get into a “top” school district is needed.
    Furthermore, college isn’t about going to the top schools either. Any solid state university will open any and all doors needed for a career at the top ranks of the corporate world, the engineering world, etc.
    3. We need to teach our children to live within their means, save, and invest. We also need to teach respect for those who have done this, not derision or anger. In addition to The Millionaire Next Door and The Millionaire Mind, read the Millionaire Women Next Door and the Difference.
    4. Capitalism is not messed up. Our problems stem from the fractional reserve monetary system. Check out “Money As Debt”.

  3. Sam

    JH, since the early 1900’s almost all of the legislation regarding education, including salaries, have been influenced by the General Education Board. General Education Board is a private foundation established by the Rockefellers. That also explains why our public education offers so little to those who may want to become entrepreneurs. Regarding Construction workers and bus drivers– PLEASE! How many construction workers do you know who’d be considered wealthy?
    The writer is simply conveying the frustrations and concerns of so many, including yours truly. Many people know that debt is bad, living within your means is good. Try to tell that to a kid who’s ridiculed every day because he’s picked up in a paid off car, which happens to be a 93 Honda Civic. The number of incidents will break anyone. You can absolutely insist on teaching your kids your own values at the risk of the kid completely becoming an outcast.
    You seem like an intelligent person. Hell, I’ll bet you know about Fractional Reserve Banking! So, what’s your beef with letting out some steam?

  4. Mavo

    Amen! Excellent rebuttal to an apologist for the wealthy bastards who are ruining our country! If we can just wrest back control of our government from them… maybe we can DO something about this!

  5. Jrapp

    Rock on Bret! I’m beginning to think the NYT is more than slightly out of touch with us peasants anyway.
    This comes from the daughter of a truck driver who got through a state college through work and Pell grants. Yes, I bought into the lie of upward mobility too. What have I got to show for it? I stay home with my children because I was laid off 4 years ago. I get looked down and dismissed by employers for being a “stay-at-home” mom.
    Of course I could just have misdirected anger at those lovely rich folks.


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