Tuesday, November 14, 2017

How the Wealthy Survive Massive Inequality – Delusion and Denial

Just Ordinary Folks Who Work Hard

Rachel Sherman, a researcher into socio-economics has an opinion piece in the NYT on her anecdotal research into how wealthy people fell about their wealth and how they can look themselves in the mirror after spending huge sums on non-necessities for themselves.

In part they do this by trying to hide their affluence, like from the servants.

She took the price tags off her clothes so that her nanny would not see them. “I take the label off our six-dollar bread,” she said.

She did this, she explained, because she was uncomfortable with the inequality between herself and her nanny, a Latina immigrant. She had a household income of $250,000 and inherited wealth of several million dollars. 

This drips with condescension, in particular because the subject believes her servants are too stupid to know what things cost. As for their attitudes about their wealth, well they are just 'ordinary'.

My interviewees never talked about themselves as “rich” or “upper class,” often preferring terms like “comfortable” or “fortunate.” Some even identified as “middle class” or “in the middle,” typically comparing themselves with the super-wealthy, who are especially prominent in New York City, rather than to those with less.

When I used the word “affluent” in an email to a stay-at-home mom with a $2.5 million household income, a house in the Hamptons and a child in private school, she almost canceled the interview, she told me later. Real affluence, she said, belonged to her friends who traveled on a private plane.

The subjects almost always describe themselves as 'hard workers' and seem to justify their wealth because they work hard. Hard work is the person who holds down two jobs just to pay the bills and lives in substandard housing. Hard work is roofing, it is standing in an assembly line for 8 hours a day, it is cleaning toilets and fixing cars. Hard work in not attending meetings or going to conferences in exotic locales where everything is paid for by the company.

We all see these families when we travel. They are the ones with kids in first class. They are the ones paying $500 a night for a hotel. They are the ones who have to check several bags to provide for their overpriced designer clothes when they leave home.

No one begrudges people the fruits of their labor, or feels that all of their inheritances should be taken away, But in a land where many people do not have a first home is it really right that the wealthy get tax deductions for having a second one?

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