What Does Too Rich Look Like To You?

Recently, I read 2 different articles on wealth that were both pretty fascinating — the articles themselves, and maybe even more so, the comments and reactions.

The first one was in Current Affairs magazine, and is titled, It’s Basically Just Immoral To Be Rich. The whole message of the article can pretty much be summed up in the first paragraph:

“Here is a simple statement of principle that doesn’t get repeated enough: if you possess billions of dollars, in a world where many people struggle because they do not have much money, you are an immoral person. The same is true if you possess hundreds of millions of dollars, or even millions of dollars. Being extremely wealthy is impossible to justify in a world containing deprivation.”

The second article is from the New York Times, titled, What the Rich Won’t Tell You. It focuses on very wealthy families in New York City who try to downplay and hide their wealth (like cutting off price tags before the housekeeper sees them), because they feel deeply conflicted about it, and want to be seen as “normal” not “affluent.” To them, true wealth would mean owning a private jet. Here are 3 paragraphs from the article:

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.

Nonetheless, their ambivalence about recognizing privilege suggests a deep tension at the heart of the idea of American dream. While pursuing wealth is unequivocally desirable, having wealth is not simple and straightforward. Our ideas about egalitarianism make even the beneficiaries of inequality uncomfortable with it. And it is hard to know what they, as individuals, can do to change things.

In response to these tensions, silence allows for a kind of “see no evil, hear no evil” stance. By not mentioning money, my interviewees follow a seemingly neutral social norm that frowns on such talk. But this norm is one of the ways in which privileged people can obscure both their advantages and their conflicts about these advantages.”


I found both super interesting and (in my mind at least) the topics overlap. It made me wonder, what would I consider too rich? Or immorally rich? A commenter on the NYT article, named Beth Cioffoletti, wrote: “This is a systemic problem. Put a cap on the top — there is no way that ANYONE needs more than $100 million dollars. Everything else goes toward the public welfare.”

What do you think about that? Does that seem fair?

I was also curious about the idea of hiding wealth or cutting off price tags. How common is it? And is it more a factor of social custom than anything else? I remember that even during the years where we struggled the most financially, I didn’t feel comfortable talking about purchase prices, income or money in general, unless I was sharing a bargain I’d found (These toddler shoes were on clearance at Target! So cute and only $7!).

And then there’s talking about money with our children. We talk about budgeting and saving, and they’re familiar with what something at the grocery store or Target costs, but sometimes I realize they may not have a sense of other major price tags in our life. You too? Do your kids know how much your house is worth? How much the rent is? How much a car costs? Or what the electricity bill is like? And did you know that kind of info when you were a child? Do your kids have a sense of where your family falls on the wealth scale in our country, or in their community? 

Obviously, there is a huge financial disparity in our country, and the numbers say it’s only growing wider. Would talking openly about it make things better? What are your thoughts?

P.S. — A budgeting game for teens that I made up. Also, the photo is from when I dressed up for a Downton Abbey party at Alt Summit.

76 thoughts on “What Does Too Rich Look Like To You?”

  1. I don’t think there is anything bad about being rich. It’s what you do with your money, and where your head is at, that counts. If you earn it honestly, and you give charity and you live a good, moral life, that’s great. I don’t think that people who spend their time gossiping about how much money people have or obsessing jealously about it are doing a very good moral thing.

  2. I was always very insecure about money-I grew up middle class in an affluent area. Having a husband who worked on Wall Street for many years around people who were totally loaded (homes in the Hamptons kind of money), but were completely miserable, gave me a really different perspective. I don’t think my kids really get the concept of money yet-because most of the people around them seem to have everything they need/want. We discuss those who are less fortunate, and help them through various ways, but I don’t know that they get that there are people in the middle (most people) that have to really struggle. I also understand that my kids probably won’t have the same standard of living that they’ve had growing up-things are crazy expensive and unless you’re very fortunate they’re not going to be making as much money as we’ve been able to.

  3. In our family we’ve played the game, “What things cost” over the years. It’s when I show my teen-aged/college-aged children the electric bill for the month or the car insurance bill for our family (there are 5–soon to be 6–of us driving nowadays). Then we discuss what it takes education wise in order for them to grow up and earn enough money to have the same upper middle class standard of living. We also talk about how hard their dad works to provide for our family. He works 80 hour weeks year in/year out and they’ve grown to realize they are the beneficiary of his hard work. I think being open about finances (not everything, of course, but a lot of things) in a family encourages children/teens towards high academics and hard work ethics. All of my kids have had/do have part-time jobs even in their pre-teens. I have two self-funding college students (scholarships plus money they’ve earned) and two more in high school who also have that goal. Parents can really have a great influence on their children in this area.

  4. In response to that comment about capping wealth, I don’t think that’s a fair idea in that some very wealthy people have very large portfolios of work and do a lot of good and invest in a lot of innovative projects. If we want to talk about capping anything, it should be the money in our politics. We have a systemic problem of income disparity because of that small percentage of people and corporations wealthy enough to influence policies at the expense of the 99% of us. We have a health care crisis because of the pharmaceutical & insurance company lobbies preventing our government from enacting laws that would protect us at the expense of those companies. We had the great mortgage collapse in 2008 and bailed out banks with *taxpayer* money because of financial company influences on our reps and meanwhile we refuse to vote in favor of putting taxpayer dollars towards things that do good for everyone like single-payer health care?? Wealth in itself is not the problem: it’s what we *allow* the wealthy to do. This country sees wealth as a ticket to entitlement and permission to do anything thus never push back when wealth is being used to bulldoze the things we value.

  5. Not talking about money is definitely a WASP-y thing. My Mexican immigrant in-laws speak very frankly about money: how much things cost, how much money they make, how much money is in their bank account, how much money is in their neighbor’s bank account, what their house is worth, etc. etc. It gives me hives to talk about money like that!

    But I thought this paragraph from the NY Times article was spot-on: “To hide the price tags is not to hide the privilege; the nanny is no doubt aware of the class gap whether or not she knows the price of her employer’s bread. Instead, such moves help wealthy people manage their discomfort with inequality, which in turn makes that inequality impossible to talk honestly about — or to change.”

    Not discussing wealthy inequality makes the wealthy feel better about themselves while continuing to widen the gap and keeping their entitlement intact.

  6. Amen to what Ling stated. To expand on what she said and give some specificity to her points, we spent $6.5billion dollars on the 2016 election (that’s 2.4 billion in the presidential and 4 billion for congressional races across the county). According to the Washington post, with that much money you could fund the Corporation for Public Broadcasting for 15 years, fix the Flint, Mich., lead pipe problem 30 times over or give every public school teacher a $2,000 raise. As long as donors are allowed to give unlimited funds to ensure their candidate gets elected the system will be rigged against real change for middle class. The Supreme Court equates speech with money in the citizens united case and has let corporations buy our election process. We need to demand more from our government to cap the waste and inequity. It’s possible to do this. For instance, Great Britain allows only $30 million can be spent in year before election. Canada and Japan have similar limits.

      1. Excellent points. Canada also has strict rules about campaigning. Our federal election campaigns are usually about six weeks long and there are regulations about what candidates can and can’t do outside of that timeline (no overt political advertising, for example). American campaigns are so expensive in part because they last for years.

        1. Sure, and I’m sympathetic to the point you’re making, but let’s be fair about the facts here: Canadian election spending rules strongly advantage the ruling party and the mainstream, which is why we had a virtual one-party system for many decades of the twentieth century.

  7. I think about this a lot, and like to believe we will cap our income at a certain point ($200k?) so that we aren’t being selfish with our wealth. But I know that wealth is a sliding goal post. We used to think smart phones were a luxury; now I consider them a necessity. Just like I was thrilled when we got our first garage after years of apartment parking lots, but now I want a third one to store all our outdoor gear. So I can see how there always something else you want before giving the rest away.

    A few things: financial charity should be encouraged at all age and income levels, so that the habit is formed and outward thinking isn’t conditional. Also, talking openly about money, struggles and successes, so that we have realistic expectations and accountability regarding wealth and charity.

    Related: I recently read about Beyoncé and Jay-Z buying a $90 million home, complete with four pools. I was really repulsed by this for many reasons — the mere fact these compounds exists, what $90 million could do elsewhere, the challenge to have a healthy marriage/childhood in that environment. I saw similar criticism online, but also saw many were defending her, especially POC. They pointed out that while it’s excessive, it’s important for POC to see themselves at all levels of wealth. That resonated with me — the Hamptons crowd may turn me off, but I’ve never felt like I couldn’t aspire to that kind of wealth with the right amount of work/luck. POC don’t have that same assurance. Just something to think about when analyzing the pros/cons of extreme wealth.

  8. I think most people (I include myself) find it hard to say that there’s anything bad about being rich, because you end up in a philosophical dead-end where you have to justify owning anything at at all! I mean, like the A.Q. Smith article suggests, how do you decide where to draw the line? When do you know whether enough money is enough?

    It’s pretty easy to see that storing up $100 million in the form of, say, a yacht is not really a positive use of wealth. Sure, you paid people to design it, to do the work of building it, and you even have to pay people to staff it. And you might even pay people to transport it from the Mediteranean to the Caribbean – on another, somewhat larger ship, of course, because leisure yachts aren’t really built to survive long-distance ocean travel. But it’s really hard to justify the whole enterprise when you look at the collection of metal, exotic woods, and whatever other materials, as a repository of wealth. It just doesn’t make sense – to me, at least, it doesn’t.

    On the other hand, I think that the concentration of wealth has sometimes led to good things, particularly in art and culture: without an excess of money, how do you get fantastic enormous works like the Sistine Chapel?

    As I look around my own house, I often think I am ridiculously lucky. I’m not rich – I’m above average wealth, but tehcnically by not that much. But I don’t worry about money, and I often feel like I have a fair amount of resource stored up: my wardrobe is full, I can buy a new book whenever I feel like it, and when I shop for food I can add a treat or two to my trolley without worrying.

    I was surprised when somebody pointed out where the income bracket starts for people who are in the top 20% of earners for my country. It’s way lower than I thought. As well as highlighting to me how lucky I am to have the opportunities to access a well-paid job (not just my own brain, but the background and the education), it highlighted to me how there’s been envy-creep over the last twenty years or so. It used to be that luxury items were seem in Vogue, World of Interiors, etc, and more affordable items were in other magazines. Now even ‘average’ channels are full of Hermes handbags, Smeg fridges, and ‘quick get-aways’ in Bali. There’s no sense of proportion: there’s no sense that if Kim Kardashian has it, well, obviously I can’t have it because I’m not as rich as her. Instead, there seems to be a logic of ‘well, aren’t I worth this? Don’t I deserve the best quality?’

    We should lose our reluctance to talk about money. Isn’t that the first step? if we can talk about how much our cars cost (and how much the darn things cost to run!) then maybe we can start to consider how much those figures relate to the figures that represent meaningful stuff, like where the poverty line lies.

    On a slightly different note, though, it seems like a lot of people are really unsympathetic to those who have low incomes and who struggle to make ends meet. There was an article in The Guardian (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/aug/31/living-on-breadline-makes-me-cry-affects-children-childhood-unaffordable-luxuty), and the comments underneath were breathtaking in how callous they were. So many said something like “Well, I/my parents had a low income and I came out okay, having learned to live on very little” – as if your own experience of doing okay negates the fact that at least one person is not doing okay (the article’s author) and the fact that so many knowledgeable sources (both government statistics and charities) say that living in poverty has a huge impact on lives.

  9. I think it’s immoral to assume other people know best how to use your money. The idea of a cap is actually appalling to me. After years and years of schooling (during which we had four kids), we are finally making an income that’s not below the poverty line. We have student loan payments the size of a mortgage (that enabled us to finally make a good income, and so in some ways I’m grateful for it), but between that and the huge amounts of taxes that come from making some money, I wonder if it will ever feel like we do. For sure there are people who squander their wealth immorally, but frankly I think the government squanders wealth too. The issue is that their actions are immoral, not their money. And capping their money–simply taking it away bc you think someone else could use it better or whatever, rather than giving that wealthy person the opportunity to use it to do good themselves is arrogant and wrong. I certainly hope all people choose to use their money to do good, to feed the hungry, to bless and help. But it is THEIR moral obligation to do that, not someone else’s.

    1. I absolutely agree CJ.

      This is such an interesting topic, but one that I’m frankly hesitant to even comment on. I don’t believe wealthy people are removing price tags and not discuss wealth inequality to “feel better about themselves,” I believe it’s because they don’t want to be judged based on money alone (like a few of you are doing here).

      I have lived on both sides of the fence. I grew up living in poverty, at times our family had government assistance. I made it through college on grants and scholarships and full time work. Now, as an adult, I am on the other side. The government taxes our income close to 40%. It feels like the government squanders wealth. I also like to think maybe I’m paying back what I “borrowed” years ago. I worked as hard as I did because I wanted to make it. If we put a cap on wealth, what is the incentive for people to do the same?

      I think there are many wealthy people with strong work ethics and moral obligations doing good things in their communities and the world. There will always be some who choose not to participate.

  10. Really interesting topic. My husband and I talk about this a lot, wondering how much money would feel like “more than enough”. We make almost twice as much now as we did when we were first living together, but in that time we’ve had 2 children and added costs associated with a bigger house, bigger car, childcare, kids’ activities, life insurance, etc. So even though we have twice as much income coming in now, it doesn’t always feel that way. Then again, we have a lot of luxuries now that I couldn’t have considered 10 years ago. In theory I can’t think of much more I’d want to add to be totally satisfied with my lifestyle. I suppose I could do everything I’m currently doing more luxuriously–stay at the Four Seasons rather than the Homewood Suites, for instance, eat out whenever I’m feeling lazy rather than limiting myself to once or twice a week–but then that feels like falling down a rabbit hole to always wanting more and more and more. We have a vague idea of an income number beyond which we’d feel like we could comfortably donate everything else, but I can easily see how “wants” convert into “needs” after a while. (That above example of smart phones, for instance: for us that was definitely a want 6 years ago, but now we’d insist on having the budget space for them.)

    I also wonder how my kids are going to feel about their place in the income hierarchy. We’re in an odd position of being one of the wealthier families in our neighborhood, but on the lower-middle end of the income scale compared to many in our extremely wealthy county (one of the top 10 for income in the country). Most homes in my neighborhood belong to first or second generation immigrants living with 2 or 3 families in a single-family home. So the fact that we have just one family living in our house and my kids have their own bedrooms and a playroom is strange to many of their friends from the local school. Yet in other parts of our county (where we attend church, for instance) there are literal mansions, children attend competitive private schools, the kids have live-in nannies, they rent out entire water parks for birthday parties, etc. That’s a whole different stratosphere from where we are.
    As my kids get older, I wonder what they’ll end up making of it all. Right now I’m just focused on generosity, and as they get older I plan to make a point of showing them the benefits of monetary success, but also pointing out the perils of thinking that having money will make you happy.

  11. One day one of our little kids asked if they could have something and I replied, “Not now, we don’t have the money for that.” To which he replied, “Just go to the bank and get some.” They had seen both of us go through the ATM and withdraw cash and presumed that was how we got money.

    I decided they needed a better education, so one day I piled all the kids in the minivan and we went out to watch Dad work. He was in construction, so his work was physically hard, most times hot, and always dirty. We drove out to the site and sat in the car while I tried to point out dad, and we watched as he worked in 98 degree heat. We talked about all the machines, the other workers, and how hard it must be for him to do his job so well.

    Then we drove home, and later that night we talked about how when Dad went to work they expected him to do an honest day’s work and in exchange they would give him so much money per hour. That money would go into the bank to keep it safe, and with that money we would buy food, clothes, toys, trips, pay the house utilities, mortgage, etc. Then we talked about how much each of those things cost each month, did some math, and in the end, pointed out that Dad did all of this happily because he loved us. Our part of the job was to live within the money we had, because the more we spent, the more dad had to work, and the more dad had to work the more he would be away from us.

    When someone wanted something -let’s say new shoes, we would see how much they cost, then do the math to see how long dad would have to work to pay for those shoes, were *these* shoes worth it? Or perhaps we could get *those* shoes instead? Sometimes it *was* worth dad working a bit longer, sometimes it was not, but in the long run our kids understood that money didn’t grow on trees, it grew out of dad’s long hours in the sun.

    As far as I am concerned, yes, people are allowed to earn as much money as they can, but when I see mansions when a larger home would do, or collections of shoes that need a closet the size of my home, yes, that to me is obscene. If someone feels guilty over the price they are paying for a shoe or a dress or even a car or home, that is reason talking to them, and yes, perhaps they should feel that their extravagance could be better utilized. Many of these billionaires were born with advantages most of us will never even understand let alone know. Those advantages blessed them with the ability of their money to make the money, they just manage it, so yes, good for them, but don’t call that “working hard” for it. For those who have scraped and made good, congratulations! Still, look around and see what your advantages could do for those who literally have nothing in the world. God gave us two hands for a reason: one to feed/help ourselves, and another to feed/help another.

  12. This is a topic I think about often. Both my husband and I grew up in similar financial situations. We had enough money for food, parents owned homes, had a car but there were not many extras. We worked from early teens to make money for things we wanted. We both left home early and started working, going back to college as mature students to ensure we were successful career wise.
    Now we are late 40’s, have two children and are really comfortable. We have a big house, 2 cars and take a couple of vacations a year. I feel like we are really well off. I keep a check on how much we spend but am never worried that we couldn’t pay a bill or will have to do without something we really need/want (within reason). But I often think we don’t give enough money away to others. We make an annual donation to our church and give to our children’s (public) school. I sign up to donate my time to everything bc I hope that can help. But I am often stuck in this mindset that I shouldn’t have so much when others have so little. My husband says – we have worked so hard for all we have and have to provide for our children. We both agree we would like to be able to help our children more then our parents were able to help us out, when they go to college or want to buy a home. we save every month for that (they are 9 and 10 yrs old now!) I can’t even imagine having excessive wealth and think I would be miserable. I feel grateful every day that we have so much bc this is not how I envisioned my life would be. I thought it would be much harder, with much less.But as many others have said, it’s not having money, it’s what you do with it. The people that should have their billions away are the drug cartels, people traffickers, war lords. That is evil money and in addition makes people’s lives horrific.

  13. I grew up rich and was taught by both my parents and society to be discreet (the rich love to use the word “private”) about it. I’ve tried at times in my life to be more transparent with people and it’s never turned out well. As a child I was teased by my classmates for being rich, as a young adult I’d get a lot of loud responses to any revelation of my family’s wealth (whoa, your dad drives a ___!!?!)(please laugh cause this reserved rich person behavior is so ingrained that I can’t tell you what car it was). As an adult, I don’t want to be judged by people — perceived as having political views, interests, or world views simply because of money. I have never enjoyed the attention it brought me which was generally negative and I have always wanted people to like me or know me for who I am, not the money my parents raised me with. I very much get why those in the article talk about wanting to be “normal.” Certainly in high school that’s all anyone wants!

    There are many privileges and blessings to having money so it seems pretty inappropriate to me to complain about the negative perception of rich people and very appropriate to be discreet and not make a big deal out of it. The silence is more and more ironic now that my friends and neighbors can quickly google the cost of my home or the price of my shoes but I suspect it will always feel impolite to me to discuss money and costs with people. As for morality, obviously there are both good and bad people out there regardless of income.

  14. I’m so surprised by these comments. I’m so surprised that no one has jumped in and said yes – wealth in the context of poverty is immoral – like it is a threat to even entertain the notion. Look, there are thousands of excuses to justify your wealth and privilege and yes, there are also other bad things in the world, and sure – it could be scary to admit that you’re privileged because those luxuries are dang nice, and we don’t want to give them up – and if we acknowledged the disparity then would our conscience compel us to change our budgets or admit we’re greedy and scrooging it up while Tiny Tim is crippled and starving? Do we just not personally know enough poverty? Is that not a further sign of our wealth and privilege? I’ve often gotten the impression that many Christians (and unfortunately sometimes me as well) are like – I would totally give a stranger the shirt off my back if Jesus asked me to – as if that’s some future theoretical or hypothetical question/requirement instead of something He has asked us to do – it is a current/active/open-ended/on-going request/requirement of Christians, but we have added so many qualifications and addendums that we appease our conscience with base efforts and excuses about the impoverished’s worthiness. We’re indoctrinated with capitalism and we cling to it as if we hold its truth to be self – evident – and it’s definitely a better system than some others but it is definitely amoral and as Christians, people of any religious belief or moral code, humanitarians, etc that macro system needs to be countered with our micro charity and selflessness…or you know, we’re kinda damned.

    1. Sorry – didn’t mean to actually post – just meant to vent and delete. It’s very self- righteous – but I did say we and I include myself and as a parting thought – I think we can acknowledge that something is wrong, imbalanced, selfish, greedy and not flat out condemn ourselves – it’s another thing we work on and try to change about our selves and lifestyle over time – which makes acknowledging the problem easier, I think – helps us be less defensive – and then makes it easier to eventually improve things.

      1. Nope, glad you posted! I completely agree with you. I’m very surprised there are so few comments acknowledging that wealth inequality is an ENORMOUS problem in our country. I wonder if this is a reflection of the SES of the design mom’s blog readers?

        Personally, I continually struggle with the thought that my husband & I should be earning more so that our children would be privy to ALL the advantages, which is usually followed a day later by the thought that I should be willing to give more to those in our community that need it. And, just to be clear, if we gave financially at the rate that some of these millionaires & billionaires do, it would be the cost of a dinner and a movie.

        Also, 4 swimming pools is ridiculous. We can all agree on that, right???

        1. I also thank you for your post and agree with it completely – this idea that someone has “earned” say, 6 million dollars a year, did they really? Did they work 6 million dollars harder than the person with 3 minimum wage jobs trying to raise a family in a crummy neighborhood with diabetes and a mom with dementia? There certainly is a point where it is ‘enough!’ 20% of people in California now live below the poverty line – that’s 1 in 5 men, women and children! While Beyoncé swims around in her 4 pools there are children who go to bed hungry, how is that ok? We MUST address income inequality! And yes, as Christians Jesus IS CALLING US to feed him, clothe him, care for him “whatever you do to the least of these you do for me.” How can we forget that the first shall be last, and the last, first? Are we willing to forego a chance at eternity for a high time here on earth?

          1. I’m glad you posted, too, Mae! And I think you’re spot on. I think it’s safe to assume that most DM readers fall into the upper to upper-middle income brackets, and I wonder what kind of comments we’d see if the majority of people were working class.

            We have a whole mythology in this country that justifies being rich. We tell ourselves we work hard and deserve our money. But can we make so much because our company employs sweat shop workers to increase the profit margin? Are our salaries so high because janitors are making less than ever before?

            We tell ourselves we deserve things like fancy cell phones and nice shoes, but how do we justify this when children are starving?

            One thing that’s so evident to me in reading these comments: most everyone is responding as an individual. We see it as OUR money. As OUR homes. We see ourselves as separate from the homeless man on the street or the hungry kid. It’s so wild to me that we once lived communally, and saw every person as our responsibility. We’re so far removed from that and I’m not sure how we get back there.

            And yeah, Jesus most definitely wouldn’t have been living in a mansion and using an iphone. Everything in his teaching tells us that’s not true. We’re so delusional that we convince ourselves it’s not.

    2. I’m so glad you said this, Mae. And you’re right, I can’t take myself out of this equation. Which feels ridiculous because by western norms we are very far from well off – we don’t own, are trying to pay off debts, still have student loans and home ownership feels like a distant dream. We watch every penny that we spend, keep to strict food budgets and I’m buying most of my daughter’s clothes second-hand from Ebay. But on the flip side, we have high levels of education, professional jobs, a safe and welcoming childcare for our daughter (even if it does cost 1/4 of our take-home pay every month), a roof over our heads and my daughter has her own room and every toy or piece of clothing she needs. Compared to so, so many we are privileged – and I think it’s important to step back and assess the difference between ‘needs’ and ‘wants’.

  15. In terms of talking about money with children, I think financial literacy is something that can’t be taught without actually talking about it. My parents never talked about their salaries, the cost of our home, how it was that we had less than most of our classmates but more than so many others. My husband and I are trying to be much more transparent. There’s an amazing book by Ron Leiber called The Opposite of Spoiled that has really influenced how we talk about money in our comfortable household. I highly recommend it.

  16. I am surprised the conversation has focused on the morals of individuals. The problem in my mind is structural. Our society, penal system, education system, tax codes and on and on encourage wealth to stay where it is. Studies show there is much less socio economic mobility than we think. And further, over the past 30 years or so economic inequality has increased dramatically. Is that what we want? Gated communities of wealthy and slums of service workers that provide for their needs? We need structural change–generosity writ large. For example, public schools could be equally funded across states NOT based on the property taxes.

    I have a very wealthy uncle. He earned his way out of the middle class and up into the upper tiers of our economic classes. Not so much his children. Now he and his very privileged children are very active in politics, fighting for tax reforms to protect their status. I don’t think an income cap on individuals would help–but I wish people like my uncle and cousins would see that a world with less inequality would be a better place for them to live as well.

    Finally, I am an academic who regularly travels to the third world for research. The global economic system is similarly structured to protect the wealth and status of some while depriving many more. Sitting down with a family in a one room tin shack where 6 people live to share their dinner made my place in these systems. I think that my 10 room house for 4 people for them is the equivalent of Beyonce’s 4 pools to me.

    1. Thanks for these comments. Where we aren’t suppose to talk about class, there is a deeply entrenched class system and an education, tax, electoral, everything system built t ensure that class system is entrenched!

  17. What always strikes me in conversations like these is how so many people who make a lot of money believe that they do so because they work hard. The flip side to that — which usually goes unmentioned — is that if you don’t have money, then you aren’t working hard enough. And that is so infuriating! People work as hard (if not harder) for their $20,000 salary as you do for your $200,000. The difference is usually a matter of luck and circumstance.

    And then of course the more money you have, the more opportunities you have and the more things are given to you that you don’t even notice. I was talking to my mother the other day about car problems, and how disruptive that can be for my one-car family, and she didn’t understand why the garage didn’t just give us a loaner car to use while ours was being repaired. But that is the kind of thing that isn’t done anymore for those who need it! Loaner cars are given to those who could really make other arrangements. It’s small things like this that add up, and I know I’m still talking about lower middle class issues and that things get worse off the lower in salary you get….

    1. You speak my mind exactly.

      “The flip side to that — which usually goes unmentioned — is that if you don’t have money, then you aren’t working hard enough. And that is so infuriating! People work as hard (if not harder) for their $20,000 salary as you do for your $200,000. The difference is usually a matter of luck and circumstance.”

      I am sick of the narrative that the success of the wealthy (and even the “comfortable” is simply a result of hard work and good choices, and conversely, that other’s lack of success is do to poor choices and laziness. I just recently read (was it on Design Mom?) “the most important decision you make in life is choosing your parents”.

      1. My husband and I grew up low middle class, earned college degrees by scholarships and working, scrimped and saved and worked hard, risked everything, bought a business, have worked had to grow that business into 3 businesses and now consider ourselves upper middle class. How is it that upward mobility isn’t possible? Taking away incentives for the middle class to work is the worst possible thing. The very rich and the upper middle class are light years apart financially and I’m not sure that has been brought out in the discussion. We’ve had no financial help and yet after 25 years of risk and work, we finally feel like things are going to work out for us. (Until the next economic downturn, of course and then we’ll be back to hoping to pay off our large business debt, which we have incurred). Incidentally, we have a daughter who was accepted into Stanford but because we made “too much money” (over $100,000) she couldn’t qualify for any financial assistance and is now attending a cheaper university on full scholarship. Only the very wealthy can pay $70,000 a year for tuition. (We have 2 other children in college, as well). I wish we could have given over our tax info from all those years we lived near poverty and then she’d have gotten in for free.

    2. I agree with a lot of what you’re saying. I do take exception to the idea that you’re working “harder” to make $20,000 vs $200,000. I think probably physically harder-you may be doing manual labor/cleaning/taking public transportation. But my husband works long hours, travels extensively, and is doing complex financial work (from years of experiences and having 2 advanced degree, which he worked his own way through school for.) Is someone working at McDonalds working “harder” than my husband? No way.

      1. Helen, I want to begin by saying as I don’t know you or your husband, I am not making any assumptions about your specific situation. I think these are questions we all need to ask ourselves when considering what anyone “earns”.

        Does a job that earns $200,000 often come with benefits beyond salary that “boost” ones wealth – like a company-matched 401(K), excellent health insurance, paid vacation, the option to work remotely at least on occasion (therefore not losing paid time if you have to stay home due to minor illness), company-subsidized education, company car, company subsidized child care. . . I am friends with people who have or had jobs with some or all of these things. I’ve had some of these things.

        Does a job that earns $20,000 offer ANY of these things? Is it likely that the person must have a 2nd or 3rd job to stay afloat? One job usually holds the health insurance (if they’re lucky) and the others make it possible to afford to show up to work in the first place. I know people in this situation as well.

        How do we define “harder”?

        1. I also think that a perk that somehow fits into this discussion is the perk of pride and the perk of fulfillment: being able to be proud of what you do, and have it engage you intellectually is something that usually comes with the higher paid jobs. I’ve found too that is a luxury having a job that leads to advancement, where if you work hard chances are you will progress from job A to job B.

          I used to roll my eyes back in the day when reading articles about Madonna and her amazing work ethic. Does it count as a work ethic if the rewards you reap from it are so enormous?

          I also often think of my sister’s husband, who is in the top 1% of wage earners, and who, when he became a partner at a financial firm, was rewarded with even better health insurance for which they had to pay much less. My sister was horrified at this — now that their income had increased hugely, they all of a sudden had to pay much less for their health care, in contrast to the entry-level jobs at the firm, the secretaries, etc. It is such a messed-up system.

        2. Well, in our situation it comes with ZERO benefits because he’s self employed. We pay over $3000 a month for terrible health insurance. There’s no paid vacation. If he doesn’t work, we don’t get paid. There’s no short term or long term disability. There’s no company car, or education assistance or anything else. We pay over 60% of our income to taxes. I understand what you’re saying. But you’re painting with broad strokes-as are a lot of people here, who make assumptions about “wealthy” people.

          1. Helen, I am trying not to make assumptions.

            Clearly, your husband’s $200,000 income does NOT equate a corporate employee’s $200,000.

            Imagine if a corporate employee with the same salary considered your husband to be less smart/hardworking because he lacked the perks or because he doesn’t have the same disposable income because he “chooses” (and I’m using quotes because that’s the assumption people make – that our circumstances are chosen) to be self-employed.

            My argument is that “hard work” is not the only reason people attain wealth and/or remain financially well off. I want people to question the simplistic narrative about wealth in our culture.

          2. I wonder, does his employment provide you the benefit of being able to not work? You don’t mention whether you are at home full time or have a career outside of the home. Because working at MacDonald’s certainly doesn’t provide that substantial benefit. Even if your husband’s job doesn’t provide traditional HR benefits, surely there are many other economic benefits.

  18. I grew up in a rural small town in upstate New York. Despite the fact that for most of my middle and high school years my parents were making a combined income of between $40,000-$50,000 a year, my family was often considered one of the rich families in town. We lived a pretty comfortable life, we had enough money to travel every year (even abroad once), a pretty nice big house (at least for our area- it’s around 2,000 sq/ft), and our parents weren’t constantly living paycheck to paycheck. My parents were always very open about finances, especially once we were in middle and high school. I was shocked by how little my college friends knew about finances. I knew our house’s value, about what my parents payed monthly for mortgage and utilities, how much each car my parents bought was, etc, but most of my college friends had absolutely no idea what their parents’ salaries even were let alone anything else!

    In college, I went to a small gorgeous private college (I was awarded a full scholarship or there’s no way I could have gone there) in the middle of a very economically divided city. It was there, student teaching in an inner-city school district that I really started to understand the problems with the deepening income gap in our country and just inequality in general. I’m not sure I’d support an income gap, but I certainly support higher taxes for the top 10% if not more. And I also support lowering taxes for those making under probably $100,000 a year. It definitely feels wrong to me that in a country with as much money floating around as in ours (and yes, the population as a whole really does have a lot of money), there are public schools falling apart, teachers making just enough to survive, children and adults going hungry, and people unable to get excellent health care because of their economic status. It seems wrong that there are families living in housing projects built with cheap materials during the 1950s when there are other families living in massive mansions. It seems wrong that our government doesn’t provide paid maternity leave when there are other families that can (easily, barely making a dent in their budget) afford nannies and private tutors, and private preschools that cost more than my bachelor’s degree.

    1. I also went to a small gorgeous private college, and when I went back for a reunion this year after 10 years, I felt in awe and kind of sick about it, and kind of freaked out – like how would I EVER provide such an exquisite and delightfully curated undergraduate experience for my own 2 kids now that that college costs well over $1000 a WEEK!? So while I’m a lawyer and doing well, I feel the scramble to keep up with what my parents provided for me (even though it was half the cost back then). I can tell myself the kids would be just fine at whatever state school, but then I also believe that going to college surrounded by smart, privileged kids from successful families paves the way to becoming a financially secure adult with unlimited professional opportunities. I also really toiled with this regarding whether to put my kid in our zoned school, which is overwhelming poor and has a substantial portion of homeless kids. In the end I went with another public option, still mostly poor, but with fewer kids in such dire straits. I feel like it was a step too far to actually have my kid learn side-by-side with homeless kids, as crappy as that makes me feel as an American citizen and a Christian…

      1. “but then I also believe that going to college surrounded by smart, privileged kids from successful families paves the way to becoming a financially secure adult with unlimited professional opportunities.”

        I believe it too. It’s rarely what you know, it’s who you know.

  19. My aunt’s best friend in college who is a lady I knew a bit growing up was very wealthy. My parents told me recently that her dad would send the small college town bank gobs of money every month and nobody knew who it was going to. it was the late 50s…. Apparently, she would dress down so that nobody knew. I remember her husband always with a fancy car and eating a lot of steak and booze. I only recently learned it was all her money. They were Vegas flashy people when I knew them in the 80s. Anyway, what is wealth? To someone in other countries, a welfare recipient in the US lives larger than they could ever dream. As a child, we were financially quite unstable, but I never ever went hungry or lacked stuff. Now, my kids can go to the doctor if they get sick, but growing up it was best not to get sick.

  20. I think about this a lot, as clearly do many others, and find both your post and the comments super interesting. I absolutely have been appalled by the clear presence of exorbitant wealth while there is so much poverty in the world, but also recognize the difficulty with admitting one’s own wealth and being willing to give it up. I grew up in an upper-middle-class family that considered it fairly gauche to discuss money (as someone else pointed out, a very WASP-y affliction). To this day discussing money openly makes me uncomfortable–I absolutely downplay the cost of the things I have. I’ve recently discussed with my husband how self-conscious I feel, since in the last year we purchased a new house, undertook a large and expensive renovation of that house, and just recently got new cars for both of us. Not to mention the planning of a big family vacation. I’m actively worried about looking like “high rollers” to our neighbors, and if the subject comes up I’m quick to point out all the ways in which money has been saved in the process of doing all this.

    At the same time it’s important to me for my children to understand what privilege is, what it means, and the responsibility that comes with it. I try to explain the work that their dad and I do in order to get the money we have, and that because of this it’s not unlimited and must be budgeted. There’s also usually mention of luck and other types of privilege (white privilege, for example) that have played a part in us having what we do, which leads to discussions of how we can use that privilege to speak up for others–but that’s a whole separate topic, I suppose. Essentially, despite our discomfort displaying our own privilege, we’re doing what we can to educate our children as to what it all means and how to both be smart and do good with what we have. In the end, though, we can do better. I’d like to do better.

  21. I think this conversation is important and interesting. Thanks. My family is not wealthy by our standards. I think some explanation is necessary. We work for everything we have, and in that sense we are blessed and privileged. We have some disposable income, and generally choose how to spend it. We have some choices in how to order our lives. As my mother taught me, it’s all about priorities. My husband and I do feel we have an obligation to the less fortunate to share, but we have less to share than others, based in part on our choices. I don’t feel defensive about this discussion, because I don’t have an excess of wealth. We spend what we make, but I recognize the luxury. I see others with more and others with less. I also have to wonder if feelings on this subject differ depending on how much you have, where you got it, and your background, such as whether you are in a better position financially than your parents.

  22. This is a very interesting conversation, and I loved reading the comments. Unless you are part of the 1%, I think wealth is relative and depends on so many things. We for example live in San Jose, CA, own an ugly half-updated 70s suburban home, two 10-year-old cars, have professional careers and two kids in private school, which is only working because one of us works there. Life here is so expensive, especially renting or owning. We do most of our home updates ourselves. We have most of our family in Europe, so we do travel there every other year. I do have to budget to make things work out, as we do not have executive jobs, but I know that we are quite privileged. We would be considered fairly wealthy in every other part of this country, but not here in the Silicon Valley. Our kids (thanks to hubbie’s teaching job) go to a good private school where we are financially probably on the bottom end of the spectrum. Does not bother me one bit, most of our friends are in a similar financial situation than we are. It is difficult to raise children in this environment though – they see people driving Teslas, living in mansions that look like out of Architectural Digest etc. So it’s important to keep them grounded, take them volunteering at the Family Shelter and Humane Society and make sure they look outside of the Silicon Valley bubble. Our kids (9 and 12) know what things cost, and if they have special wishes, they have to work to make them come true. The older one has become a pro in yard work in order to afford a gaming computer. Like the previous commenter, I do not feel defensive about a discussion concerning money and wealth. We also don’t have excess wealth, but we, including our kids, understand that we are privileged in the way that we have a comfortable lifestyle. They also know, however, how fast this can change, as I went through cancer a few years ago and could not work.

  23. Interesting topic. I am one of the quiet millionaires living on a very average street in a 2000 sq ft home. We moved from the Bay area to Seattle 26 years ago for my husband to take a job in a start-up bio-tech company. It could have gone under as many do, but it produced a few blockbuster drugs and our stock options made us (multi) millionaires. Our boys were young teenagers when that happened. They knew nothing. Their life did not change, we did not move to a bigger house or fancier hood. Both of us still worked every day. What did happen was they attended their top-choice private liberal arts college which we paid for in full. We took them on trips to Europe every year throughout high school/college (part of their education), we paid off their wives’ student loan debt when they married, we’ve helped them start their own businesses/buy their homes. We have set up accounts that will fund college costs for our five grandchildren. I stopped working at 50 and my husband at 59. We clean our own house, maintain our yard, go camping, and play with our grandchildren. We eat the very best food, cooked simply at home. We probably go out to eat once a month at best. We will likely never run out of money and hope to pass along a significant amount to our sons and their children. Yes, this is privilege. I understand that. But I think we are living a moral life. We don’t spend frivolously on clothes, jewelry, showy cars. I’m not constantly redecorating. We fly coach. We take care of what we have and let our money make money for our future and our family’s future. We also donate generously to organizations which help the less fortunate and I have given decades of unpaid service to organizations doing good work in our community.

    1. I love the term “quiet millionaire”. We are exactly like you (even in Seattle area!). No one looks at us and knows what our portfolio contains. I buy my clothes at Costco, we have nice cars but not flashy, we live in a condo, I have no Coach purses or high end shoes, I don’t waste money on getting my nails done, or Starbucks everyday. We paid our kids college, and helped them start businesses and buy homes. We donate generously and anonymously (to our church and various organizations). We put money in a fund all year – with the sole purpose to find places to give it away to. The church knows that if there is a need we can be called on to help. We are attempting to live on 1/2 the income my husband takes in as a consultant in his area of expertise. Our money is making money that we simply live on. Our goal however is to give it all away before we die. We live on the principle that it all belongs to God, we are simply stewards of His money. We will give an account for the wages we have paid ourselves with His money that He gave us to use. The good news is we are obviously not alone. We are the quiet millionaires – and when people begin to rag on “the rich” and how terrible and selfish “they” are – we simply smile and say “not all of them”.

    2. So exactly the position we would like to be in, and I think it is wonderful that you don’t go out to eat all the time and are able to travel once a year to Europe. That is what I would like, too. I don’t think we should take away people’s incentives to work hard and make more money (developing a drug that helps others is an amazing thing).

      I would love to make more money and be able to give more generously. There are SO MANY in the world who do not have access to clean water, which means girls don’t go to school because they are fetching water and 1 in 4 or 5 children (depending on where) die from diseases that could not have happened had they had access to clean water.

      We live under the poverty line, but we have clean water, my children get to have an education (both girls and boys), have nutritious food to eat (I have a yard and I grow fruit and vegetables for our family–what a privilege that is!), have clothing to wear, and school supplies. We have flushing toilets and electricity. What blessings!

      I have been working recently with a refugee family from Congo. They are living in the poorest part of town—and after reading more about Congo, I can see how wealthy this must make them feel. I asked the father if his family needed anything. His comment: “NEED?” and he basically implied after that that “need” was a relative term. He is SO right. They are safe from the violence that is taking place in Congo, his wife and daughters are not in fear of being gang raped, his son is not in danger of being forced to be a child soldier, they have clean water, and they can buy fruits and vegetables (a rare thing in Congo for most people). They have an apartment with walls and a good roof and running water.

      I am translating for the father and working with another woman to help teach his wife sign language. She is deaf and uses only grunts to communicate. She was injured as a child and has no language or schooling. She cannot speak to her children or her husband. What richness I have that I can speak to my family and others!

      There is so much that we have, even the poorest among us.

      I am surrounded by women who speak constantly about going out to eat and vacations and traveling out of state to visit family. It gets to be too much for me to listen to a lot and is even why I have pulled back from reading certain blogs at times (including this one, as many things are beyond what we can ever do in life). But I am also happy for them (I just don’t have much to contribute to the conversation).

      I don’t think we need to take away more money from people and force them to give to the poor. I think we need to instead help those who have more see what is like for those in extreme poverty so that they can help give generously from their own hearts. There are such wonderful ways to give; I am so moved by those who have set up clean water foundations to dig wells and provide clean water to people throughout the world. There are very rich people doing this, and I think it’s a wonderful thing. We have scrimped and given what we can to help with these projects because we know it is life-changing for communities–literally. It saves lives. It provides girls a chance to go to school rather than facing a lonely and dangerous day of carrying water for their families.

      I don’t resent the rich their richness. I don’t think they should be taxed more. I think if we are all taxed the same (say, a flat tax of 10%) that it would be fair. Taxes are not like that though; some places have higher property taxes, sales taxes, etc. I myself have chosen to live in a state without a state income tax, with low property taxes, and I don’t buy much. I am grateful for those who buy more because they have more money to spend; they donate great stuff to thrift stores and have wonderful garage sales, and that allows my family to buy nicer things than we could afford brand-new.

    3. This post – Cynthia and Nan – just made my day and restored my faith in humanity. I think this used to be the norm – trickle down worked, because people passed on the wealth. I don’t know when the greed and conspicuous consumption became some commonplace.

      Brandy, you also inspired me with your giving. It’s often times not the wealthy that give the most, and you seem like you’re doing wonderful work.

      Anyway, thank you for sharing your stories. <3 All the best.

    4. I have no problem with someone holding onto their money, nor am I an advocate for conspicuous consumption, but I do take umbrage at the amount of smug satisfaction I have witnessed in these posts about never going out to eat and buying clothes at Costco so that you can buy your children homes and fund their risk-free entrepreneurship. You know who needs money more than a kid whose college has been fully funded? A sweatshop laborer in Bangladesh who sews your Costco clothes for a pittance while she worries that the factory walls are going to tumble down around her. Or a dishwasher at the local restaurant – where the chef is a kid who worked his way through trade school and is now trying to make his business a success in the only neighborhood in Seattle where he could afford the rent – whose wages are supplemented by the tips the whole staff shares but who still has to run to his other job sweeping the floors at the airport from which jetliners carrying trust fund kids to Paris take off. Go ahead and feel superior about sitting quietly on your pile of money, but don’t claim trickle down actually works when your money is just making money for you and your already advantaged children. Philanthropy (which of course provides the obvious benefit of tax breaks) is a great boon to the communities it benefits, but so is conscious spending and support of local, ethical businesses.

  24. I cannot stop thinking about this- all night and now into today. What an important and a taboo (at least in my friend circle) topic! I’ve been thinking about ways to discuss it without offense in the coming weeks. Love the thoughtful way you presented it.

  25. Wow, the article on being wealthy is immoral was quite in-your-face.
    Story time: I left a physically abusive marriage a year ago. I am LDS and lived in a ward that was incredibly wealthy. I lived close by, but lived in an older home (but nice since we sold a house in a more expensive state), with my spouse making 36K and me trying to get as much schooling done because I knew I had to get out of this situation. In every classic sense, on the outside my life was good and I had an upstanding, participatory family. After being cut off from all money access while in divorce proceedings, my house pending sale (to split assets) my Bishop agreed to pay ONE utility bill after a long lecture. I had been in leadership in the church and had been the one aiding help. In no way had I ever presented myself as someone who took advantage. I found a rental within the ward, surprisingly, and thought “well, if things get really bad, this ward has the resources to help me”. I never asked for help. More than 15 people at different times suggested I needed to live elsewhere close to people in my similar circumstances (basically in town where all the rest of the poor people lived- was the feeling). Do you know who the ONLY person who sent their young teen to watch my kids while I was in finals and told them they could not accept any money from me? A single mom. All the women who lived in multi-million dollar homes wanted to clarify how much I would be paying their children. Which I never would assume that I would not be paying them, it was just an eye-opening experience. It started to seem as though my very presence made some people feel uncomfortable. This isn’t to say that some awesome things did not happen. Someone in the ward gave my kids an amazing Christmas that winter and a very generous gift to me. When I finally moved in town this summer since I needed to get into a cheaper rental to finish school, the number of comments like, “we were poor once too, once you work and earn your lifestyle you will feel great about it” were sick. I did remind one or two that I, too, had supported my spouse through college, and my nice home had been purchased through my direct efforts of flipping houses… well that wasn’t quite what they wanted to hear. They wanted to hear that they had earned their spot through hard work only, and that obviously my lot had been dealt to me because of something I had done, therefore their life was safe.
    This rationalization is why it will be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to get into heaven. I am glad I saw this, I am almost done with my degree, and I pray that with every step of success I accurately remember how hard it was so that I can reach out to others.

    1. Dear A. – I am so sorry that you have been treated so badly. Shame on these “Christians”. I wish you all the very best to complete your degree and start a successful career. You don’t need those people. Hugs.

  26. What a great conversation! Many compelling ideas and comments here. My husband and I own a business which is doing quite well these days but we still live in a small 3/1 house and I still shop at the thrift stores. We always remind our kids — (one is at Berkeley too — a Poli Sci major with an emphasis on education and global poverty) that we are super fortunate. We have also told them that even though we are doing well now, that could turn at any moment as our work is tied to the real estate market, and we have to save to fund our retirement (which saw no contributions for many years) or else they will be taking care of us. I am so lucky to have the option to make these decisions for our family.
    I am reminded of an article I read a few months ago and shared with a business group I am part of. https://medium.com/tech-diversity-files/the-real-reason-my-startup-was-successful-privilege-3859b14f4560 My husband and/or I have benefited from all of the advantages the author details here. I also know that what we take for granted is so far out of reach for many people. If you are poor, and you neighbors are poor, there is limited community scaffolding to build success on. If you were malnourished in infancy, if you were exposed to a bevy of environmental toxins in utero and throughout development, and the school you attend is underfunded and dealing with a significant population of struggling students (see some causes above), your education (and by extension future earning potential) is already compromised by the time you finish the second grade.

    So, immoral wealth? Yes. I think there is denial of the fact that at a certain level it is immoral. The comments about political influence are spot on. If you are rich enough to essentially buy policy and you are buying policy to further enrich yourself that is immoral. It just is. There is some evidence that indicates that the more you have the more you think you should have. http://planetsave.com/2013/12/23/a-rigged-game-of-monopoly-reveals-how-feeling-wealthy-changes-our-behavior-ted-video/
    How to deal with the spectrum of wealth is a more difficult to pin down. A “cap” seems impossible, but… so much of what we are living today seemed impossible fifteen years ago.

  27. I grew up in an upper middle class home.
    My parents did a great job teaching us about money and I think some of these strategies could work for everyone, it just takes time. In high school, for three months I was in charge of paying the bills for the household. This was in the 90s and we wrote checks for everything. So once or twice a month, I’d sit down with Mom or Dad, and I’d have to look at the bill, look at the past bill, write the check, and they’d sign it. I had a lot of questions after that and they were very upfront about it (what they earn, how much they pay in taxes, how they have saved for my college, etc).
    Also, when I got a car, I also got a credit card (for gas, buying groceries for the family/running errands, etc). It was a shared card – but I was the only one paying for it. I had to save my receipts, and turn them into my parents to get reimbursed – and then they would write me a check which I deposited into my checking account and then I paid the whole bill. Also taught me how important it is to keep up with your bills/reimbursements cause otherwise I couldn’t pay for the whole credit card bill on time and I’d have to pay interest.
    When I left for college – I got a new card only in my name and the same process continued. Before college (and driving, etc). we’d have a family meeting and we’d go over an informal contract/agreement about who pays for what, rules, what requires a pre-approval from them, etc. For college I had a spreadsheet about what I’d pay vs. them and we updated it weekly. Now you could use a google spreadsheet.

    This worked great for my brother and me. Now I’m 36, the deputy CFO of a billion dollar agency. My brother’s 33 and runs his own successful commercial real estate business.

  28. In case nobody has already in the comments, it seems worth pointing out that extremely wealthy people, like Elon Musk, do things that regular people and governments cannot, like blow millions and millions of dollars on rockets and space-related experiments all in order to further our technological capabilities.

    I also, like many people, received scholarships during college from very, very wealthy individuals. I had a chance to meet one of the worth-millions couples that paid one of my scholarships. The wife had a diamond on her finger the size of my thumb. She also founded a non-profit no-kill shelter in addition to all the scholarship money she and her husband give to students.

    Is it disgusting to see people who have homes worth upwards of $10 million dollars while speech therapists working in our schools with low-income kids struggle to pay their mortgage? Yes.
    On the other hand, wealthy people fund education, build museums, support the arts, and, yes, blow up millions of dollars worth of rockets for the sake of science.

    Beware the sin of Envy. It is deadly.

    ~ Lee

  29. I grew up knowing way too much about my parents’ finances–in that, I knew they didn’t have any money, and I knew when my dad got paid because that’s when we could buy more food or toilet paper or whatever it was. The funny thing is, I thought that everyone who was “middle class” lived this way, and it wasn’t until I was older that I realized we were poor (and not middle class at all).

    Now I am solidly middle class, and I often feel like a fraud. My husband feels the same way. We have the education, jobs, house, and social circle of people who grew up middle/upper middle class, but we don’t identify with others in my social class AT ALL, and our experiences as children were so different that it can be hard to relate. It’s weird to people that as children we 1) never traveled internationally ), 2) never went skiing (Colorado is only a day’s drive from where we grew up), and 3) never played sports/did dance/had private lessons. It was even worse when we lived in the New York and DC/Northern Virginia. The few times I told friends about my upbringing, they were SHOCKED to hear that I had visited a “soup kitchen.”

    For me, I think that’s the root of the immorality of wealth–not the wealth itself, not the luxury purchases–but the complete and utter lack of understanding of (and empathy for) others–the people who are struggling get by, the people who work just as hard or harder but have too many obstacles to overcome or made an uneducated decision or just got unlucky. There is a subtext surrounding wealth in American society that we each “deserve” what we have because we worked for it. When it comes down to it, I don’t think we deserve anything more than basic living necessities.

    1. I love this “For me, I think that’s the root of the immorality of wealth–not the wealth itself, not the luxury purchases–but the complete and utter lack of understanding of (and empathy for) others–the people who are struggling get by, the people who work just as hard or harder but have too many obstacles to overcome or made an uneducated decision or just got unlucky.” I feel the exact same way.

    2. Yes. It’s the lack of understanding and empathy for others. The assumption that people who are struggling are struggling because they have no work ethic, no ambition, no self-responsibility.

      We were very poor growing up – single mother with 3 girls. I recall having to wait for hygiene necessities – shampoo, toilet paper, toothpaste – until mom’s paycheck. And, our food choices were very, very limited. Our clothes were always purchased or made by our grandmother. And, we had one pair of shoes for the school year. And, we were very, very lucky that our mother didn’t have a major health crisis, or lose a job, or experience a myriad of other events that would have put our lives in a tailspin.

      I put myself through college and grad school and was lucky enough to marry a wonderful guy with a kind family. His parents helped us buy a house. We were also lucky enough to land jobs in our chosen profession – public service. We are comfortably middle-class, with 2 kids who attend public school. Our kids have what they need, but not always what they want. They have to earn and save to get extras – not because we can’t afford it but because they should. And, we talk often about how lucky they are.

      In my profession, I come across many people who didn’t have the luck and/or privilege I experience. I am white. I am educated. I married well. I have good job prospects. I haven’t been injured, or suffered abuse, or grown up with a drug-addicted parent. I don’t have major mental health issues. My kids are healthy and don’t have major health issues.

      The emphasis is that without understanding about someone else’s background, you cannot possibly know how hard it might be simply to exist financially with these circumstances. Extreme wealth is not “deserved” – it is often the luck of the draw.

  30. This is a topic I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, because it’s at the forefront of our minds, given current events.

    I would’ve always described our family as “middle class” — as that phrase is used in the United States. But I’m from the Caribbean, and comparing how I live with how most people live in the Caribbean — I would definitely call us wealthy. Similarly, when you leave the United States and travel to other countries (as you and I have done together, Gabby), there’s no question that we are wealthy as compared to most of the world population.

    My daughter once asked if we were rich, and I tried to explain it to her this way: that in comparison to many of the kids with whom she attends school here in the States, we are not rich, as she has friends from far wealthier families. But as she’s come with me to the Caribbean many times to visit family, she can also see the disparity between how we live and how most of the people from my country live, and that clearly, we have more wealth. I’ve told her that most people in the world do not have the types of financial privilege that we have, and therefore, there’s a heavier burden on us to make sure that our brothers and sisters are taken care of.

    And now, most recently, we’ve lost 99% of everything we owned to the floods of Hurricane Harvey — our (modest) house is gone, our two (modest) cars are gone, most of our clothing, all our shoes, all our furniture, all gone. We’re definitely starting over, and we definitely don’t have a penny to spare, particularly because we didn’t have flood insurance, since our house isn’t in a flood plain. In the aftermath of the storm, we went out and spent money on enough clothes (from Target) that both my daughter and my husband have a week’s worth of clothing for school and work; I have about 4 days of clothing, since I work from home. Suddenly, money is VERY scarce. And yet … my husband is still employed, I’m still able to make money. We’re still relatively young. We’re all relatively healthy. We’ll figure out how to make it work — which is so much more than many others who were hit by the storm. So, even in this context, I wouldn’t change how we classify ourselves: solidly middle class in the US, wealthy by most world standards.

    Interesting topic, Gabs.

    1. I’m so sorry that you lost so much in the storm. I can only imagine what you are going thru. I live in Houston, and my heart hurts every time I drive thru the neighborhood just north of mine and see everything out on the curb. Fortunately our house didn’t flood, but we did have some damage, and our only car flooded. That alone has made me think a lot about all of this too–the security that comes (or doesn’t exist for many) with having savings, good health, a good job, and having the support of family and friends if you ever need it.

  31. I’ve loved every single one of these comments – I keep finding myself nodding along.

    The only thing I have to add – that several others have touched on – is that for me, it’s not really obscene spending that bothers me, it’s the idea that just because someone is rich, they’re automatically a “success,” someone we should all aspire to be. Like, being rich is the only way to prove yourself. (Also, not to say there’s not some very inspiring rich people – some of whom have already responded in these comments.) It’s the idea that poor people aren’t good people (and of course, there are definitely bad poor people too).

    Yes, work ethic does come into play. So does personality. Education. Looks. The list goes on and on. I was raised upper middle class (for the area – not by US standards) and am now make a decent living in an urban area/higher SES (which is loads more than anyone in my hometown makes, but right in the middle here). However, I see execs at my company who make 12+x my salary getting their kids into the best schools, internships at the best companies, and…they cycle continues. Of course, we’d all want to give our children the best shot, no shame there! I just think it’s unfair to say this 22 year old necessarily “worked hard” to get that great job and highly doubt that they were the most qualified. Not to say meritocracy doesn’t exist, but it seems to be the exception rather than the rule now.

  32. To be honest, if people are mad that others have more money than them, maybe they should put that anger into working hard and becoming rich, instead of complaining about others having more than them.

  33. Excessive wealth is born of the system. I don’t like the system or the approach it takes to many things. It is very successful in many ways and I am a beneficiary of its success. I don’t feel the system analyses the true future goals of society. The world is a fragile place and the modern era is young. Most people spend too much time working in order to survive. Instead we should be working toward societal goals. A universal credit would increase the bargaining power of the worker to improve this situation. Education has not yet successfully been scaled in order for the populous to have equal understanding and equal opportunity. I agree with the concept of a wealth cap but not because of the money. It is the individual POWER that concerns me. The system is an illusion of democracy. Politicians in their current form are obsolete.

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