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March 6, 2012 11:10 AM   Subscribe

6 Things Rich People Need to Stop Saying. (SLCracked by David Wong)

"So when I say "We're all in this together," I'm not stating a philosophy. I'm stating a fact about the way human life works. No, you never asked for anything to be handed to you. You didn't have to, because billions of humans who lived and died before you had already created a lavish support system where the streets are all but paved with gold. Everyone reading this -- all of us living in a society advanced enough to have Internet access -- was born one inch away from the finish line, plopped here at birth, by other people."
posted by changeling (223 comments total) 107 users marked this as a favorite

 
see also.
posted by elizardbits at 11:14 AM on March 6, 2012 [12 favorites]


Ann Romney, yesterday: I don’t even consider myself wealthy which is am interesting thing. It can be here today and gone tomorrow...

Seriously, could she describe a plausible scenario in which she lost $250 million in the course of one day!?
posted by wikipedia brown boy detective at 11:16 AM on March 6, 2012 [42 favorites]


"I don't even consider myself wealthy". No, but your kids do. (OK, yeah, Photoshop. So what?)
posted by The Bellman at 11:18 AM on March 6, 2012 [7 favorites]


That Forbes article posted the other day about things the super-rich buy mentioned that most wealthy people don't consider themselves wealthy.
posted by nzero at 11:18 AM on March 6, 2012


Cracked goes out on a limb once more, I see.
posted by swift at 11:19 AM on March 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Maybe when they say they "don't consider themselves wealthy" they mean "according to the IRS". Everyone is either "poor" or "middle class" with the latter more or less all lumped in together and paying roughly the same amount. No top tax brackets above ~$380k.

We need to fix that.
posted by DU at 11:25 AM on March 6, 2012 [19 favorites]


Not rich people should not even begin to tell rich people what they can and can not say...if they were so smart they would be rich people but they are not.
posted by Postroad at 11:26 AM on March 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh and *I* *do* consider myself wealthy, despite earning quite a bit less than a third of the richest person the IRS has apparently ever heard of. We have plenty to eat, a nice place to live and money for toys.
posted by DU at 11:27 AM on March 6, 2012 [11 favorites]


Swift - It's not a call to seize the means of production, but articles on socialism and anti-capitalism aren't exactly celebrity humor and dumb criminals either.
posted by anti social order at 11:29 AM on March 6, 2012 [8 favorites]


Not rich people should not even begin to tell rich people what they can and can not say...if they were so smart they would be rich people but they are not.

This is about wisdom not smarts. As in it would be wise not to piss off people who might eventually figure out that they can band together and storm a random mansion with pitchforks and torches in hand.
posted by Talez at 11:29 AM on March 6, 2012 [7 favorites]


The quotes are golden.
posted by Trochanter at 11:30 AM on March 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


6 Things Rich People Need to Stop Saying: also known as the Spendin-Krugerand effect.
posted by MuffinMan at 11:30 AM on March 6, 2012 [10 favorites]


All of these things, yes.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 11:32 AM on March 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I want you to stop and ask yourself, "Will this make me sound like an out-of-touch douchebag?"

Of course, the reason rich people (especially political ones) say these things is not because they are out-of-touch. It's because they are framing the debate. They want to be thought of as "regular folks" and ALSO deride the idea of the highly advantaged helping out the less so (usually by calling it "class warfare").
posted by DU at 11:33 AM on March 6, 2012 [26 favorites]


Nor would it be wise to piss off people who can hire an army with railguns and flamethrowers to put around their mansions (or the NYPD).
posted by oneswellfoop at 11:33 AM on March 6, 2012


The gawker rant is good too. The best bit is quoted in the Cracked article: "Sure, it's an objectively large sum of money," they say. "But it is far smaller after I spend it."
posted by vidur at 11:34 AM on March 6, 2012 [26 favorites]


Ann Romney, yesterday: I don’t even consider myself wealthy which is am interesting thing.

I don't even consider myself an asshole, which is an interesting thing.
posted by straight at 11:35 AM on March 6, 2012 [41 favorites]


"We buy a new Mercedes every three years; it's our big indulgence," says Doug...

Well, sure.
posted by Trochanter at 11:43 AM on March 6, 2012 [13 favorites]


Going with the out of touch aspect, if Ann Romney (for example) says she doesn't think she is rich, she's just measuring herself status-wise. Normalizing your own self-experience is a big component of human adaptability. The wealthiest people on the planet are worth a couple of orders of magnitude more than her. In her mind, THOSE people are rich.

Of course it would be nice if these folks had the faintest level self-awareness of their emotional motivations and the culture that has shaped their interest in social status. But folks who were born that rich or became that rich are typically self-selected to be obsessed with money to the exclusion of almost everything else.
posted by MillMan at 11:43 AM on March 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Going with the out of touch aspect, if Ann Romney...

You know her husband is running for President, right?
posted by DU at 11:45 AM on March 6, 2012


"If I can do it, so can you!"

There are a lot of people who 'could've done it' but didn't, just because they are better people than that. I think of the founder of MetaFilter, Matt Haughey, as one of those people. I think he's smart enough that he could've made MeFi as big and lucrative as HuffPo or Twitter or even Facebook, but it wouldn't be MetaFilter.
posted by oneswellfoop at 11:46 AM on March 6, 2012 [49 favorites]


If they want to call themselves "Job Creators," then I can say that they absolutely suck at creating jobs.
posted by schmod at 11:47 AM on March 6, 2012 [17 favorites]


Its easy to become rich and powerful for first world folks, it just takes a lifetime of slavish devotion to nothing but the acquisition of wealth and power. Screw that.
posted by lazaruslong at 11:48 AM on March 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


"The only reason I have a hundred times more money than you is because I work a hundred times as hard!"

Well this one rings true for me. I get paid by the hour and I am quite sure - having the income to prove it - that my slack-ass doesn't work 100 times harder than anyone. Or even ten times. Or even as much.

Brad Hamilton: Why don't you get a job Spicoli?
Jeff Spicoli: What for?
Brad Hamilton: You need money.
Jeff Spicoli: All I need are some tasty waves, a cool buzz, and I'm fine.

I got everything I need, more than I want, much more than I deserve and I could not give a damn how rich some people are because jealously and envy ain't my bag.
posted by three blind mice at 11:54 AM on March 6, 2012 [17 favorites]


I like to think what we lack in material things, we make up for in our souls. It makes you almost feel bad for the financially wealthy people who don't realize how blessed they are.

I say almost because there are some kids in *insert third world here* that can't get enough to eat and all, I really feel bad for them. People like the Romneys, not so much.
posted by RolandOfEld at 11:58 AM on March 6, 2012


I'm not that tall. I mean, I'm likely the tallest person you'll see today, but I'm certainly not the tallest person you've ever seen. I mean, I'm an inch shorter than Michael Jordan, and he wasn't considered tall for an NBA player. I mean, I'm closer to average height than I am to, say, the tallest person in the world. Not that tall, when you think of it that way.
posted by MrMoonPie at 11:58 AM on March 6, 2012 [15 favorites]


Yes, the rich should stop saying these things.

But who will make them?
posted by weinbot at 11:59 AM on March 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


I like to think what we lack in material things, we make up for in our souls.

This was perverted by the right wing a long time ago to read "what we lack in EDUCATION we make up for in our souls". Cf ivory towers, eggheads, atheist scientists, etc.
posted by DU at 12:01 PM on March 6, 2012


This article was spot on.
posted by maxwelton at 12:02 PM on March 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Groceries at Loblaws, Metro, Fortino's and the Oriental Food Mart on Finch West: $1,600

Dude's grocery budget is more than I gross each month.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 12:05 PM on March 6, 2012 [20 favorites]


"If I can do it, so can you!"

I have deleted the actual comment from my favorites, so my apologies to the Mefite whose words I am stealing, but someone here wrote

"I stopped my relatives dead in their tracks by asking 'If it's so easy, why haven't you done it'?"
posted by wittgenstein at 12:05 PM on March 6, 2012 [5 favorites]



I got everything I need, more than I want, much more than I deserve and I could not give a damn how rich some people are because jealously and envy ain't my bag.


Oh right...because addressing what has become an unnatural and potentially economically dangerous income inequality in the US is about being "jealous and envious."
posted by jnnla at 12:06 PM on March 6, 2012 [33 favorites]


I couldn’t love this article any more than I do, and I don’t think I’ve heard these things said better.
posted by bongo_x at 12:07 PM on March 6, 2012 [9 favorites]


And you know what's worse? My dumb ass thinks I have it good! I put money in my flipping retirement account! I live with my elderly grandmother for free! My parents take me out to dinner and paid cash for my fucking college! I have a reliable car and bitchin' health insurance! I feel guilty about getting my nails done and buying shoes online! I try not to ever mention this shit, because I know I won the goddamn lottery and will never want for anything ever, and these assholes whine about the cost of their vitamins?

Fuck. I don't know who I'm mad at, me or these douchenozzles.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 12:10 PM on March 6, 2012 [12 favorites]


I don’t even consider myself wealthy which is am interesting thing. It can be here today and gone tomorrow...

I know how this could happen. Really.

Wandering bands of the Sans Culottes.
posted by Slackermagee at 12:11 PM on March 6, 2012 [5 favorites]


I know how this could happen. Really.

Wandering bands of the Sans Culottes.


If they want their own culottes they should damn well work hard for them like everybody else has to!
posted by Jehan at 12:14 PM on March 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


"jealously and envy ain't my bag"

Someone didn't read through to the end.
posted by Legomancer at 12:15 PM on March 6, 2012 [7 favorites]


So one on hand you have people who don't understand that they have a lot more than other people and say shitty things. On the other, you have people who don't get that things cost different amounts of money different places and often you have to live in. Ann Romney saying she doesn't feel rich is not the same thing as a family in a metropolitan area pulling in $200k and saying that it doesn't go as far as it sounds.

I loved this article, but I really wish people would understand the difference between the 1 or 2 percent and the .01 percent. As much as it sounds like concern trolling to say, I really think it weakens the argument — and I say that as someone who is not in the 1 percent, who agrees with OWS and related goals, but who also was born in one of the most expensive metro areas and has a job that exists in cities.
posted by dame at 12:15 PM on March 6, 2012 [6 favorites]


Good article. I still favour the lamp post/noose approach to the obscenely wealthy, myself. I'm very traditional like that.
posted by Decani at 12:16 PM on March 6, 2012 [5 favorites]


I have to say, the content on Cracked seems to be getting better and better. This was a surprisingly well-written and fun to read article.
posted by cell divide at 12:18 PM on March 6, 2012 [8 favorites]


> Seriously, could she describe a plausible scenario in which she lost $250 million in the course of one day!?

I could.
posted by The Card Cheat at 12:23 PM on March 6, 2012 [11 favorites]


I mean, c'mon, these guys were really short. It's an unfair comparison. Sure, I'm a little taller than average, but nothing dramatic.
posted by MrMoonPie at 12:23 PM on March 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


> Seriously, could she describe a plausible scenario in which she lost $250 million in the course of one day!?

I could.


So could I.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:25 PM on March 6, 2012


"Without society, all of your brave, individual talents and efforts won't buy you a bucket of farts."
Not bad, Cracked. Not bad.
posted by Phredward at 12:27 PM on March 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


... and I say that as someone who is not in the 1 percent, who agrees with OWS and related goals, but who also was born in one of the most expensive metro areas and has a job that exists in cities.

IIRC, you have the same job I do. It exists in lots of places that aren't cities.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:29 PM on March 6, 2012


The only thing missing from this excellent article is a mention of how unusual it is for Americans to move substantially above or below the status of our parents. Yes, many very wealthy people had poor parents. But we hear those stories because they are unusual.

I am a great example of the exception. My parents were dirt poor. The whole rest of my family is still fairly poor. I was happy at one point to make $24K per year working 70 hours per week. I thought I had made it big.

Then I dated a girl whose father was middle class and educated, and he mentioned in passing one day that his company was hiring an intern and that hardly anyone had applied, even though the position offered free grad school. The next day, I applied. A few months later, I got the job. Today, I'm firmly middle class.

I could pretend that no one helped me, and that I created my own opportunity. After all, I went after the job -- it wasn't handed to me.

But the fact is that, after wallowing in near-poverty for years surrounded by other people in near-poverty, a single conversation with a middle class person resulted in a significant change in my income level. Yeah, it was hard work. It still is.

But it's nowhere near as hard as the work I did for the first 15 years of my adult life.

This is how most wealthy people are wealthy. Yes, they worked for it. But they also had a network of equally wealthy people supporting them at every turn, even if they didn't realize it.
posted by coolguymichael at 12:30 PM on March 6, 2012 [160 favorites]


I have to say, the content on Cracked seems to be getting better and better. This was a surprisingly well-written and fun to read article.
posted by cell divide at 9:18 AM on March 6 [1 favorite +] [!]


Yes, it's a great article in pretty much every way. Though Cracked has been very good since Wong came on board in ... 2007?

Speaking of Wong - JDATE has been released!
posted by Sebmojo at 12:33 PM on March 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm not that tall. I mean, I'm likely the tallest person you'll see today, but I'm certainly not the tallest person you've ever seen. I mean, I'm an inch shorter than Michael Jordan...

Ha. Interesting that this is exactly the example Taleb used in The Black Swan to differentiate between predictable and unpredictable systems. Human height is normally (and predictably!) distributed--sure, someone may be taller than you, but if you're in the top 10% of people by height, it's going to be really fucking rare for someone to be more than 20% taller than you and it's next to impossible to find anyone twice as tall as the population average--whereas income is distributed practically without bounds, so there are people who have orders of magnitude more than you do and a huge population that makes practically nothing. And part of that is because income is an insanely arbitrary social construct and someone (our Ann R., for ex) whose family wealth is something like a thousand times the average American household's can't excuse it as being "upper middle class" or "not that rich." So cute analogy, but totally off base (not faulting you, MrMoonPie, just wanted to explore this idea)... income distribution is not just crazily unpredictable, jnnia is right: it's unnatural and dangerous.
posted by psoas at 12:33 PM on March 6, 2012 [9 favorites]


No, Dame, I think you're right. I think there should be lot's of tax brackets up there.
posted by Trochanter at 12:33 PM on March 6, 2012


Ann Romney saying she doesn't feel rich is not the same thing as a family in a metropolitan area pulling in $200k and saying that it doesn't go as far as it sounds...As much as it sounds like concern trolling to say, I really think it weakens the argument.

Every family profiled in Toronto Life owns a home, and most of them have more than one car, spend lavishly on travel and spend several hundred dollars each month on wine. 200k goes exactly as far as it sounds, and if you feel poor on that salary, it is no one's fault but your own.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 12:35 PM on March 6, 2012 [24 favorites]


To me, the most galling thing that Ann Romney said yesterday was something about "We are poor in spirit."

Oh right. What does that even mean? "Yes, we're rooting for you, poors, really!" Clinks champagne glasses. Noblesse oblige.

Last week, I laughed when she said she was going to do all the talking for Mitt since he kept stepping in it - I thought that was kind of amusing in a 1950s Blondie & Dagwood way. I never suspected that the whole family could be so totally tone deaf.
posted by madamjujujive at 12:35 PM on March 6, 2012 [7 favorites]


People say to me, Tochanter? How can you just give away those apostrophes? Volume, I say.
posted by Trochanter at 12:35 PM on March 6, 2012 [28 favorites]


I think I have heard multiple versions of: "Once I have paid for nutritious food, comfortable shelter, convenient transportation, new clothing, and safe & effective education for my family; once I have paid for our health care, and insured our home, transportation, and livelihoods; once I have made payments against the fees and loans which permit me to undertake my profession; and once I have set aside money to ensure that when I am disabled and/or of retirement age, I will be able to continue to enjoy food, shelter, health care, etc. without working, after all that, there is nothing left over and I have run through several times the median family income in this country."

I've seen those numbers added up time and again, and I think they're true enough, and I think that the people saying those things often completely miss the implications of what they're saying.
posted by endless_forms at 12:36 PM on March 6, 2012 [105 favorites]


If they don't consider themselves wealthy then they will have no objection to increasing taxes on the wealthy. Right?
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 12:39 PM on March 6, 2012 [13 favorites]


IIRC, you have the same job I do. It exists in lots of places that aren't cities.

Do we still? I do know that if I want to do what I do, I have a much better set of options in a city (like maybe there is some less urban place that has one or two employment options, but that seems too scary to have such a tiny market). I also know if I want to live within an hours' flight of my family, I am definitely constrained to expensive locations. Which is fine. But it does mean acting like "oh, if you don't like houses costing so much, move to Kansas or stop whining, moneybags!" strikes me as somewhat counterproductive.
posted by dame at 12:39 PM on March 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


I loved this article, but I really wish people would understand the difference between the 1 or 2 percent and the .01 percent. As much as it sounds like concern trolling to say, I really think it weakens the argument — and I say that as someone who is not in the 1 percent, who agrees with OWS and related goals, but who also was born in one of the most expensive metro areas and has a job that exists in cities.

I also think that the people making $200K in metropolitan areas are being disingenuous to argue $200K "does not go that far". The only reason $200K does not go that far is because of what you spend that $200K on. Yes, if you decide you must live in a city, your children must all attend private schools, you have to shop at Whole Foods, etc etc then you can burn through $200K for sure. But I also live in a metropolitan area and given that I lived on $7000 last year I am pretty damn sure if I were to start making $200K it would go pretty damn far.
posted by schroedinger at 12:41 PM on March 6, 2012 [18 favorites]


To me, the most galling thing that Ann Romney said yesterday was something about "We are poor in spirit."

Oh right. What does that even mean?


It's a reference to the Sermon On The Mount: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.

Her statement was a direct attempt to (somehow) insinuate that her family was on the correct spiritual path and they would reap everlasting reward for the basic nature of their being.
posted by hippybear at 12:45 PM on March 6, 2012 [10 favorites]


Nice article.

However, one thing that bugs me about the OWS movement and this article is that neither of them seem willing to address the whole "the top 10 percent of wage earners pay 90 percent of the income taxes" thing with anything other than sneering contempt.

It seems like the 99% might be taking those roads and schools and parks for granted as much as the rich people are taking their yachts and private jets. The article is quite correct: people get complacent about whatever they have and always feel like they're being deprived no matter what their economic status.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 12:46 PM on March 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Every family profiled in Toronto Life owns a home, and most of them have more than one car, spend lavishly on travel and spend several hundred dollars each month on wine. 200k goes exactly as far as it sounds, and if you feel poor on that salary, it is no one's fault but your own.

Do you think you should have to be rich to eventually own your own home and go on vacation? Or are those reasonable middle class aspirations?

Don't get me wrong, I am not saying I think anyone making $200k is poor. But they are hardly living a life of leisure, and by not recognizing that, you are weakening the fight against the biggest offenders of income inequality — those with millions and billions. (Now I better go back to work.)
posted by dame at 12:47 PM on March 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


One thing about the stuff in that Gawker rant. Does it not speak to the stratification issue? These people don't talk to anyone outside their class. How could you say those things if you ever really talked to your nanny, or your gardener?
posted by Trochanter at 12:49 PM on March 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


It seems like the 99% might be taking those roads and schools and parks for granted as much as the rich people are taking their yachts and private jets.

Category "A" is entirely unlike category "B".
posted by Ipsifendus at 12:51 PM on March 6, 2012 [6 favorites]


Actually, I now completely want to do a tumblr or maybe a zine in which all us Poors take moody photos of ourselves in our houses surrounded by our stuff while outlining what we make and spend in a year, with little quotes about our spending habits and foibles in parens after notable figures.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 12:51 PM on March 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


It's certainly disingenuous to say "$200K does not go that far" but it is not disingenuous to point out that there is a real difference between needing income from a job to cover your living expenses and having assets that generate enough money for you to live, without depending on a paycheck. Let's be clear: 200K goes plenty far. But's not the same thing as being part of the idle rich.
posted by ambrosia at 12:51 PM on March 6, 2012 [5 favorites]


Groceries at Loblaws, Metro, Fortino's and the Oriental Food Mart on Finch West: $1,600

Dude's grocery budget is more than I gross each month.


That surprised me a bit as well. Plus *another* $800/month on wine (that's a ~$26 bottle of wine every day of the year) and another $840 (again, about $28/day) per month for eating out ... I mean, come on you guys.

Ann Romney saying she doesn't feel rich is not the same thing as a family in a metropolitan area pulling in $200k and saying that it doesn't go as far as it sounds.

You did read the breakdown of the $200K guy's expenses, didn't you? A cleaning lady, a nice bottle of wine every single night, a $800/month eating out budget, and a new Mercedes every three years is pretty damn far. How far does it sound like it goes?
posted by mrgrimm at 12:54 PM on March 6, 2012 [11 favorites]


Let's be clear: 200K goes plenty far. But's not the same thing as being part of the idle rich.

It is if the 200K comes from investments.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:54 PM on March 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


dame: Don't get me wrong, I am not saying I think anyone making $200k is poor. But they are hardly living a life of leisure, and by not recognizing that, you are weakening the fight against the biggest offenders of income inequality — those with millions and billions. (Now I better go back to work.)

The essential error you are making here, dame, is that money never in and of itself leads to the life of leisure. Nor would people want that if they could have it. The life of leisure isn't all it's cracked up to be.

Anyway, I'm sure you mean well, but in the end what you are saying is coming off exactly like the "things rich people need to stop saying".
posted by Chuckles at 12:55 PM on March 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yes, if you decide you must live in a city, your children must all attend private schools, you have to shop at Whole Foods, etc etc then you can burn through $200K for sure.

Do you think it is reasonable for a middle class life to include owning a home, going on vacation, eating good-quality food, women not being forced to stay home due to cost of childcare, and not being forced to commute for hours (or even drive to commute at all)? Because I do, and I don't think having those things is some unreasonable boon, reserved for the lucky. Given that point of view, I would rather we all work together to tax the living shit out of the people with all the money so that such "luxuries" are available to more of us, rather than being all crab pot about the folks who can afford to do so now.
posted by dame at 12:57 PM on March 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


I had an ex-boyfriend whose father had been a partner a major vampiric-squid banking and securities firm. He was a trust fund guy, who considered his job title to be "philanthropist". There are major universities with buildings named after his family. Although he was socially progressive, I heard him say this kind of stuff all the time. My favorite was when he compared himself to other rich people... "You know, compared to Mike Bloomberg I don't really have that much money." Jaw-droppingly out of touch.

I ran into him a year or so ago. When I asked about his philanthropy work (he was, to his credit, very active in causes he believed in, in addition to being a generous donor), he replied that after the crash, he had to give that up so he could focus "full-time" on managing his money.
posted by kimdog at 12:58 PM on March 6, 2012


I know exactly how advantaged I was to be able to stop being poor. I had a good education paid for by the public, and was able to leverage that to enter a career not open to many people not fortunate in that way.

I also know exactly how advantaged no longer being poor makes me, all by itself. The teeth missing from the back of my mouth from when I couldn't afford dentistry are just one reminder.

When I hear people who get to sit down most or all of their working day talk about how hard they work, I can't help but think of jobs I had where I had to stand in one place for hours at a time, interrupted only for scheduled breaks. When you're very young, you can do that without too much damage. As the years pile up, so does the toll of living like that. Those hard-working sitters have no idea.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:59 PM on March 6, 2012 [10 favorites]


"the top 10 percent of wage earners pay 90 percent of the income taxes" thing

Well stop making the groups bigger. At least 9% of the top 10% aren't the problem.

If you just took the top, say, .05% out of the equation, I bet you could make a fair case that things are a lot closer to how society is supposed to work.

Like, I see this at Salon today:

Welcome to the 1 percent recovery

By Mike Konczal, New Deal 2.0
"That elite sliver reaped 93 percent of the post-recession income gains."


What's up with that?
posted by Trochanter at 1:01 PM on March 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


But they are hardly living a life of leisure, and by not recognizing that, you are weakening the fight against the biggest offenders of income inequality — those with millions and billions. (Now I better go back to work.)

I feel...about 10% bad for these people, possibly, and I think in general our focus should be on corporate malfeasance and not individual wealth and income. But let's be clear. If you are making 200k a year, lose 100k to taxes, and live on $50,000 while socking away $50,000 you would retire a millionaire even if you invested at 0%. The average American makes $31,000 per year.

Average people are fucked because the system is fucked. People who make $200,000 a year are fucked, if they are, and I'm not really ready to grant that premise, because they live outside their means. Sucks for them, I guess, but not as much as it sucks for everyone else.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 1:02 PM on March 6, 2012 [9 favorites]


However, one thing that bugs me about the OWS movement and this article is that neither of them seem willing to address the whole "the top 10 percent of wage earners pay 90 percent of the income taxes" thing with anything other than sneering contempt.

If I make $100,000,000 a year, and I pay 10% income tax, I have $90,000,000 and have given $10,000,000 to the government.

If I make $10,000 a year and I pay 10% income tax, I have $9,000 and have given $1,000 to the government.

The person making more money has given SIGNIFICANTLY more money to the government. But here is the question: what is the dent to someone's quality of life that comes from living off of 90 million a year instead of 100 million? What about the dent that comes from living off of $9,000 a year instead of $10,000? Rich guy may be paying a hell of a lot more in net money--but that doesn't mean he is that significantly worse off for it compared to someone who is poor and paying less.

It's certainly disingenuous to say "$200K does not go that far" but it is not disingenuous to point out that there is a real difference between needing income from a job to cover your living expenses and having assets that generate enough money for you to live, without depending on a paycheck. Let's be clear: 200K goes plenty far. But's not the same thing as being part of the idle rich.

"Rich" does not only refer to party society girls who snort coke for a living. "Rich" can also refer to people who are making good money and living a good life but still need to work to continue to make that good money.

Don't get me wrong, I am not saying I think anyone making $200k is poor. But they are hardly living a life of leisure, and by not recognizing that, you are weakening the fight against the biggest offenders of income inequality — those with millions and billions. (Now I better go back to work.)

And this ties into what I was saying to ambrosia--I think maybe the $200k people really have no perspective on how much "leisure" they have. Do you define "leisure" as "yacht trips for everyone" or as "I can buy new socks when I need to and there are not shootouts outside my apartment." Because I don't think you're getting that the latter is the definition some of us are working from, and that's why it's so offensive when someone making $200k goes "BUT I'M NOT RICH."

I'm not arguing that we shouldn't have higher tax rates for ultra-billionaires. But for fuck's sake, $200k is still rich.
posted by schroedinger at 1:02 PM on March 6, 2012 [37 favorites]


women not being forced to stay home due to cost of childcare

I thought Mom staying home with the kids was a luxury we chose. Granted, we would pretty much be right where we are now if my wife worked, after the cost of childcare. Just saying, luxuries are relative at times.
posted by Brodiggitty at 1:03 PM on March 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


"If wealth was the inevitable result of hard work and enterprise, every woman in Africa would be a millionaire." --George Monboit

Still the best argument I've ever seen against the "boot strap" propaganda
posted by scaryblackdeath at 1:04 PM on March 6, 2012 [83 favorites]


I wish MetaFilter had some tool that just automatically recalculated all dollar amounts through a cost of living calculator whenever the discussion was related to class issues. 200k in NYC is not 200K in Austin, Texas. Maybe I just sound like one of the people in this article, but I really don't think a lot people understand just how freaking expensive it is to live in this city. Mainly the point of this comment is just to bitch; I'm still feeling pretty wiped out after making my rent payment.
posted by gagglezoomer at 1:08 PM on March 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'd just like to point out that the $200k salary is in the 1% of Canadian incomes. It might not go as far other places, it might go farther in some places.
posted by drezdn at 1:09 PM on March 6, 2012


So the 200K is $200k in Toronto money.
posted by drezdn at 1:09 PM on March 6, 2012


It is if the 200K comes from investments.

Actually, no. Because $200K earned from a job is taxed as ordinary income, and is taxed at 28% if you are married, filing jointly, or at 33% if you are single.

If the $200K comes from investments, however, the long-term capital gains rate is just 15%. So the idle rich don't have to work, and get to keep more of their income. Nice, eh?

And that still leaves out the question of needing a paycheck to cover your living expenses.
posted by ambrosia at 1:10 PM on March 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


I am not saying I think anyone making $200k is poor. But they are hardly living a life of leisure

I'd agree with you there, except for a household making $200K per year is making more than FOUR TIMES AS MUCH as the median household income in the US.

In very rough terms, that means that they should have four times fewer worries and anxieties about money situations and four times greater flexibility with what they do with their paycheck every month.

Let me put this another way -- on my current pay scale, I will earn just about 1/10th of what someone making $200K in a year will make. Does that mean that I'm choosing between eating ramen and paying household bills each month? No.

But it does mean that my "vacations" will consist of 3-day or 4-day weekends which I can claim due to my limited benefits at my job, and that they will not consist of travel further than the closest Large City for a concert where I will have to choose my lodging and food options very carefully to keep from torpedoing my budget.

It does mean that my newly-acquired health insurance, which is currently in effect but for which no funds have been taken from my paycheck yet (and when they finally do will be taken retroactively from effective date in a lump sum) may indeed lessen my food choices for a month or so. Down below what even my frugal shopping habits from spending several years unemployed have let me grow accustomed to.

It does mean that if my 12 year old car with 180K miles on it decides to take a dump, I will find it impossible to afford any truly expensive repairs in an easy manner because my monthly living expenses don't allow me any kind of rainy day fund of any magnitude above a few hundred dollars. And that I find I plan my trips to the closest Small City for any reason other than work very carefully so my gas money isn't used up too quickly in a month, not to mention wear and tear on aforementioned car.

I don't consider myself impoverished by any means. I live a life of comfort with satisfying food, a steady supply of luxuries like beer and satellite television, and generally don't work beyond 40 hours a week. But the math is pretty clear: if you're earning 10x what I'm making; if you're making 4x what the median income is, the quality of life you enjoy is orders of magnitude better than the hand-to-mouth existence of constantly compromised choices which many, if not most, deal with every day throughout their lives.
posted by hippybear at 1:11 PM on March 6, 2012 [23 favorites]


I thought Mom staying home with the kids was a luxury we chose. Granted, we would pretty much be right where we are now if my wife worked, after the cost of childcare. Just saying, luxuries are relative at times.

Indeed! The first response to the Gawker article has this:
Rich is having [ ... blah blah blah ... ] or better yet, having a career entirely as a life choice, not a financial necessity.
Okay, so when I first read that I thought "oh, that means I'm rich!!! :P", but in fact I parsed it wrong. Close enough though. If you take money out of the argument, I'm pretty rich by most reasonable measures. The thing is, this argument IS about MONEY. $200K is rich.
posted by Chuckles at 1:12 PM on March 6, 2012


Do you define "leisure" as "yacht trips for everyone" or as "I can buy new socks when I need to and there are not shootouts outside my apartment." Because I don't think you're getting that the latter is the definition some of us are working from, and that's why it's so offensive when someone making $200k goes "BUT I'M NOT RICH."

Dude, that is crazypants. Being able to buy socks and not get shot should not be defined as rich. That should be defined as working class or maybe functioning society. And if things are deteriorating to the point that it isn't any more, then let's talk about that instead of just defining classes down. But some dude having a cleaning lady and shopping at Whole Foods is not the problem.

I thought Mom staying home with the kids was a luxury we chose.

It depends on who you are. If you have a job you love but pays poorly, as a woman, should you essentially be forced to choose between working and have a child? I mean, not everyone works *just* for the money.
posted by dame at 1:12 PM on March 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


neither of them seem willing to address the whole "the top 10 percent of wage earners pay 90 percent of the income taxes" thing

This isn't even a thing.

The implicit assumption you seem to be making is that in a just society, the top 10% of wage earners would pay 10% of the taxes, and the middle 10% would pay 10% of the taxes, and the bottom 10% would pay 10% of the taxes.

Does that make sense to you? If not, and it shouldn't (because not only would this be a non-progressive tax system, it would be an unfathomably draconian regressive one), then the observation that the top 10% of wage earners pay 90% of the income taxes is completely without import.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 1:17 PM on March 6, 2012 [9 favorites]


So, mister rich person who clearly is not reading this, when we say you're "lucky," we're not saying you're lucky in the way that a lottery winner is lucky.

Really? This just seems like redefining "lucky" as meaning "rich", because they only way to be "rich" is to be "lucky" and vice versa.
posted by smackfu at 1:20 PM on March 6, 2012


not everyone works *just* for the money

It's hard not to pile on, but the vast majority are. I guess I just can't fathom the situation by which you're describing having a cleaning lady and shopping at Whole Foods without concern for the ramifications on the monthly budget doesn't equate to 'rich'.

Maybe it's semantics but I think setting our aim on everyone having that quality of life, or the opportunity for that quality of life, or calling that anywhere near 'baseline' for a middle class life is a bit disingenuous to say the least. Would it be nice, I suppose, but someone has to be the cleaning lady and if you do the math that leaves alot of people stuck being cleaning ladies.

/rant, enjoying the discussion. Thanks to the OP.
posted by RolandOfEld at 1:20 PM on March 6, 2012 [5 favorites]


dame: Ann Romney saying she doesn't feel rich is not the same thing as a family in a metropolitan area pulling in $200k and saying that it doesn't go as far as it sounds. ... I really wish people would understand the difference between the 1 or 2 percent and the .01 percent.
The 1% starts at about $500K household income; $200K just barely gets you into the top 3%.

I don't think you have to go all the way to the top 0.01% to find people who are (or who could easily become, if they chose) idle rich. The top 1% are very, very well off indeed.

It seems to me that many of the people who argue in defense of high incomes imagine that they're part of the 1%, or that they could be, but they're mostly wrong.
posted by Western Infidels at 1:22 PM on March 6, 2012 [8 favorites]


> 200k goes exactly as far as it sounds, and if you feel poor on that salary, it is no one's fault but your own.

Meh. The problem with te 100k to 200k in an expensive environment is nice, but its hardly wealthy. I define wealthy like how we picture stereotypes of wealthy people that seem to come from gilded age iconography like being independently wealthy, owning a plane, dicking around constantly on vacation, profiting purely off investments, etc.

The people making 100 to 200k get up every morning just like anyone else, answer to a boss, deal with a commute, deal with all of life's bullshit, pay taxes, fear being laid off, spend a lot of their personal time continuing to build a network of contacts to maintain their job, pay off expensive student loans, etc to make twice what a senior level Chicago firefighter makes on a nice union gig, government benefits, with limited overtime and ZERO student loans? Or what a mid-level federal employee manager makes? Yeah, its good money, but you're not on a yacht all day fucking models. You're putting your time, serving your clients and and its understandable to be shocked by guys with green mohawks calling for your death outside your building.

Is it so horrible to say "I wanted a good life, went to law school, and bought a nice house and want to put my daughters through private school? Turns out that doesn't leave a lot of money at the end of the month. Yes, I have privilege but I'm just a family man." That is not the same thing as living the lifestyle guys like Kanye West live.

America needs new definitions of rich. Funny, the really rich are making the guys who make 50k fight the guys making 150k while the guys making 1m are laughing at the whole thing and how immune they are from it all. Where's ye olde 90% tax bracket for making more than 10m a year? Why can't we roll back to a tax structure from the 60s or 70s? Pissing on lawyers and doctors isn't the big win the OWS thinks it is. No revolution or major reform has happened without the buy in of a good chunk of the middle and upper classes.

Oh well, I should be glad that people like Ann Romney exist. This is going to be an easy win for Obama.
posted by damn dirty ape at 1:24 PM on March 6, 2012 [20 favorites]


"the top 10 percent of wage earners pay 90 percent of the income taxes"

According to this page, the top 10% earn about 46% of all income (AGI) and pay about 70% of all income tax.

Honestly, that is not at all out of line. In fact, the proportion they pay could be increased a few percentage points without killing anybody, or even inconveniencing them much. In fact, the rate for higher income brackets in the U.S. was at least a few points higher for pretty all of the time period 1950-2000. So it's not just me saying that slightly higher taxes on the top 10% isn't some horrible, unbearable burden on them or on the economy--we have 50 years of history right in our own country that shows that it works just fine.

And note that the above percentages do not take into account wealth other than ordinary income (ie, capital gains), which is how most of the really wealthy make most of their money, and which is generally taxed at a far lower rate. Tax on capital gains in the U.S., for example, ranges from 0%-15%. On those kinds of increases to their wealth, the very richest are paying far, far less than their fair share of the nation's taxes.

Altogether, the top 10% (in wealth, not income) don't pay much more, if any, than their fair share of taxes compared with their share of the national economy. And that goes even more so for the top 1%, top 0.1%, 0.01%, and so on.
posted by flug at 1:26 PM on March 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


That's Mr. Batman to you...classic
posted by Chekhovian at 1:27 PM on March 6, 2012


The people making 100 to 200k get up every morning just like anyone else, answer to a boss, deal with a commute, deal with all of life's bullshit, pay taxes, fear being laid off, spend a lot of their personal time continuing to build a network of contacts to maintain their job, pay off expensive student loans, etc to make twice what a senior level Chicago firefighter makes on a nice union gig, government benefits, with limited overtime and ZERO student loans?

Yeah, Chicago firefighters don't have bosses, commutes, taxes or, you know, the possibility of dying on the job.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 1:28 PM on March 6, 2012 [13 favorites]


having a cleaning lady and shopping at Whole Foods without concern for the ramifications on the monthly budget doesn't equate to 'rich'.

It's all relative, though. I mean, I am in the situation you describe. It's very nice. I do sometimes consider myself rich, in the sense that worrying about money is a largely foreign concept.

But thats contigent on me working. The people I consider "really rich" are those with 10/100/1000 million dollars (and I work with some of them, so I do actually know several people like that). They choose whether to work or not. They don't have to "worry" about keeping the money coming in the same way a less-rich person does. I have savings, of course, but not enough yet to live on for the rest of my life if I couldn't work anymore. The difference between that and $100M is vast.

Also, when talking about OWS-style stuff, there's a difference in power and influence. I can afford to, and do, donate some money to politicians. But I can't shape national policy the way the Koch brothers or Warren Buffet can. Or even the guy with $100M who can throw a million at a SuperPAC if he wants. The focus on the "1%" is usually more about their outsize power, which is less true for the merely-average-rich who have enough to live a comfortable life but aren't setting national policy.
posted by wildcrdj at 1:29 PM on March 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


"If I can do it, so can you!"


This is one of my favorites. Because the people who say it also want to win awards and be invited to speak about how very special and exceptional they are.

You can't logically have it both ways. Either you're special or anyone can do it.
posted by vitabellosi at 1:29 PM on March 6, 2012 [8 favorites]


flug, note that that's income tax, not all taxes, like payroll taxes, consumption taxes, etc.
posted by idb at 1:30 PM on March 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


This seems to be the most straight-forward cost-of-living calculator I've seen recently (the past 5 minutes of googling).
Cost of living brought to you by CNNMoney

Having said that, it is always interesting to find out what the differences are between places. Big metro areas are expensive... but just how much so? Take a look at some numbers.
posted by bastionofsanity at 1:31 PM on March 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


I am not saying I think anyone making $200k is poor. But they are hardly living a life of leisure

This seems to me one of the "things rich people say" that the linked article addresses really, really well. The point is not that if you're earning 200K p/a you are Scrooge McDuck swimming in your enormous money pile, or that you don't actually find yourself worrying about making ends meet occasionally. The point is that your worries are "can I afford to keep that yacht on a mooring" and "can I send Muffy to that private school next year" worries. They're not "will the car get repo'ed this week and if it does how on earth will I keep my job" worries.

No one earning 200k p/a in the US has to spend everything they earn. The fact that many of them choose to do so is interesting (I, personally, always thought the grar over that notorious NYT piece was weirdly misplaced) but it's not a cause for any special sympathy.
posted by yoink at 1:32 PM on March 6, 2012 [5 favorites]


Hell, every Christmas we celebrate the tale of the wealthy Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol. We hate him in the first part of the story, and then we love him by the end. Not because he gave away all of his wealth and became poor (he didn't), but because he stopped acting like a shithead. Do you get the incredibly subtle and nuanced message of that story?
posted by memebake at 1:34 PM on March 6, 2012 [9 favorites]


The point is that your worries are "can I afford to keep that yacht on a mooring" and "can I send Muffy to that private school next year" worries.

At $200k, it's more like "can I pay my mortgage and my car payments and my childcare," where those payments are just much larger.
posted by smackfu at 1:36 PM on March 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


You're only being asked to pitch in because you have the resources. You're not a tall person who us dwarfs are jealously trying to cut down to size. You're a tall person being asked to get something down from a very tall shelf because nobody else can fucking reach it.
So much win. This article should be engraved on a monument or something.
posted by memebake at 1:38 PM on March 6, 2012 [34 favorites]


At $200k, it's more like "can I pay my mortgage and my car payments and my childcare," where those payments are just much larger.

Then you screwed up purchasing a house and cars and it's amazing you were able to earn that much money with so little common sense.
posted by Mental Wimp at 1:39 PM on March 6, 2012 [26 favorites]


Then you screwed up purchasing a house

Or live somewhere where houses are $800k plus, like SF.

Although really it's just that even at $200K there are places you can't afford to buy a house and are better off renting.
posted by wildcrdj at 1:41 PM on March 6, 2012 [5 favorites]


Being able to buy socks and not get shot should not be defined as rich. That should be defined as working class or maybe functioning society. And if things are deteriorating to the point that it isn't any more, then let's talk about that instead of just defining classes down.

Well, considering the unemployment rate for African-American men in 2011 in America hovered around 16%, I would say there is an entire class of people who can't buy socks and worry about personal violence, and this discussion chaps my hide a bit because wealthy people and poor people are interconnected and in many cases wealthy people are wealthy at the direct expense of poor people, and every damn article about the suffering of anyone who spends $15,000 on a yearly months-long trip to Myrtle Beach hides actual suffering from the public eye.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 1:42 PM on March 6, 2012 [8 favorites]


... But if none of that stuff existed, there would be nothing stopping Jay-Z from taking your farm ...
posted by memebake at 1:42 PM on March 6, 2012


Or live somewhere where houses are $800k plus, like SF.

Cry me a river. Really. Did you read the article?
posted by Mental Wimp at 1:44 PM on March 6, 2012 [6 favorites]


At $200k, it's more like "can I pay my mortgage and my car payments and my childcare," where those payments are just much larger.

It depends where you live, of course. But even if you work in Manhattan, you don't have to have the enormous mortgage; there will be plenty of people working in your building or near it who work longer hours and pay far, far less in rent/mortgage etc than you do. You probably don't have to own a car at all. You don't have to pay for live-in child care, or for a creche that promises a direct line to Harvard Admissions down the road.

The point the article makes, and makes very eloquently, is that we simply become habituated to a certain level of comfort, so that dropping below it strikes us as unthinkable. We come to think of almost all our expenditures as "necessities" when the self-evident fact that plenty of people live on far, far less gives the lie to that belief. On 200K p/a al,ost all your expenditures are expenditures of choice. And that's a pretty good definition of being "rich."
posted by yoink at 1:44 PM on March 6, 2012 [15 favorites]


Tax on capital gains in the U.S., for example, ranges from 0%-15%.

There have been several statements of this sort in the thread so far. I haven't seen anyone mention the fact that in many cases these gains have already been taxed once, in the corporation that generated them.

Are we arguing that these gains should first be taxed at the corporate rate, and then at the personal income tax rate? If so, why?

If not, then isn't this an issue of changing the balance of taxes paid by the corporation and individual respectively?

I'm not trying to derail the thread, I'm genuinely interested as I haven't seen it mentioned in this or previous posts.
posted by homotopy at 1:46 PM on March 6, 2012


My point was just that $200k is certainly not "can I afford to keep that yacht on a mooring" money, which someone above said.
posted by smackfu at 1:46 PM on March 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think I just don't understand at all. I lived in NY and if you are making 200k in NY you are doing well. I never had to raise a family or anything, but plenty do on much less. Many who want the dream of a middle class existence cannot do it in NY because it is so expensive. Yes, this sucks. This is why people commute into the city.
posted by josher71 at 1:47 PM on March 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is about wisdom not smarts. As in it would be wise not to piss off people who might eventually figure out that they can band together and storm a random mansion with pitchforks and torches in hand.


This is why I always vote higher pay for, and more police and firemen. They are all that stands between my meager wealth and y'all with your torches and pitchforks.
posted by notreally at 1:47 PM on March 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Are we arguing that these gains should first be taxed at the corporate rate, and then at the personal income tax rate? If so, why?

Because there's no particular reason it shouldn't be so? I hear the same question raised about the estate tax, and it doesn't make any sense to me. Where is it written anywhere that a given lump of money can be taxed only once? Money doesn't even come in discreet chunks of that nature.

posted by Ipsifendus at 1:49 PM on March 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Cry me a river. Really. Did you read the article?

Yep. I don't see where anyone is asking for sympathy or "crying" (except maybe you). Just, as smackfu says, that some of the claims are inflated.

The article is talking about people who think they have it bad but are still rich, which is not what the discussion you referenced was talking about.
posted by wildcrdj at 1:51 PM on March 6, 2012


I think one of the major things everyone forgets is that a LARGE percentage of the taxes the poorer people pay are unavoidable flat taxes, like sales tax. They don't pay as much on income taxes, no, and they may even be exempt. But there is a huge burden on them to fork out a disproportionate amount of their limited income for day to day necessities on sales taxes.

things like underpants and diapers and emergency brake repairs, I mean. You people with your $200K salaries, I'm not talking about opting to go without a good linen diaper service here. I'm talking about you can't even afford the cheapest shitty Pampers knockoffs at Walmart, kind of thing. so you know, just take your Whole Foods-and-private-schools arguments and with all due respect, shove 'em straight up your ass. Being poor, or lower middle class, is a pretty well established recipe for keeping you there.

I come from a background of living in warehouses, working 3 shitty jobs at a time and scrounging for spare food in restaurant dumpsters.

I also did something very few of my peer group can do, which is extremely lucked out and married well. I also semi-simultaneously lucked out and got a good job via similar circumstances to what someone pointed out above (I was in the right place at the right time, with the right network contacts amongst upper middle class folks, and I look nice in a suit).

I am also white, healthy and got a decent education, through no fault or even real effort on my own.

I think what so many of these Dumb Rich Folks (tm) tend to gloss over (deliberately or no) is that if you are born any or a combination of: poor, black, Hispanic, disabled, come from an impoverished region, or are somehow otherwise socially disadvantaged from birth, it is just that much fucking harder to even get by, and forget about getting ahead.

I know all about having to do the math with the $5 that's left in my bank account to figure out whether I should do laundry or buy food, or how many quarters I can squeeze out of the bus fund.

And that kind of razor budgeting is exactly when that extra $2.35 in taxes on a necessary maintenance item for the car you are forced to drive because you can't afford to move closer to the shitty job that's all you can swing - well that kind of stuff will just flat ruin you to the tune of months digging out. Let's not even get into the taxes the bank levies on the poor just for being poor.

It fucking takes money to make money in this country (dunno about Canada or much of anywhere else, mind, tho I spent a year being dirt broke in Germany and it was easier cos, you know, socialized medicine).

anyone who doesn't understand that concept is just flat out delusional and could maybe use a boot to the head.
posted by lonefrontranger at 1:52 PM on March 6, 2012 [68 favorites]


I didn't mean to imply that it should only be taxed once, in fact I think the double taxation is the correct way to treat the gains. I merely wanted to point it out, as the 15% rate is mentioned quite often as if it exists in isolation (usually by comparing it to personal marginal income tax rates).
posted by homotopy at 1:53 PM on March 6, 2012


I think one of the major things everyone forgets is that a LARGE percentage of the taxes the poorer people pay are unavoidable flat taxes, like sales tax.

At least we're better off then Europe on this one!
posted by smackfu at 1:53 PM on March 6, 2012


no, actually we're not smackfu, not really; because most progressive European countries turn that sales tax into things like quality education, good roads and excellent subsidized healthcare.

things the U.S. has been lagging on for the last 3-4 decades now.
posted by lonefrontranger at 1:56 PM on March 6, 2012 [9 favorites]


It fucking takes money to make money in this country

Yes, this is one of the worst things I think, and hard to fix. But if there is a fix it probably involves money, and certainly the government, because the private sector has no incentive to do so.

Which is why taxes should be much more steeply progressive than they are. Plenty of people who would be affected by that still support it (and sadly many people who would benefit the most oppose it for reasons I don't understand).

(easy example: plenty of people who benefited from the upper-level Bush tax cuts voted for Obama expecting him to remove them... but it didn't happen)
posted by wildcrdj at 1:56 PM on March 6, 2012


I liked their quote from Republican congressman John Fleming: "The amount that I have to reinvest in my business and feed my family is more like $600,000 ... and so by the time I feed my family, I have maybe $400,000 left over ..." At $200,000 for food, I imagine his family looks like this.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 1:57 PM on March 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


I am having a hard time parsing the '200K is not really that much, you know!' argument. Sure it's not as much as Romney makes, but that doesn't make it not that much. And that is true wherever you live. Unless, of course, there is a magic land where 200K is the minimum wage or something. Maybe you can't afford Aruba this year, but that doesn't make it not that much. Maybe you can't dine off truffles every night, but that doesn't make it not that much. Maybe you can't afford a Maserati, but that doesn't make it not that much. And so forth.

Having not that much - and I've been in that situation before in my life, though thankfully things are a hell of lot better now for me - means worrying about whether if you pay the rent you'll be able to afford the electricity. It means walking part of the way so that you can cut 50p off the bus fare. It means making meals out of that tin of stuff that you're not quite sure what it is, but it was only one euro/dollar/whatever and by god it's all you've got. It means endless, endless worry about necessities. I look at the average income and think about all of those families making do with absolutely bugger all any time I get whiny about my much less than 200K but still quite fine income.

It's totally fine to want to earn more than 200K, but I wish people wouldn't pull that whole 'but I have to earn more than that just to survive!' card. Especially not when you can look around you and see many, many people actually struggling to survive.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 2:02 PM on March 6, 2012 [5 favorites]


At $200,000 for food,

Free range Irish children are expensive.
posted by drezdn at 2:03 PM on March 6, 2012 [16 favorites]


Speaking of Wong - JDATE has been released!

Lies! Horrible lies!
posted by eyeballkid at 2:04 PM on March 6, 2012


'but I have to earn more than that just to survive!' card

Totally agree! I don't quite see anyone here doing that though. Perhaps quibbling over details more than is useful, admittedly (yacht or not isn't really the point, I concede).

I think the difference between that and the true power players is important. But I think both should be paying more in taxes than they are, and both should realize what you're talking about (which is what the article says).
posted by wildcrdj at 2:05 PM on March 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Homotopy, Krugman touched on the argument about double taxation recently.
posted by idb at 2:09 PM on March 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Once upon a time, my mother managed to raise two kids on her own while going to college. Her "bootstraps" consisted of the GI Bill, food stamps and every bit of public assistance she could manage, and she made it. My sister and I both grew up and went to college. We both work as (substitute) teachers. Mom eventually even got her master's, and briefly scraped the six-figure salary range (before age & sex discrimination caught up to her in a very blatant manner).

Rich people talk about "entitlement" programs and sneer at welfare, and talk about how people who avail themselves of public assistance are freeloaders. I just want to choke them on my mother's diplomas.

(By the way--we're all white, and Mom didn't come from a family with a history of criminality or serious health problems. Challenging as it all was for her, I'm sure circumstances could've been even harder.)
posted by scaryblackdeath at 2:16 PM on March 6, 2012 [8 favorites]


Am I the only one who watches that video of Mitch Daniels talking about "a nation of haves and soon-to-haves" and thinks he's on the verge of cracking up with laughter at how outrageous his soundbyte is?

His face clearly says, "I cannot believe I'm getting away with this."
posted by straight at 2:20 PM on March 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


This article is full of great lines:

You're not a tall person who us dwarfs are jealously trying to cut down to size. You're a tall person being asked to get something down from a very tall shelf because nobody else can fucking reach it.
posted by straight at 2:23 PM on March 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Speaking of Wong - JDATE has been released!

Lies! Horrible lies!
posted by eyeballkid at 11:04 AM on March 6 [+] [!]


Yes sorry they're still looking for a distributor. Good review, though!
posted by Sebmojo at 2:25 PM on March 6, 2012


I've got another one ... You know what I want to stop hearing from rich people?

"You can't solve a problem by throwing money at it."

(from that paragon of financial virtue and bootstrapper Spencer Bachus (III).)

The only people who say that are the rich ones who don't want to give you anything (and the poor saps they've conned.)
posted by mrgrimm at 2:31 PM on March 6, 2012 [6 favorites]


Well, considering the unemployment rate for African-American men in 2011 in America hovered around 16%, I would say there is an entire class of people who can't buy socks and worry about personal violence, and this discussion chaps my hide a bit because wealthy people and poor people are interconnected and in many cases wealthy people are wealthy at the direct expense of poor people, and every damn article about the suffering of anyone who spends $15,000 on a yearly months-long trip to Myrtle Beach hides actual suffering from the public eye.

I agree. I think those articles are stupid. And I think conflating the people those articles are about with the people who are really taking all the money is also stupid. I've had less money; I've had "oh gee how am I going to afford a coat this winter" and "how will I eat on $5 until payday" worries. Now I don't (and I make a lot less than $200k). I would like people to vent their spleen on a structure that makes achieving this something special instead of something to be taken for granted rather than worrying about some retired Canadian couple. Let's go after the big dogs.
posted by dame at 2:42 PM on March 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


There have been several statements of this sort in the thread so far. I haven't seen anyone mention the fact that in many cases these gains have already been taxed once, in the corporation that generated them.

Because our tax system works on this basis: Money is taxed when it changes hands.

It is taxed when the corporation you work for pays it to you. It is taxed when you pay it to the store for goods. It is taxed when the profits of the corporation come from sales. It is even taxed when the government pays it's workers from money the government collected from taxes. The idea that "taxes have already been paid on this particular chunk of money, therefore it should not be taxed again" is just plain wrong.

The only way money will not be taxed more than once is if you bury it in a coffee can in your back yard and you die before you can dig it up and it stays in the can in the ground until the heat death of the universe.

(However, the money may be taxed differently depending on the details of the exchange, and that's a totally different debate.)
posted by 1f2frfbf at 2:53 PM on March 6, 2012 [12 favorites]


I would like people to vent their spleen on a structure that makes achieving this something special instead of something to be taken for granted rather than worrying about some retired Canadian couple.

The reason I get frustrated with the "retired couple" is because more often than not it is that couple who is making the bootstraps/I've-got-it-hard too arguments, and they are so wrapped up in their perceived poverty and victimhood that they do not realize exactly how good they have it compared to people who actually have no money. The multi-billionaires may have infinitely more money, but the retired couples are still voting for them and their arguments.
posted by schroedinger at 2:56 PM on March 6, 2012 [5 favorites]


I just can't fathom the situation by which you're describing having a cleaning lady and shopping at Whole Foods without concern for the ramifications on the monthly budget doesn't equate to 'rich'.

dame isn't saying that. She said "But some dude having a cleaning lady and shopping at Whole Foods is not the problem." She didn't say anything about concern for the ramifications, etc.

What is happening here - and I know this is not profound or anything - is that for most people, "rich" is more money than they have, even if they are in the top 3%. The well-off people who were once poor and don't recognize just how lucky they are are the ones I don't understand.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 2:58 PM on March 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


As someone who grew up poor, was solidly middle class for a few years in my late 20s, and more recently is close to that 200k - even being single and childless I can see how having 200k feels more like living a comfortable middle class existence than it does being lavishly rich. I have way more in common with the Occupy protesters than I do with the Romneys of the world. My standard of living and day-to-day life haven't changed all that much. I rent a nice but normal apartment in a nice but normal neighborhood, have a sensible/boring used car mortgage, can't even begin to look at houses, cook at home 5-6 days a week, shop at Trader Joes and Jewel instead of Whole Foods, consider a 6-pack of good beer a once-a-week treat, etc. That's how I lived on way less. Mostly I just put more of my salary into a 401k (need those matching contributions), pay more of my student loans each month, and have more opportunity to acquire something like that "nest egg" everyone talks about. Maybe that's rich? It just feels like "not drowning anymore, cool!" to me.
posted by naju at 3:26 PM on March 6, 2012 [7 favorites]


Still working through the list, but once again Warren Buffett's quote demonstrates how he's the most awesome rich man around:

If you stick me down in the middle of Bangladesh or Peru or someplace, you find out how much this talent is going to produce in the wrong kind of soil ... I work in a market system that happens to reward what I do very well -- disproportionately well.
posted by JHarris at 3:28 PM on March 6, 2012 [8 favorites]


Just the fact that you have the means to comment on this thread makes you richer than 70% of the people on this planet.
posted by crushedhope at 3:32 PM on March 6, 2012 [5 favorites]


What is happening here - and I know this is not profound or anything - is that for most people, "rich" is more money than they have, even if they are in the top 3%.

Where I grew up (East Coast, prep schools, commuting to the City), we had "rich" people and "wealthy" people.
The Rich were maybe lawyers billing 70 hours a week, or executives working at a Manhattan firm.
They took the late train home, their kids went to private school, and yes, they probably belonged to a club, but they were hustling.

The Wealthy, on the other hand, maybe owned that Manhattan firm, their kids went to a prep school that might have a building with their family name on it, and they likely belonged to a club that wouldn't let the Rich in.

I think a lot of the time, when people think of the Rich, they're imagining the Wealthy.
posted by madajb at 3:41 PM on March 6, 2012 [7 favorites]


Why should anyone make more than a million dollars a year? Or have more than a billion dollars in assets? There should be an upper limit.
posted by humanfont at 3:43 PM on March 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think two different groups of people here are talking about two different things, and thus arguing at cross purposes when you don't need to be.

1. The article was about personal class privilege: how people with relatively more class privilege (specifically, wealth) often know little about how those with lower class privilege live. Their own class privilege can be quite invisible to them, leading them to say tone-deaf, obnoxious things. Or they may have some inkling that they are better off, but rationalize their relative privilege with some of the classist tropes that the article points out. This is primarily about individual identity. It's in the same category of injustice or oppression as sexism, racism, homophobia, and so on. It's largely a cultural issue. This is the "socio-" part of socio-economic class, in other words.

2. While lawyers and doctors and other folks making $200k/year are certainly wealthier than the rest of us, they're still in the category of workers whose labor is exploited in a capitalist economic system. They aren't yet the capitalists, who get to make large scale economic production decisions, or who have enough power (money, influence, etc.) to have a significant voice in political policy decisions. Wage-earners making $15k, $30k, $90k, or $200k/year are all members of the exploited class of workers in an unjust economic system, despite their more cultural differences. While the system has to be reproduced by individual participants, the identities of those individuals is largely irrelevant. This is largely an economic and political issue. The "-economic" part of socio-economic class.

Both are important, and interrelated. Classism keeps workers at the lower and upper ends of the scale from finding common cause and working toward a system that will involve more equal wealth distribution and less exploitation of their labor. The cultural influences the economic and political. Conversely, the economic system of capitalism, through it's system of rewards and consequences, influences our culture to valorize individualism and greed and other foundational values of classism.
posted by eviemath at 3:44 PM on March 6, 2012 [19 favorites]


this discussion is fantastic.

I met my husband ten years ago (in two days, actually!) when he was a server at Joe's Crab Shack. fast-forward through ten years of hard work, yes, but mostly middle-class privilege & luck, and... I suppose we're in the 5% now. not me -- I'm a struggling author, utterly aware I'd have a whole lot less time to write if I weren't with him. there's a huge sense of relief, dumb-luckily standing on this side of the divide during the financial collapse, and also tons of guilt, particularly when I see friends & loved ones struggle, even though they work as hard or (much) harder than we do. things are easier for us and it's not fair and I never, ever want to forget that.

mister president, tax the shit out of us, please.
posted by changeling at 3:45 PM on March 6, 2012 [9 favorites]


naju, the thing that you and some of the others are missing is that with that extra elective padding you're alluding to, you now have the luxury of choice that so, so many other people, even people you might consider "solidly middle class" do not have.

Because maybe they make a "solidly middle class" income, however, their health insurance won't cover all the costs for the diabetes they or their spouse have developed from a lifetime of living poor and eating shit food that was all they could afford, but does nothing but give them what boils down to malnutrition while simultaneously making them obese and a poor health / hiring risk (among other things). Or maybe they had a run of bad luck and now their car is malfunctioning plus they lost their work-sponsored daycare option, and are forced to pay through the teeth for a babysitter and oh shit, now how do we simultantously manage rent plus a bus pass (assuming there's even affordable or available public transit that takes them where they need to go) and somehow find a couple grand for a transmission on top of all that? Woo hey, guess we'll eat beans for the foreseeable.

And they don't have the luxury of choice on this, because they never ever managed to get far enough ahead to even doggy-paddle, much less swim upstream against the tide of bullshit like you are now able to.

Your added income gives you the combined privilege of paying less in proportionate tax on consumables, plus it gives you the ability to sock some funds away against the unknowable. THAT is the "luxury of choice" that relative wealth gives you. I'm not even talking about being able to afford a house, or even a nicer car! I'm talking about being able to afford not being forced by circumstances beyond your control to basically fail at having any quality of life.

There are a whole shit ton of people living right here in the USA and making what's considered a "living wage" who are, in fact, one moderate disaster away from financial ruin, because (for a whole tangled-up host of economic bullshit reasons I'm not really articulate enough to explain here), they just cannot buy a fucking break.
posted by lonefrontranger at 3:56 PM on March 6, 2012 [7 favorites]


I have to ask...how many years of being filthy stinking rich would it take for any one of us to becomes as myopic and out of touch as those silly bastards are?

Being generous by nature, I'm giving myself 5 years. I'd be cool for a while, buying bikes for poor kids at Christmas and stuff, but after a while, I wouldn't even see those people any more. If I did, it would be briefly and at a distance. I'm sure I would eventually quit giving a shit.

JUST KIDDING!! I would NEVER stop buying bikes for poor kids!!! Ever!!
posted by snsranch at 3:59 PM on March 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


lonefrontranger: I don't disagree with anything you say, and I'm glad you said it so articulately. The luxury of choice is a huge advantage I have, although like I said it really just feels like not drowning. I'm also probably a major medical crisis away from serious financial trouble, and I freaked out over losing my phone last weekend. My student debts honestly probably place me much lower financially than it would seem. I'm still in the class that has been fucked over by Wall Street and the .01%, ultimately. It took me a miserable 15 months to find this job because my industry collapsed as a result of the financial crisis. All of this doesn't seem like anything someone in the truly wealthy segment of the population would write, as truly lucky as I may be.
posted by naju at 4:09 PM on March 6, 2012


I have to ask...how many years of being filthy stinking rich would it take for any one of us to becomes as myopic and out of touch as those silly bastards are?

I have said that, were I ever to win the lottery*, I'd have to take a big chunk and put it into a charitable trust not controlled by me, 'cause honestly, once I get a taste of champagne wishes and caviar dreams, it's not going to be pretty.

* Unlikely, since I don't play
posted by madajb at 4:14 PM on March 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


"If I can do it, so can you!"


This is one of my favorites. Because the people who say it also want to win awards and be invited to speak about how very special and exceptional they are.

You can't logically have it both ways. Either you're special or anyone can do it.


I'll tell you another reason this phrase has always alternately cracked me up and frustrated me.

If you are saying "you," generally, or changing it to "If I can do it, anyone can do it!" Then aren't you kind of saying you are the worst person in the world at that thing, that you are literally the very least capable person able to jump over that hurdle of (whatever)?
posted by mreleganza at 4:24 PM on March 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


"Look, the people you are after are the people you depend on. We cook your meals, we haul your trash, we connect your calls, we drive your ambulances. We guard you while you sleep. Do not... fuck with us." Fight Club

One day, hopefully, that quote won't just be a line from a movie.
posted by photoslob at 4:25 PM on March 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


Seriously, don’t start turning on the $200k people. That’s part of the divide and conquer plan that the evil ones have. Their trying to get the $20k and $200k people to fight so they take their eye off the $200,000,000 people.
posted by bongo_x at 4:26 PM on March 6, 2012 [14 favorites]


Yeah, if there's really a class war in this country between the rich and the poor, I'm not sure what sort of progressive strategy involves convincing as many people as possible that they belong in the "rich" camp.
posted by straight at 4:32 PM on March 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


Every pile of shit has a turd at the top. But it's not a special quality of the turd at the top--it's a quality of the pile. It's the same shit all the way down.
posted by hexatron at 4:33 PM on March 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


The point is that your worries are "can I afford to keep that yacht on a mooring" and "can I send Muffy to that private school next year" worries.

If you name your daughter Muffy. or send your handbag dog to private school, you'll be first against the wall when the revolution comes.
posted by acb at 4:37 PM on March 6, 2012


Is it so horrible to say "I wanted a good life, went to law school, and bought a nice house and want to put my daughters through private school? Turns out that doesn't leave a lot of money at the end of the month. Yes, I have privilege but I'm just a family man." That is not the same thing as living the lifestyle guys like Kanye West live.

I think the real problem here is that we're conflating rich with idle. I assure you that there's no amount of wealth that can't be blown through, or income that can't be matched up with more and more ridiculous "essential" expenses so that one has to work to pay them. This argument works at any income level when compared to the adjacent income level. People actually like working, and they like buying things, and they like justifying the things they buy as necessary so that they don't seem spendthrift. I have no problem with people rationalizing their consumption, conspicuous or otherwise, until they start supporting the kind of regulations that ossify the social classes so that they've created a new aristocracy.

Right now, we do that in a number of ways. We use the tax code to give "invisible" advantages to the rich (who's average tax rates are never anywhere near their marginal tax rate); advantages like mortgage interest deductions on million dollar homes (and/or second homes!), student loan interest and tuition deductions, deferred income loopholes, estate tax loopholes, and reduced capital gains taxes. Then there's a million ways to use imputed income to your advantage.

Every American wants to put their kids through private school, except for the weirdos like my parents who took an idealized stance with my sister and I and decided to put us through public school despite their ability to afford private school (or so they told us ;). They fundamentally believed it was important to try and strive for equity in education (as cultures like Finland have managed to embrace to the surprising benefit of all). I don't have a problem with an idealized society where private school enrollment somehow doesn't affect public school, but the reality seems to be that there is a faction out to completely wreck public schooling in order to prove it a disaster and de-fund it so that they can remove yet more tax that might be used to slightly level the playing field where their kids are already at a huge relative advantage.

As for nice houses. American homes have on average doubled in size since 1960. Newer houses have better insulation, more electrical outlets, etc.. etc... All so that Americans beyond a certain level of income can accumulate more physical goods to play a weird kind of status game. I say weird, because I don't even think people like to play. It just stresses them out to find new things, space for new things, and then systems to store and retrieve things. If I were crazy wealthy I'd probably own less and rent more. I can't imagine how liberating it would be to just donate everything that I hoard now against a day when I might need it (car tools for my 14 year old blessedly low maintenance car, odds and ends of camping gear, stuff to repair my rental to get security deposits back, esoteric cleaning supplies like rug shampoo and oven cleaner, etc...) And I'm thankfully not a status junkie who needs everything in my life to be less than 2 years old, or who needs four different kinds of luxury car for various situations. I guarantee you though that everywhere someone is bitching about the small size of their 2000 sqft house there is within 100 miles some family at least as large if not double living in 1/3 the space who thinks that is normal.

Fundamentally, I'm not at all sympathetic to people bitching about their cash flow situation when they make a lot of income. It's usually (not always I admit) because they either don't have the self control to rein in their expenses, or because they've got an unbearable sense of entitlement about what they think life owes them. The first can be okay if a sense of perspective is maintained, but the latter are usually engaged in class warfare and yet are the first to complain about "wealth transfer" and "they are just jealous of us because we got here from nothing".

That said, using unqualified income numbers absent any kind of regional cost of living seems like a good way to confuse the situation. I'm struggling somewhat in the SF bay area, but there are plenty of areas of the country where I'd consider myself rich at the same income level (about 3-4X the poverty line).
posted by BrotherCaine at 4:43 PM on March 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


Every American wants to put their kids through private school

You lost me there. I gotta think you are deluded and projecting your own desires. I know plenty of people who can afford to send their kids to private schools and don’t, and aren’t being martyrs about it.
posted by bongo_x at 4:52 PM on March 6, 2012 [9 favorites]


However, one thing that bugs me about the OWS movement and this article is that neither of them seem willing to address the whole "the top 10 percent of wage earners pay 90 percent of the income taxes" thing with anything other than sneering contempt.

This "top 10 percent pay X of the nations taxes" is a particularly insidious factoid which is essentially being used to say "the rich already pay their fair share."

I hope this doesn't come across as sneering contempt, but here are some objective reasons as to why this argument is bogus.

1.) 'The top ten percent of Americans pay 70 percent of the income in the country' is the actual statistic. Is it true? Well, that statistic fails to mention that it refers only to Federal income tax. It fails to take into account state and local taxes, payroll taxes, sales taxes and property taxes...many of which are regressive taxes, affecting the lower income earners proportionally more than the wealthy.

2). So what? Well, really rich folks tend to make most of their money not through income - a paycheck like you and me - but through capital gains and dividends from their investments. For a recent example, the top 400 taxpayers in 2007 took only one third of their income from income itself -deriving the other two thirds from capital gains and dividends...

3) Capital gains and dividends are taxed at a lower rate...the result being that those top 400 taxpayers paid an effective tax rate of around 17 percent.
(Points 2 and 3 can be generalized out from the top 400 taxpayers for the rest of the top 1% to a lesser degree. But you get the idea.)

4). So yes, the top 10% do pay about 71 percent of the nations income tax, but this is hardly an indictment against OWS - the reason they do pay 71 percent of the income tax is because the top 10 percent controls 93 percent of the financial wealth in the country.(Where financial wealth can be taken to mean more 'liquid' non-home assets). Saying that they pay 70 percent of the income taxes in the country sounds like it is saying "whoa they pay alot already" when it actually says "they pay a lot of taxes because they have most of the money that is getting taxed."

5.) And finally, probably most importantly, there is the idea of the diminishing marginal utility of money - essentially that as you amass more money, making even more money means less and less, contributes to your standard of living less and less. For instance, take a man making 50k a year and a man making 5million a year. Tax both of them at 25%. The man with 50k now has a net of 37,500 while the dude with 5 million now has 3,750,000. $12,500 has alot more utility to the man making 50k than the 1,250,000 to the man making 5 mil. The man making 5 mil can likely still pay for his mortgage, his healthcare, his cleaning lady, his gas, his utilities...even a luxurious standard of living can be had for around 500,000 a year. Meanwhile the man making 50k might be on the edge and a 12,500k loss could be the difference between keeping healthcare for his family or making payments on educational loans...not the difference between buying another lambo or pouring another few million into a speculative investment or arbitrary startup that may or may not "create jobs." Add to this that at the lower end of the income scale, money tends to get spent more quickly - rather than being locked up from the economy and invested to generate more capital gains and you have a decent argument as to why the rich SHOULD be paying the lions share of taxes.

I didn't even get to the arguments that the rich benefit more by way of our tax-funded infrastructure so should bear more of its cost...but you get the idea.
posted by jnnla at 4:57 PM on March 6, 2012 [34 favorites]


> Yeah, if there's really a class war in this country between the rich and the poor, I'm not sure what sort of progressive strategy involves convincing as many people as possible that they belong in the "rich" camp.

In Political Science courses it's called divide and conquer. e.g. the Belgians and the Hutus and the Tutsis. The way I see it playing out I prefer to call it "motivation by deception". There is a psycho phenomenon where 90% of the people think they are above average. That's without any propaganda or scam factored in to boost. The system runs on this. All around us (maybe even in my very own mirror) are people who think they are doing very well when their head is barely above water or even when they are sinking straight to the ocean floor.
posted by bukvich at 5:03 PM on March 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


Bongo_x, good! I'm happy to hear it. I long ago stopped asking people near where I live now about it because the answers were too depressing, but I'm glad to hear it's not a universal thing.
posted by BrotherCaine at 5:19 PM on March 6, 2012


cell divide: "I have to say, the content on Cracked seems to be getting better and better. This was a surprisingly well-written and fun to read article"

Well, this was written by David Wong, author of the classic "Monkeysphere".




I'm not going to delve into this wealth disparity discussion, just because I wouldn't be able to stop. But I will say I think that a sense of entitlement is one of the most destructive things for anyone to have.
Maybe I'm delusional, but I sometimes think I could be rich if I dedicated myself to it and didn't care about being an asshole. But like lazaruslong said: "screw that".
posted by Red Loop at 5:30 PM on March 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


-BrotherCaine -

I don’t even have kids, so I’m not an authority, I’ve just never noticed that sentiment being universal among people I know in various parts of the country. I do know some that send their kids to private schools, some of them are snobs and/or scared of public schools, and some just have a specific special school they’d like they’re kids to go to. I don’t know anyone who’s kids go to public school and really wishes they could send them to private school, at least they’ve never expressed it to me. But then again, maybe that’s because they know I don’t really care about their kids. Kidding, kind of.
posted by bongo_x at 5:31 PM on March 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


As valid as all these points are, the calls to increase taxes on rich individuals glosses over the somewhat suspect statement made by the government:

"Sure, $3.7 trillion is an objectively large sum of money," they say. "But it is far smaller after I spend it on military adventures, security theater..."
posted by the jam at 5:49 PM on March 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think it's a mistake for this thread to be focused on trying to define "the rich." The article is written as if it were about a single group of people, contrasted with Everyone Else, but that's not really what it discusses. It doesn't matter, for the point of this article, if you're making 200k a year, or 30k a year, or living idly off of ten billion dollars. Instead, the article is about a particular mindset, regardless how much money one really has. The article is asking people to reconsider the relationship any one individual has to their own money and the society surrounding them.

The general thesis underlying the article, I think, is this: we're all in this together, we all rely on each other, and that means everyone must be expected to contribute proportionately.

The article is written about "the rich" because there have been a confounding number of people, lately, trying to support the idea that rich people shouldn't be expected to contribute proportionately. And when wealthy people say these sorts of things, they get a very loud megaphone to promote their views, and whole news cycles get dedicated them. Everything this article says is just as true about people who make an average income, and even those who make significantly less than average. It's just that, when someone very poor says something stupid and selfish, no one pays attention.

Really, I think you can read this article as an appeal for everyone, regardless their income, to feel empathy for their fellows. No matter who you are in society, you owe what good things you have to others. No matter how much you struggle, there is someone else in even greater need--and likely some way for you to help them. Society functions best when we can recognize that our goals are most attainable when they are shared, and when we respect the moral obligation every human has, as human, to further the common good.

I am okay, financially, but I still worry. I have to make hard decisions sometimes, and there's never a trip to the store where I don't struggle to discern what economic decisions I should make. Last night, for instance, I spent a full five minutes staring at Greek yogurt, wondering if I could afford to buy it rather than the cheaper stuff. It was something I wanted, it was something that met an actual need of mine, but it's the sort of thing that very well may not be the best thing for me, financially. I am at a point in my life where this is a serious question I must consider: "Is Greek yogurt the sort of thing I can afford?"

But, I remember a story my grandmother told me. She had five children, and she was poor, and she had a deadbeat alcoholic for a husband. She worked herself to the bone every day of her life, and she never had a trip to the store where she didn't struggle to discern what economic decisions she should make. Only, her decisions were different from mine. One day, she had no money. None. The welfare check was supposed to come, but it was late. The only food in the house was cornmeal, and damn if she wasn't going to send her babies off to school with something in their bellies. She made them eat cornmeal with warm water, even as they held their noses to swallow the bites. And then, when they were off, she stared at the empty kitchen shelves for a good long time, and this is the serous question she had to consider: "Am I at the point where I should beg from my neighbors?"

The article is a reminder for me -- just as it is for those making more than I do -- that the economic stresses we feel are even more pronounced for someone else. It's a reminder that there are people like my grandmother. It's a reminder that, if you're even looking at the Greek yogurt rather than the last cup of cornmeal, you are in a position to do good for those around you. And, dammit, you owe it to do that good.

This is the most I've ever thought about a Cracked.com article, and the first time I've read one without it feeling like a guilty pleasure. Good show, good show.
posted by meese at 5:58 PM on March 6, 2012 [38 favorites]


If you name your daughter Muffy. or send your handbag dog to private school, you'll be first against the wall when the revolution comes.

Why would you choose to murder someone based on what they named their daughter?
posted by michaelh at 5:59 PM on March 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


I know a lot of people on this thread think I'm arguing against the $200K-ers or whatever. I'm not. I'm not really arguing for or against anything here.

What I'm trying to point out is that there are people even right here in this thread who are making a bit of a "wealth privilege" logical fallacy of considering themselves "poor" when indeed they have luxuries of choice and economic cushioning that many lower-middle class and truly poor people do not have, and I think it's necessary to acknowledge this blind spot we ALL have, even me sometimes. So yea, even that choice to go into student loan debt that you're now struggling to pay off and complaining about? Yep, that was a luxury of choice that I never personally had. And in hindsight, that complete lack of debt allowed me a whole load of mobility and freedom in my young adulthood that I frankly did not appreciate well enough when I had it.

I consider this whole lack of awareness deal sort of the economics equivalent of saying "some of my best friends are black...".

The major issue I have with these sorts of socioeconomic arguments is that judging from past experience, many of those same young idealistic rabble-rousers out there marching for OWS, all struggling with grad school and student loan debt in their roach hotel apartments, well guess what? In 20 years they will have graduated, married, gotten promoted, traded up to a nice house and 2 kids in the suburbs and they will have completely forgotten everything they learned in their PoliSci courses, and they'll be bitching about taxes and voting against school levies and what not because hey, it doesn't affect them.

maybe I'm just cynical because I both had it all and then lost it all in childhood, before I even had any agency in the matter... and then I spent the next 30 years of my life struggling to survive and improve my lot against a rising tide of crap. Oh yea I contribute to my 401(k), you bet your boots.

But I also make sure I VOTE in local, national and state elections, every single round, and I go to city council meetings and raise merry hell about unpopular shit that gets me called names by my socioeconomic peers, like public transit and education levies, and approving easements for Planned Parenthood to expand their clinic. I donate a chunk of cash annually to battered women's shelters and support for Hispanic daycare programs, even when my husband (who's never been poor a day in his life) bitches about the fact we could better use that money for the kitchen remodel, bless his heart. I don't even have a kid and am not Hispanic and was (praise the gods) never battered, but you know, whatever. I'm no saint either and I'm not trying to be the OH LOOK HOW VIRTUOUS I AM. It's just... hot diggedy damn how well I know what it's like to pick up my paycheck and feel that grinding empty seething rage about the fact that once again, the entire thing has gotten spent before I even earned it.

And the thing is, those of us in the middle? We need to be united and PISSED OFF about this kind of thing, righteously (as many of us on the thread are!). We need to stop quibbling over this or that income level, because that way lies insanity and shit like Jeb Bush getting voted into office in 2016 please god no... I really fucking will move to Switzerland just see if I dont. See, we lot are all right in the big old fat middle of the bellcurve, and we hold both the political and economic true power even in this screwed up corporate shell game economy - but only if we can all of us just fucking CONCENTRATE on not bickering amongst ourselves about how our candidate(s) aren't "liberal enough" or whatever. Because if we all in the big fat middle of the bellcurve really do want to get something accomplished in this country, and we vote that way, well then, it's going to happen. Demographics are some powerful shit, man.
posted by lonefrontranger at 6:27 PM on March 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


metafilter: a jar of moonshine on the floor of a boxcar full of 10 hobos
posted by chela at 6:29 PM on March 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


$250k/year in NYC isn't rich, and no amount of complaining about people who say "$250k/year in NYC isn't rich" is going to change that.

Also, "isn't rich" doesn't mean "is poor". And no amount of willful obtuseness is going to change that.
posted by planet at 6:30 PM on March 6, 2012


I grew up in a blue collar family and my parents grew up in real poverty, the kind where everyone 10 and over in the household has a job and helps pay the bills. My husband and I both have well paid white-collar jobs. We're not making what any of the Toronto families in the above article are making, but compared to the life I've lived prior we are living like royalty. I can pay for major car repairs without blinking, and buy nice candy bars without planning. I don't get mad at myself over a few dollars in library fines anymore. Life is good.

But so much of our money goes to savings and to pay for services that would be subsidized or free in many countries, but not the US.

A substantial chunk of our paychecks go to save for retirement, with estimations based on further cuts to social security and less than optimistic projections for stock market returns. I save hundreds of dollars every month because I know we are on our own if one of us gets sick and can't work. I save another hundred or so to cover smaller emergencies. I put more hundreds in a health savings account to cover what our super-high deductible health plan won't kick in for.

$200 a month goes to savings for my daughter's college education. According to my calculations that will cover one third of a public university undergraduate education when she turns 18. I put aside a little extra college money for a family member whose parents might not be able to save anything.

I pay $750 a month for daycare. The infant room is at the daycare is great, but the toddler room is staffed by inexperienced people who yell at the kids. All of the acceptable alternatives with space cost a few hundred dollars more and the very best option would cost nearly twice as much. I don't know how anyone has a second kid. I think we'll have to wait until the current one is in (public) kindergarten before even thinking about it.

And yet, I know we are rich because we don't have to face these situations with our bare asses hanging in the wind. And we have choices.

However, I would pay so much more in taxes if I didn't have to live my life planning for an acceptable variety of worst case scenarios. Our disaster might never come, but cancer is tearing a few holes in my extended family and it's frightening to see how fast it can get out of control if you don't have resources. I would even pay extra if it meant these services could be relied upon beyond one or two presidential administrations.

I truly don't understand the Toronto family that doesn't have any savings at all and makes 200,000 CAD a year. I would not be able to sleep if I lived like that.
posted by Alison at 6:31 PM on March 6, 2012 [7 favorites]


$250k/year in NYC isn't rich, and no amount of complaining about people who say "$250k/year in NYC isn't rich" is going to change that.

In 2000, the mean household income for those living in NYC was just under $76,000. So half of the population made more than that, and half the population made less than that.

Making over three times the mean income for any area probably qualifies your household for some form of descriptor. If "rich" doesn't apply, then what word would be more appropriate?
posted by hippybear at 6:53 PM on March 6, 2012 [9 favorites]


$250k/year in NYC isn't rich, and no amount of complaining about people who say "$250k/year in NYC isn't rich" is going to change that.


Dictionary definition of rich:
"having wealth or great possessions; abundantly supplied with resources, means, or funds"
"well supplied with wealth, property, etc; owning much"

Obviously "wealth," "well supplied," and "abundantly supplied" are open to debate. But I feel like for $250k a year in any city, you can be well supplied with wealth and property, and generally "own much."
posted by gonna get a dog at 7:01 PM on March 6, 2012


I grew up pretty poor and now we make in the $200K/household range and I feel pretty damn rich. I'm not sure why that's so hard for people to say. The median household income in my city is only $37,000/year so compared to that, I am rich. Yea, I'm not a capitalist making millions and I still have to work every day but there are so many ways that I could be much worse off. Just because there are people making billions, doesn't mean that I'm not rich.
posted by octothorpe at 7:04 PM on March 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Making over three times the mean income for any area probably qualifies your household for some form of descriptor. If "rich" doesn't apply, then what word would be more appropriate?

But I can't buy everything I can ever think of, which means I do not have enough money, which means I cannot possibly be rich, right?
posted by schroedinger at 7:06 PM on March 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


But I feel like for $250k a year in any city, you can be well supplied with wealth and property, and generally "own much."
Well, you'd be wrong. You can pay your student loans, live in a modest one room apartment 20 minutes from work, save reasonably, and pay taxes. You're not as fucked as everyone else in this godforsaken country, but you're not rich.
posted by planet at 7:08 PM on March 6, 2012


You can pay your student loans, live in a modest one room apartment 20 minutes from work, save reasonably, and pay taxes. You're not as fucked as everyone else in this godforsaken country, but you're not rich.

You're conflating Manhattan with all of NYC right now, aren't you?
posted by hippybear at 7:11 PM on March 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


You're conflating Manhattan with all of NYC right now, aren't you?
Of course. Where are the $250k jobs?
posted by planet at 7:12 PM on March 6, 2012


Yeah, you should stop doing that. Even given that the average weekly wage in Manhattan in 2006 was about $1500, that still only works out for an average yearly income of around $75K.

I'm not a huge fan of averages when it comes to income, because the gross imbalance of distribution means that the extremely wealthy drag the numbers out of scale, but even with that problem of the median instead of the mean, people who live in Manhattan make a lot less than you seem to think they make.
posted by hippybear at 7:16 PM on March 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'll just drop this here.
posted by maxwelton at 7:18 PM on March 6, 2012 [23 favorites]


I absolutely hate work. But I got myself into this profession, see, where one has to work at least a little bit. I've thought of changing, but it's basically too late. I'm pot-committed. I got lots of talents and latent abilities but it just takes too damn long to monetize them and I've wasted too damn long on this thing already.

So.

The thing is, I've found a path into and through this profession that's not too onerous. It's work, but I manage to make it as little actual seeming effort to me as possible. This is not quite the same as loving your job--dear Christ, what a thing. But it is also not the same as slacking.

This profession pays pretty well. For certain members, it's 1% pay. For me, 5% (pretty soon, anyway). Now whenever my nouveau politique uncle says something like, "I worked hard for my money and never got any help, why should some poor loser get any of it?" I like to say, "I don't work hard at all and make a lot of money regardless. Perhaps consider that you're doing things wrong."
posted by adoarns at 7:39 PM on March 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


Even given that the average weekly wage in Manhattan in 2006 was about $1500, that still only works out for an average yearly income of around $75K.
I wasn't claiming that everyone in Manhattan made $250k. I don't really get the focus average income to try to figure out what "rich" is. Unless "rich" is just someone who has a bit more than the speaker, which often seems to be the case around here.

It strikes me as odd to call a wage slave "rich" merely because he may be able to buy a house some day and retire at 65. The fact that there are wage slaves who won't be able to retire doesn't change my intuition.

These are the divisions that make sense to me: The poor suffer from constant income insecurity and struggle to provide themselves with basic needs. The working class has less income insecurity, but is unable to build wealth, and consequently suffers from even short-term unemployment or other life setbacks. The middle class is able to build wealth through wage earning and can weather short-term unemployment and some other setbacks, but is still dependent on wage income. The upper middle class still derive their income primarily by earning a wage (and is still dependent on wage earning), but is able to build significant over their working life. The rich are not dependent on wages.
posted by planet at 7:41 PM on March 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


when we say you're "lucky," we're not saying you're lucky in the way that a lottery winner is lucky. We're saying that you're lucky if you were born in a time and place where the hard work you're good at (say, stock speculation) is valued over the hard work that other people are good at (say, landscaping, or poetry).

That's well put.
posted by Miko at 8:36 PM on March 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


You can pay your student loans, live in a modest one room apartment 20 minutes from work, save reasonably, and pay taxes
This + in Manhattan = rich
full stop.
posted by saul wright at 8:36 PM on March 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Why would you choose to murder someone based on what they named their daughter?
posted by michaelh


Because they deserve it?
posted by 445supermag at 8:50 PM on March 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Last year, dickhole MTV Star-cum-congressman, Sean Duffy whined about this very same thing...

All about the same time we were fighting against that fuckwad Walker.

Don't forget Ken Lay's wife crying about losing their second house, and how just awful it was, what a burden!

Privileged Elitist Fuckwits.
posted by symbioid at 8:54 PM on March 6, 2012


If Cracked is a comedy website, why does this article make me so glum?
posted by Monochrome at 9:33 PM on March 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


vidur: "The gawker rant is good too. "

This line from the article "Money: once you spend it all, you don't feel rich any more. Someone should write an essay about that." made me think of Josh Fenderman...

And then seeing that list of things like 800 dolars on wine a month made me think of this Coup song:
Somebody's mom caught a job and a welfare fraud case
When she breathe she swear it feels like plastic wrap around her face
Lights turned off and its the third month the rent is late
Thoughts of being homeless, crying till you hyperventilate
Despair permeates the air then sets in your ear
The kids play with that one toy they learned how to share
Coming home don't never seem to be a celebration
Bills they piled up on the coffee table like they're decorations
Big ol' spoons of peanut butter, big ass glass of water
Makes the hunger subside, save the real food for your daughter

You feel like swingin haymakers at a moving truck
You feel like laughing so it seems like you don't give a fuck
You feel like getting so high you smoke a whole damn crop
You feel like crying but you think that you might never stop
Homes with no heat stiffen your joints like arthritis
When these fuckers have to deal with this, then maybe they'll know what it is to be poor.
posted by symbioid at 9:37 PM on March 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


Toronto Life has always been a poorly-written extended product-placement magazine. Clearly this month's bills are being paid by Jeep, Rogers and the LCBO. They are also not well researched articles. According to the article the top 1% income in Canada is 196,000, so why were they profiling households that were from 160-200,000? There was only the one single-income guy at 165,000 and he was able to save a significant amount (for non-Canadians his RRSP contribution brings down his tax obligation, a win-win for him).
posted by saucysault at 10:18 PM on March 6, 2012



The problem is that some people define wealth relatively and some people define it absolutely.

A person making $200k/year says I'm not wealthy compared to Romney... that's "real" wealth.

But in absolute terms, they have more income than 97% of Americans. That's what makes them wealthy whether they acknowledge that or not.
posted by j03 at 10:18 PM on March 6, 2012 [5 favorites]


In my day, we just called the professionals making lots of money the "upper middle class". They aren't middle-class by North American definitions (though they are in the UK), but their own creatures with a different culture an expectations.

and they are part of the problem. In Toronto, specifically, there is a growing divide between the upper-middle class professionals, whose incomes have been rising over the last 30 years, and the rest of the city, whose incomes have gone down because they have lost good paying lower-middle class jobs and being left with precarious and low paid work, largely in the service sector.

It's not just the top 1% or the top 0.1% - the top 10% make more money (inflation adjusted) than they used to, while the bottom makes less.

and Toronto itself has been become more divided with more people at both the top and bottom - and fewer in the middle (PDF)

For every family "struggling" to get by on 200,000 in a city with sky-rocketing housing costs (but cheap milk compared to the North), there are several families actually struggling to get by on 60, 40 or 20,000. The lives of those with 200k are luxurious, not comfortable.
posted by jb at 10:20 PM on March 6, 2012


how are the top 10% part of the problem?

They are the doctors whose fees go up every year, and our healthcare funding can't keep up. They are the university professors who vote themselves raises while paying their contract lecturers pennies for doing the same job. They are the managers who tell everyone else that there will be no bonus, and who fight against unionisation, and short people's hours to keep profits up.

They are also the people with money to bid up housing prices out of the reach of normal people. They buy up small, cheaper houses, and knock them down to build McMansions that sell for three times as much.

Our economy and our society is in a tailspin because we have an acute demand crisis -- it cannot survive on the consumption of the top 10% alone. But they seem awfully determined to try to make it work that way.
posted by jb at 10:27 PM on March 6, 2012 [5 favorites]


I grew up pretty poor and now we make in the $200K/household range and I feel pretty damn rich. I'm not sure why that's so hard for people to say.

Agreed. I only make around $70K and I feel fucking wealthy. Part of it is that I don't have kids, but I can't remember the last time I really needed that next paycheck to come. I go out to eat whenever I feel like it. I took several vacations last year to Europe, the Grand Canyon, New Orleans. The medicine I need is always easy to get. When my car breaks down, getting it fixed is a hassle, but no big deal. A few weeks ago my gf and I stayed in a nice hotel for a weekend just for the hell of it.

As I've said before, money doesn't buy happiness; it buys freedom. And pretty much everything over $50K can buy an awful lot of freedom just about anywhere in the country.

I'm not Romney-rich, but I'm fucking rich.
posted by coolguymichael at 11:12 PM on March 6, 2012 [13 favorites]


Pass a law saying it's illegal for publicly-held investment funds to own shares in a company whose CEO's annual compensation (or the firm's highest-compensated worker if not the CEO)--including stock, options, bonuses, salary, etc.--exceeds, say, 10x the non-overtime salary of their lowest-paid employee or temp worker (including part-time workers whose hour wage would be multiplied by 2000 to calculate their annual wage).

Also pass a law saying it's illegal for a corporation to sit on a pile of money bigger than some multiple of their annual earnings--that said pile must either must be distributed via dividends, capital investment, or as compensation to their employees, or else it will be taxed at a very steep rate.

Levy a tariff on foreign corporations who cannot demonstrate that they operate within these bounds.

I believe this would create a ton of jobs, increase the wages of the line worker and reduce the gluttony of the 1%.

We also need a wealth tax. There's a point where you've gone beyond wealth into obscenity, and it's probably a number around $10M, not $100M or $1B.
posted by maxwelton at 11:17 PM on March 6, 2012 [5 favorites]


schroedinger: "I'm not arguing that we shouldn't have higher tax rates for ultra-billionaires. But for fuck's sake, $200k is still rich."

It's a comfortable amount of money for a family. You will not want, can have vacations, can have a couple of newish cars, and can save for retirement. Quite honestly, $100-$200 is what it takes to be firmly middle class without also being miserly.

That's not to say that a person can't live on less. Of course they can, but they'll be forgoing things like a comfortable retirement, a good sized emergency fund, and that sort of thing. What's shameful is that it takes that much money to have any real security these days, unless you already have little debt and live in a low cost of living area.

Note that I'm in no way arguing against a tax increase on the over-$100,000 set. And who the fuck is arguing that $200,000 is "poor?" Not even the article did that.

hippybear: "I don't consider myself impoverished by any means."

Sorry man, "my monthly living expenses don't allow me any kind of rainy day fund of any magnitude above a few hundred dollars" pretty clearly indicates you are. Our collective refusal to acknowledge that is a large part of the country's seeming acceptance of the shit sandwich we're being dealt.

Again, the thing we should all be spitting mad about is that it takes a six figure income to actually be a middle class household in the traditional definition of it in much of the country, to have that luxury of having a nest egg that can tide you over in case of job loss or sickness or what have you while our median household income is in the mid thirties!
posted by wierdo at 11:54 PM on March 6, 2012 [9 favorites]


Taxwise, I think the debate has gone the wrong way in the US and is going the wrong way in the UK.

There is this notion that when the government taxes you it is taking away your money and making you poorer.
I think that this is incorrect. I think it needs to be clearer what tax is. Tax is (or should be) an investment in the society you live in. It's like a company reinvesting in itself.
Paying tax does not make you poorer, it makes us all richer.

With the idea that tax is theft and that the government is taking your money so prevalant, no wonder everyone resents being taxed so much.

Actually, the Us and Them mentatality of the government and the people being seperate also confuses me a bit. The people are deciding, between ourselves, how we should reinvest the money that the country as a whole makes.
Voting to reduce taxes to as little as possible is like shareholders voting to pay all the company profits out as dividends, you CAN do it, but eventually the company will fail and your shares will be worthless. Just think of citizenship as owning a single, unsellable share in your country?

That was all a little of the top of my head, but I think it works. Tell me where I have gone wrong in this analogy.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 3:14 AM on March 7, 2012 [7 favorites]


Seriously, could she describe a plausible scenario in which she lost $250 million in the course of one day!?

I could, but it would take a lot of pitchforks.
posted by univac at 4:30 AM on March 7, 2012


Meh. The problem with te 100k to 200k in an expensive environment is nice, but its hardly wealthy. I define wealthy like how we picture stereotypes of wealthy people that seem to come from gilded age iconography like being independently wealthy, owning a plane, dicking around constantly on vacation, profiting purely off investments, etc.

Thing is, we kinda have to have a meaningful definition of rich. What's being described here is some kind of ultra-wealthy stereotype. However, rich and poor are purely comparative terms - they are not absolutes. So, to what should we choose to compare them? Well, the average income seems like a good bet. Let's also put some fuzziness in: if you're earning up to 200% of the average national income, you're merely 'well-off', not 'rich'. I consider this generous (particularly if you're taking the mean average, as any income you have above the mean average is necessarily at the expense of others, but I digress) and it still puts the cut-off for rich where? $121k a year, according to wiki. Per household, that is.

You can start saying that 'rich' only means this or that, that being able to go on vacation isn't part of the definition - however, so long as that is impossible on an average wage (which it is, if you're struggling to do it on $200k) it is one of the hallmarks of being rich. Sure, there's good argument that it shouldn't be, but it is. (Otherwise the wealthiest people in Nepal, say, would still be pretty poor.) The most useful, meaningful definition of 'rich' relates it to the average income - it speaks of an income, of means beyond what the average person can expect. The threshold for this is pretty low - you can be 'merely' middle class and rich - precisely because there are so many poor people, and many of them are so so poor.
posted by Dysk at 4:41 AM on March 7, 2012


To my mind the definition of rich people is: those who choose where the money goes.

Example 1: the executives at my company can choose to give themselves a fat bonus (total worth of several millions) instead of hiring a few extra people to help lessen the work load; or instead of giving higher than 2% salary increase for the rest of us.

Example 2: those in government that choose to buy 35 billion dollars worth of fighter jets instead of spending some of that money on national debt repayment and education.

Ultimately we can argue all day about tax rates in order to get more public money, but if that money is just going to be pissed down the drain on a new war in the middle east, what good is that?
posted by Vindaloo at 4:57 AM on March 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Almost all of these definitions fall down because they don't apply to some people who are obviously rich (like Paris Hilton) but apply to people who may just be well off (like your local congressman).
posted by smackfu at 5:55 AM on March 7, 2012


Tax is (or should be) an investment in the society you live in. It's like a company reinvesting in itself. Paying tax does not make you poorer, it makes us all richer.

A-fucking-men. This is how it's supposed to be.

But as I see it, there are at least four things preventing the widespread adoption of this view, at least in the U.S., don't know what's up in the U.K.

1. The sheer size of government and the collective action problems it seems to create. Sure, taxes pay for everything, but what difference do my measly few thousand bucks make?

2. The fact that in most of our lifetimes, the U.S. government has been very stable, and we can't imagine that anything we do, such as starving it of tax revenue, will have concrete negative effects.

3. The myth of American self-reliance. There was a study I saw recently (may have been on Metafilter, don't remember) where something approaching 50% of people who had received Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid payments stated that they had "never used a government program." There is a persistent misunderstanding (which IMO is half self-delusion and half racism) about just who, exactly, is the beneficiary of our tax dollars. (Hint: It's almost always "us," not "them.")

4. That non-negligible part of cynicism about government which is justified. To a great extent, paying tax does make you poorer, and doesn't make us all richer, because of the large problems of regulatory capture, special interests, and the military-industrial complex. Simply put, our taxes are being funneled to a fair amount of socially useless or detrimental shit. This is ultimately a political process problem and the basis of a lot of generalized "Washington-insider" grar that sounds superficially anti-intellectual but is frankly not entirely irrational.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 6:26 AM on March 7, 2012 [6 favorites]


Progressive swould do well to reframe the taxation of wealth as taxing money and not taxing people. We always hear how the wealthy pay the most taxes and as people it seems fair that they should be equal with the rest of us. But if you frame it as their is certain money that is less taxed and we are broke and we need to go tax that money it makes more sense to the listener. We are not taxing the rich because the are rich but rather taxing the money wherever we happen to find it. The fact that more and more wealth is shifting into the hands of the wealthy and we have chosen to tax it lightly simply because a rich person has it now also seems deeply unfair.

So let's just tax the money.
posted by The Violet Cypher at 7:16 AM on March 7, 2012 [5 favorites]


Sure, taxes pay for everything, but what difference do my measly few thousand bucks make?

And the way we counter that argument is: "Oh, it's measley, is it? Then what's your objection to contributing?"
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:18 AM on March 7, 2012


And the way we counter that argument is: "Oh, it's measley, is it? Then what's your objection to contributing?"

Well, measly to the government, not to the taxpayer. I don't think there's anything incoherent about that idea. The U.S. wouldn't miss my money. It would just miss all of our money.

We lack civic pride these days, which is really the issue. You can more easily justify making a tiny contribution that is only meaningful in the aggregate when you feel a part of that which it's going towards. Same as voting. When you feel alienated, then that's when the act feels worthless and when it feels oppressive to be compelled to do it.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 7:34 AM on March 7, 2012


My point was just that $200k is certainly not "can I afford to keep that yacht on a mooring" money, which someone above said.

You have an odd idea about the price of yachts. There are lots of yacht owners who earn less than 200K p/a. There are very few people earn 200K p/a who couldn't own a yacht if they made that a priority.
posted by yoink at 7:40 AM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is what Ann Romney said:

“[O]ne thing this disease has been for me has been a wonderful teacher. And with that comes an ability for compassion for others that are suffering. And for me, I want to make my family bigger. Those that are suffering from M.S. or cancer or any disease I feel like I want to throw my arms open and say, welcome to my family and welcome to the place where I’ve been and, so, you know, we can be poor in spirit and I don’t look — I don’t even consider myself wealthy which is am interesting thing. It can be here today and gone tomorrow, and how I measure riches is by the friends I have and the loved ones I have and the people I care about in my life and that is where my values are and those are my riches so for me having done through a difficult period in my life both with M.S. and with breast cancer it has done something to my heart and it’s softened my heart and made me realize there are many people suffering in this country and they are suffering from things that aren’t financial — and some people are suffering from things that are financial, as well — but those that are suffering, for me, I just have a larger capacity for love, and for understanding.”

It's not the most articulate phrasing ever, but I don't think she was meaning hey $250 million is only upper middle class, you'd have to be Warren Buffett to be rich. I think she was trying to say that after having two horrible diseases, breast cancer and MS, she's realized it's not money that makes a life "rich" but friends and family. I think Mitt Romney is out of touch and would make a horrible President, but I don't think it's fair or right to pull his wife's statements out of context.
posted by bananafish at 7:42 AM on March 7, 2012 [8 favorites]


no, actually we're not smackfu, not really; because most progressive European countries turn that sales tax into things like quality education, good roads and excellent subsidized healthcare.


If you are in receipt of unemployment benefit, pregnant, or living in Scotland in the UK, you don't have to pay anything for your prescriptions, nor basic dental work (ie. not porcelain veneers or anything that's on the verge of cosmetic.). Nothing at all. Because I have a pre-payment certificate for my prescriptions, I pay a total of £10.40 per month for two medications that would cost me hundreds in the US.

Of course, the downside of this is that we have to pay more for some stuff. I live in an expensive city, one where housing has risen to the point that middle-class people are more or less forced into renting as getting a deposit and a mortgage together is very difficult. I'm sure this is the case in big cities everywhere, but I remember seeing a story in the local paper here about whether you can live in London on ~$150,000, and I couldn't picture what it would be like to be earning nearly as much per year as the Prime Minister* and still feel poor.

*yes, I know he gets a house with the job
posted by mippy at 8:07 AM on March 7, 2012


mippy: Of course, the downside of this is that we have to pay more for some stuff. I live in an expensive city, one where housing has risen to the point that middle-class people are more or less forced into renting as getting a deposit and a mortgage together is very difficult.

This home-ownership compulsion does strike me as a particularly anglophone thing. Most of my friends and family in Denmark rent, and nobody really seems to think this is a problem...
posted by Dysk at 9:43 AM on March 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


People are using different definitions for rich and citing a dictionary is a college freshman English essay tactic. Give a listen to Chris Rock talking about being rich vs wealthy if it helps; but it's not about how lavish a lifestyle one can afford on $200k/year, that's just an easy way to push people's jealousy button. Expensive wine? A new Mercedes luxury car? Vacations?

I want those things too!

Yet the Romneys live on $200k/yr yet don't feel wealthy because it's a house of cards. Why? Because if specific things in their portfolio do go to shit, they could lose $250 million. It would be insanely unlucky and let a whole slew of bad decisions would have to stack up. And also not literally overnight. But it's not impossible.

That's still a whole lot of money though. I wonder what would make it less precarious; what would add some sticky tape on their house of cards?

Some sort of program, probably run by the government, as some sort of safety net, as like a guarantee that at your unluckiest, lost all your money, became paralyzed by a meteorite strike, a life-changing - for the worse sort of event, that you'd still have an okay life?

That, I really do want. Making us jealous over wine and cars as part of political rhetoric, and brinkmanship, instead of actually having a real dialog to see what we can achieve, is just business as usual. The cracked.com article is surprisingly good at going from a soundbyte to presenting the other person's point of view.

So from now on the phrasing for the Romneys is to be "I'm rich, but it's not like I have infinite money."
posted by fragmede at 10:19 AM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Every American wants to put their kids through private school, except for the weirdos like my parents who took an idealized stance with my sister and I and decided to put us through public school despite their ability to afford private school (or so they told us ;).

Most rich Americans don't need to send their kids to private school because they live in rich neighborhoods, and most American public schools are financed by local property taxes.

But really, private school is one of the biggest wastes of money, imo.

Yet the Romneys live on $200k/yr yet don't feel wealthy because it's a house of cards. Why? Because if specific things in their portfolio do go to shit, they could lose $250 million. It would be insanely unlucky and let a whole slew of bad decisions would have to stack up. And also not literally overnight. But it's not impossible.

Something in your scenario is impossible. If they have $250 million to lose, why are they living on $200k/yr? A modest APR on a $250 million investment (lol, I have no idea what that is anymore, 5%?) would be $7.5 million per year.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:37 AM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Some sort of program, probably run by the government, as some sort of safety net, as like a guarantee that at your unluckiest, lost all your money, became paralyzed by a meteorite strike, a life-changing - for the worse sort of event, that you'd still have an okay life?

You have heard of Supplemental Security Income, right?

I'm all for expanding the safety net, but let's be real: it's not like nothing exists.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:40 AM on March 7, 2012


4. That non-negligible part of cynicism about government which is justified. ... Simply put, our taxes are being funneled to a fair amount of socially useless or detrimental shit. This is ultimately a political process problem

This is exactly right. The libertarian argument that the government always makes a mess of things, always does things worse than the private sector, is just lazy and ignorant. It's not true, and in the cases where it is true the solution is not to cut off the funding, but to use the political process to make the government programs better.

It's much harder work, but it's always harder to build something good than to just tear things down.
posted by straight at 10:41 AM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


People who think that the lifestyle of Torontonians with $200k/year is middle class are the ones who have redefined "middle class". It's certainly nothing like the MEDIAN or middle lifestyle in Toronto (which is what "middle class" has meant in North America for the last half-century). Here are what median family incomes in Toronto look like - from here:

Median family income, 2005 ($) - All census families - 59,671
Median family income, 2005 ($) - Married couple families - 66,843
Median family income, 2005 ($) - Lone-parent families - 36,484

Traditionally, being "middle class" in North America has NOT meant "have vacations, can have a couple of newish cars, and can save for retirement" --

for my middle-class grandparents, it meant buying a house that is much smaller than many sold today, only owning ONE car and not a new one, and never going on a vacation that meant flying - driving only. They did save for retirement, but that retirement was also spent very modestly (vacations by Greyhound, one trip to Europe in over 30 years). Multiple cars, overseas vacations - these were the privileges of the UPPER middle class - aka, those who are upper class in most contexts except a national one.

When we in Toronto talk about the decimation of the middle class, we're not talking about not being able to fly somewhere on vacation or buy a new car, we're talking about not being able to buy ANY car or not being able to buy a home at all.

In the UK, "middle class" has always meant something more like "upper-middle class" does in North America, but that's just a language difference; blue collar workers would never name themselves as middle class there the way that they do in North America.
posted by jb at 10:47 AM on March 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


government always makes a mess of things, always does things worse than the private sector

The thing about this is, if you listen to these anti-govt. folks, they'll list a bunch of stupid stuff that government does and they'll be right. Dumb stuff. Tons of it. But if you look at almost every one of their examples, these things are dumb because people with money have jacked the system!

The conclusion that government is inherently screwed does not follow. The conclusion that government is inherently prone to being jacked by wealthy people in their own self interest follows.
posted by Trochanter at 11:02 AM on March 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


These are the divisions that make sense to me: The poor suffer from constant income insecurity and struggle to provide themselves with basic needs. The working class has less income insecurity... The middle class (and) ... upper middle class still derive their income primarily by earning a wage .... The rich are not dependent on wages.

This sounds sensible enough, but you can be poor and still live off a (small) settlement, or welfare, or benevolence from family, so wage earnings doesn't seem to be the key. And you can be rich and still keep working - the issue there is, do you have to keep working? If it's possible to live off of $30k a year, which it obviously is since people do it, then a few years of making $200k a year could theoretically set up all the retirement fund a person needs. The problem is just how much money people like to spend.

At one time, getting a new car every few years, taking planes all over the world on a regular basis, owning multiple expensive suits, buying lots of new gadgets each year - were just not expectations of the culture. Now that they are to some portions of the culture, people feel "poor" without an iphone, or not able to get the newest nicest work clothes, or with a house that's smaller than the neighbor's. But when a person is actually suffering the same old stuff that is still unavoidably actually "poor" (or too close to it for comfort) - things like not having enough food or not being able to pay the heating bill - the rich person's concerns seem a bit abstract.

Whether that person has to be a wage earner does depend largely on what that person wants to spend. If they spend most of their money and invest a small portion, they will keep working longer. If they live on nothing, invest everything, and then move to a beach in Jamaica, they can probably get off the wages pretty fast if that's the goal.

And, even the super-rich can lose it all if they spend it all. Upkeep alone on a huge mansion with acres of "grounds" can be millions of dollars a year. If they don't do the math right, they can be seeking out income (perhaps in the form of speaking gigs, or book royalties) all over again (which then raises the question, where do small business owners or freelance workers fit into your scheme?).

So in the end it isn't how the money is made, or received, but how much of it there is. And while there's no doubt it can be spent, if it's 10 times what other people make, it just seems obtuse to say it really isn't that much, or it's still hard to get by. What you make in a little over a month is someone else's yearly salary - someone who is ineligible for government assistance, who is considered to be doing well enough to get by on their own. Should we raise the poverty line, or is 200K just rich?
posted by mdn at 11:13 AM on March 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


They are the university professors who vote themselves raises while paying their contract lecturers pennies for doing the same job.

On a point of clarification, I don't get to vote myself a pay raise. Admittedly I do get to vote on whether or not to ratify a contract that may include pay raises among other items negotiated with my university's administration. That's significantly different than, say, Congress or corporate boards of directors where members do (or may, depending on the corporation's rules) get to directly introduce and then vote on motions to raise their own pay.

As well, my union, and most university faculty unions, are in fact trying to ensure that contract lecturers are paid more; not less. This is a really major issue in terms of maintaining the profession. But over half of U.S. universities do not have unionized faculties (it gets less common the farther west you go, and is less common at private universities and colleges). At universities and colleges that don't have unionized faculty, you pretty much just get the choice of taking your salary or leaving it, unless you are one of a very, very small number of "star professors".
posted by eviemath at 11:30 AM on March 7, 2012


jb: "Traditionally, being "middle class" in North America has NOT meant "have vacations, can have a couple of newish cars, and can save for retirement" --

for my middle-class grandparents, it meant buying a house that is much smaller than many sold today, only owning ONE car and not a new one, and never going on a vacation that meant flying - driving only. They did save for retirement, but that retirement was also spent very modestly (vacations by Greyhound, one trip to Europe in over 30 years). Multiple cars, overseas vacations - these were the privileges of the UPPER middle class - aka, those who are upper class in most contexts except a national one.
"

Oh, BS. My grandparents were able to keep themselves in two newish (not brand new, mind you, but newish cars, a decently large 2BR house, and still have money left over for fun. On factory work. That's what middle class was. Middle class today apparently means "not on welfare" according to many in this thread. That stupidly low standard just lets us all off the hook for the deterioration in the standard of living for most wage earners.
posted by wierdo at 12:18 PM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Trochanter: "The thing about this is, if you listen to these anti-govt. folks, they'll list a bunch of stupid stuff that government does and they'll be right. Dumb stuff. Tons of it. But if you look at almost every one of their examples, these things are dumb because people with money have jacked the system!"

While I think much of the anti-government rhetoric is ill-informed and self-destructive, I don't think that every one or even most of the dumb things the government does is because of people with money jacking the system; it's because the government is a slow, lumbering (but mostly well-intentioned) beast, with layer upon layer of bureaucracy and regulation that becomes more burdensome and complicated over time. It's like the black blobs being shot at Mr. Incredible. Many government regulations are great and they truly are useful, meaningful, and helpful; but also, many are ridiculous and senseless. Most of what people point out as "dumb stuff" is actually kind of dumb stuff. But it's so much easier to point out what's wrong than the millions of things the government does every day that are right.

There have been so many failed attempts at "streamlining" government, but I'd like to think it's possible, somehow.
I know, how about an inter-departmental blue-ribbon commission doing a fact-finding study and issuing a report?
posted by Red Loop at 12:23 PM on March 7, 2012


I keep getting reminded of how poor I was, when I watch Shameless episodes with friends, and I can identify with the humour just a little too much. Like, the show actually seems far more realistic than I think it does to other people, rather than outrageous. I keep being reminded of odd anecdotes, and far more outrageous stories from my own family and neighbourhood when growing up.
11 year olds being propositioned as prostitutes, 14 year olds pregnant, needles in the playground, my mother saying she was going off to buy milk (but actually someone had been stabbed and was lying in our doorway, so she drove them to hospital), car security=unlocked car (because someone'll just smash the windows otherwise), newspaper leaves ink on your butt when you have to use it as toilet paper, squatting in an empty warehouse for a summer no-budget holiday (my mother = resourceful/awesome), moving/going-into-hiding when a family member was attacked by a gang member, being 15 before I lived in one house for a whole-year. And yes, I was reading books on 'how to pay off your mortgage in 5 years' before I was 12, because when I grew up, I was going to do it *better*.

And, when staying with extended relatives, realising that the rich almost never realise they're rich. They think it's normal. The middle-class don't realise they're rich, they think they're working class. To me, living in nearly-the-same house your whole life, is rich. Living in a house your parents own or have a mortgage on, is rich. Going on holiday to a bach (shared summer house), is really f*cking rich.

I often feel like I'm working undercover. I have a decent job. Yeah, I could have done better, technically I guess I was a gifted kid, but my teachers only worked that out after a year in highschool, when it was too late to stream me (my first school was the poorest in the region, so, I don't blame them so much - they didn't stream at all, given a bunch of kids turned up even as late as 10yrs, with no English, so someone they could leave to their own devices was a relief), but I could also have been so much more white trash than I am.

I also often feel like I'm living in a foreign country, and suffering from culture shock an awful lot of the time.

I don't expect landlords to fix anything in a house, I expect them to charge a cheap enough rent that I can afford to fix things myself.
I can afford to buy work clothes new, but I go to 2nd hand shops instead, looking for new clothing, because 'sticker-shock' still really gets to me.

And I watch stupid shows like Shameless, and laugh because I want to suggest things to the writers, and can see the things that they're toning down because *those* would strike people as too outrageous.

I'm a geek from a white-trash background, and sometimes I want to move countries, because then I can pretend that the being from a different country is the reason I don't fit in, and that would be a tiny, subconscious relief.

Sorry for the not-incredibly-ontopic rant, and wangst. Kind of proves the point though. Money, it is kind of funny, and I still can't work out how to be comfortable in relation to it.
posted by Elysum at 12:35 PM on March 7, 2012 [6 favorites]


My grandparents were able to keep themselves in two newish (not brand new, mind you, but newish cars, a decently large 2BR house, and still have money left over for fun. On factory work. That's what middle class was. Middle class today apparently means "not on welfare" according to many in this thread. That stupidly low standard just lets us all off the hook for the deterioration in the standard of living for most wage earners.

Um....except for the number of cars (1 versus 2), you aren't disagreeing with me. A 2-bedroom house is a very small house compared to those being built today (3-5 bedrooms). Most houses have gone from being 1000-2000 square feet to 3000-4000 square feet.

My point was also exactly yours: so many working people aren't even able to have that small 2 or 3 bedroom house anymore, or the 2 newish (but not brand-new) cars. Which is why I have absolutely no sympathy for families at the top who have $200k a year bellyaching about how their LARGE house and BRAND-NEW cars cost them so much money that they have trouble paying for their OVERSEAS vacation. They are not middle class - they are upper-middle class (aka upper class to any of us who don't swan around with the world elite).
posted by jb at 1:31 PM on March 7, 2012


eviemath - when I mentioned university professors, I was thinking of one particular university (in Toronto, no less) which has been increasing tenure-track faculty pay dramatically while claiming they don't have enough money to hire the number of contract lecturers they need, let alone pay those that they hire decently. I know someone who taught a 8-month course with 200 students for $13,000 - including writing all of the lectures - while full-time people are coming in at $80 or 100k or more per year (which the faculty do get to vote on, as departments). This same university has also been increase class sizes while increasing tuition costs. It's just a depressing system right now, and the senior people with the power (which include tenured faculty and to a lesser degree tenure-track) don't seem to care.
posted by jb at 1:39 PM on March 7, 2012


also, no course should ever have 200 people and have no sections/tutorials, like that one did. But there was no money for TAs either.
posted by jb at 1:40 PM on March 7, 2012


Agreed that it's totally wrong. We can add on exploitation of grad students/upper level undergrad TAs too. But the salary levels, proportion of tenure stream versus contingent instructors, class sizes, etc. are primarily administration decision about how they want the university to be structured. with pressure from continually decreasing provincial funding for higher education (so universities decide to make up the shortfall by upping student tuition, increasing class sizes, and offloading as much work as possible onto a contingent labor force).

Unless I'm missing something with this bit about departments voting on individual faculty salary?! I know of no Canadian nor U.S. university where base pay rates are voted on by faculty. I know of some that have "merit pay", which is a smaller pool of money for pay supplements above and beyond the base salary. Generally these are allotted by deans or other administrators, but I have heard of some universities where the departments get to vote on how to distribute merit pay. That would be a relatively small proportion of any individual faculty member's salary, however (generally smaller and more evenly distributed in the universities where faculty vote on merit pay distribution).

When it comes to union/administration negotiated pay raises, the tenured and tenure-track faculty aren't going to turn down higher pay, because there's no guarantee (and in fact many indicators otherwise) that the administration would use the money to pay sessionals better or lower student tuition, instead. It's a crappy system. I'm happy that all faculty, including part-time, limited term instructors, are in the same union at my university, so that our union can negotiate for stuff that's in everyone's best interests. Sadly, that's not so common at other universities.

(Also, sorry for the derail.)
posted by eviemath at 2:05 PM on March 7, 2012


Maybe it's not a derail. Universities provide a perhaps interesting microcosm of the broader discussion in this thread.

There are full professors who are doing relatively well in terms of their salaries, lower-level but still tenure-track professors who aren't making as much money, but still have some job security and benefits and some say in issues of working conditions. Then there are the lower classes: instructors who teach on a per-course basis, often with few or no benefits, and little or no job security; graduate students or upper level undergraduate students who may also teach courses, but certainly run labs and tutorials and do a lot of marking, who may be paying tuition back to the university (policies on tuition remission for grad student employees vary between the US and Canada, and between academic fields) while making not much above minimum wage.

While the tenured full professors have relatively more bargaining power to influence things in the university, mostly their power is limited to slowing the erosion of working conditions/class sizes, benefits, and starting salaries for their own category of position. In other words, they have enough power to keep themselves from going downhill or getting exploited at the same rate as everyone else.

Actually changing the system would require everyone at all levels working together in a coordinated effort. But many of the tenured full professors are out-of-touch and don't realize just how bad things have become at the lower end while they, personally, are doing okay; or take a very individualist approach, maybe assuming that those stuck in non-tenure track positions somehow are less worthy and deserve that sort of exploitation.

And many at the lower end (students, especially) blame those out-of-touch full professors for the problems and exploitative nature of the system and for taking up more than their fair share of the pie; rather than questioning why the pie is so small to begin with, and why the pie keeps shrinking. This is completely natural in some sense: students don't come into contact with the true power brokers at a university much, if at all; they do come into contact with their professors. People tend to get more upset about unfairness that is right in front of them than unfairness that is more hidden and abstract. And unfair distributions of wealth are problematic and galling, no matter what the source is, and it's hard to imagine that the rich-but-not-quite-elite don't share some blame for helping to propagate such an unfair system that clearly benefits them more than many others.
posted by eviemath at 2:33 PM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


To continue this particular derail, don't forget university staff. During my 12 year stint at a Large State University I got exactly one raise. A one percent raise, with an accompanying 2% increase in my health insurance*. Tenure track faculty got yearly raises, and lecturing/adjunct faculty got a raise every three years. Making 18k for a full-time job tends to suck the desire to believe in education right out all but the most delusional university staff. This disparity was pounded home every time I'd have to listen to various folks complain about their salaries and how they were slogging through a three day work week and only making 75k year in a small city in the southeast. No pity. Well, except for grad students, those poor fuckers always got the shaft. I bought them lots of beer, it was the least I could do.

*The years were 1998-2010, if you wanna look up the accompanying cost of living increases, I don't have the heart to.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 2:55 PM on March 7, 2012


[ashamed face that I forgot university staff!]
posted by eviemath at 5:24 PM on March 7, 2012


...government is a slow, lumbering (but mostly well-intentioned) beast, with layer upon layer of bureaucracy and regulation that becomes more burdensome and complicated over time

My question is, how do we know that government is any more prone to grow sluggish than any large institution humans can create? Slowness and lumbering are issues of size.

What evidence do you have that private enterprises do things better than governments? Maybe private enterprises do easier things.
posted by Trochanter at 6:37 PM on March 7, 2012 [5 favorites]


jb: "Um....except for the number of cars (1 versus 2), you aren't disagreeing with me. A 2-bedroom house is a very small house compared to those being built today (3-5 bedrooms). Most houses have gone from being 1000-2000 square feet to 3000-4000 square feet."

Most new houses, you mean. 3BR houses were also quite common in the 70s and 80s. This isn't exactly something new. Nor is some houses having 5 or 6 bedrooms, although that probably is becoming more common than it was in the past.

Maybe the folks I know are weird, but among those I know that "own" their house, only a couple live in new housing. The rest bought used. My point is that it's farking ridiculous that it takes a 6 figure income or very near it to get a family to a point where they don't have to obsess over money these days. Being angry at those folks for saying they're not rich is silly. They're not, relative to what it takes to be in the middle class. Yet they are, relative to people who are impoverished by definition and even those at the median, who struggle to get by. That's just not right. Being mad at the people not far removed from struggling isn't really productive.

It's like getting mad at a sales clerk for some stupid store policy. I understand why you're mad. You have every reason to be, but your ire isn't directed at the cause of your anger.

tl;dr: "Middle class" has been redefined so far downward that it's a national shame. Getting mad at the people who are middle class by any traditional definition is unhelpful at best.
posted by wierdo at 7:11 PM on March 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


I never claimed that private enterprise does things better than government, or that government is more prone to grow sluggish than anything! I like government, but I'd like it to work better at times because it does good, important things.
posted by Red Loop at 7:13 PM on March 7, 2012


Maybe private enterprises do easier things.

Maybe they do. They certainly avoid things that don't generate money. I notice that most of the things that poor people need done don't generate money. One of the major flaws in the approach toward government services in the US over the last 30 years is the continuing push to make public services either generate revenue or at least not cost anything. This has led to serious degradation in all kinds of services - USPS, FDA, your local fire department, etc. One notable exception is of course the military, but we really don't need that much killing power. Then there's our militarized police forces. We don't need that kind of police force, either.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:18 AM on March 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


RedLoop, my point was (and maybe this wasn't what you were saying) is that a lot of people seem to be saying that things like bloated bureaucracies only happen in government endeavours. The private medical insurance system in the US is a refutation of that. It's more just something that seems to happen when humans do big things.

I'm totally with you that government shouldn't do things stupidly. But I don't think governments by their nature have to do things stupidly.
posted by Trochanter at 7:48 AM on March 8, 2012


Nah, that wasn't what I was saying.

Government may be slightly more prone to bloat simply because most of the layers of bureaucracy are put there as safeguards, where business (in general) wants to streamline and get away with murder. Large businesses certainly can get bloated, though.
But of course because business wants to get away with stuff is one of the reasons why we have all these safeguards. Some of them end up being redundant, obsolete, or poorly made, and that's when they're dumb. I think bureaucracy is more burdensome to government than to business, but it's a necessary evil. When I said I'd like to think it's possible to streamline government, I mean I'm pretty sure it's possible but very difficult to somehow make a number of laws and regulations function more efficiently and make it easier for everyone to comply. Till then, we've got what we've got; I think it's pretty stupid that so many people want to take a hatchet to government when it just needs a little nip-and-tuck.

And maybe some lipo.
posted by Red Loop at 3:55 PM on March 8, 2012


“they are hardly living a life of leisure” | Metafilter

“hardly the means for a life of leisure” | Toronto Life
posted by boost ventilator at 5:06 PM on March 22, 2012


Government may be slightly more prone to bloat simply because most of the layers of bureaucracy are put there as safeguards, where business (in general) wants to streamline and get away with murder. Large businesses certainly can get bloated, though.

I've worked in private industry and in a public research university. We frequently say in academe that we are spending the public's money so we can't spend it frivolously or inefficiently. Never once heard anyone in private industry say we couldn't buy an expensive dinner, or frivolous sway, or fly first class because we had to spend the shareholder's money wisely. In my experience, publicly funded efforts have more pressure to be efficient and wise in spending. If a company is flush, you should see the bloat that occurs.

And I'll second the bureacracy equivalence. Once an organization reaches a certain size, you're gonna have a bloated bureaucracy. The folks at the top want control and the only way to achieve it is through formal procedures, i.e., a bureacracy.
posted by Mental Wimp at 10:54 AM on March 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


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