The View From The Top
September 12, 2017 8:58 AM   Subscribe

What do the rich think of the world? "When I used the word “affluent” in an email to a stay-at-home mom with a $2.5 million household income, a house in the Hamptons and a child in private school, she almost canceled the interview, she told me later. Real affluence, she said, belonged to her friends who traveled on a private plane." What The Rich Won't Tell You - how the wealthy view themselves by Rachel Sherman (NYT). Meanwhile, "Dream Hoarders", a new book by Richard Reeves making the lofty claim that the real drivers of inequality are the upper middle class, is being savaged by critics.
posted by The Whelk (133 comments total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
 
$6 bread isn't obscene. 99 cent bread is obscene.
posted by clockwork at 9:05 AM on September 12 [26 favorites]


What's amazing us that the people that own us all and are ruining the planet are just so fucking petty and small and have such a shit appreciation of pretty much anything. They don't enjoy a single bit of it while they are choking the life out of the rest of us.
posted by Artw at 9:11 AM on September 12 [111 favorites]


Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.
posted by Going To Maine at 9:14 AM on September 12 [3 favorites]


Meanwhile, "Dream Hoarders", a new book by Richard Reeves making the lofty claim that the real drivers of inequality are the upper middle class, is being savaged by critics.

And well it should be. I'm in the 90% and live in Colorado. I can show you properties around here that even if I made 5x what I made now, I still couldn't afford. I have a comfortable enough life with some newer cars and whatnot, but... this is all predicated on me and my wife remaining healthy enough to work. There isn't any security in our position at all.

If you posit that it takes money to make money, what you are really saying is that money acts like mass. It has gravity, and attracts other mass. This is why trickledown cannot work, and the 1% will continue to accumulate wealth.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 9:15 AM on September 12 [43 favorites]


Man, I don't even know what to do with this information. They all seem to talk like they are trapped in this life that was not of their choosing, but there's an easy way out here, folks. There are no shortage of organizations and individuals that will take all your money, if you find having so much to be so annoying and uncouth. Send your kids to public school, keep a cool million in a trust if it makes you feel better and just, as they say, let it go. Or, yanno, continue to disingenuously wring your hands. Whatevs.
posted by soren_lorensen at 9:18 AM on September 12 [80 favorites]


The dirty secret of the modern world is that isolated Warren Buffet types are of much less concern than the teeming pastel herd of the upper-middle class, who are constantly twirling between various extremes of 1) keeping up with the Joneses, 2) fuck-you-got-mine, 3) love me I'm a liberal/evangelical/whatever, and 4) holy fuck I can't afford this lifestyle
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:19 AM on September 12 [16 favorites]


I read that first article yesterday and the thing that got me is, the people who they're hiding price tags from are... their servants. So, like, they already know you have paid servants, because they're the servants. It seems a bit superfluous at that point to conceal your ability to buy six-dollar loaves of bread.
posted by XMLicious at 9:21 AM on September 12 [35 favorites]


A concept I find really useful in this context is marginal utility, and specifically the fact that money has diminishing marginal utility. That is: if $X is of utility 1 to you (in terms of buying so much food and shelter), then $2X has significantly less than twice the utility ... and it's progressive.

Example: if you are homeless, a $20 bill may buy you freedom from hunger and shelter for a night, or even two, depending how you spend it. If you're on a living wage, it represents maybe 1-2 hours' paid work — hardly not insignificant, but it's not life-changing or even day-changing. And if you're on a skilled professional's wage (say, $100,000 a year) it's what you earn in 90 seconds. Net difference picking up a $20 bill makes to your life is zero.

Conversely: if you have health coverage and get liver failure you go on the waiting list for a transplant organ. If you are a billionaire, like Steve Jobs, you can throw money at the problem but it will barely make a difference: histocompatible donor livers are still a scarce resource. (Jobs kept a Gulfstream on hot standby with a crew ready to go at 30 minutes notice for four months; this insane cost allowed him to register in three states, rather than one, so that when his immunological lottery win came up he could seize the prize—it cost him millions, and maybe extended his life by 3-36 months, but this was down to blind chance and it was a gamble that might well never have paid off.)

Anyway, my point is: someone on $2,500,000 a year does not feel ten times as well-off as someone on $250,000 a year and a hundred times as well-off as someone on $25,000 a year. They stop experiencing the pain of resource scarcity some time between $50,000 and $150,000 (houses, holidays, cars, and private health insurance become ticked checkboxes), but it's hard to notice the absence of a negative stimulus. And so you end up with the sincere apologetics of the hyper-rich, who lack the context to understand how appalling their complaints look to people at the other end of the poverty microscope.
posted by cstross at 9:21 AM on September 12 [168 favorites]


Anybody think this is just another front in the Trump-era war on the coastal elites?

I notice that the book under discussion aims for people who are college educated professionals, but not even close to being HENRYs.
posted by Sublimity at 9:21 AM on September 12 [3 favorites]


She gets to her point at the end:
These efforts respond to widespread judgments of the individual behaviors of wealthy people as morally meritorious or not. Yet what’s crucial to see is that such judgments distract us from any possibility of thinking about redistribution.....

Instead, we should talk not about the moral worth of individuals but about the moral worth of particular social arrangements.
I don't think there's anything particularly obscene about $6 bread. But there is something obscene about a society in which some people are massively wealthy and some people aren't scraping by. There's something obscene about a society where people think they have to be massively wealthy, because everyone who isn't massively wealthy is vulnerable to economic ruin if they get sick. We need to focus less on individual behavior and more on policy. That's her point.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 9:23 AM on September 12 [92 favorites]


Anybody think this is just another front in the Trump-era war on the coastal elites?

Speaking as a coastal elite, not really.

(*readies plan to design and market a hand made limited edition t-shirt run that says RAISE MY TAXES that retails for 5k*)
posted by The Whelk at 9:25 AM on September 12 [24 favorites]


If you posit that it takes money to make money, what you are really saying is that money acts like mass. It has gravity, and attracts other mass. This is why trickledown cannot work, and the 1% will continue to accumulate wealth.

Money does have mass. Interest compounds. That's the cleanest argument for redistribution/estate taxes there is.
posted by JPD at 9:26 AM on September 12 [18 favorites]


If you're that ashamed of your spending that you're peeling off labels so the housekeeper won't see, why not try assuaging your conscience by paying her better?
posted by Karmakaze at 9:26 AM on September 12 [150 favorites]


If you're that ashamed of your spending that you're peeling off labels so the housekeeper won't see, why not try assuaging your conscience by paying her better?

A-fucking-men
posted by thivaia at 9:29 AM on September 12 [30 favorites]


I'm in the 90% and live in Colorado. I can show you properties around here that even if I made 5x what I made now, I still couldn't afford.

What do you think this piece of evidence is intended to show? To make a conservative estimate, if you're in the 90%, the bottom twenty percent of households couldn't afford your lifestyle if they quintupled their income.

Too few of us are willing to stand up and admit that we're part of the problem, that we're holding too much wealth. It's always the next person up the ladder who is supposed to make changes. More people need to say, "I'm part of the problem and here's what I'm doing about it."
posted by Kwine at 9:36 AM on September 12 [21 favorites]


Unfortunately it looks like it will go the other way: they'll eventually buy iHouseKeeper and fire the real one because the robot will be cheaper overall and won't make you feel guilty. They might feel bad about firing their staff, but they'll get over it.
posted by Sangermaine at 9:37 AM on September 12 [5 favorites]


If you posit that it takes money to make money, what you are really saying is that money acts like mass. It has gravity, and attracts other mass.

What we need is a wealth-themed sequel to Katamari Damacy, in which a tiny-handed, golden-coiffed prince rolls a giant (and possibly completely hollow) ball of money around and eventually picks up trophy wives, office towers, and nationally elected offices.
posted by Strange Interlude at 9:40 AM on September 12 [16 favorites]


Too few of us are willing to stand up and admit that we're part of the problem, that we're holding too much wealth. It's always the next person up the ladder who is supposed to make changes. More people need to say, "I'm part of the problem and here's what I'm doing about it."

In some ways that's true, but in other ways the difference between the 1% and the rest of us vs between me (upper middle class) and the people below me on the income ladder is so vast that they are hard to compare.

So personally, I tip well, make donations and try to buy products that are on the fairer trade side of things, but I focus more on advocating for equality and supporting organizations that are working to build people power and change the wealth structures in this country.
posted by Emmy Rae at 9:46 AM on September 12 [11 favorites]


It's the fact that they value the bread (ha!) over the housekeeper that is the shameful thing they're hiding. They're not ashamed of the price, really. They don't want to call attention to it because they are afraid of having a conversation where they will have to own that, "I am choosing bread over your well being."

I recognize that kind of sneaky shit to avoid being noticed, because you feel guilty for what you're doing. From my own behavior. To an embarrassingly advanced age.
posted by Horkus at 9:46 AM on September 12 [34 favorites]


Boo to the idea these affluent rich people aren't eager to display their riches just because they sharpie the price tags (like their housekeeper cant just Google it, if they are that bothered).

Housing is the single easiest way to identify how much money you've likely got, and none of these people are living in a three bed semi like someone actually middle class would be. No amount of cheapo pushchairs in the hallway makes their wealth any less obscene or any less obvious.
posted by threetwentytwo at 9:51 AM on September 12 [1 favorite]


I wonder how many friends and family these folks have avoided helping by claiming they can't afford it? It seems like a cover for being dismissive to people they absolutely could help, if they wanted to.
posted by COD at 9:54 AM on September 12 [4 favorites]


If you're that ashamed of your spending that you're peeling off labels so the housekeeper won't see, why not try assuaging your conscience by paying her better?

Agreed - the penthouse couple who are not "wow" can also fix their problem by getting past the appearance of modesty (i.e., changing address so it doesn't say penthouse) to instead moving three floors down and giving the rest to charity - aka, actual modesty.

They don't want to call attention to it because they are afraid of having a conversation where they will have to own that, "I am choosing bread over your well being."

That, and they want to be able to say "sorry, I can't afford to pay you any more than that" if asked and have someone believe them.

This is not a feature of the 1% class - my starter home neighborhood which could be bought into by the 35-40% has a mailing list where most of the posts are complaining about how much laborers like snow removal and grass cost. I've seen the term "driven to the poorhouse" several times even though the people who show up in our neighborhood are, generally speaking, one day's work from being there.

It's that and how the city councillor should stop people from other neighborhoods (read: the teens from the public housing across the street) from biking on our streets because it makes people feel like they can't keep their garage doors open unattended. It's tone deaf privilege a fair ways down too.
posted by notorious medium at 9:57 AM on September 12 [18 favorites]


Nothing increases enthusiasm for radical socialism better than spending time around people with money.
posted by kevinbelt at 9:57 AM on September 12 [57 favorites]


I'm a little disappointed that the bread is only $6; that's the price of bread I look at but don't buy at the farmer's market. I was hoping the super rich had access to crazy breads I didn't know about.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 9:59 AM on September 12 [64 favorites]


I remember something pretty astute that Jason Pargin (a.k.a. David Wong) said on a podcast a while back, that we can each see our own socioeconomic class, and the one beneath our own, and the one above our own, and beyond that, people might as well be invisible to us.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:00 AM on September 12 [13 favorites]


If we could just get them to put some avocado on that bread maybe they'd have to move out of their penthouse, right?
posted by 7segment at 10:01 AM on September 12 [11 favorites]


Based on some of well-to-do people I know, I have to wonder if the real reason they hide prices from the help is so the help doesn't steal or vandalize their expensive stuff.
posted by TedW at 10:02 AM on September 12 [3 favorites]


It sure would have been interesting to hear what the housekeepers and nannies had to say about it. Oh well.
posted by mikewebkist at 10:03 AM on September 12 [53 favorites]


I was hoping the super rich had access to crazy breads I didn't know about.

So did they, and that's one reason they think their lives are normal, because they haven't unlocked the crazy breads* yet.

* Not to be confused with Little Caesar's Crazy Bread, which is accessible to broad range of socio-economic strata.
posted by He Is Only The Imposter at 10:04 AM on September 12 [34 favorites]


This reminds me that I have multiple wealthy coworkers who sell their house and then refer to themselves as homeless.

One continually used that word to describe his situation: he was renting an apartment in our city, owns a second home in a warmer place, and owns a cabin in a neighboring state. Every time he said it I would say "yes, you only own two homes and a property where you are building a home" but he never shut up or felt ashamed. He has also given several speeches on the impossibility of sharing a bathroom with his wife. He's not trying to be funny, he wanted us to feel bad for him that he had to share a bathroom with one person while they rented the apartment so that they could build their dream house.
posted by Emmy Rae at 10:05 AM on September 12 [16 favorites]


Six-dollar bread is obscene.

While to me six-dollar bread is outrageous, I'm really sickened by the next paragraph.

An interior designer I spoke with told me his wealthy clients also hid prices, saying that expensive furniture and other items arrive at their houses “with big price tags on them” that “have to be removed, or Sharpied over, so the housekeepers and staff don’t see them.”

As if the housekeepers and staff don't know that the clients spend a lot of money on shit. But the thing is, why do the clients feel so guilty and shameful? Really? For me, this exposes the real crux of the issue, the income inequity. And if the rich folks are paying their help generously as they ought to be and can afford to then why do they feel so fucking guilty?

And this too...

They described themselves as “normal” people who worked hard and spent prudently, distancing themselves from common stereotypes of the wealthy as ostentatious, selfish, snobby and entitled.

I'm not saying that well-to-do people don't work hard, but a lot of them fail to take into consideration and see that they have received many lucky breaks and inside opportunities that the vast majority of folks never have access to no matter how hard they bust their ass.
posted by strelitzia at 10:06 AM on September 12 [14 favorites]


The bread thing is being misinterpreted by nearly all of you.

Its not "I don't want them to know how much I pay for bread because I don't want them asking for more money"

Its

"I don't want them to know how much I pay for bread because I want them to think we are peers/have common interests" Its about the American desire for everyone to consider themselves middle class.
posted by JPD at 10:11 AM on September 12 [50 favorites]


If they can see themselves as hard workers and reasonable consumers, they can belong symbolically to the broad and legitimate American “middle,” while remaining materially at the top.

I will consider whether people with six-figure incomes - especially mid-to-high six figures - could be part of the "middle" when I stop knowing people with four-figure incomes.

If I start to actually contemplate the amount of unthinking advantages these people are wallowing in, I'll be filled with rage for the rest of the day.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 10:12 AM on September 12 [15 favorites]


I'm a little disappointed that the bread is only $6; that's the price of bread I look at but don't buy at the farmer's market. I was hoping the super rich had access to crazy breads I didn't know about.

I used to work for a restaurateur who had somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 restaurants along with dozens of fast food and other businesses. Their family had a chef and thus their bread was baked from scratch every morning.
posted by notorious medium at 10:15 AM on September 12 [5 favorites]


I'm a little disappointed that the bread is only $6; that's the price of bread I look at but don't buy at the farmer's market. I was hoping the super rich had access to crazy breads I didn't know about.

All you need to do is go to a nearby co-op and you can buy eight or ten dollar bread. I bought a loaf once as a treat (in fairness, it was a very large loaf of very dense unsliced rye and it lasted more than a week of thin sandwiches and toast) - it was pretty good, but not as good as home-made, tbh. Another scandal of the wealthy is how at least 50% of Rich Person Things aren't really that great*.

Again, this is all about economic polarization, so that working people can't access fairly ordinary things like clean streets, non-gross water, safe and decent quality food...even trees, bus shelters with benches in them, sufficient streetlights, safe housing - things that really should be baseline for all. I am constantly struck by how my part of town changes when you go past the Big Street two blocks from where I live. My neighborhood? Dirty streets, junk blowing into the yard all the time, cop cars, noise, industrial smells, everything is run down. By the time you're two blocks past the Big Street, all those things go away, and once you're six blocks past, everything is expensive. It's always interesting to come back to town from visiting family, because my return takes me from nicer parts of town to what must be one of the worst and most sordid bus stops in the city to my house.

There's a lot of good stuff in my neighborhood, and I could technically have afforded to live in the next-cheapest area. In any case, I still prize relative de-segregation over the other choices, since this is one of the few integrated areas in the city. But man, I wish we could get services that would really fix things.


*The best things are the kinds of things that well-off scientists tend to have, IME of visiting some. because those things tend to work and last. That's the critical distinction - if you're rich, you can buy junk if you want, but you can also buy something that functions consistently as it should and will last a long time. If you're not, you generally can't.
posted by Frowner at 10:15 AM on September 12 [14 favorites]


In my fifteen-year career as a pastor, I occasionally dealt with super-wealthy church members who felt a bit uneasy about conspicuous consumerism. The New Testament, in general, has a pretty dim view of rich people and a generally laudatory view of the poor, so you can't read very far without being hit over the head with some variety of "woe to rich!" Jesus isn't even born yet when Mary proclaims "He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty."

These various rich folks all had the same coping mechanism, which was choosing to believe that what Jesus condemned wasn't being rich, or spending tons of money on luxuries and fripperies, but being overly attached to the stuff you had. Somehow, in their mind, it was okay for two people to have a 10 bedroom house, five cars, and two vacation properties as long as you felt like you could give it up for a higher cause. "I like this stuff, and it's fun to have," they would say, "but I could give it all up tonight."

Invariably, I would respond, "I'm so glad to hear that. Let's do it! Let's sell it all! I know three excellent charities who are feeding starving people who are truly destitute, and they could do amazing things with the proceeds from just your extra homes and cars. Let's make some calls."

I think I had that conversation about eight times over the years. Got two takers, which is honestly more than I would have expected. They were both the least rich of the wealthy people I talked to. One sold a Lexus and bought a Honda, giving the extra money away. One sold some undeveloped property he inherited. So it happens, but the truly crazy rich held on to every last penny. Never got anywhere with them.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 10:18 AM on September 12 [223 favorites]


ArbitraryAndCapricious: We need to focus less on individual behavior and more on policy. That's her point.

Yeah, agreed. It's really very similar to the importance of understanding the distinction between personal-level racial bigotry and systemic, institutional racism. Personal bigotry or personal greed is bad, sure, but it's not where we have to focus our efforts if we really want to make things better. We have to look at institutional and policy choices. And sure, individual people's mindsets do affect policy choices, but judging people for individually being jackasses is sort of a distraction from the work of creating policy change.
posted by aka burlap at 10:22 AM on September 12 [12 favorites]


In terms of personal behavior, though: One thing I see a lot on a particular queer facebook page I follow is queer people, often people of color, who are broke and sick and asking for money. Now, I assume that some people are scammers or not being totally honest, but for [various reasons] I am pretty confident that most of those people are who they say they are and have the needs they say they have.

You can personally give people money. You can personally find needy strangers and give them money. You can give them $3 if that's what you can spare. Your personal daily behavior can make a real difference for individuals around you.

Middle class and rich people often do that whole "Oh, I never give money to people who are begging, I give money to [charity]" with the strong implication that this is the more moral and valuable course, and that the rest of us are just getting scammed and/or enabling people's drug habits. (Leaving out, of course, the parts of the donation to charity that go on overhead, and whether that overhead is reasonable or Red Cross-like, and leaving out the question of whether the charity is actually effective, which not all of them are.) My feeling is, why not, as the poet says, both? If someone is begging you for money and you can afford it, surely it's better to give than to harden your heart and walk by?

I will be honest, I like putting money in someone's hand (or paypal) and knowing that they themselves control the spending of it - it's not food stamps, they can buy tampons or soap or a cake or socks, or pay part of their rent, or buy their medication or a toy for their kid, or pay an overdue school bill without anyone cluck-clucking at them. I can't give everyone a UBI, but it's like my own personal little UBI. I also think that treating people equally is important - I get my paycheck, no one says "are you going to spend it prudently? did you really need another pair of shoes? is that cake really even good for you? and surely you're not buying [gasp] booze?" If someone asks for money and I can hand it over, it's a gift, it's for them to use well or badly just the same as the money I have is mine.

Some people are scammers, yeah, but IME most people are not. Some people are partially honest, in that maybe they need money for something more embarrassing or less explicable than a sandwich but they say "sandwich" because it's easier.

Those of us who have money to give ought to give more. We all ought to, including me.
posted by Frowner at 10:36 AM on September 12 [95 favorites]


The hardest part of exchanging money for happiness is knowing yourself well enough to avoid spending spectacular amounts of money on the wrong things. It would be much harder to be all twisted up in shame about the $6 bread if the $6 bread actually brought joy into your life.

I don't begrudge someone spending $40M to go to the International Space Station nearly as much as someone spending $40M on a yacht that they bought just to have a bigger yacht than the next guy. I would be happy to talk to exactly one of those people at a party about how awesome they are, despite our relative wealth gap being basically the same and both expenditures having negligible social value.
posted by allegedly at 10:37 AM on September 12 [2 favorites]


True, good point, Frowner.
posted by aka burlap at 10:47 AM on September 12


Honestly, $6 bread doesn't offend me. It's not how I would choose to spend my money, but it doesn't bother me. What bothers me is people who can afford nice houses and then won't vote to raise property taxes to pay for more classroom space so kids don't have to go to school in trailers.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 10:47 AM on September 12 [87 favorites]


Another scandal of the wealthy is how at least 50% of Rich Person Things aren't really that great.

YES, seriously. I have a relative who has a job in the sales office for some "high-end" condos that are selling for 5-10 million each, and one day my dad went to visit her to look at the place. He was a carpenter for years, and he said it was borderline offensive how shoddy the work was on everything. No care or craftsmanship at all-- just badly measured, badly constructed, thrown up and covered with low-grade gilt trash. And the sad thing is, no one living there even notices-- they can't actually tell the difference between a well-made home and a contractor's boondoggle.

They can afford to pay for quality, but instead they pay for the address and live in a place that is constructed with lower standards than most prefab houses. So pathetic.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 11:17 AM on September 12 [20 favorites]


A concept I find really useful in this context is marginal utility, and specifically the fact that money has diminishing marginal utility. That is: if $X is of utility 1 to you (in terms of buying so much food and shelter), then $2X has significantly less than twice the utility ... and it's progressive.

posted by cstross at 12:21 PM on September 12 [33 favorites +] [!]


@cstross , I am intrigued by your ideas and would like to sign up for your newsletter.

I feel the application of the concept of marginal utility is to reach a certain point of expense, and after that spend no more. So, for example, I try to spend $100/week on groceries for two people. I could put $200 in my cart, but I don't think that would be worth the value. However, if I tried to drop to $50/week.... ouch, I don't even want to think about that.

I wonder if there is a holistic, life-wide benchmark of marginal utility to help me calibrate my spending, and perhaps some "Best for the value" categories that I could shift spending into.

(And now I think I just re-invented the concept of Mr Money Mustache. )
posted by rebent at 11:21 AM on September 12 [7 favorites]


They stop experiencing the pain of resource scarcity some time between $50,000 and $150,000 (houses, holidays, cars, and private health insurance become ticked checkboxes)
The diminishing utility of money doesn't start suddenly at around $50,000 per year; it's a fairly smooth function, which in some places it clearly starts by as little as $5 per insecticide-treated bed net.

At the moment the marginal cost of preventing one of the hundreds of thousands of annual malaria deaths (two thirds of which are children under 5) appears to be currently between $4000 and $8000 - under $200 per year of life saved. That's not "houses, holidays, cars, and private health insurance" money, it's just "food, shelter, clothes, and toddlers much less likely to die in agony" money, which latter category, like the former, just feels like an unstated assumption about how the universe works unless you haven't got it.

Also notable: that's not a huge fund only accessible to the 1% if they'd be willing to live like average Americans. Even the larger estimates are exceeded by the difference between the PPP-adjusted median household income of the Australia vs Austria. For the average family there (or in the US, Canada, much of Northern Europe, parts of East Asia...) the price of not living like an "impoverished" average Central European family is likely 1, 2 dead-kids-per-year.

If we're interested in charity, this is great news! There's a corresponding saved-kids-per-year opportunity!

If we're interested in psychology instead, this is good news. There's no need to institute a catch-and-release program for plutocrats before we can understand selfishness; if "the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being", and if "every man always has handy a dozen glib little reasons why he is right not to sacrifice himself", then drawing our own line and examining our own reasons should be much more convenient, if perhaps much less comfortable.

If we're most interested in morality or theology, this may be nothing but distressing news. Few people seem too upset that "it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God", but I suspect most people, like me, imagined seeing the outcome from far above, not from up close.

I'd like to laugh about how people can be rich and not even realize it, but just because I'm not in the 1% (or the 10%...) in the USA doesn't mean I wouldn't be drowning in more irony than a Shyamalan movie.

"Rich people like, in magazines? On TV shows?"
"Walking around like regular people. They don't see poor people. They only see what they want to see. They don't know they're rich."
"How often do you see them?"
"All the time. They're everywhere."

What a thrilling story, we think. I can't wait to see one of them!
posted by roystgnr at 11:24 AM on September 12 [19 favorites]


I had a coworker at the end of the 1990s tech boom who *had* been a trades contractor, and was so horrified when (what then seemed like) Big Money came in and bought houses so shabby they had GAPS in them. His crew was proud that they could work round a complex house and come out within 1/4" of level; they got underbid by crews that didn't bother to make the sills or fgs rafter ties overlap at all.

What job, they said to each other, makes all that money with so much dumb? And having found out, he taught himself a bit of coding and joined MSFT. He was *great* to work with, planned ahead and didn't delude himself about what he had shown.

We visited a new boss in his new house in a new subdivision and nearly had to go out to the car and come back in again when we observed the keystone in the entry arch glued onto the front of the thin stone veneering.
posted by clew at 11:25 AM on September 12 [31 favorites]


They can afford to pay for quality, but instead they pay for the address and live in a place that is constructed with lower standards than most prefab houses. So pathetic.

That makes perfect sense though. The residence has nothing to do with needing shelter, its primary purpose is to signal their wealth. The address is the easiest way to do that. As I'm sure you know, good quality craftsmanship generally costs more, but not so much more than it's out of bounds for middle class folks.
posted by COD at 11:26 AM on September 12 [2 favorites]


rebent, another word to look up is "satisficing", kind of the opposite of FOMO.
posted by clew at 11:31 AM on September 12 [6 favorites]


In the same spirit as "Black Like Me," I'm thinking of writing a book wherein I come down from my lofty penthouse for a day and disguise myself as a poor person. "Peon Me."
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 11:56 AM on September 12 [1 favorite]


> "And if you're on a skilled professional's wage (say, $100,000 a year) [20 dollars is] what you earn in 90 seconds."

Assuming you work roughly 2000 hours a year, that'd be what you earn in 24 minutes, not 90 seconds.

You need to be earning around $1,600,000 a year before you're making 20 dollars every 90 seconds.
posted by kyrademon at 11:57 AM on September 12 [14 favorites]


I'm a little disappointed that the bread is only $6; that's the price of bread I look at but don't buy at the farmer's market. I was hoping the super rich had access to crazy breads I didn't know about.

Hence Marx's technical term: the lumpy-roll-etariat.
posted by Barack Spinoza at 12:00 PM on September 12 [15 favorites]


The diminishing utility of money doesn't start suddenly at around $50,000 per year; it's a fairly smooth function, which in some places it clearly starts by as little as $5 per insecticide-treated bed net.

It isn't even smooth, or even monotonic. If you are homeless, without any place to store savings, anything more than $100-200 is just going to attract trouble. Meanwhile real money is life changing.

I think it is incredibly valuable to explore this line of thinking though!
posted by Chuckles at 12:09 PM on September 12 [6 favorites]


So it happens, but the truly crazy rich held on to every last penny. Never got anywhere with them.

Well, sure. You don't get crazy rich by giving your money away!

Is it wrong that I'm picturing these people as Gollum?
posted by leotrotsky at 12:26 PM on September 12


I know several rich folks who have been really unwilling to describe themselves as "rich". Like, "oh, I have enough money - several million dollars - that I could retire and live comfortably but I'm not rich because I don't have full-time live-in servants." I'm not sure what it is that keeps people from admitting "yeah, I'm rich". I think it's the same thing that has beltway pundits claiming to be the salt-of-the-earth working class.
posted by rmd1023 at 12:33 PM on September 12 [3 favorites]


Another part of the problem is that most people define "rich" as "having enough money to not worry about the shit I have to worry about".
posted by He Is Only The Imposter at 12:44 PM on September 12 [15 favorites]


I think it comes down to that most people don't want to be hated, and especially not hated just because of what they have out or jealousy or whatever. There's just so much out there about Hating on Rich People, and people who have a certain amount of wealth don't want to be ever classified like that because you know... they want to be likable despite wealth.

There are of course people that don't hide the price tags. They flaunt at will. But from this article there seems to be a sizable portion of well to do people that have a certain amount of insecurity and guilt within. Whether this is rational or reasonable or not is besides the point. When it comes down to it they can't be the ones themselves to ease their insecurity by giving or living a more modest lifestyle.

Even if you have millions of dollars you're not forced to have a maid to hide your price tags from.
posted by xtine at 12:46 PM on September 12 [4 favorites]


I should add too, that for people that have wealth and don't want to be disliked, they always try to pass what they see as blame to those with more. Hence, the "I'm not rich, I don't have a private plane!" i.e.: I'm not the rich person you should hate, it's the private plane person.
posted by xtine at 12:50 PM on September 12 [6 favorites]


Some of this criticism of rich people reads like it is only the nouveau riche that you have a problem with. Denigrating the quality of the things they buy is missing the point, I think.
posted by soelo at 12:58 PM on September 12 [2 favorites]


On a related note, I saw this story in my FB feed just now.
posted by kevinbelt at 1:05 PM on September 12 [3 favorites]


Some of this criticism of rich people reads like it is only the nouveau riche that you have a problem with. Denigrating the quality of the things they buy is missing the point, I think.

I really don't mind people spending the money they have. Because the alternative is leaving it in a bank, in investments with that interest ticking away, exponentially sucking money away from people taking out loans to go to school and buying places to live.

The problem is the concentration of money in the first place.
posted by Zalzidrax at 1:19 PM on September 12 [1 favorite]


That Born Rich documentary got some press a little while back because of the Ivanka Trump parts, but it's actually not a bad watch (especially for a completely amateur documentary). I thought the differences in attitudes between new money, relatively new (like a few generations if that) money, and old money (like European royalty old) was really striking.

I think many of us have trouble looking honestly in the mirror when it comes to this stuff. An American household making $60k/year is objectively very rich ($32,400 puts you in the global 1%, and no, purchasing power parity still doesn't make someone making that poorer than average) but it's easy to not feel that way when you're making $60k and still lack a sense of independence or stability or even security. Plus, you can easily look around your community and see folks making more. But I imagine families making $200k or $300k have a very similar perspective on things - they also see folks making more, they also have difficult and stressful lives and specific problems that more money might solve. Unless you're truly extreme, satisfaction with what you have (given that we all swim in a pool of real, genuine problems and uncertainties) is really hard to reach.

I guess what I'm saying is, if you're wondering why people have trouble saying "I'm rich", take a look at whatever luxuries you enjoy (if you're here, definitely literacy and internet access to start) and wonder why you have trouble saying that yourself.
posted by mosst at 1:22 PM on September 12 [30 favorites]


the alternative is leaving it in a bank, in investments with that interest ticking away, exponentially sucking money away from people taking out loans

You do realize that it is that very same money that is loaned out, right? If there were no money in banks, there would be no money for loans.
posted by grumpybear69 at 1:22 PM on September 12 [5 favorites]


Also when we talk about the impact of individual spending decisions, this except quoted by Joseph Gurl in the gig economy thread was a total perspective-changer for me:
When I was 26, I went to Indonesia and the Philippines to do research for my first book, No Logo. I had a simple goal: to meet the workers making the clothes and electronics that my friends and I purchased. And I did. I spent evenings on concrete floors in squalid dorm rooms where teenage girls—sweet and giggly—spent their scarce nonworking hours. Eight or even 10 to a room. They told me stories about not being able to leave their machines to pee. About bosses who hit. About not having enough money to buy dried fish to go with their rice.

They knew they were being badly exploited—that the garments they were making were being sold for more than they would make in a month. One 17-year-old said to me: “We make computers, but we don’t know how to use them.”

So one thing I found slightly jarring was that some of these same workers wore clothing festooned with knockoff trademarks of the very multinationals that were responsible for these conditions: Disney characters or Nike check marks. At one point, I asked a local labor organizer about this. Wasn’t it strange—a contradiction?

It took a very long time for him to understand the question. When he finally did, he looked at me like I was nuts. You see, for him and his colleagues, individual consumption wasn’t considered to be in the realm of politics at all. Power rested not in what you did as one person, but what you did as many people, as one part of a large, organized, and focused movement. For him, this meant organizing workers to go on strike for better conditions, and eventually it meant winning the right to unionize. What you ate for lunch or happened to be wearing was of absolutely no concern whatsoever.

This was striking to me, because it was the mirror opposite of my culture back home in Canada. Where I came from, you expressed your political beliefs—firstly and very often lastly—through personal lifestyle choices. By loudly proclaiming your vegetarianism. By shopping fair trade and local and boycotting big, evil brands.

These very different understandings of social change came up again and again a couple of years later, once my book came out. I would give talks about the need for international protections for the right to unionize. About the need to change our global trading system so it didn’t encourage a race to the bottom. And yet at the end of those talks, the first question from the audience was: “What kind of sneakers are OK to buy?” “What brands are ethical?” “Where do you buy your clothes?” “What can I do, as an individual, to change the world?”

Fifteen years after I published No Logo, I still find myself facing very similar questions. These days, I give talks about how the same economic model that superpowered multinationals to seek out cheap labor in Indonesia and China also supercharged global greenhouse-gas emissions. And, invariably, the hand goes up: “Tell me what I can do as an individual.” Or maybe “as a business owner.”

The hard truth is that the answer to the question “What can I, as an individual, do to stop climate change?” is: nothing. You can’t do anything. In fact, the very idea that we—as atomized individuals, even lots of atomized individuals—could play a significant part in stabilizing the planet’s climate system, or changing the global economy, is objectively nuts. We can only meet this tremendous challenge together. As part of a massive and organized global movement.

The irony is that people with relatively little power tend to understand this far better than those with a great deal more power. The workers I met in Indonesia and the Philippines knew all too well that governments and corporations did not value their voice or even their lives as individuals. And because of this, they were driven to act not only together, but to act on a rather large political canvas. To try to change the policies in factories that employ thousands of workers, or in export zones that employ tens of thousands. Or the labor laws in an entire country of millions. Their sense of individual powerlessness pushed them to be politically ambitious, to demand structural changes.

In contrast, here in wealthy countries, we are told how powerful we are as individuals all the time. As consumers. Even individual activists. And the result is that, despite our power and privilege, we often end up acting on canvases that are unnecessarily small—the canvas of our own lifestyle, or maybe our neighborhood or town. Meanwhile, we abandon the structural changes—the policy and legal work—to others.
posted by mosst at 1:35 PM on September 12 [88 favorites]


mosst: "An American household making $60k/year is objectively very rich ($32,400 puts you in the global 1%, and no, purchasing power parity still doesn't make someone making that poorer than average) but it's easy to not feel that way when you're making $60k and still lack a sense of independence or stability or even security"

It is wrong to confuse "the global 1%" with "objectively very rich": poor Americans don't live in other countries and often have no reason to. Furthermore, it makes me angry that you'd pull this argument out which seems explicitly designed to bludgeon poor Americans with.
posted by TypographicalError at 1:46 PM on September 12 [22 favorites]


You do realize that it is that very same money that is loaned out, right? If there were no money in banks, there would be no money for loans.

That's not really how banking has worked for quite some time. (I mean, yes, technically zero money equals zero loans, but otherwise, you gotta get your mind around the concept of the fractional reserve.)
posted by praemunire at 2:22 PM on September 12 [5 favorites]


But I imagine families making $200k or $300k have a very similar perspective on things - they also see folks making more, they also have difficult and stressful lives and specific problems that more money might solve.

Yeah, no. It's true that most people's minds judge pleasure and deprivation at least partially on a relative scale, and that includes rich people as much as anyone. But I've meandered up and down the socioeconomic spectrum, from government cheese-eater to roughly the 2% and back down, and never once when I was in the 2% was there a question in my mind as to whether I was very well off indeed. Even though my job (and neighborhood) was such as to expose me fairly regularly to people doing even better. I used to mock my colleagues trying to persuade themselves they weren't. The stresses in my life that money could solve, I had enough money to solve--except the stresses concomitant with bringing in the money in the first place. (Admittedly, people liberated from that need are in a different realm.)
posted by praemunire at 2:32 PM on September 12 [11 favorites]


I would think that a citizen of classical Rome living in a windowless internal apartment with nine other people, who'd had a life expectancy in the twenties at birth, might also have been in the global 1% of their contemporaries.
posted by XMLicious at 2:39 PM on September 12 [3 favorites]


explicitly designed to bludgeon poor Americans with

I'm so sorry if it came across that way - nothing could be further from the truth. American (and other rich-country) poverty is freaking hard and it destroys lives and happiness, that's undeniable. Plus, I was explicitly trying to reference a rough middle class number ($60k household income) - though of course there's much more to wealth/stability/etc than just income. It's interesting that you see that argument as a bludgeon, though. Acknowledging people's privileges/wealth/advantages isn't a weapon or an insult - I'll be the first to acknowledge my own.

I also don't understand the argument that somehow global poverty doesn't affect poor Americans because they don't live in those places. You know even broke Americans are still benefiting from sweatshop labor and other exploitation every day, right?
posted by mosst at 2:43 PM on September 12 [4 favorites]


Broke Americans don't have the political power to stop those things from happening. This article is pointing out that, regardless of people's personal choices, a system which allows people working for pennies per day and people inheriting $50 million is not a just system. Even if the rich are not bad people and feel appropriately shameful about their wealth, that does not excuse the system. Bringing up people even worse off than Broke Americans is a derail at best.
posted by soelo at 2:48 PM on September 12 [14 favorites]


I hate hate hate that old, tired quip - "Poor Americans are really rich."

It is flat out wrong, for one, but also a nasty bit of propaganda intended to shame the poor into quietly accepting their exploitation.
posted by FakeFreyja at 2:56 PM on September 12 [55 favorites]


It's interesting that you see that argument as a bludgeon, though. Acknowledging people's privileges/wealth/advantages isn't a weapon or an insult - I'll be the first to acknowledge my own.

This type of argument is constantly used in conservative circles to mock/demean the demands for better/juster living conditions for the American poor or even lower middle class. If you weren't aware that you're spitting out rhetoric more commonly used in your racist uncle's Facebook meme about how Democrats are just jealous of the makers because after all the American poor often have TVs...well, now you are.
posted by praemunire at 3:10 PM on September 12 [25 favorites]


This article acts as if the NYT doesn't fetishize wealth to an enormous degree itself. The Real Estate section in particular is like reading fiction for me.
posted by sockermom at 3:29 PM on September 12 [16 favorites]


explicitly designed to bludgeon poor Americans with

FWIW I didn't read it that way at all. I thought you were just trying to explain -- not excuse-- a really common element of human economic psychology.

So using myself as an example, the years when I lived in basement studio in Brooklyn on a pre-tax salary of $20k, I didn't feel particularly rich because I could get a glass of potable water from inside that apartment instead of a well half a mile away. Or because I could use a modern toilet inside that same apartment instead of a latrine. Or because I had a whole bed to myself, instead of sharing with other people. Heck, one measure of poverty is the toothbrush index -- which starts with a family being too poor to own one.

Of course many people in the US are poorer than I was -- they have less money per year to cover more people. There are people in the US without indoor plumbing, or toothbrushes. But the point stands that you can be in the lower deciles of income in the US and not feel rich, even though you objectively are compared to poor people in other countries.

The argument about "not seeing people in other countries" is actually a great point, because in the same way poor people in the US aren't exposed to the poverty of other countries, middle class people in the US aren't exposed to poverty here. It's a segregated nation, by race foremost, but also class.

Now a fun rhetorical trick of Republicans is to cite relative global affluence as a reason to cut social spending. Nobody's poor in the US! Everyone has a refrigerator! This is obviously ludicrous and wasn't at all the point of the original comment, which in my reading simply served to make the point that most people anchor their own sense of economic well being by looking above them, not below. In fact there's a line in Liar's Poker, a memoir of Michael Lewis' brief stint as a trader on Wall St where after he gets his first bonus he briefly feels very rich, then, after he finds out what his colleagues are making, stops feeling quite so rich. His colleague tells him "you dont get rich in this business, you only attain new levels of relative poverty."

The key, of course, is the distinction between knowing you're [relatively] rich vs feeling rich. Most of us in the middle class and above know we're relatively rich, we just don't feel that way. The people hiding price tags know they're rich, they just don't feel that way. The guy who talks about being homeless while his house is being remodeled doesn't even know he's rich. It's just incredibly human and normal not to feel rich if you're anywhere south of a multi-millionaire. As long as you know you're fortunate and you do stuff to help people who aren't, not feeling rich doesn't make you an objectively terrible person.
posted by mrmurbles at 3:35 PM on September 12 [14 favorites]


"not seeing people in other countries" reminds me of Out of Sight, q.v.; which doesn't think "Broke Americans don't have the political power to stop those things from happening." (Doesn't think it will be easy; does think the average American would be better off afterwards.)
posted by clew at 4:48 PM on September 12


i keep thinking this discussion has to be factually easier. how hard is it to plot 1 std dev from the mean? if you're on the left, you're poor, in the middle - middle, and on the right, rich.

i know it's not a normal curve, but stats guys, please weigh in.

my totally made up estimate is 80k and up is rich.

anyone up for doing the math?
posted by j_curiouser at 6:20 PM on September 12 [1 favorite]


That seems like very simplistic math, j_curiouser. For one thing, you'd need to take into account wealth and debt, rather than just income. For another, cost of living varies a lot between different places in the US. For another, you'd have to think about family size and composition. If you're a couple with kids, you're going to have a lot more disposable income if you have a single 60K-a-year earner and a stay-at-home parent, rather than two $30,000-a-year earners and a huge daycare bill. I don't think you can come up with an easy number.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:37 PM on September 12 [5 favorites]


Rather than arguing about what is "rich", it seems easier to just talk about whatever specific privileges are in question, i.e. can you afford to own a home, can you afford health care, can you pay for a top-notch education for your children, do you have to work for a living, etc. Clearly, those privileges will vary depending on more than just income or assets.
posted by value of information at 7:07 PM on September 12


I'm not going to lie, I've spent $6 on bread. But I love bread. I recognize now that I have a problem.
posted by Toddles at 8:09 PM on September 12 [6 favorites]


i think coming up with a baseline measure that includes assets and income (all types) would be a start. sure, weigh it by geographical cost of living. the point is...i guess the point is i need to bring out the math...

going by household income >= $214,462 gets you in the top 5% of households. (ref is a little dated)

so if you are in a two income household and you each make 108k, you're a rich 5 percenter. not middle. rich. you earn more than 95% of the country. i am not saying 5% is the right number to define rich with. more like top 35...

i'll do some research.
posted by j_curiouser at 8:12 PM on September 12


sure, weigh it by geographical cost of living.

Here's a reference listicle of the salary you need to buy a home in the top 19 real estate markets in the US.

#19 is San Antonio where the median house price is $202k.

#1 is San Francisco where the median house price is $815k.

And here's the relative value of $100 across the US.

$100 in Florida/Oregon is $115 in Alabama and $88 in California.
posted by mrmurbles at 8:26 PM on September 12 [2 favorites]


I've literally never met a single person in my famously unaffordable NYC neighborhood who hides price tags from domestic employees. It's a shame, because the rest of the article is interesting, but that detail doesn't ring true and makes me skeptical of the author's work.

That being said, the discomfort is something I'm very familiar with, and for me, it's the absurdity of anyone having that much money, no wonder how nobly you try to spend it. It's certainly not a position I ever thought I'd be in, and I honestly hope that I'll never feel complacent about it.
posted by snickerdoodle at 9:03 PM on September 12 [1 favorite]


I asked my husband (works in finance dealing with people's retirement funds etc) what he considers to be wealthy, like, give me a dollar figure. He didn't give me a dollar figure, he said it basically boiled down to having assets which didn't include the home (you need somewhere to live), and having a large amount of savings. Generally in the millions.

The average person - even ones who made very good money - didn't qualify as wealthy because most of their cash went to living, paying down their mortgage etc and they weren't saving much. His wealthiest clients not surprisingly were retirees as their homes were generally paid off, kids raised and out of home and they now had freed up retirement cash to spend and little expenses. So basically if you can afford to lose your job and have enough savings to keep your home, have good health insurance and never have to work again, you're wealthy. If not, you're just like the rest of us!
posted by Jubey at 9:09 PM on September 12 [8 favorites]


So basically if you can afford to lose your job and have enough savings to keep your home, have good health insurance and never have to work again, you're wealthy. If not, you're just like the rest of us!

I understand what he is saying, that if you spend everything you earn, you aren't really free. But there is a big difference between being able to spend $200,000 a year and $20,000 a year even if you don't save a dime. They aren't just like the rest of us.
posted by JackFlash at 9:25 PM on September 12 [11 favorites]


Oh, I know, I just thought it was an interesting perspective from someone who actually manages wealth for a living. My own perspective is completely different - I grew up in a family of seven kids, barely scraping by, though my parents did their best. There was a lot of struggle. As an adult, these days, if our bills are paid, we can go out very occasionally for a date night and afford a holiday every now and again, well, feel I like Scrooge McDuck! That's pretty much my definition of wealthy, private jets be damned.
posted by Jubey at 9:36 PM on September 12 [2 favorites]


If you make low six figures early in your career you are starting out at twice the median income. If you have a partner in the same category you are young people with 5-6 times the national household income. You are really different from the average American. Even if the super-rich are also very different from you. Even if you live in an expensive coastal area. You are probably saving more per year than most people net in just your 401(k)s, and will relatively quickly feel "forced" to invest in a historically lucrative housing market because of the big tax advantages, while the limits this places on your cash flow causes you to compalin.

I certainly get why emotionally you don't feel rich or secure (FWIW I'm basically an older version of someone in that category) but if you look at the prospect of being forced to take a future around the median income level with fear, I feel you are not really in the same boat as the people already there. Reeves' book does sound stupid in many ways but I do think a lot of people in the top decile or quintile are in denial about the level of advantage they have.

Having put forth this argument to my peer group and knowing the responses, I was interested to learn that the mid-six to seven figure income types respond exactly the same way. The emotions are the same. I've said before the meritocracy is brilliant at convincing us we need to keep working and aren't quite secure, but I had no idea it was this good.
posted by mark k at 11:52 PM on September 12 [11 favorites]


I feel like it's this underground, unspoken fear that you're never ever REALLY secure*, even if you have BUCKETS of money combined with like ambient American cultural values of not flaunting wealth and sheer buying power. Cause being actually rich isn't a number per year cause money is fake, its forms of security. Even the secure don't actually feel secure.

Like who doesn't feel that way? You know who doesn't feel that way? The handful of people who own literally as much as every single other person in the country put together.

I mean DEAR GOD the only upside is that Dream Hoarders book exposing the hand of the upper class is trying to turn the upper middle class against each other which is so hilariously bad cause they depend on them relating and associating with the rich and not the people just under them whom they share way, way more with.

*Also "Having to think about my role and position in society is stressful, so I wont!"
posted by The Whelk at 12:02 AM on September 13 [2 favorites]


I never understood the outrage about 6 dollar bread or people spending hundred of thousands for non essential items (like holiday homes, yachts etc).

If I have money I can basically do two things with it: multiply it by investing or spending it.

If I pick the multiply route (like buying shares / income-generating assets etc) the net result is siphoning money out of someone else to my account.

If I decide the buy a million dollar yacht the net result is the people that built the yacht (from the CEO to the guy doing interior carpeting and the lady working in the office) will siphon the money from my account. So my 6$ bread instead of 0.99 will result in someone down the bakery chain to improve his condition - maybe he will get a pay raise after all if business is doing so well.

Capitalistic system by definition have wealth inequality as the money must flow towards the capital to make the system work. So we should be glad that some of this money is flowing back.

I dont understand how having all the rich people behaving like mid class (same car for 10 years, camping holiday, 3BR in the burb) would improve things.

Unless you want to imply that wealth per se is wrong and a communist society is much more "fair" but I'm not sure about that.
posted by elcapitano at 2:32 AM on September 13 [1 favorite]


I never understood the outrage about 6 dollar bread or people spending hundred of thousands for non essential items (like holiday homes, yachts etc).

If I have money I can basically do two things with it: multiply it by investing or spending it.


I think remembering option 3, "give it to charity/someone who needs it more urgently" makes it a bit clearer.

Unless you want to imply that wealth per se is wrong and a communist society is much more "fair" but I'm not sure about that.

In a word, yes, but you don't even have to go that extreme. More like, let's redistribute enough wealth that nobody is literally starving or homeless before we even look at whether it's ethical to buy that third property. Because it isn't, not in that context. You know, the context in which we actually live.
posted by Dysk at 3:08 AM on September 13 [29 favorites]


I feel like it's this underground, unspoken fear that you're never ever REALLY secure*, even if you have BUCKETS of money combined with like ambient American cultural values of not flaunting wealth and sheer buying power. Cause being actually rich isn't a number per year cause money is fake, its forms of security. Even the secure don't actually feel secure.

Yes, this. If you are working for a wage, even an obscenely high wage, you are not secure in America. We have a non-functional government safety net and what used to be there as a corporate safety net, pensions, are only available to boomers. I have worked at one company that had not phased out the pension, and they kept making it worse for new employees. The rest of us are trying to save with inadequate 401ks, worrying about healthcare costs and what a retirement home might go for in 30 years. I am definitely rich in terms of income, and now I understand why no one "feels rich" (unless they are mindlessly spending cash). Feeling rich is feeling secure, and that requires massive savings - Jubey's definition sounds right.

I tried to read Dream Hoarders because I agree with his basic premise, those of us in the educated upper class are trying to preserve opportunity for our children. And I really care about inequality and want to fix this issue in America. But his tactic of blaming individuals in that class for the issue is wrong. This is a systemic and political issue, and we need the government to raise taxes and improve the safety net for everyone. We need universal healthcare, truly equal and universal public education, and I would like to see UBI. Me deciding to send my kid to a crappy school or sending some money to a charity, or hiding tags is not a solution. I'm starting to spend some money on politicians instead.
posted by rainydayfilms at 3:22 AM on September 13 [25 favorites]


This is a systemic and political issue, and we need the government to raise taxes and improve the safety net for everyone. We need universal healthcare, truly equal and universal public education, and I would like to see UBI. Me deciding to send my kid to a crappy school or sending some money to a charity, or hiding tags is not a solution.

cf. trying to solve environmental crisis solely by shaming people over their individual carbon footprint and recycling habits....it's good for people to exert themselves along these lines, but rich liberals buying "carbon offsets" etc. isn't going to do the trick by itself.
posted by thelonius at 3:55 AM on September 13 [4 favorites]


Median home price is Manhattan is 1.2. and the housing stock is heavily skewed to smaller places. Hard to get data on two bedrooms but median rent for a two bed in Manhattan is 4500 . Assume a 3% rental yield on that and you are looking at the average two bedroom at 1.8 ish? And that's probably for around 1000 square feet. So the CoL is very very high here.
posted by JPD at 3:58 AM on September 13 [1 favorite]


so this isn't the oscar wilde quote i was looking for (i was looking for the one where he declares that we must expropriate and redistribute wealth because what the rich do with it is so tacky) but it's pretty good so i'll post it anyway:
In fact, property is really a nuisance. Some years ago people went about the country saying that property has duties. They said it so often and so tediously that, at last, the Church has begun to say it. One hears it now from every pulpit. It is perfectly true. Property not merely has duties, but has so many duties that its possession to any large extent is a bore. It involves endless claims upon one, endless attention to business, endless bother. If property had simply pleasures, we could stand it; but its duties make it unbearable. In the interest of the rich we must get rid of it.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 5:24 AM on September 13 [5 favorites]


Wilde's The Soul Of Man Under Socialism starts with the half joking premise that a truly civil and equitable soceity would do away with charity, cause charity is boring and time consuming, and then leads you down the path of ....actually yes having to depend on individual charity and choices is tedious and ineffectual and we need a state actor to step in and be responsible for making charity unnecessary.
posted by The Whelk at 6:06 AM on September 13 [8 favorites]


This is a systemic and political issue, and we need the government to raise taxes and improve the safety net for everyone. We need universal healthcare, truly equal and universal public education, and I would like to see UBI.

With a robust safety net, I would feel more comfortable and secure at a fraction of my current salary than I currently do as a decently paid professional. The people the article profiles are way richer than I am (I will never get even close to those levels of wealth), but a good safety net would give me a lot of the security that right now only vast wealth can buy you.

It's probably simplistic, but I think of it in terms of what if disaster struck -- health problems, or you lose your job and can't find a new job for a long time, if ever, say. Can your wealth or the safety net assure that you keep a roof over your head, keep food on the table, and continue to access health care? Answering no to that (as most of us probably would) is what makes me feel insecure; for people lower on the income scale, that insecurity is multiplied many times over and is a daily issue, not a more abstract "what if" kind of worry.

In comparison, the status issues and stresses of the wealthy in the article seem like muck less stressful things to have to worry about.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:22 AM on September 13 [21 favorites]


the thing wilde convinced me of this time reading through soul of man under socialism is that on the whole donating to revolutionary socialist organizations is sounder praxis than donating to groups (no matter how well-intentioned) that aim at anything short of the overthrow of capitalism.

which is sorrrta awkward cause basically since mccarthey revolutionary socialist organizations in the U.S. have tended to be kind of ridiculous. The rise of DSA is definitely a hopeful phenomenon, though.

(also though this read-through I was struck by how deeply optimistic & joyful Soul of Man Under Socialism is. like check this shit out:
Is this Utopian? A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity lands there, it looks out, and, seeing a better country, sets sail. Progress is the realisation of Utopias.
like, dang, that's some inspirational writing there)
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 6:29 AM on September 13 [3 favorites]


If I decide the buy a million dollar yacht the net result is the people that built the yacht (from the CEO to the guy doing interior carpeting and the lady working in the office) will siphon the money from my account. So my 6$ bread instead of 0.99 will result in someone down the bakery chain to improve his condition - maybe he will get a pay raise after all if business is doing so well.

The best way to create multiplier effects and stable industry is to have lots of people spending money lots of ways. If you buy your yacht, you employ a small number of specialists in one part of the country, and it's only one transaction - maybe yacht demand will fall off next year and all the yachtists will be out of work. When well-paid workers can upgrade to the $4 bread, lots of them are buying it from lots of bakeries, it's a consistent purchase that is going to be stable over time and there are a lot of data points about demand. So, for instance, if people are constantly selling out of the oat bread while the flax bread languishes on the shelf, they know to make more oat bread and less flax. Whereas with only a few yacht data points, they don't know if gold plated toilets or ostrich-feather carpets are the next big thing.

What's more, if you buy your yacht, you may be paying good wages to the yacht specialists, but you're not creating an opportunity for there to be many, many well-paying jobs. The yacht specialists are few in number, and they're probably behaving a lot like you - buying a mix of luxury and exploitation at a scale too small to be useful.

More people spending in stable patterns across the country and over time is what's needed, not the mistaken notion that a handful of very rich people buying targeted luxury items is good for the economy.
posted by Frowner at 7:02 AM on September 13 [13 favorites]


Marginal consumption works both ways no? I.e. the multiplier effect is a curve. If the government makes it so after taxes a middle class person has 10% more money, they probably increase their consumption by 9% (I'm making up these #s but you get the idea), If the Government makes it so someone in the top end of the distribution sees their after tax income up 10%, they might spend 7% or 8%. The theory behind "trickle down" was essentially the opposite, and empirically that doesn't work.
posted by JPD at 7:10 AM on September 13 [3 favorites]


It's not the ultimate solution to everything, but rich people buying stuff - even unnecessary stuff - is still better than if they hoard all their money. If you don't think yachting (and recreational boating in general) are big business, come visit South Florida. It's not just the boat-builders it keeps in business, but the people who work on the boats, the people who work at the marinas, the people who supply food and drinks for the boats, the people who work at the hotels people stay in when they get off their boats... One might even say that a rising tide lifts, well, you know.
posted by Daily Alice at 8:26 AM on September 13 [1 favorite]


If I decide the buy a million dollar yacht the net result is the people that built the yacht (from the CEO to the guy doing interior carpeting and the lady working in the office) will siphon the money from my account. So my 6$ bread instead of 0.99 will result in someone down the bakery chain to improve his condition - maybe he will get a pay raise after all if business is doing so well.

You should do some reading about trickle-down economics and the last 40 years of economic growth and come back to this thread because that's the pillar you are standing on here. Spoiler alert - theory has not led to it actually happening in practice because businesses doing well =/= employees getting paid more. Shareholders and owners have opted to keep the vast majority of it for themselves because that's what they'll do when given the power to make that choice.
posted by notorious medium at 8:43 AM on September 13 [9 favorites]


It's not the ultimate solution to everything, but rich people buying stuff - even unnecessary stuff - is still better than if they hoard all their money.

This is what's known as a false dichotomy - there are things you can do with money other than hoard or our spend it on yourself.
posted by Dysk at 8:50 AM on September 13 [1 favorite]


This commentary from Resource Generation (of which I am a member) about that price-tag-hiding urge resonated with me.

Hiding or staying silent about our wealth and class empowers a deeply unjust and racist economic system. The truth is, the compulsion to hide your class or wealth isn’t about politeness at all; it’s your gut telling you that your lifestyle (being able to afford healthcare, education, and avoid debt, etc. in addition to multi-million dollar houses and expensive vacations) is the result of systemic economic injustice and the exploitation of poor and working-class communities. By talking openly about class, wealth, and systemic policies that keeping wealth in the hands of the overwhelmingly white upper and ruling classes, members of Resource Generation are calling out the myth that economic security is an achievable American Dream for anyone that ‘pulls themselves up by their bootstraps.’ It’s not.
posted by naoko at 8:56 AM on September 13 [13 favorites]


Sure. I'm not suggesting that frivolous luxury spending is morally unambiguous. I am not a yacht-type person, but I will cop to being rich, as in 5% not 1%, but still - rich. One thing that I do with money is spend it on music lessons for myself and my son - I take guitar lessons, he takes drum lessons and organ lessons. Nobody needs music, and arguably the few hundred dollars per month this costs should be buying malaria nets or stocking food pantries. But I'm also putting money directly in the pockets of working musicians, money that they can use to buy stuff they need. Would the world be a better place if nobody could make a living playing music? Or building boats? Or making jewelry, or art, or all the unneeded stuff that isn't the bare necessities for survival?
posted by Daily Alice at 8:59 AM on September 13 [1 favorite]


Would the world be a better place if nobody could make a living playing music? Or building boats? Or making jewelry, or art, or all the unneeded stuff that isn't the bare necessities for survival?

All of those things would be supported by poorer people having more of the resources that you do in their pockets. I grew up dirt poor and can tell you the overwhelming majority of people showing up to beat poetry slams, local live music shows, buying jewelry from local artists, and going to small art openings are other artists, jewelers, and the like were other poor people.

Further, the level to which artists struggle for basic subsistence would be lessened if the basic safety net was funded by the excesses of the 5% like yourself. Imagine a world where, because it's all you can afford, your child had to choose one of the two instruments they are cultivating but their teacher had health care and a basic income guaranteed.

The only difference between the poor supporting art and you doing it is - it would be them reaping the rewards of lessons and not you, which is the crux of what most rich people actually struggle with.
posted by notorious medium at 9:25 AM on September 13 [12 favorites]


So here's the thing, Daily Alice. In a better world, you would probably have less disposable income. If your money comes from a salary, you might earn less, because wages would be redistributed so that people at the top earned less and people at the bottom earned more. You'd probably pay higher taxes. Your investments might pay less, because money would be redistributed from shareholders to workers. But you'd still have plenty of money, and you might choose to spend some of that on music lessons, which would be great. The issue isn't the music lessons. It's the totally-out-of-whack distribution of wealth.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 9:26 AM on September 13 [3 favorites]


I'm obviously not making myself clear. To be clear, yes, I support a world in which I have less disposable income, in which rich people pay more taxes. I would be thrilled with universal health care, universal basic income, and fewer frivolous luxuries for me. To that end, I advocate, volunteer, contribute, vote. I want a fundamental change in the way the economy is structured - and I don't believe I'd be worse off if that happened, I'd be better off, and so would we all. I just don't think that refusing to buy stuff and only existing on the bare necessities is a useful means to that end. I want a world in which there's enough for everyone to have a little more than the basics.

Imagine a world where, because it's all you can afford, your child had to choose one of the two instruments they are cultivating but their teacher had health care and a basic income guaranteed.


Oh the tragedy, I can't imagine having to do without an iota of my wonderful existence so that those terrible poor people could eat! My imagination is strained by the very thought of spending less money on stuff. Come on. Now I see why the people in the article are getting so defensive, and I'm nowhere near where they are on the economic scale. Clearly anybody who admits to being well-off is Scrooge McDuck wallowing in a pool of gold coins while sneering at those below.
posted by Daily Alice at 10:01 AM on September 13 [5 favorites]


Clearly anybody who admits to being well-off is Scrooge McDuck wallowing in a pool of gold coins while sneering at those below.

No it isn't - you made a fundamental argument of trickle-down economics that has been plausibly refuted time and time again - that without the rich spending the way they do, how will the poor possibly survive? Without yacht purchases, what will happen to people building yachts? The answer is - if we take yacht money away from yachtist and put it into a social safety net, then people can do different things to get by than build yachts.

You self-identified as the 5%. I grew up dirt poor but have had much more economic success than my parents did. We're probably a notch below you now in the 10% range. However, I'm not about to make an argument that somehow our consumptive spending is putting money directly in the pockets (your words) of people as though it's some benevolent act. That's why people are sounding off - it's completely tone-deaf.
posted by notorious medium at 10:17 AM on September 13 [5 favorites]


[One comment deleted. Let's keep it cool in here, the sarcastic stuff doesn't help anything, and this doesn't need to get personal.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:51 AM on September 13


yeah the sort of fundamental question raised by poverty is whether or not it's ethical to have lots when other people are dying for lack of stuff (food, shelter, health care). I don't think it is. It's shitty that it's not ethical, because having lots of stuff is nice, but that doesn't make it less ethical.

I don't respond well to arguments about whether or not gifted rich children get to play all the instruments they're gifted in and whether it's like a fundamental insult to human excellence if they're not. One thing that even the broken state capitalist system of the USSR got better than the US ever did is the cultivation of specifically musical talent among anyone with the potential, and not just rich kids.

As a polemical point I'd like to broach the possibility that wealth itself is an impediment to human excellence; that art produced by people radically more privileged than others around them will be marked by that, and not in a good way. I've sort of placed a bet, both in my value systems and my career choices, that equality tends to breed excellence, with inequality tending instead to inculcate a type of moral laziness that turns to both intellectual and aesthetic laziness.

This is of course all terribly sad, since we appear to be experiencing life in a system wherein thriving means establishing inequality and then profiting from it.

Prolly the thing for rich folks to do with regard to the musical education of their children is encourage them to take up democratic instruments and styles — you can still get a good-enough guitar for cheap from a thrift shop if you spend some time looking, and you can self-teach punk and riot grrl songs off of youtube — and then use the savings to tithe more to organizations devoted to ending capitalism, patriarchy, and white supremacy.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:46 AM on September 13 [5 favorites]


> It's not the ultimate solution to everything, but rich people buying stuff - even unnecessary stuff - is still better than if they hoard all their money.

you know, though, all that aside there's a more efficient solution: expropriation and redistribution. a million previously poor kids and parents take many more music lessons than a hundred rich kids and parents.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:49 AM on September 13 [6 favorites]


My wife and I have four aging parents and three very young kids to think about. At some point the other shoe may drop and one of the parents may require very very expensive long-term care. The single biggest reason we work as hard as we do is so that we can afford to pay for long-term care at the same time as we are raising our family. This requires trying to save as much as possible while paying off six-figure student loans. Our community is great and one could have a wonderful lifestyle on very little money taking advantage of public parks, libraries, and very affordable music and arts scenes. The risk is is that some point reality catches up if you have dependents to care for. I can't imagine what it would be like not to be able to prepare for future catastrophes. It really feels like we are caught in the vice of capitalism but I don't see another choice.
posted by fraxil at 12:14 PM on September 13 [2 favorites]


> My wife and I have four aging parents and three very young kids to think about. At some point the other shoe may drop and one of the parents may require very very expensive long-term care.

yes perhaps this is a problem that can't be solved through individual action but can instead only be solved by banding together to push for the state to cover all costs universally out of taxes in some way.

> I can't imagine what it would be like not to be able to prepare for future catastrophes.

but what if I told you it's possible to not have to prepare for future catastrophes cause the state steps in to cover you against them bet that'd be pretty great wonder if anyone's set up that sorta system anywhere.

also though you should probably try to imagine more and better. most people don't have to imagine the situation you're describing; they're living it. we're living it.

> It really feels like we are caught in the vice of capitalism but I don't see another choice.

no other individual choice.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:51 PM on September 13 [9 favorites]


all that aside there's a more efficient solution: expropriation and redistribution

But that's not something that people on an individual scale can do. A single rich person can't move the needle much. Thrifting and refusing to pay a music teacher so you can donate more to some organization you hope can change the system is not a home run. You don't guarantee change, you deprive poorer people access to goods on the thrifting market, and it's not like music teachers on the whole are overpaid and won't miss the income.

I'm right around the median income for the Bay Area. And I can make a lot of excuses that it's not rich, but it certainly gives me a lot of privilege that other people in the US don't have. I'm actually downwardly mobile, my grandfather come from oil and gas money, and my dad is the last of the trust fund kids. It's a pretty solidly middle class lifestyle in a low cost state and he has a lot of anxiety it won't last through his lifetime. But it's unearned and a lot of privilege.

Real talk: I have a lot of anxiety about coming from money, even if it wasn't nearly as flashy as the Times window into the rich. And I think it is deserved, as highlighted in naoko's excellent comment. But treating it in such an individualistic way is maladaptive. When you are agonizing over every six dollar loaf of bread, it's paralyzing. When you're convinced you never deserve taking care of yourself, you become consumed with yourself. You do stupid things to manage your feelings without fundamentally changing anything. When you're convinced you don't deserve any luxuries, you see the small luxuries of other people as evidence they don't need assistance.

Part of that anxiety means that I fully believe anyone who makes less than me shouldn't feel a lick of pity for me. But I know that having to put a ton of head space and genuine resources battling that anxiety means that I have less to give for supporting liberal causes. And it becomes a social issue because while we know the cure is collective action, we're still relying on rhetoric that relies on blame, guilt and individual responsibility.
posted by politikitty at 12:57 PM on September 13 [5 favorites]


Metafilter: access to crazy breads I didn't know about
posted by theorique at 1:27 PM on September 13 [2 favorites]


It's not the ultimate solution to everything, but rich people buying stuff - even unnecessary stuff - is still better than if they hoard all their money.

I'm not an economist, but if rich people hoarded all their money, wouldn't wealth inequality decrease as a result of inflation?
posted by thedamnbees at 1:36 PM on September 13


probably not. Because you'd have very low inflation. Its real rates relative to growth that matters if you are a Piketty fan.
posted by JPD at 1:39 PM on September 13


Daily Alice: "yes, I support a world in which I have less disposable income, in which rich people pay more taxes. I would be thrilled with universal health care, universal basic income, and fewer frivolous luxuries for me. To that end, I advocate, volunteer, contribute, vote. I want a fundamental change in the way the economy is structured - and I don't believe I'd be worse off if that happened, I'd be better off, and so would we all. I just don't think that refusing to buy stuff and only existing on the bare necessities is a useful means to that end."

You've said that your gross household income is in the top 5% but less than 1%, so somewhere between ~$160k and ~$380k, if your self-assessment is accurate. Has anyone here actually suggested that you or anyone else should be choosing to exist only on the bare necessities? And did they define what "bare necessities" would look like?

I saw one person suggest that your country would be a better place if there were higher taxes in place to fund a universal basic income and universal healthcare, even if that meant people in your income bracket could no longer afford for their children to take two different types of music lessons, and you got upset and defensive. I can understand having an emotional knee-jerk reaction to someone effectively saying "Hey, your income is higher than it should be.", but you've said that you agree with that assessment. If the Universal Basic Income and Universal Healthcare are things that you support and would like to see in place, and that you are in fact fighting for with your time and money (and no one here could know that about you until you after you said so), why are you feeling angry and defensive enough to say this:

"Now I see why the people in the article are getting so defensive, and I'm nowhere near where they are on the economic scale. Clearly anybody who admits to being well-off is Scrooge McDuck wallowing in a pool of gold coins while sneering at those below."
posted by Secret Sparrow at 2:07 PM on September 13 [1 favorite]


Sigh. If you can't figure out why someone with a high income could find reasonably find reason to be defensive about things said about them in this thread, you should read it again.
posted by JPD at 2:21 PM on September 13 [5 favorites]


I feel like it's this underground, unspoken fear that you're never ever REALLY secure*, even if you have BUCKETS of money combined with like ambient American cultural values of not flaunting wealth and sheer buying power. Cause being actually rich isn't a number per year cause money is fake, its forms of security. Even the secure don't actually feel secure.

Like who doesn't feel that way? You know who doesn't feel that way? The handful of people who own literally as much as every single other person in the country put together.


Honestly, I'm not even sure the absolute richest people in the world feel that secure. The Koch brothers keep dumping millions upon millions of dollars into political ventures whose primary objective seems to be keeping the world safe for billionaires and Michael Bloomberg was threatening to run for president if he saw a slate of candidates that might materially threaten his interests. Some of that is an even more perverse modern spin on noblesse oblige and I'm sure some of it is a bottomless thirst for self-aggrandizement, but even multibillionaires keep thinking they need to meddle in politics to keep their money flowing.
posted by Copronymus at 2:55 PM on September 13


This talk of peeling off labels and rubbing out price tags with a Sharpie is really confusing to me. I've never seen a piece of furniture with a price tag fixed to it, it's either on a sticker or a cardboard tag on a loop of string. The first thing I do when I buy a five dollar t-shirt is rip off the price tag, because otherwise it rubs against my neck. What kind of shit are they talking about where a loaf of bread has a price sticker on it? When they're talking about clothing, do they mean the brand label? Or are they buying $5000 dresses and suits that have been marked with a pricing gun? Do you not have barcodes in the US? What.
posted by turbid dahlia at 3:15 PM on September 13 [2 favorites]


but even multibillionaires keep thinking they need to meddle in politics to keep their money flowing.

This gets to the crux of the problem - people define 'secure' differently. I feel secure, at least as much as I ever have, if I've got s couple hundred quid in the bank. That will cover emergencies for months and months for me ('emergency' being defined as 'stuff that will leave me homeless, debilitated, dead, or hungry'). Any billionaire has that security always, and for the rest of their life, no meddling needed. However, much like the six figure income families who grow accustomed to sending their kids to private schools, ski holidays, second homes end up feeling poor, so the expectations of billionaires has inflated: you need to not just be able to eat, not just be able to keep practically boundless wealth which you couldn't hope to meaningfully spend on personal consumption in a dozen lifetimes, but you need to keep the millions rolling in. Anything less is undignified or unacceptable, or insecure.

Nobody feels safe because everybody gauges how good they'd have it, what the future is, based on what they can afford now (or could afford) which is subject to being revised up, but rarely down.
posted by Dysk at 3:18 PM on September 13 [5 favorites]


Recently the company my husband and I worked for was taken in a hostile takeover, and everybody who refused to sign a global five year non compete was fired. Which made no damn sense. The guys they fired were the entire talent team that wrote the product they just bought. Without them, the code will fail,tests protocols won't be performed, and there is zero chance they will pass the high trust audits required for this sort of personal data.

Why did they fire everyone, besides the stupid non compete? Because technically, the team should have owned about 8% of the company, if the buyers had honored stock agreements. If they'd kept the team, they would have to pay market rate for this talent, rather than stringing them along at reduced salaries because of stock grants.

Basically, millionaires and billionaires stole the talents of these workers for five years, to enrich themselves at the cost of their workers. Those are the asshole that hide price stickers, because they know, deep in their shriveled hearts, that what they are doing, and how they are making their living is morally repugnant and indefensible.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 4:57 PM on September 13 [8 favorites]


What kind of shit are they talking about where a loaf of bread has a price sticker on it? ... Do you not have barcodes in the US? What.
If I buy sub $4 bread in the bread aisle, it has a bar code on the plastic wrapper and a price tag on the shelf. If I buy $6 bread or the expensive cheese from the fancy deli/bakery area, it has a sticker on it that holds the human readable price and a barcode. It doesn't seem like an American only thing.
posted by soelo at 9:09 AM on September 14


I don't really understand the guilt of the rich since it could so easily be allayed by voluntarily giving their money away. It seems obvious, no?
posted by delight at 10:39 AM on September 14


Even if you give all your money away, you have the power to unilaterally decide who gets that money to use.
posted by Zalzidrax at 10:49 AM on September 14


Sure, but it still seems like a decent, actionable step between "being rich and feeling uneasy about it" and "major structural overhaul."
posted by delight at 10:53 AM on September 14


YES, seriously. I have a relative who has a job in the sales office for some "high-end" condos that are selling for 5-10 million each, and one day my dad went to visit her to look at the place. He was a carpenter for years, and he said it was borderline offensive how shoddy the work was on everything. No care or craftsmanship at all-- just badly measured, badly constructed, thrown up and covered with low-grade gilt trash. And the sad thing is, no one living there even notices-- they can't actually tell the difference between a well-made home and a contractor's boondoggle.

They can afford to pay for quality, but instead they pay for the address and live in a place that is constructed with lower standards than most prefab houses. So pathetic.


My sister and I were recently travelling with my Dad - who lives in one of these houses (and owns three others), and he started a story about something with "we were eating in a 'high-end' restaurant..." My sister asked if the "high-end" part was really necessary to the story, and he seemed bewildered and said no. Then he started the story again, unironically repeating "we were eating in a 'high-end' restaurant..."

So yes, in a personal way, it seems to me to be less about the actual cost and more about letting people know that it's expensive.

I don't really understand the guilt of the rich since it could so easily be allayed by voluntarily giving their money away. It seems obvious, no?

I think your premise is off somewhat. Feeling guilty is itself the allaying they're looking for.
posted by hoborg at 11:32 AM on September 14 [1 favorite]


I don't really understand the guilt of the rich since it could so easily be allayed by voluntarily giving their money away. It seems obvious, no?

Why would that alleviate the guilt? There is never enough. There is never enough to feel secure and there is never enough to feel sufficiently generous.
posted by politikitty at 6:22 PM on September 14 [1 favorite]


It's always interesting how quickly these discussions progress from "These rich people are awful," to "Globally speaking, almost everyone here is rich," to "Stop the shaming, this can't be fixed through individual action." The rich people described in this article are, in the main, generally unhappy, and less through any fault of their own than due to societal structures; the middle class in this country are also generally unhappy, and certainly the poor are. Yet that doesn't change the fact that, thanks to the aforementioned declining marginal utility of the dollar, if any one of those people gave a single dollar to a poor person in Ghana (to choose an example from here), the latter's wellbeing would be increased far more than the former's would be hurt. And that holds for people struggling to make ends meet on $20K a year in the US, and even people barely hanging on at $10K a year. All of their unhappiness is genuine and largely due to structural problem, and nevertheless, if they gave one of their much-needed dollars to a poor kid in Ghana, the world would net be better off. We all agree that first and foremost we need to fix these structural problems. But does that get the rich people in this article entirely off the hook? Does it get the middle-class person, or even the relatively poor $10k/year person off the hook? The logic of marginal utility holds wherever you are on the gini curve, and it's almost inevitable that once you start blaming the mega-rich for not donating -- and for hiding behind long-term structural prescriptions while avoiding short-term giving -- that logic slides right down onto almost all of the rest of us. That doesn't of course mean we are all equally "guilty" or should all donate equal amounts or even equal percentages -- on the contrary, if we equalize the suffering caused by our donations (one of many possibly rubrics), it would probably be $X hundred for the 10K earner and $X billion for the Buffetts. But in any case, whatever the system, there is probably a moral onus on virtually everyone here to give more, regardless of how much you're already hurting; regardless of whether saying such things counts as sniping, guilt-tripping, or blaming the poor; and regardless of whether the ultimate problem is structural and is best solved with structural changes. By the most basic moral calculus -- what can you personally do at this very moment, combined with the fundamental principle of declining marginal utility -- we should almost all of us be giving far more, right now.
posted by chortly at 9:44 PM on September 14 [5 favorites]


Well its not just one thing: If you feel guilty about your wealth you can give more, you can support direct giving even at a middle class level, you can give money and support directly in the form of ...paying your employees or servants better (tip better, in cash) and you can also work toward higher taxes (Business and personal! Imagine if we actually enforced tax laws), stronger social safety nets, a larger welfare state, increased voting access and enfranchisement, via supporting politicians and programs that aim to create this. You can give to the People's Policy Project, you can join the DSA, you can campaign for Medicare For All and the Fight For 15.

If you really have that much money you can try to counter the effects of lobbyists. Politicians can be bought for like, bargain basement prices.

It's not Either/Or, its Yes, And. We need to use every tool in the box.
posted by The Whelk at 10:34 PM on September 14 [3 favorites]


If I buy sub $4 bread in the bread aisle, it has a bar code on the plastic wrapper and a price tag on the shelf. If I buy $6 bread or the expensive cheese from the fancy deli/bakery area, it has a sticker on it that holds the human readable price and a barcode. It doesn't seem like an American only thing.

Your link demonstrates quite nicely how it's actually the other way round in the UK - free cheap Chorley-Wood supermarket crap, that's labelled with a price tag as linked. The fancy several pounds a loaf shit, that lives in the (rustic, wooden) shelf of the baker's with a little price sign on the edge of the shelf. Once purchased, it is dropped into an unmarked (or branded, if they're crass, but certainly never marked with a price tag or bar code) paper bag.

The fancier something is, the less likely it is to have any visible pricing information attached to the product itself.
posted by Dysk at 2:22 AM on September 15 [1 favorite]


The fancier something is, the less likely it is to have any visible pricing information attached to the product itself.

I don't buy all that much that is crazy expensive, but this is my experience as well. The one piece of furniture I bought at the fancy Scandanavian-import designer place didn't come with a price tag attached; neither has any of the nicer (though still middle class-level) household items I've bought in the last few years.

Food is mixed and seems to vary by store; anything off of the shelves in the center of the store just has a barcode, but sometimes the "artisanal" stuff (like bread) has prices and sometimes just a barcode.

What is easier to tell (if you care) is the approximate value of visible items like cars, watches/jewelry, computers, and sometimes clothes. And you can make a close guess about house value if you know where someone lives. But none of those tell you if the person is living that life supported by wealth, or precariously balanced on a huge debt load.

In contrast, a lot of the ways the kind of wealth described in the article shows are harder to see unless you know someone well -- expensive vacations via private jet, or that the vacation is to their second or third house, not to a hotel, or that they have household help, say.
posted by Dip Flash at 4:41 AM on September 15


This kind of narrative seems possibly useful in figuring out how to persuade people with power to use it in the interests of justice, or at least to feel conflicted enough about using it *against* justice that they stay home with some $8 bread instead.
posted by clew at 11:56 AM on September 15


Even if you give all your money away, you have the power to unilaterally decide who gets that money to use.

The way power dynamics shape philanthropy is something I'm interested in - one thing I think donors can do to chip away at that control a little bit is to give to foundations that practice some kind of community-led grantmaking process, where local activists play a major role in deciding how funding is distributed. North Star Fund in New York and Social Justice Fund Northwest in Seattle are two examples I can vouch for; Headwaters Foundation in Minneapolis I'm not personally familiar with but looks similarly structured. It's not perfect, but it's something.
posted by naoko at 1:14 PM on September 15 [3 favorites]


for anyone paying attention, a class calculator from the pew research center accounting for household size and location.
posted by j_curiouser at 9:39 PM on September 21 [2 favorites]


« Older "I knew you'd come back! I just knew it!"   |   A little piece of toast Newer »


You are not currently logged in. Log in or create a new account to post comments.