I did not grow up with money, but I was a smart kid and got scholarships to attend top notch schools with other kids who did grow up with a lot of money. During my high school and college years it was always more than a little strange, and admittedly often painful, to have a Close Encounter of the Money Kind with someone who grew up with a vastly different financial security blanket than I did.
My classmates were good people – smart and funny, talented and ambitious in diverse ways. But there was always a kind of eye-glaze thing that happened when the conversation would suddenly turn to money, perhaps because my classmates were going on a family holiday over Christmas and I was staying at school to fulfill the work study part of my financial package.
I don’t recall being jealous of a friend whose journey through life was more padded than mine. But I do recall being affected by comments that were not, I don’t think, designed to hurt me intentionally, but were rather the result of a kind of money-blindness that would lead to a youthful callousness about something that I assumed (and I still do) could only come from an utter lack of awareness about all the things that money buys.
I remember being tired by junior year because I’d had to work right through every summer and holiday break. A friend suggested I just quit my job and take off the rest of the summer, completely ignorant of the fact that I would have to drop out of school if I did. She didn’t know what to say when I told her it wasn’t possible.
Years later at a reunion with one of my high school chums, whom I hadn’t seen in many decades and who had become very wealthy in the interim, I told him how much I had admired and liked his successful father, who had always been very kind to me when we were growing up.
I was incredulous when he told me that in his opinion his father hadn’t really been all that successful…not when compared to the amount of money that he, was now making. I said, “But you took over your father’s business. You couldn’t have done that without him. How can you say that?” The stare, oh the stare…
Years after that, when I began designing and making fine jewelry and selling it nationally, I needed a lawyer to do some things for me and when she told me her fee, I practically gagged and said, “I don’t have that kind of money.” She responded by saying, “That’s impossible. Don’t you have a rich relative who can give you the money?” When I told her that I didn’t, she said, simply “Huh. How strange.”
Strange? Or just uncomfortable for her?
She herself was what we have all come to call A Trust Fund Baby. She worked hard. There was no question about that. She was smart. And talented. But within all that education, talent and smarts, there was a disturbing blindness to the reality of people unlike her, a kind of cold shoulder thrown in the direction of someone whose life circumstances were different than hers, circumstances that might require a different kind of thinking and understanding…not the sort of thinking, analysis, empathy and understanding of others she would be likely to find in a law book.
Each of these people I suppose would now be called a member of the 1%. I dislike labels and groups. They feel so exclusive, and not in a good way (Is there such a thing as a good label or group?).
While I used to defensively scream and yell about being called a Bleeding Heart Liberal, now I readily admit that I am. While I used to cringe when in the company of a colleague who might (teasingly) accuse me of being a Marxist when I defend the need for social, cultural and educational programs, now I readily say, “Okay…what’s so bad about being a Marxist? And can you really call me a Marxist if I have worked since I was 14, supported myself my entire life, started my own business with my own money, have always paid my own bills and believe in the value of working hard…all the while believing that it’s impossible to have a civilized society without social programs?”
I don’t think inheriting wealth is inherently bad. I don’t think that anyone can say that being born into a wealthy family is a bad thing. Circumstances are circumstances. In Buddhism it is said we choose our families, from which we will then learn many things (that is an over-simplification, but…nonetheless).
No, the issue with having extreme wealth or its opposite is a lack of consciousness about how it affects the conversation, relationships, communication and inter-relationships with those around us. My childhood chum was insulting to his father when he dismissed his success and, without being aware of it, was insulting to my mother who had so much less money than his father it was laughable…insulting because his money had created a barrier between him and his understanding about, his knowledge of, other people.
The attached talk between Paul Krugman and Bill Moyers centers on THE BOOK that has everyone talking this past week, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, by French Economist Thomas Piketty. Here is but one quote from this interesting and short talk about Piketty’s book, which is being hailed as the most important economic to me in decades:
We are headed into a future dominated by inherited wealth, as capital concentrates on fewer and fewer hands giving the very rich ever greater power over politics, governments and society. For those who work for a living, the level of inequality in the US is probably higher than any other society at any time in the past anywhere in the world, Thomas Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century
And here is Moyer’s introduction to the discussion of the essence of the book – Inherited Wealth and how it affects everything in our lives:
Patrimonial Capitalism is the name for it, and it has potentially terrifying consequences for Democracy. Over 3 decades between 1977 and 2007 60% of our national income went to the richest 1% of Americans. No wonder the 1% doesn’t want the 99% to read it. – Bill Moyers
I admit that my heart is Socialist, Liberal, Marxist, but so too, apparently, are the hearts of Thomas Piketty and Bill Moyers and Paul Krugman, and I feel that I am in good company.
Capital in the Twenty-First Century is being written about everywhere, this week, but since I’m featuring a Paul Krugman talk with Moyers, you can read more here:
Columnist Biography: Paul Krugman
Paul Krugman joined The New York Times in 1999 as a columnist on the Op-Ed Page and continues as professor of Economics and International Affairs at Princeton University.
Mr. Krugman received his B.A. from Yale University in 1974 and his Ph.D. from MIT in 1977. He has taught at Yale, MIT and Stanford. At MIT he became the Ford International Professor of Economics.
Mr. Krugman is the author or editor of 20 books and more than 200 papers in professional journals and edited volumes. His professional reputation rests largely on work in international trade and finance; he is one of the founders of the “new trade theory,” a major rethinking of the theory of international trade. In recognition of that work, in 1991 the American Economic Association awarded him its John Bates Clark medal, a prize given every two years to “that economist under forty who is adjudged to have made a significant contribution to economic knowledge.” Mr. Krugman’s current academic research is focused on economic and currency crises.
At the same time, Mr. Krugman has written extensively for a broader public audience. Some of his recent articles on economic issues, originally published in Foreign Affairs, Harvard Business Review, Scientific American and other journals, are reprinted in Pop Internationalism and The Accidental Theorist.
#thomaspiketty #PaulKrugman #CapitalInTheTwentyFirstCentury