Daily Archives: February 17, 2012

Not Being Able to Scrape By With $200k Is Usually Your Own Fault

Gawker, that great engine of social egalitarianism, points us to an article in Toronto Life about the Canadian 1% and how they try to get by in Toronto, Canada’s largest city. The implication is that even with $196,000, which is the income line for the 1% in that far northern country (and that’s Canadian dollars, mind you!), it’s sometimes difficult to make ends meet in that nation’s largest city.

Then you read the article, which does things like complaining that after you subtract “wardrobe refreshes” and “the cost of sushi, pad thai and butter chicken” ordered in three nights a week because of being too tired to cook, $10,400 a month doesn’t go very far, and then drops this bomb:

Then there’s the stuff that fills our houses—the calibre of which is the subject of intense, unspoken competition among my peers and neighbours. During my entire childhood, spent in a comfortable lower-upper-middle-class neighbourhood of Montreal, I am quite sure that my mother did not waste a single moment worrying about replacing her laminate kitchen counters with granite or marble. There was no such thing as a $1,000 Bugaboo stroller, or anything like it. You could host a casual weekend party without spending a fortune on artisanal cheeses. Living the good life simply wasn’t the full-time, across-the-retail-spectrum pursuit it has now become.

Aaaaaaand that’s then I want to start pressing the “It’s time for the goddamned revolution” button. By the time we get to the breakdowns of the monthly expenses of the seven 1% households profiled for the article, which features line items like $800 a month on wine and $1200 for the vacation house on the lake, I’m vaguely surprised Toronto isn’t on fire. The only people I feel any sort of commonality with are the immigrant family, who pack their own lunches for work and aside from the hair salon line item seem to have some perspective on their cash. The retired couple who invested well and are living off the proceeds also gets a pass, because, hey, that’s the goal, right? Otherwise: Purification by flame.

The problem here is that once again we’re confronted with the interesting paradox of “the 1%,” which is that the incomes of within the 1% are surprisingly heterogeneous. It’s a category that encompasses both people with six-figure annual incomes and people making nine-figure annual incomes; likewise, it’s people with seven-figure net worths and people with eleven-figure net worths. The 99% of the 1% do not have helipads and supermodels and dormitories or libraries named after them at their elite school alma maters; they have mortgages and expenses and their kids’ educations will be a non-trivial percentage of their total net worth. So if you’re on the bottom rung of society’s topmost ladder, you’re going to feel you have more in common with the middle class than with the stinkin’ rich, because as a practical matter you do.

But that doesn’t mean you’re middle class, or that your problems are middle class problems; it also means that when you complain about how hard it is to make ends meet and yet you’ve got the lake cottage and you spend $1,000 a month on clothes, the people who really are middle and lower class are going to look at you like, would you please just shut up, you arrogant rich bastard, before I put you and your whole family up against a wall. This is especially true when, as is the case of the Toronto Life article, the heart of the “problem” is that apparently it’s harder today than ever before to maintain and display the overt social cues of your petit bourgeois status.

Speaking as a member of the petit bourgeois, dear other members of the petit bourgeois:

1. Please learn how to budget, because no matter where you live — even in the US! Even in most parts of expensive cities! — $200,000 should be sufficient for a very comfortable lifestyle without much stretching.

2. If you’re in competition with your neighbors about who can live the better lifestyle, you’ve already lost and you’re just embarrassing yourself. Status anxiety is for the betas.

3. When in public, please shut the fuck up about how difficult your life is, economically. It just pisses off everybody else, and there are more of them than there are of you.

4. If your life is genuinely economically difficult, see point one. If necessary, take your wine budget for a month or two and hire an accountant or financial planner and then actually listen to them.

This is not to say that those on the bottom rung of the 1% should not complain about their problems, ever. I’ve noted before that for most people their problems with money is not having enough; for the well-off the problem is managing it well. It is a real problem, and it’s useful to talk to people with the same sort of problem and figure things out. It’s also worth remembering it’s a problem most people would like to have, and will not feel entirely sympathetic toward you for having it, just like you are not entirely sympathetic about the money problems of, say, Alex Rodriguez, or he entirely sympathetic to the money issues of Mark Zuckerberg.

Now, you might say, hey, the people of the 99% are as clueless about my financial issues as I am to theirs, so why is it that I’ll get crap for it and they don’t? Because they have less money, stupid. They are suffering every other economic penalty imaginable; it’s not unreasonable for the social penalty for economic cluelessness to be just about the only thing that vectors upward. The fact you can brood about this at the lake house over the weekend should put this problem of yours in perspective.

So, as Gawker puts it, the 1% must stop insisting they’re not rich, right this instant. They are, or close enough to it for statistical work. If you’re at the bottom end of the 1% you might not be as rich as some, but the ratio of people you are richer than, compared to those you are less rich than, is roughly 99:1. Keep that in mind. Recognize it and be grateful. And rather than asserting that you are not well off, figure out how you can manage your money in such a way that at the end of the day you’re not wondering where the hell all the money went. Because that’s a lot of money. You should be able to live well and still have some of it left over. Even in Toronto. Or anywhere else.