How Not to Talk About Your Money, Very Rich Edition

Hillary Clinton: Likely to be the next president of the United States, I suspect, but in the last several days, apparently clueless about how to talk about her money, of which there is a lot, and for which her ability to get more is pretty much assured until she shuffles off this mortal coil. Complaining that she and Bill were dead broke when they left the White House was at the least slightly overdramatic, considering all the apparatus, from book contracts to speeches, that exist to allow ex-presidents and first ladies to quickly pad out their bank accounts. It’s like complaining about your Ivy League law school debt when you already have a job lined up at a white shoe law firm and a clear path to partnership. Yes, you have debt; no, you’re not going to have any sort of problem getting rid of it.

Likewise, noting that you pay income tax like a common troll, unlike so many other rich people, is not a great call. One, you don’t get a pat on the back for paying your taxes like you’re supposed to be doing. Two, if you’re noting that you pay taxes on income, while other rich people pay taxes on capital gains, and that those two rates are different, a) it’s not quite kosher to imply that other people are skirting their taxes if they’re actually paying what the law requires and b) you’re Hillary Clinton, I’m not sure how much you want to advertise that fact considering President Clinton reduced capital gains taxes while in office. Three, even if you paid full freight on your taxes, if your household net worth is reportedly upward of $100 million, I expect the best you can hope for from a statement like that is a bit of eyerolling.

Very rich people, please note: In this world of Internets and Twitters and informations at fingertips, everyone knows that you are very rich. Trying to assure everyone that you’re different from all the other very rich people — and that your vast fortune is not quite like every other very rich person’s vast fortune — is probably not the winning stategy you think it is. There also comes a certain point at which “working hard” is not a reasonably complete explanation for the millions one accrues in life, at least not to the millions of people who are also working hard and paying the same full freight on taxes and somehow lack the millions of dollars in income and net worth to show for it.

It’s nice to be in the rare air where one can make six figures for showing up to give a speech. Don’t confuse that place in the world with one that is available merely through simple “hard work.” There’s a lot more that goes into it than that, much of it not directly owing to one’s own planning or exertions. Context, as always, matters.

If I had a net worth of nine figures or more, any time I was asked for comment about it, the short version of it would be “I have been very fortunate, and I know it.” Hell, that’s my standard response now, and I am nowhere near worth that much.

140 Comments on “How Not to Talk About Your Money, Very Rich Edition”

  1. For those about to note that Chelsea Clinton also seemed clueless about her wealth this week, I’ll note that the context for that seems at least a bit different, and I’ll be pleased not to have that as a talking point in this particular thread.

    Also, let’s avoid any general Hillary Clinton bashing, please. Stick to the topic, and the topic is money and how the very rich (of which Clinton is one) talk about it. Thanks.

  2. I used to write speeches for a living. Most of my clients were pretty well off, at least by Canadian standards. I suppose some of them got rather nice fees for delivering the texts I wrote. But I don’t remember any of them offering me a cut.

  3. My guess is the Clintons spend a lot of time amongst the Very Very Wealthy, and they feel positively middle class in comparison.

  4. In America there is a taboo against admitting outright that you are either poor or rich.

    In the latter case, we have, well, Clinton’s remarks.

    In the former case, we have people ashamed to apply for means-tested government benefits even when they are eligible. (For example, about a quarter of the people eligible for food stamps don’t apply for them.)

    And every politician says that the policies they propose will be good for “the middle class”.

  5. I often wonder if there is a point where ridiculously wealthy people forget that they are ridiculously wealthy. I can understand that with folks like Romney and Trump, who have never known anything other than ridiculous wealth because they were born into it. But the Clintons weren’t. They started out solidly middle class and ended up with giant piles of cash. You would think they would remember that.

    I also find it amusing that ridiculously wealthy people seem to fall all over themselves to convince the rest of us that they are actually hard put and oppressed.

  6. Happy:

    It’s possible. I would think after a certain point the differences in lifestyle would flatten out, but I’m not Very Wealthy, so I could be wrong.

    Jerome O’Neil:

    “I often wonder if there is a point where ridiculously wealthy people forget that they are ridiculously wealthy.”

    I think that sooner or later your daily experience of life becomes your baseline. I grew up poor at times, but I would be lying if I didn’t say my day-to-day life now isn’t informing of my worldview in a more immediate way.

  7. John – Do you write political speeches? I may be biased, but I’m pretty sure with your understanding of people and ability to relate your words coming out of someone else mouth would surely get them elected. (Assuming they could could say it with conviction).

    @Jerome, checkout #RKOI on instagram for people who do not value their wealth and have zero touch with everyone elses reality.

  8. Hillary Clinton went to Wellesley and Yale; Bill went to Georgetown and Oxford. I wonder if Hillary absorbed more of the “we don’t talk about money” etiquette in her formative years than her husband did in his youth.

  9. You bring up an interesting point that I hadn’t really considered: That while hard work may earn a person wealth, there is a point that one becomes wealthy enough that the bus has one hell of a cruise control. I won’t go so far as to say that work doesn’t continue to go into maintaining that, but you can definitely take the “hard” out of it. At least in regular-people context.

    Jerome: Actually, I’ve seen even moderately wealthy people forget what it means to not be moderately wealthy. I once heard a business owner say to an employee, “I don’t know how anyone can live on 50K a year.” That was about the average annual salary of the employee to whom she was speaking.

  10. @John

    I think there is some truth to that. I contrast that with my father, though, who grew up dirt poor. Depression era “six kids in a two bedroom house with no electricity or plumbing in Montana” poor. He worked hard and as a result, all of us kids grew up solidly middle class. But dad never, ever, ever forgot what it was to be dirt poor. As kids, he was fond of telling us “I grew up poor, very well” whenever we would bemoan not getting something we wanted.

    So perhaps it is a function of comfort more so than wealth. If you’ve always been comfortable, it is probably easier to marginalize actual poverty and perhaps even romanticize it a bit. A little comfort lets you mold yourself into an American Dream success story if you’re so inclined. If you’re actually poor, those memories are more inclined to stick with you.

    Interesting topic, anyway.

  11. “I’ve never been poor, only broke. Being poor is a frame of mind. Being broke is only a temporary situation.”
    ~Mike Todd

    Hillary Clinton’s “blindness” on this topic, sadly, reminds of George Bush’s bewilderment by a supermarket register’s scanner, speaks volumes about how out of touch most of our leadership is.

  12. “There also comes a certain point at which ‘working hard’ is not a reasonably complete explanation for the millions one accrues in life, at least not to the millions of people who are also working hard and paying the same full freight on taxes and somehow lack the millions of dollars in income and net worth to show for it.”

    On this point, I totally agree.

    I’ve often wondered just how much of that money a person can even spend or invest for their most basic needs and how much of the rest is only sitting around or being spent on insane luxuries.

  13. The best thing that Hillary Clinton could do, is on the day that she announces that she is running, release her and bill’s tax returns for the last 20 years. Make a couple comments about how they are rich, although there were some ups and downs.

    Challenge Romney to release his returns from when he was Governor until now.
    Wont it be awesome to see the differences? Esp once Romney refiled that one year that he released.

    Alas, I doubt that she would do this, just like Romney didnt think that it was important.

  14. I think Charles Dickens, George Eliot, and the rest of the Victorians nailed this. People who care about money tend to have lots of money and, no matter how much they have, always want more.

  15. @Peter Cibulskis
    Didn’t she already release her returns for the past 32 years?

  16. @Brandon – I’m frequently baffled as to how families manage on $50k/year (or equivalent for inflation) in areas I’ve lived in. Among my friends and family for a long time I was the highest consistent earner (not including mom/dad). I wasn’t big on splurging (on myself). I got by. I couldn’t figure out how they were making it on 50% or less.

    I grew up poor with middle class values. I’m now somewhat comfortable as in I don’t need to worry about food, clothing, shelter, basics and so far we’ve survived a couple major medical problems. Sometimes I forget how well off that means I am until I’m talking to a friend who can’t pay for medicine or medical treatment. I take health insurance for granted. Talk about needing to check my privilege.

    From my experiences I can somewhat understand Hilary feeling like she is one of the “people” instead of “one of the 1%” based on who she spends time with. She does need to check that privilege and remember what her parents work lives looked like so she is more careful in speaking and is able to do a good job if she is the next president.

  17. Having worked for a billionaire for thirteen years, I feel as though some – not all, but some – very wealthy people literately cannot conceive of what it’s like to not have that kind of money. They *think* they can imagine it, and occasionally make what they perceive as “I know what you mean!” statements, which to those of us who are not billionaires, or millionaires are offensive. But to the wealthy person making them, the statements are true. They really do feel as though they can say they ‘know what we mean’ and honestly understand it.

    Both my former employer and her husband ascribed to the ‘Anyone can be wealthy, it just takes hard work to accomplish it.’ line of thought. And her husband HAD worked hard, and made a great deal of money. What they failed to really understand is the immense dividing line between starting out wealthy and getting wealthier, and starting out with nothing and making enough to get by.

  18. Yeah. As an ex-government worker (36 years) I have a very nice pension and a retirement savings plan that put me squarely in the lower upper middle class. My family may have been deeply in debt for some years when I was young, but we were never poor. I have been very, very fortunate. I’m never gonna poor-mouth myself; it would be blatantly false humility.

    Lots of people are bad at money-talk. John McCain didn’t remember how many homes he owned (it was at least seven); Paul Ryan pretended that he had depended on SSI, when he was actually a trust-fund kid; George W. Bush acted the Texas hick rather than the third-generation, New England-born-and-educated scion of a rich political family. And don’t even mention Willard Romney. But somehow Democrats are supposed to be better at the poor-but-honest schtick, and mostly they’re not.

  19. i would thumbs up this post on the social media sites i use, if i were smart enough to figure out how to do this.

  20. I in no way want to take away from the hard work, very hard work, many (not all) people who are anywhere from comfortable to filthy rich have put in to get there. And my wife and I have fairly modest means (by that I mean our combined yearly income is typically in the $100,000 to $120,000 range, depending mostly on what kind of a year I’m having writing, although since she is currently laid off, who knows?), and I’ve definitely ran into people who are working hard and making a lot less.

    The point I’m trying to get here with all the above sideways apologies is that there sometimes seems to be a level of income in which you think it’s all about your hard work, skill and talent, and that luck or unique situations don’t play a part in that. Unique situations can simply be that a person who works hard in one field (for example, a nurse) will not make the same amount of money as someone working hard in another field (say, an investment banker). Because I make a living as a freelance writer, both fiction and nonfiction, I’m maybe a bit more attuned to the idea that a 50-60-hour work week can generate a decent amount of income, and that I spent years writing in the evenings and weekends to develop my craft, but I’m making significantly less than a typical engineer or physician.

  21. @Tasha You miss the point. The point wasn’t whether or not the employer was correct in their assumption that it’s impossible. The point was she all but admitted she paid a salary that she felt was unsustainable, and lacked the awareness to recognize how out of touch the statement was with her own practices.

  22. “I’ve never been poor, only broke. Being poor is a frame of mind. Being broke is only a temporary situation.”
    ~Mike Todd

    I phrase it like this: “poor” is when you can’t afford necessities; “broke” is when the bills are paid but you don’t have leftovers.

    As for forgetting where you came from, yeah. I have one sister who occasionally shows signs of forgetting that other people don’t have her income advantages (she’s currently on a trip to Italy with her family) even though we grew up in the same family. “I don’t think it’s fair to not pay for your kids’ college.” Um… some of us are still paying for our *own*, it’s not as though we have spare money to throw at their futures. Little things like that, but it’s true that the level that you’re surrounded by tends to become your baseline.

  23. In other ways to not talk about money, I was reading an article by CNN that included the following:

    Biden said on Monday that he “makes a lot of money” as vice president. But he made sure to mention he was “listed as the poorest man in Congress” and said he has “no savings account.”

    I can’t say that having no savings account is the type of attitude towards money that’s reassuring in a prospective presidential candidate either.

  24. @Brandon I get the stupidity of an employer making that statement. I was a manager at times when I had those thoughts – I was restricted in what I could pay my staff by my employer & I wasn’t stupid enough to tell them to their faces that I didn’t know how they survived on the meager salaries but I sure did think it. I did make sure they picked up lots of new technologies and skills so their next job would pay better and got the company to pay for the software and training which helped me feel less guilty. Plus it was within the market salary ranges so hey if everyone is exploiting their workers it’s ok right?

  25. [Deleted for not being on topic — remember what I said about generalized Hillary-bashing, folks – JS]

  26. Agreed. I like Hillary, but she needs to make it clear she’s fortunate. I do think there’s a weird dynamic with politicians and wealth. Kerry and Romney were both obviously very wealthy, and certain segments freaked out about it, but both managed to pull off the illusion they were just middle-class (for the most part). Let’s face it–almost everyone who runs for a major office is very wealthy by national and global standards.

    It’s more odd to me when people who grew up middle-class or poor (like Hillary and Bill) make statements like that, because surely, they remember what it used to be like. I am kind of pleasantly surprised when someone who inherits a fortune isn’t totally clueless about life. (I remember a very, very rich kid at my prep school had to earn money for and buy his own clunker of a car. I’ve got to think–as a fellow clunker owner who also bought my own car–that it put things in perspective for him.)

  27. I think that paying even passing attention to someone else’s paycheck is generally very unhelpful, and that it indicates a tendency to measure human worth by how much money a person has.

    Bad luck can hit any of us, and all of us are doing better than someone else. But there getting hit with bad luck, and then there is going out to the highway and flagging down Murphy to give him a ride to your house. Too many people confuse the first with the second, and expect that continuing to let Murphy hitchhike isn’t going to have consequences.

    And way, *way* too many of us don’t spend enough time saying “I am doing so very well, better than I deserve.”

  28. I think you are probably being overly optimistic if you imagine that the really, really, really rich are paying lower rates of Capital Gains Tax in preference to higher rates of Income Tax; the really, really, really rich have well paid tax lawyers to assist them in not paying any tax at all…

  29. John Lennon’s John’s “jewelry” comment as an introduction to “Twist and Shout”:
    “For our last number, I’d like to ask your help. Would the people in the cheaper seats clap your hands, and the rest of you, if you’d just rattle your jewelry.”

  30. Stevie:

    I’m not overly optimistic about that, no. However, if in their quest to pay a little tax as possible they’re actually following our tax code, then, eh. That’s a problem of the tax code rather than these very rich folks doing something legally wrong.

  31. @ Jerome O’Neil, “… marginalize actual poverty and perhaps even romanticize it a bit …”

    Pulling your quote a bit out of context, I think that’s my story. At present I’m comfortably lower middle class, will probably work until my heart attack, but loving it. My parents were the same, but they sent every extra dime (with children’s EXPRESS permission) to my dad’s farm in Oregon, which eventually went bankrupt anyway. So I grew up in even poorer conditions that you described (big family happy with 2 bedrooms) but, erm, proud of it. There is a certain Diskensian romance to lower ende of money scales, if folks have no apparent choice to live in them and therefore try to make the best out of it. This all reminds me of the “The City of Joy” Calcutta, where folks die in worst conditions imaginable yet even themselves call their city the City of Joy. Delusional? No, I’m not trying to preach anything, just wondering about it all.

    I do think that lack of funds may make one more aware of serendipity in one’s life, especially when said serendipity works for one’s best (and when not, think Calcutta). Believe it or not, I’ve had very wealthy friends — as in owning their own jets — and I’ve felt a bit of anxiety over them at times because of THEIR anxieties — how to continue making money, how to keep others from getting it fraudulently from them, and such. It’s hard to be real friends with the very rich, maybe because they’re so distracted. Yes, I did see dollar signs when saying hi to them, even though I really truly had no desire for advantages from them (I think), and that way its all actually a bit sad. They know they’ll never be in your debt, sort of, like needing a $20 from you or some such; and that knowledge is just there, interferring, It’s a friendship that both sides have to work at intentionally. (Jokes on said subject helped.)

    To me, the best income you could ever have is the one which helps you be forgetful over everything, and thus able to be ‘distracted’ by other things that are really neater.

  32. As with any kind of privilege, financial privilege can blind you. You judge normal by you and your friends and if your friends aren’t diverse, you miss a lot of what other people’s lives are like. Your privilege protects you from naturally encountering it, so you have to look for it if you want to have any idea what you’re talking about – and a politician should.

    You can also end up buying into the really attractive myth that the evils of your type of privilege don’t attach to you because you’re different from others who have it, especially those you’ve seen misuse it. This one seems common among people like Hillary, who honestly disapprove of privilege abuse and often have actively fought against it.

    I generally prefer that type to the ones who choose the myth that there are no evils to their sort pf privilege because they deserve it due to some difference from everyone else who *doesn’t* have it. At least those like Hillary, do have a genuine desire to be different, even if they sometimes fail to grasp the irony that the real way to be “different” is to work really hard at it.

  33. @Tasha It was just an example of people of moderate wealth lacking greater social awareness. I don’t think she even realized her error after the fact. The employee didn’t call her on it, because that’s the fastest way to make your work environment an awkward one. I don’t find it necessarily exploitive, because we live in a world where two income households are the norm. Ideally, if both partners can average even 40k a year each and not be stupid with their money they can enjoy a lifestyle of moderate comfort depending on their locale. I remember what it was like living on less than 30K a year. It was cramped apartments, bargain brand cereals, and 1 new pair of pants and two new shirts every year, but only if I needed them. Survival is possible, even relatively easy on this kind of salary. It gets you the necessities, and allows for a little extra for recreation if you know how to stretch your dollar. 50k was easy after that.

  34. I was fortunate to grow up in a household which was pretty well off, public (which is private in the UK) education, nice holidays, etc. I did see my dad working hands-on 6-7 days a week to maintain that, however, even though it was in a family business that his father co-owned, so we got to see that hard work is necessary.
    There was a story in the paper once (obviously a while ago) about a bank screwing up deposits on a pay day, and how much trouble it would cause people – my mother couldn’t really understand why. I think that’s the difference between being comfortably off and broke – an unexpected one day delay in pay doesn’t matter if you are comfortable, but is a disaster if you are scraping by.
    The well-off forget, I think – it’s been so long since the Clintons have had to worry about a house, food, cars, etc that you just don’t remember. Like with the driving thing. They may have been $12M in debt when they left the White House, but it’s not as if they didn’t have a way to make it back.
    And then the mega-rich never knew – the R-Money, Bushes, etc never had to think about money. Didn’t Mitt say he had to sell some stock to cover rent and tuition fees? Oh, the huge manatee!
    As for tax returns, Hilary’s are out there, R-Money’s never will be – he obviously took advantage of the overseas bank reporting amnesty, which is he only released 2 years tax returns, and he will have gone back to refile the one for 2011 to take more tax write-offs to drop his rate below the 14% reported.

  35. As the fourth generation of my family out of slavery, I continue to be amazed by the concept that hard work will eventually pay off for most people. Three generations of college education has allowed us to be “lower middle class” at this point, still struggling from paycheck to paycheck. I am currently one of the people making $50,000 a year with a degree and FORTY years of work experience. So no, Hillary I am not feeling your “we were broke 20 years ago story.” But now you are worth $100 million? Boo HOO

  36. A couple random points I think belong in this conversation:

    Regarding the hard work aspect…Ask most any multi-millionaire and they’ll tell you it was the first million that was hard to make, the rest were easy.

    I think it probably should be pointed out that most of the self-made wealthy people did work fairly hard to get to where they are. While a lot of their friends were out partying in their youth, those guys were out working. Somewhere in their lives though, a shift occurs and their values begin to skew.

    Some of them make their FU money and quit, others get addicted to making money. There are variations in the rich that I think a lot of people don’t realize, see, or understand. Not all wealthy people are cut from the same cloth but the 99% seem to lump them together.

    Regarding tax sheltery stuff, don’t forget a lot of jobs are kept out there in businesses that from a purely economic standpoint shouldn’t be there. Those businesses stay there because someone is using those losses to shelter tax money. In those cases I think its not a bad thing, the money is getting distributed to those employees directly as opposed to being diverted and diluted by the government.

    Sorry for the randomness, but at least a couple points up there I think should be noted. Others probably no so much.

  37. No seems to have mentioned it was impossible for Ms. Clinton to have been dead broke when she left the White House as ex-Presidents receive a pension:

    “Beginning in 1959, all living former presidents were granted a pension, an office, and a staff. The pension has increased numerous times with Congressional approval. Retired presidents now receive a pension based on the salary of the current administration’s cabinet secretaries, which was $199,700 each year in 2012.” Wikipedia

    Approximately, 200K in cash is not dead broke.

  38. Lifestyles go off the hook like you can’t believe at the top 200 range. Private plans? That’s for the multi-millionares. You need a $50 million yachts and $75 million jumbo jets for private planes.

    There people alive who are so rich that they are untouchable. No government, no entity, not even other billionaires scrap with each other. It’s mutually assured self-destruction.

    Put this way, these people can spend a quarter of a billion dollars on an election cycle, get no results, and treat it as an experiment. An experiment.

  39. Approximately, 200K in cash is not dead broke.

    It is against liabilities for legal bills in the millions.

  40. @Brandon – Point.

    I went from poor to over $50k although paycheck to paycheck due to bad financial mgt on both my own & my husband (at the time). Divorce actually had me living better on 1/3rd but I got a nice promotion shortly afterwards and was making close to our combined by myself. I’ve gotten pretty out-of-touch with the “used to be poor” which I’m sure colors my “how do people survive on less”. I’m sure lots of things I consider essential are really luxuries. I know every time my current husband is out-of-work my spending drops. Unfortunately, according to hubby, it goes right back up as soon as he’s employed. LOL

  41. LOL Tasha, eating your own seed corn is fun stuff.. till the corn runs out.


  42. “I often wonder if there is a point where ridiculously wealthy people forget that they are ridiculously wealthy” Yes, it is called habituation. It happens with everything, except maybe stepping on a Leggo.

    B. Durbin about the Mike Todd quote. Ahh, yes, I was wondering which was the mindset.

  43. I put a lot of this analysis into my Facebook-serialized Musical (technically operetta) lyrics TRILLION about (1) the richest men and women in the world, (2) versus the richest men and women in history, (3) versus the richest men and women in fiction; finally valorizing Richard Branson and Elon Musk et al who get the Musical to open on Mars 12345: January 23, 2045. One useful source was the New York Times series defining the CLASS system of America (almost entirely based on wealth, income, education (college degree = at least Middle Class by definition), and profession. Also:
    “To qualify for The Forbes Fictional 15, characters must be known, both within their fictional universe and by their audience, for being rich”

  44. As a Liberal, or heck as a somebody who believes in democracy as an idea, at least, I have to say it is depressing as hell that she’s already described as “Likely to be the next president of the United States”.

  45. John,

    Long time reader, first time poster.

    I noted you wrote the following:

    “It’s like complaining about your Ivy League law school debt when you already have a job lined up at a white shoe law firm and a clear path to partnership. Yes, you have debt; no, you’re not going to have any sort of problem getting rid of it.”

    I am an attorney at a large law firm and can assure you that there is no clear path to partnership at a large law firm – especially a white shoe law firm – any more than there is a clear path to winning the Hunger Games. After years of stressful and soul-crushing workloads, only the best lawyers will even be considered for partner, and of them only those showing an aptitude for generating business will make partner. Being a great lawyer is necessary but not sufficient. It is tough (usually thankless) work for clients that pay you to have no boundaries in your life. Very few lawyers last long enough to make partner at a large law firm; most self-select out, the high salaries ultimately not being worth the sacrifices to family, friends, body, mind, etc.

    Also, the level of student debt cannot be trivialized (often over $200K, and that’s just law school debt), especially in this economy when top students from top schools cannot get jobs with the types of firms where they can earn salaries sufficient to repay their debt. This story has been covered in many blogs and in the Wall Street Journal.

    Anyway, that’s why sci-fi and fantasy are so important to so many of us. It’s an escape from litigation and deals. Keep on keeping on. (My favorite is “Redshirts”.)

  46. Back in 1935 the United States Supreme Court stated that “The legal right of an individual to decrease the amount of what would otherwise be his taxes or altogether avoid them, by means which the law permits, cannot be doubted.”

    But the judgement in the same case also asserted a doctrine of economic substance in rejecting the avoidance scheme they were considering; “the facts speak for themselves and are susceptible of but one interpretation. The whole undertaking, though conducted according to the terms of [the statute], was in fact an elaborate and devious form of conveyance masquerading as a corporate reorganization, and nothing else. [ . . . T]he transaction upon its face lies outside the plain intent of the statute. To hold otherwise would be to exalt artifice above reality and to deprive the statutory provision in question of all serious purpose.”

    The USA codified that doctrine in 2010, but most people pay more attention to the other part of the legislation, commonly known as Obamacare.

    Some countries have adopted general anti avoidance provisions; the difficulty with such provisions is that it’s very hard to make them stick, just as it’s very difficult to make specific anti avoidance provisions stick, not least because anti avoidance legislation is frequently used to construct more avoidance schemes. British tax lawyers are just as creative as their US counterparts; for example, there are a lot of schemes floating around designed to generate losses which aren’t real which can be set against taxable income, for example:

    That was only £120,000,000: last year our Supreme Court ruled on a device which would have cost £500,000,000, and, going rather further back, in 2011 all seven judges of the Supreme Court ruled on a device which would have cost £1,000,000,000.

    The thing which matters in this is that none of these are real transactions in the real world; nevertheless, even when transactions are admitted to be simply there for the purpose of a tax avoidance scheme they may still succeed. At the moment Deutsche Bank and UBS have succeeded in the Court of Appeal on a scheme which they admit is solely for the purpose of avoiding tax on payments to their employees, and no one knows whether the Supreme Court will even agree to hear an appeal, much less rule against them.

    I suspect that most people simply don’t realise just how widespread tax avoidance is, and don’t realise how much of their tax payments are subsidising very wealthy people. If they did they might be slightly more appreciative of very wealthy people who don’t buy tax avoidance schemes…

  47. @Deborah Frederick: You’re exhibiting a bit of habituation yourself: Median income for adults over 25 with earnings in the US is a bit over 32k a year. If you’re making 50k a year, you’re hardly lower middle class.

  48. I often wonder if there is a point where ridiculously wealthy people forget that they are ridiculously wealthy.

    It’s relative. I have a client, who has a “rich friend” who has part-financed his project.

    He tells me that the rich friend (let’s call him Al) says: “You should meet my rich friend, Bill.”
    And Bill will say: “You should meet my rich friend, Charlie”.

    And so on. And “Al” is a multi-millionaire; except for a vanishingly small number of people, there’s always someone who has 10x what you do.

  49. I think it probably should be pointed out that most of the self-made wealthy people did work fairly hard to get to where they are. While a lot of their friends were out partying in their youth, those guys were out working. Somewhere in their lives though, a shift occurs and their values begin to skew.

    That’s OK to the extent that it’s true. But in your country, if not quite to the same extent as in mine, there’s “Old Money”.

    Bill Gates likes people to think of him as a self-made man, but would he have made it the same way had his dad not already been a millionaire? Given the context, Michael Dell’s achievement is more impressive.

    Ian Duncan-Smith, a cabinet minister in the UK, said he knew of families where no-one had worked in three generations. And I thought: “Yes- you’re probably related to some of them.”

  50. @Shawn T – It happens with everything, except maybe stepping on a Leggo.

    No. You can habituate to hot ashes, elecgtrified floors, and Leggos.

    Not jacks, though. Jacks always make the stepees jump.

  51. And John’s piece about being a self-made man is highly relevant to this discussion and eminently worth reading if you haven’t already done so….

  52. @znepj

    Some people like to use Gates as their “hard workin’ self made millionaire” bootstrapping poster boy, but Gates doesn’t really do that himself. He did work hard, but he knows he didn’t create a huge pile of cash from nothing, he created a huge pile of cash from an already substantial pile of cash. He takes care to acknowledge how fortunate he is. He would have been fabulously wealthy in any regard because his dad was, and he knows it. His father has written books advocating for massive inheritance taxes “Leave enough to do something. Do not leave enough to do nothing.”

    The Gates family, though, is the absolute model of how the ridiculously wealthy should behave.

  53. It was clueless and tone deaf at an astonishing level. It reminded me of Mrs. Romney saying she & Willard were really poor after he graduated from college. They were so poor they had to sell some of the stock daddy had given them in order to afford a new house.

    WTH is wrong with people who have money that they lose connection to where it came from and how hard they didn’t work to get it? ITs not like she was born to wealth.

    I do not expect the wealthy to completely understand the daily struggle of the poor or even of the working middle class (what is left of us) But I do expect they should recognize they are not us and appreciate the difference. This sort of cluelessness does not bode well for the nation because, should she be the nominee, she will be the alternative to some guy who is assured of being this clueless.

  54. Double-income households aren’t “the norm,” because a lot of households don’t have two adult members capable of working. A lot of households are a single person, or a single person and one or more children, or there are two adults but one of them is too disabled to work. Plus of course households containing a stay-at-home parent. Two-income households are well within the norm, certainly, but if you assume that every household has two employed adults, there are going to be nontrivial errors in your calculations.

    You’re also going to have thinking that Clinton isn’t the only one overgeneralizing from her experience.

  55. Wellesley College and Hilary Clinton make me think of this:

    There’s a very New England Yankee attitude towards wealth (income and capital) that both simultaneously views it as completely vulgar to discuss money and good fortune, while also valorizing extreme hard work. (always comes back to Puritans). This can be leavened by noblesse oblige and public service, but a good patina is usually only applied once the wealth is into the third or fourth generations. It’s why we got families like the Kennedy’s, the Lowell’s, the Cabot’s, the Lodge’s, and after two or three generations they all sounded the same.

    As a born and bred New Englander, when I listen to Hillary and Bill Clinton, they sound like new money. They don’t know how to be gracious about their good fortune in the exact way that someone who is from older money knows instinctively. (Yes, there are exceptions – I’m thinking of Romney or even Trump). Combine new money with the normal problems of habituation, a socio-economic circle that probably no longer includes even people making 50K a year, and you end up with tone deaf statements.

  56. There ‘s a very entertaining book called A NATURAL HISTORY OF THE RICH by a naturalist named Conniff who decided to study the rich the way he would normally study an animal species. And besides being quite a funny book, it’s also very interesting. Among other things, it studies the sort of biological and environmental factors whereby people wind up thinking it’s perfectly normal (even thrifty) to spend $900 for a pair of blue jeans and think of themselves as being in “modest” circumstances if they’ve got about $15,000,000.

    A similar book–not quite as amusing, but still engaging–is called RICHISTAN. (One of the chapters I remember from this book is about the fad among the ultra-rich to keep building bigger and bigger and bigger pleasure yachts… until these things got so big that your $30,000,000 yacht is too big to fit into a nice marina and has to be moored among oil tankers and salvage ships when you pull into port. So there you are, in your luxury yacht…. in the industrial port.)

  57. Some years ago I read an article about attitudes to wealth and while most of it was statistical and demographic analysis there was a good point that I’ve always remembered: many of the people who did not inherit great wealth who took part in the study told the interviewers that their idea of being really, really rich was that they wouldn’t have to worry about money anymore. And that was just not realistic when you consider investments, funds, expenses related to keeping that money coming in. They still had to worry about money, therefore they weren’t rich – yet. They’d never really lost their middle class moorings as they climbed the income ladder.

  58. “Rich people broke” is different from what the rest of us would consider to be broke. That’s what I take away from this. Does anyone remember the Celebrity Economy issue of NY Mag?

    For example, here’s a look at what celebrities pay and do to keep TMZ out of the yard:

    How much women have to spend in physical upkeep when they’re famous (dunno how much of this Hillary does though):

    How much Zooey Deschanel (for example) and A-listers spend in a year:

    To some degree, famous people just have more costs in physical upkeep, security and staff (they can’t go grocery shopping themselves), a house that can handle security, upscale clothes, and travel than the rest of us. So their idea of “broke” is probably that they’re having a hard time affording all of that crap, not so much that they will end up homeless.

  59. All the talk about New England and money has made me think of my own family, where I swear the Great Depression has been encoded into our DNA. MUST WORK HARD ALWAYS, OR STARVE.

  60. “Hillary Clinton: Likely to be the next president of the United States, I suspect,” In light of this article, that says a lot about the people who would vote for her.

  61. There was a thing on NPR today that said something about how 1.5% of our elected representatives lives were spent in manual labor or service industry jobs, and this has remained largely constant over time and administrations.

    As I was going out to lunch the other day, I looked in my wallet and realized I only had twenty-five bucks in cash, and something occurred to me: I can’t remember the last time I had as little as twenty-five bucks in my wallet and nothing in particular to spend it on, but I can remember the point in my life where I couldn’t imagine having twenty-five bucks in my wallet and nothing to spend it on. I wonder if the “I can’t remember/I can’t imagine index” is a useful metric.

    In a world where the furniture rental place on the corner will give you a new X-box for the low, low price of $40 a week, probably not. But then again, there seems to be a large number of people who don’t realize that, if you can afford $40 a week for an X-box, you can afford to wait three months, save the $40, and pay $1500 less for the damn thing.

  62. This post got 50 percent more posts than the one on the Hugos …. You can debate this stuff anywhere. The real sf fans are in the hugo thread.

    That being said. I’m on the market for a sugar mommy. Did a full round of p90x this year. I have a budding 6 pack. Bill had his intern.. Wonder if I have a shot? She’s rich as long as she buys me stuff I’ll keep my mouth shut. I’m about lewinskys age so the age difference is about the same.

  63. @john: based on median income that Wikipedia has about Bradford , OH scalzi is a 1 percenter. I am in favor of Bradford raising taxes on the rich. Working people in Bradford are suffering. What does scalzi contribute to the community? He sits in his plush office, plays on twitter, spends too much time on the internet, and the writes stories. He isn’t a job creator. He doesn’t even have an assistant.

  64. Rob G – it says more about the dead-eyed granny starver who is likely to be Hillary’s opponent than Hillary. He’s like Romney, but without the human empathy and charisma.

    It’s the South Park election special all over again.

  65. (I’ve only read to the middle or so of the comments. There are a lot, but no one quite states my feeling.)
    Hillary is very smart and very political. And pretty tough. I’m puzzled how she could say something so impolitic. Regardless of what she really thinks, it was so obviously a Wrong Thing to Say. In a way, I’m just reframing the original question, but I’m genuinely surprised and puzzled.

  66. “Hillary Clinton: Likely to be the next president of the United States, I suspect,” In light of this article, that says a lot about the people who would vote for her.
    It’s not so much about her voters as about her likely opponent, and his selectors.

  67. Let’s not delve too deeply into a discussion of the 2016 Election, please. It’s still some ways off.


    “What does scalzi contribute to the community?”

    This is meant tongue in cheek, I know, Guess, but in fact as a family we donate thousands annually to the local community, hire locally for expert work we need done around the house (the shelving and desk in my office were made by a local cabinetmaker, for example) and spend as much as our money as practical in and around Bradford and in neighboring communities. And I wouldn’t really get my nose out of joint if my local taxes were raised a bit.

  68. There seems to be a lot of class warfare around all this stuff. There’s this cocktail of resentment and jealousy that turn us all into sharks, chasing after the next thing some wealthy person is going to say about their money so we can all condemn them and somehow feel righteous.

    Look, I’m pretty poor by American standards. I’m not one of them, and I’m not trying to be some kind of 1% apologist, but this crap is getting old.

  69. I was just gonna say that. I swear. And i was gonna be just as spot-on, too. Now i know why i fork over my hard won cash to you Mr Scalzi…..cuz you have mad-word-skillz. Just sayin.

  70. @B. Lucerne – Bear in mind how many “jump on” moments originate with a politician’s statement. It isn’t class warfare to be concerned that someone’s privilege blindness could create a situation where it’s even harder for you to get by. Given how many politicians are among the very wealthy, the general attitudes and blind spots of the very rich are really very relevant to a large percentage of the U.S., if not the world.

    In my own town, you see a very sharp difference between the issues people above a certain income level think are pressing here and the issues people below a certain income level think are pressing – and some of the solutions you hear rich folks propose would seriously exacerbate the poor people problems, because it has never entered their minds that those are problems for anyone.
    Now picture one of those Very Rich being in a position to implement their solutions to what they think of as problems. Suddenly their ignorance of other lifestyles just bit a good half the county in the butt. So while you still have a vote to cast, you do care a great deal about whether someone asking for it will have the slightest idea what they’re doing when they go into whatever office they’re seeking and start making decisions.

  71. I suppose I’m used to poverty vis who I can vote for.
    Let’s delve shallowly into the 2016 election. It will be just like the one where I had a choice between a guy who’d lose his temper and set the world on fire or the guy who was so inexperienced that he wouldn’t understand that he shouldn’t assemble those who say they love him and have a press-the-red-button party.

    @keranih Call it protective/traumatic amnesia: I’d forgotten about the practice caltrops, AKA jacks.
    1 2

  72. I don’t know, I think a wealthy American promoting the idea of paying your taxes is a big turn-around from the usual “taxes are for idiots/stooges” ideas that we so often hear. With any luck, Clinton will be indicating a crackdown on (currently legal) tax avoidance by the very rich and corporations.

  73. @ERose, you make a pretty decent case, but I’m not sure you can really draw that kind of a line between the Very Rich and Real People. As if they’ve morphed into some other species.

    If people, like the Clintons, are successful, it seems to me that we should – rather than trying to take it away from them by calling it luck or privilege – try to learn from it.

    We should, to some extent, look at successful people – as we do with elders – as people who might have something to teach us.

  74. A few years ago I did the taxes for my parents – they had less net income than my husband and I do, but also live in a less expensive state with no mortgage. It was still kind of shocking. I know if I told them what his salary is now, jaws would drop.But we still don’t feel rich.

    I grew up probably middle class, all my friends were poor but it wasn’t a big deal. I seem to have inherited my G-ma’s depression-era penny-pinching. My husband grew up actually poor and tries to separate himself from that. So he spends to prove he can.

  75. If I were emperor for a day, the single thing I’d do would be to eliminate tax withholding.

  76. “And I wouldn’t really get my nose out of joint if my local taxes were raised a bit.”

    It is evil for you to accumulate more than roughly 100k a year in wealth. How about a tax rate of 100% for every dollar earned over 100k?

  77. @Magda, that’s always been my theory about how Americans define “rich”: not having to think about bills. That’s why somebody making hundreds of thousands of dollars with a nice house and new cars and lots of disposable income will demur that she’s not “rich”: hey, I have a mortgage and a job, therefore I can’t possibly be rich no matter how much money I have, QED. (You also get people lumping discretionary income into the same category as necessities to proclaim how little money they have, like Professor Whatshisname a while back, the guy who complained that he wasn’t rich because he had many expenses, including dinner out with his wife at nice restaurants on a regular basis.)

    @B. Lucerne, speaking as someone who isn’t in the 1% but I can see it from my house, what gets extremely old is having meaningful discussions of economic inequality shouted down with “Class warfare!” and “You’re just jealous!”

    I think people forget that the ‘bootstraps’ thing really refers to an impossibility. You can’t pull yourself up by your own bootstraps.

    @Zillion: While it’s true BigLaw is no longer the smooth path to a comfortable living it was a generation ago: c’mon. Fresh out of law school your salary is around $150K, which doesn’t take into account benefits and perks and four-to-five-figure yearly bonuses, and it goes up from there. Some of you WILL make partner. Yes, making partner is tough. Yes, you will work long hours. Yes, you have debt if you didn’t already come from a wealthy family. Compare that to the situation of your peers who are working document review jobs at $35 an hour. Or, for that matter, the situation of the people who clean your office at night, because if you think you work harder and have a crappier job than they do, you need to go lie down for a while and think about what you’ve done. No, I’m not saying ‘be grateful you have a job’ but FFS, a little perspective.

  78. Hmmm, I took that as part of the next presidential contest. Mitt is mumbling about running again and there don’t seem to any other establishment Republicans out there who can make a serious run. And the “I only pay what is required” and “I don’t need to release my returns, but trust me” statements may get dragged out again. I assume that this is part of building a narrative in a years long political process. Not that I like it, but there you go.

  79. I can’t speak for the Really Very Wealthy, but the simply Affluent do tend to continue to think of themselves as “average middle class” despite being, well, affluent. Which makes me think we all just reset “average” to mean “my life and standard of living.”

    In this climate it doesn’t surprise me much that there’s an attempt to downplay position among the wealthier… (1) having money doesn’t actually make other problems go away (it probably means new ones, instead, though I can’t speak with authority on that, LOL) and (2) there are quarters where the collapse of society and the re-emergence of the torch-bearing mob sound like they are just days away. Wouldn’t YOU be trying to assert yourself as “less awful and less rich than those really awful rich people” in that climate? ;)

  80. As a Liberal, or heck as a somebody who believes in democracy as an idea, at least, I have to say it is depressing as hell that she’s already described as “Likely to be the next president of the United States”.

    On the other hand, her accomplishments in her own right make ascending to the Presidency because of who she married a bit more tolerable than certain people ascending to the Presidency because of who ejaculated in the womb they came out of…

  81. Even in this thread, there are some pretty skewed perspectives on wealth. Somebody said they live on “fairly modest means” and then quoted that they earned around 100,000 combined income.

    uh, yeah, whatever. Call me when you’re getting by on less than 20k per year, and then we can talk about “fairly modest means”.

  82. You would think that candidates would learn to stop trying to be “of the people” by declaring they are just like us. In this country, if you are running for office we can pretty much assume you are rich. Only the rich can raise the funds needed to run for office!

  83. dpmaine:

    “It is evil for you to accumulate more than roughly 100k a year in wealth.”

    Nah. Which is all this particular comment requires in response.

    Other than to say I see we’re about to go massively off topic on taxes here, so, let’s not. Let’s reel it back in, folks.

  84. MrManny, you sort of supported my point, actually. That yes, I know that by my standards I’m thinking I have fairly modest means and can bristle when people who make more talk about their difficulties paying the bills, but I know people who make less who think we’re well off. Yeah, I have friends who could easily be called “working poor” and under $20G a year certainly falls into that category by almost any standard.

  85. @mythago “I think people forget that the ‘bootstraps’ thing really refers to an impossibility. You can’t pull yourself up by your own bootstraps.”

    Nonsense. I’ve seen some friends of mine do quite well for themselves, friends who grew up as poor, or poorer, than I did. Hell, even John has more or less said that he’s done it.

    That doesn’t mean you can do it alone, or that it isn’t harder than it used to be…

    But laying on the ground and saying, “Well, there’s no hope, so why bother” doesn’t work for me.

    And since when am I shouting you down?

  86. I am dissappointed that John is not endorsing my desire to become Hillary Clinton’s trophy guy. :( Look if Bill did it, what is wrong with Hillary scoring some action too?

    That being said…. you are over estimating Hillary’s chances. I am not convinced she will win the democrat primary. Democrats generally go for fresh faces. She has a ton fo baggage and she is old. She is roughly Ronald Reagan’s age when he ran for president. The difference being she is following a 2 term democrat in office, this democrat was elected in his 40s, and generally once the American people move on to the next generation they don’t go back. She will have trouble with younger opponents. Yes you can say she has experience. She also has baggage. Remember the saying ‘no drama Obama’, the Clintons have baggage. They are like a high maintenance girlfriend. Eventually guys get tired of having her around. I do mean ‘they’. Hillary has ‘Bill Baggage’.

    HBO made a TV movie based on the book Game Change. They only focused on the Sarah Palin. This book covered the primaries and the entire election cycle. There is one piece that is not well publicized. Bill had another girlfriend and was cheating on Hillary again. The name did not come out. It would have if she was nominated. These things always do. No its not Hillary’s fault, but its more drama and more baggage.

    I really do not think its guaranteed that she even wins the democratic nomination. We are over 2 years from the next election and she is already getting attacked. So its going to be 2 more years of Clinton bashing. That stuff adds up. Her age and the ‘Bill Baggage’ is going to hurt her.

  87. I think it’s worth noting that her net worth is not $100 million. The article mentions that the Clintons have made over $100 million *since Bill left the presidency*. That was 14 years ago. So on average about 7 million per year of income. Income is not wealth. Various websites seem to place her net worth anywhere from 20-50 million. It’s nothing to sneeze at of course, and they’re still quite wealthy. I just think it’s telling how the numbers get distorted, especially up to that extra digit that has a more significant psychological effect.

  88. Guess, et al:

    Once again, let’s not go off on Election 2016 too much.

    B. Lucerne:

    I believe Mythago is pointing out it is literally impossible to pull one’s self up by one’s bootstraps; bootstraps don’t work that way. Also, as a metaphor, it belies the fact we’re all reliant on others more than we may wish to admit.

    With regard to my own bootstraps, this entry is illuminating.

  89. @B. Lucerne “I think people forget that the ‘bootstraps’ thing really refers to an impossibility. You can’t pull yourself up by your own bootstraps.”

    Actually I agree with @Mythago on this. To a certain point. Is it *possible* to ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps’? Yes. Is it PROBABLE? No. Especially not in many circumstances that everyday average folks find themselves.

    I’m basing this off of myself. I’m 33, I’ve had steady jobs for the last 15 years. The one I had for 13 of those years paid me $13.50 an hr. I have no rent, and no car payment, no car insurance. My personal *must pay* bills are phone, health insurance and any vet bill for the animals/upkeep of said animals. 15 year later, I’m still living paycheck to paycheck. I don’t spend wildly. I don’t go on long vacations. I DO however get lost continually in the midst of our current economy. I’m single, childless and I make a ‘reasonable’ amount of money. Therefore I qualify for no breaks on any level where taxes and healthcare are concerned while at the same time, I often fall into the ‘can pay higher rates because she’s got no dependents’ category in regard to things like health insurance or taxes.
    Am I keeping my head above water without panicking? Yes. Am I able to save money or invest it the way I need to in order to have my money ‘work’ for me? No. So unless ‘pulling yourself up by your bootstraps’ means ‘breaking even and staying out of debt’ I haven’t been able to ‘pull myself up by my bootstraps’ in 15 years of steady work with as few bills as possible.

  90. @mythago –

    Thing is, I’m not really seeing many, if any, ‘meaningful’ conversations about econmic inequality. There are conversations that are *more* helpful – that don’t go into the pitchfork territory that aka gringita mentions – but still most conversations tend to focus on the morality of people who either a) have money or b) talk about money or c) (like this one) do both.

    Labeling people who do [X] as wrong isn’t very meaningful, unless one has suggestions on how to stop people from doing [X]. And seeing as the [X] we’re talking about is “succeed economically in the USA” – I’m pretty sure I’m not interested stopping anyone from doing that.

    @ JS – but in fact as a family we donate thousands annually to the local community

    What’s the term…noblesse oblige?

    I think it is a very good thing for that cabinetmaker, that people all over the world can buy Redshirts and Old Man’s War. There are probably cabinetmakers in China or Mexico or Puerto Rico who also wouldn’t mind selling cabinets to well-off authors.

    It’s a tangled world we live in, and it can be hard to figure out how to do the best thing, when so many things have upsides and downsides.

  91. Keranih:

    “What’s the term…noblesse oblige?”

    Well, no. It’s a belief that it’s useful and worthwhile offer support in one’s community, both ethically and as a practical matter. It’s also worth noting that in the US, on a per capita basis, it’s not the rich who give the most. I’m not sure you could accuse them of noblesse oblige.

    It is indeed good for the cabinetmaker that I sell around the world. That said, my market is international, whereas his is not, and it’s again useful and worthwhile to support local businesses with a local focus.

  92. When people use the ‘bootstraps’ phrase, or something akin to it, I don’t know if they actually mean to say that you CAN do everything all by yourself. Nor do I attempt to say that.

    I always interpreted it to be closer to ‘stop whining, stop blaming other people for your problems, suck it up and get to work’, etc.

    And @artemisgrey – forgive me, I mean no offense, but saying it’s impossible for anyone to “climb the ladder” just because you haven’t been able to is anecdotal.

  93. I’m with John on local buying. It’s true, there are people all over the world who would like your business, but supporting local businesses is about propping up an economy that you depend on. While an author’s market is int’l, he likely depends on local businesses like supermarkets, hardware stores, barber shops, and, yes, bookstores. So does the cabinetmaker.

    So buying local means that the money stays in the local economy, not just for that initial purchase, but for all the secondary purchases the cabinetmaker makes, and so on, which help the other services John uses.

    It’s a “scratch your back” thing.

  94. @B. Lucerne: Where has anyone suggested laying on the ground and moaning about how things are hopeless? You’re doing this weird thing where you seem to be talking about the climate of certain topics in general, but then take it personally when others disagree on your cast of that climate.

    And yes, I was referring to the fact that it is literally impossible to pull oneself up by one’s own bootstraps, which makes it a very ironic colloquialism for “improving one’s lot through one’s own effort”.

    @keranih: ironically, scolding wealthy people for not being sufficiently Right-Thinking is what you just did – mocking Scalzi for voluntarily supporting his local community instead of, what, purchasing products from a free-trade women’s collective in Ulan Batur?

    I don’t know what conversations you are listening to. I am hearing rather a lot of them that make X about how economic inequality is simply a result of non-rich people lacking virtue, and/or that The Market, with Her impartial and virtuous hand, will rightly separate the sheep from the goats.

  95. >a) it’s not quite kosher to imply that other people are skirting their taxes if they’re
    >actually paying what the law requires

    Thanks for this one. I consider the same to be true of corporations. I actually am kind of baffled why many of my friend’s regular Facebook postings are about some liberal congressman decrying Corporation X didn’t pay any income taxes last year. Perhaps these congressfolk don’t realize they’re the ones who make the tax laws?

    (Even if they did, I wouldn’t expect any progress. The last I checked I believe there are 77K pages in the US federal tax code. I expect any Congressional action to be of the “Our system is broke, here’s another 10K pages of tax law to fix it” ilk.)

  96. Re: ‘local buying’ – eh. It’s one of those things which I think needs to be done very carefully, least one fall into provencialism and xenophobia.

    The supermarkets, barbershops, hardware stores, and bookstores are hardly buying their stock local. The food gets shipped from around the world, the tools are largely from China, the books are not printed in Ohio, and the barbershop’s scissors are made in Germany or Pakistan.

    Even the local farmer’s market – and I’m a locovore, as much as I can – it’s not like the farmer is mining his own iron to build the tractor.

    Buying local because you’re establishing a relationship for emergency service and because you need customer service for a number of things – yes indeedy. Buying local – and paying more, and waiting longer, and getting less choice – can also encourage local merchants to go on doing business as they always have, without inovation or improvement.

    And there is this too – JS (and the rest of us fairly well offs) – we have the extra change to pay more for “local” stuff. And we can drive out of town when we finally hit the point of ‘don’t want to pay more’. But the less well off have fewer options. If us well off don’t insist on lower prices, better choices, excellent service, etc by voting with our pockets, who will?

    (And I leave out entirely the ramifications of whose football team beat which rival school, where the QB’s mom runs the bakery…)

  97. @mythago, I’m not taking anything personally. I did, however, miss that you were joking about ‘bootstraps’ as a literalism.

    @keranih, Equating the “buy local” movement with xenophobia seems a little hyperbolic, don’t you think?

    It doesn’t mean you ONLY buy things made locally, it just means that you make an effort to buy locally when you have the option to.

  98. @Mythago –

    My point was not scolding JS for spending money in a DoubleUnGood manner, but to highlight how many different ways there are to do Good.

    If I really wanted to scold him, I would take him to task for buying such a large house and acreage in such a nice safe little town, rather than buying an apartment complex in Detroit and taking his family to live there, spending his free time managing the complex and helping the other residents solve their problems. (But this is rather an easy target, as the number of people who CAN’T be scolded for failing to move to Detroit and try to save the city is quite small.)

    (And yes, I do know people who have not only done that sort of thing themselves, but who have scolded others for not following in their footsteps. The first is helpful, the scolding not so much.)

    The world is wide. There are plenty of wounds to bind.

    I don’t know what conversations you are listening to.

    Oh, the ususal, you know – “41 Repub senators blocked raising minimum wage because they are evil rich bastards” and so forth. Facebook is an on-going lesson in the loss of the fine art of debate.

    I am hearing rather a lot of them that make X about how economic inequality is simply a result of non-rich people lacking virtue,

    Skill. Not virtue, skill. As in “don’t know how to come to work on time, spend less than they earn, and plan for contingencies”. People without these skills are often poor. People with them are rarely broke for long. All of them remain people.

  99. @ B.Lucerene – Not in the corners of the local movement I’ve been in. It is not the main theme, true, but it’s there. Frank tribalism – we are the sort of people who eat the $6/lb local berries, not the $2/lb berries from California is a larger part.

  100. @B. Lucerne No need to ask forgiveness because I didn’t say IMPOSSIBLE, I said IMPROBABLE. Which, there is a vast difference between the two.

    Besides that quibble, you misquote me. I never said anything about climbing any metaphorical ladder.

    My position at my longest running primary job was fixed, satisfyingly so, and I received raises without the necessity of ‘climbing the ladder’. My point is that with steady raises, and minimal bills owed it’s perfectly reasonable to think one would be able to set money aside and wind up better off monetarily than when you started out. But without the benefit of a secondary salary, or the breaks offered to so many others (because they have kids or other dependents) it’s not merely a matter of ‘stop whining, stop blaming other people for your problems, suck it up and get to work’ as you so graciously put it.

    I’m not suggesting that those who have kids or spouses or whatever don’t deserve tax breaks, or other allowances. This thread is not about that. It’s about the wealthy perceiving that it’s ‘easy’ to get rich, and all you have to do is ‘work hard.’ Something that you obviously agree with.

    Unfortunately, our current system is set up in a way that, as a single, childless person – who arguably *should* have the least amount of difficulty attaining a certain amount of monetary wealth – it is, in actuality, very difficult to manage that very thing when multiple agencies all assess you and deem that you should be able to pay more, or receive less simply because you’ve got no one to be responsible for besides yourself.

  101. Clearly she is either out of touch or simply stupid. Many rich people just do not get it. Then again, everyone who posts here is out of touch and rich from the eyes of someone living in the slums in a third world country.
    Not someone I want pretending to run the country.

  102. @keranih: Scalzi was replying to a specific criticism claiming that he was a bad person who didn’t help his community, not announcing that the best or only way to do good is Give Local.

    And no, I meant virtue, not skill: poor people are only poor because they’re lazy and don’t want to work and just want a handout, and they complain that their rent went up 60% in the last year because they’re jealous of us. Since some protestors have time to block Google buses clearly all poor people are just sitting around watching their color TVs all day rather than at a job. Those kind of conversations. (“Don’t know how to come to work on time, spend less than they earn, and plan for contingencies” is a pretty good description of rather a good chunk of the tech workforce, come to think of it. But having money and like-minded moneyed folks around you is a good safety net.)

    Anyway, I find the ‘stop picking on rich people’ thread here interesting because our host didn’t say that Clinton is a bad person for being rich. Just that it’s kind of clueless and shitty for rich people to point up the ladder and say, whoa, Ms. $10 An Hour or Mr. Struggling To Find Work After A Layoff, you think *I* have money? Au contrare, mon frere, I am merely a honest middle-class person like yourself!

  103. @atremisgrey

    as a single, childless person – who arguably *should* have the least amount of difficulty attaining a certain amount of monetary wealth

    I’m not sure that this holds true – I really *don’t* think it is true historically.

    Young, single, childless men have traditionally been among the poorest, and the least influential, members of a community. A woman might be weaker, physically, but could generally count on more support from the community and/or family.

    A young man attempting to work his inherited portion of land on his own would slowly decline into illness and death, for while he could manage the grain and other cash crops with his daily labor, there was no one to cook the food (no microwave meals), manage the garden (so no fresh veggies, and a subpar diet) and the hens and dairy cow (no milk, eggs or cheese, likewise a subpar diet) and no one to wash or repair his clothes, or gather firewood, so that the elements took their toll.

    And of course, with no children, there was no one to care for him in his old age.

    In many ways we in the West have made some strides to correcting some of the problems with this, and to allow people options besides “married, with children”. It remains, though, that married people with children have resources that childless singletons do not.

  104. I’m not sure that this holds true – I really *don’t* think it is true historically.

    Historically, different communities have had all kinds of ways of mutual assistance and family ties; as we see with the Amish, for example, the idea that everyone toils alone except for their own blood-kin isn’t quite correct.

  105. @Keranih I totally agree with you on the fact that the truth is single, childless women could, currently, be among the poorest and I don’t argue the fact that the same could be true historically, but can you name any specific article that explores it? Unless we’re talking ‘women of the night’ or however you’d like to refer to them, in large cities, I don’t find much historical reference to ‘single childless women’ anywhere in common culture because historically, women just didn’t choose to stay single and childless. I’m sure there are examples, but I’m not sure the percentage of them would be high enough to even really be noted. I know for a fact we’re such a small percentage nowadays, that we’re virtually written off as nonexistent, and I’m one of them.

  106. I’ll be briefer than I could be. Problem with being in the UK – late to the party

    Anyway – the myth that you deserve everything you earn is destructive in two ways.

    Firstly, it keeps people in a position of hopeful and exploitable. Just work that bit harder and you’ll get what you deserve – which of course is garbage. The game’s rigged, and not in favour of your average Joe. We don’t live in a free market society – Goldman Sachs’ actions leading to the crash is a prime example – and while economists are currently arguing the accuracy of Thomas Picketty’s numbers, few will argue that wealth does not propagate more wealth.

    The Second, more relevant, point is that it implies that the poor deserve to be poor. They don’t. Society would be an infinitely more compassionate, egalitarian if we accepted the level of wealth we accrue in our life time earns much, much more to luck than “effort”. Bill Gates is a prime example – he was born into a rich family in America during a tech boom. Had he been born in the Congo in 1857 – I suspect he would not be quite so rich.

    Anyway – I think it’s this lazy attitude that causes these ridiculous statements. “You deserve what you get” is simple. But also incredibly relative. So when Hillary Clinton feels like she did not deserve to be so poor, considering the wealth she has “earned” before and after, she actually touches a little on the injustice the 99% feel everyday. She worked hard, but she was earning less than she did when she was working equally as hard before. She paid taxes like an honest person, but circumstances contrived to put her in a less fortunate position than before. It’s a logical, understandable reaction – but it’s relative to the initial starting point. Which for her is Smokin’ Rich!

    What it lacks is depth. The best outcome is if us, the poorer elements of society, don’t just dismiss her negative twist in circumstance as some kind of rich man’s burden. And in turn the 1%ers like her realise that same drop in circumstance actually has happened to most of the world, and doesn’t ever right itself. It’s not that we deserve low wages, and high earners merit it, because of some coefficient of “Hard Work”. And what we need are politicians who’ll challenge the orthodoxy, and actually get the richer of society to admit their beneficial circumstances owe much, much more to society itself than “Hard Work”. Roads, police, trade, running water, the microchip, disposable incomes, currency, the internet….etc etc. Throw in an expensive education, a trust fund, and so on – and jesus, it’d be harder for you NOT to succeed.

    So don’t talk about how much you earn, but how lucky you are. You’ll be telling more of the story at least.

  107. To back up @keranih, single men statistically make less than married men, even after controlling for age and dual-income households.

  108. I think the danger in a topic about income inequality – i.e., is it a skill/virtue/work ethic issue, or an oppression/victimization issue? – is to deal in absolutes.

    People who insist that poverty is a result of a lack of virtue/skill tend to marginalize the fact that many people in poverty actually are less privileged.

    But people who insist that poverty is a result of societal oppression tend to marginalize how much power a person actually does have in Western society.

  109. Discussing wealth and status leads to an “Us v.Them” posture. Someone once asked me to define “Us” and “Them” After a while I came up with this explanation/definition. “We” go out to our mailboxes every day, pick up our mail, sort out the junk, and figure out which bills to pay first. “They” have someone else do that for them.

  110. I should get an account, so I can edit posts rather than post a second time.

    … anyway, one of the threats of the second option – people who insist that poverty is due to societal oppression, the “check your privilege” people… they run the risk of communicating to people that there’s no hope, right? Or that the way to financial well-being is to vote the right person into power, or to vote for the right public service…

    Those things can help, sure, but the buck – for most people – stops with them. Some people will be poor regardless of who’s in power, regardless of what public services and programs exist for them.

  111. What I find interesting about the “class warfare” criticism is how it always seems to be aimed at those criticizing UP the chain. A poor or middle class person criticizing the rich is called class warfare, but a rich or middle class person criticizing the poor isn’t. At least not by the same people. The poor can be assumed to be lazy, unemployed, living on welfare, leeching off the system, even criminal, and the people so concerned about upward “class warfare” are silent.

    I think Hillary has potential as a candidate, but I find it unsettling that she seems to be losing perspective on her financial situation. She’ll be running after eight years of a Democratic president who ran as a populist semi-liberal but largely governed like a Republican on financial issues. I’d like someone with more backbone, which Hillary seems to have, but who hasn’t actually forgotten what it’s really like to be poor.

  112. Obviously, class warfare goes both ways, and you have a good point – that you don’t see people really throwing around the term too much when they’re aiming down.

    The interesting thing for me is that it can easily go both ways for any of us…

    What I mean by that is… I drive home to a 600 sq foot condo, right? On the way home, I pass by a bunch of McMansions with a 9-hole golf course behind them. I can easily look out my window, and label them “the enemy”, they’re the reason I’m not better off, etc, etc….

    And I suppose they could look back at me as the problem for some reason or another….

    But y’know… by virtue of being an employed American, I’m in the top 5% of the income bracket worldwide. So someone in another country, specifically a developing country, could easily look at me and decide that *I’m* the enemy. I’m the rich, evil one.


  113. This is where I ask whether a general discussion of class warfare is on point to the topic, and if it’s not, if we could begin to reel it in to be closer to the topic ostensibly under discussion.

  114. For Mrs. Clinton, I think her relative wealth is a problem for the country and her candidacy. What does it say about the country that she has gotten fabulously wealthy for doing.. what exactly? This is simply a very nice, cordial, and acceptable version of corruption. The Clintons are wealthy for the same reason that Putin is wealthy.

    It does factor into class warfare in that we are all supposed to pretend that the political class is somehow and honest class. From inside trading, to contract shopping, to campaign donations – it’s all drenched in money. The fact that American don’t just call this corruption is unusual in a worldwide context.

    Regarding this:

    ““We” go out to our mailboxes every day, pick up our mail, sort out the junk, and figure out which bills to pay first. “They” have someone else do that for them.”

    This is almost comically biased towards the middle class and up. There are as many Americans who are unbanked, who have to pre-pay everything, who literally never receive a bill in the mail because they don’t have the economic status to support post-paid billing of services and utilities that it is very near a tipping point.

  115. Part of Hillary Clinton’s awkward statements about wealth point to the difference between economic class and social class (and yes,that does exist in the USA, even if it’s not talked about, see Paul Fussell).. True (social)Upper class people don’t talk about wealth, but it’s much on the minds of upper-middle (social) folks.

    Come to think of it, the last truly upper-class family in the White House were the Kennedy’s.

  116. @ JS This is where I ask whether a general discussion of class warfare is on point to the topic, and if it’s not, if we could begin to reel it in to be closer to the topic ostensibly under discussion.

    Which is…

    Stick to the topic, and the topic is money and how the very rich (of which Clinton is one) talk about it.

    If we’re talking about how the very rich do something, and if it is right what they do – rather than is it right if anyone does this, then it seems to me that we are indeed talking about, at least, class differentiations and class preferences…then, yes, the existance of/tendency of people to engage in/drum up support for class warfare is quite to the point.

    Again, if we’re going to look at people and divide them by how much money they make (rather than their pie vs cake preferences) we’re going to see class divisions.

    We can do this, we can do this not at all, or we can do this in a limited fashion that is restricted to relevent issues (tax rates, f’xample) and not morality. Start making it significant what Hillary’s income is, relative to what she says, and don’t be surprised if people start treating it like it actually means something.

  117. This is where I ask whether a general discussion of class warfare is on point to the topic

    John, I would suggest that the class warfare canard is very much on the topic of “money and how the very rich talk about it,” since the very rich are the ones who began using the phrase to deflect any criticism from the lower economic classes. It’s part and parcel of how many of their vocal members talk publicly about money. It’s a key element in reinforcing the idea that everyone is exactly where they deserve to be financially. Others have suggested that the rich don’t want to talk about money. Propagating the notion that any criticism of the rich amounts to class warfare and is driven by envy is a way to keep other people from talking about money, too.

  118. “Propagating the notion that any criticism of the rich amounts to class warfare and is driven by envy is a way to keep other people from talking about money, too.”

    Bingo. How come it isn’t class warfare when they break my union or shut down my workplace but it is class warfare to talk about raising the capital gain’s tax a couple of percentage points?

  119. I’ll say one more thing, and then I’m retiring from this topic:

    We have to be careful not to assign moral judgments to a person based on their wealth or social status alone, i.e. “Hillary Clinton is rich and therefore evil”, or “You’re poor and therefore lazy.”

    That’s where I think class warfare begins and ends, both upward and downward.

  120. I don’t discuss my money because I don’t like small talk. [rimshot]

    (With apologies to all those who have made thoughtful and serious comments.)

    As close to serious as I can get here: I think it was Mel Brooks who recalled the moment when he realized he was rich: He got caught in the rain without an umbrella and realized that he could afford to just duck into a store and buy a new one.

    That’s as good a thumbnail description as any.

  121. @JS – I feel like the “class warfare” discussion is narrowly relevant, if only because if you honestly believe rather clueless things about your money, you probably will end up not understanding some of the negative reactions you get from less wealthy people and attributing them to something along those lines.

    My opinions of the various uses and misuses of vast wealth aside, my concern for a given example of cluelessness is directly related to how much other people might have to live with its consequences.
    An author, for example, can be as clueless about the financial realities of my life as he pleases. He doesn’t set the price of his books, and even if he did, I can get around an overpriced book in so many ways.
    A Wall Street name, I’ll care more because a) the health of the economy effects us all and b) he and others like him run businesses I do have to deal with on the regular, even though I do have some latitude in whether I patronize a specific firm.
    A politician, on the other hand, even one as well-meaning as I do believe Hillary to be, makes decisions I can’t get around because they’re literally the law.

  122. @John: “That’s a problem of the tax code rather than these very rich folks doing something legally wrong”.

    I agree John, I merely grumble when the very wealthy have an ability to take advantage of the tax code. However, the bigger problem is that the people that have the ability to take advantage of it most are the ones who also influence what those tax codes are the most. In other words, they get to set up the game so they can “play by the rules” yet have the greatest advantage.

    It’s akin to people saying we’re a democracy since we all get to vote, but the reality is that a handful of people greatly influence the handful of individuals that can get on the ballot. The rest of us, often (it seems) get to simply pick the less of multiple evils.

  123. B. Lucerne: *can’t decide if @dpmaine is sarcastic or not*

    Nope. Means every word.

    Apropos of nothing, I have a scroll wheel on my mouse.

    And keranih, I buy locally-grown tomatoes because they’re better. In fact I don’t buy tomatoes at all in the winter because gas-ripened-and-shipped-from-Florida-or-California tomatoes have no flavor at all, and aren’t worth the money. In season, New Jersey has the best tomatoes I’ve eaten anywhere, including the ones I picked in my mom’s garden in Michigan when I was a kid, and ate still sun-warm 20 feet away. And most emphatically including the ones bought in the grocery store even in California.

    Currently we’re eating hothouse (but local and vine-ripened) tomatoes. They’re STILL better than the grocery-store ones.

    I offer this to make a more general point: people seldom do things for truly stupid reasons, and in fact seldom do things for only ONE reason.

  124. We have to be careful not to assign moral judgments to a person based on their wealth or social status alone, i.e. “Hillary Clinton is rich and therefore evil”, or “You’re poor and therefore lazy.”

    Hillary Clinton is evil, but not necessarily because she’s rich. I believe the topic here is that she said something clueless about her own economic status, which indicates a certain out-of-touchness with the general population that may come back to bite her on the ass, if it hasn’t already. We are, after all, in Campaign Season 2016, as we have been since November 2012.

    By the way, even those people who work their way to wealth from genuinely humble beginnings generally benefit not only from the help of others around them, but from government policies intended to make the rich richer. The idea of pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps, even as a metaphor, is fantasy. The poor mostly work hard, and are generally more entrepreneurial than the better-off. (When we talk about people who can’t manage to get to work on time each day, as someone already has here, I wonder if someone like George W. Bush could have done that if he’d ever had to earn a living instead of benefiting from his family’s wealth and connections. Or, as a number of people asked in 2008, has John McCain ever had an actual job, the kind where you have to show up on time each morning? Evidently not. And so on. Concern with getting to work on time is a fairly recent one, born of the industrial revolution, and it applies to the cogs in the machine, not to People Who Matter.)

  125. @Duncan –

    Has John McCain ever had an actual job, the kind where you have to show up on time each morning?

    Ummm. Perhaps a review of McCain’s WP entry might be in order. Just to prevent future slips of the tongue that make you look very silly.

    (Or Bush’s work history, for that matter.)

  126. @Duncan,

    “The poor …are generally more entrepreneurial than the better-off.”

    Please provide evidence for this assertion.

  127. @B. Lucerne: that was a mighty short retirement.

    @Mishigas, personally I’m more annoyed when those who exploit the tax code pretend to reform it in ways that would make taxes “fairer” to the less-well-off but actually benefit the wealthy, like flat tax proposals that would do away with the capital gains tax.

  128. @ B. Lucerne, [historian hat] In 18th Century London, the worst off of the urban poor appeared to constantly be on the look out for new ‘business’ opportunities. Whereas a craftsman or professional might strive to improve their business, the poor would be trying to improve three or four opportunities to ensure that they weren’t caught short when a source of income failed.Of course, that was when becoming truly destitute meant a reasonably swift death, so it may not be applicable now. [/historian hat]

  129. However, if in their quest to pay a little tax as possible they’re actually following our tax code, then, eh. That’s a problem of the tax code rather than these very rich folks doing something legally wrong.

    But this is the wrong way to look at it. The reason our tax code is as ridiculously complicated as it is is because people were able to find legal ways not to pay taxes, and those ways were blocked, and new ways were found, etc. But as it always continues to get more and more complex, and as there are an order of magnitude more lawyers working for the wealthy, and as those lawyers are paid an order of magnitude more than the ones working for the IRS, and as our congress would even at the best of times prefer not to move *too* quickly in blocking said loopholes, there will always be legal ways to avoid most or all taxes, for the very wealthy. (This would in theory be fixable if we could just get all the countries in the world to have the same tax code, but I suspect it is at best a moving-target NP complete otherwise, and at worst provably insoluble.)

    Given this, saying you cannot blame the rich for taking advantage of loopholes is begging the question. There will be loopholes. The rich will be able to take advantage of them. So you are assuming that there is no line whatever between minimizing your taxes in a ‘normal’ way and taking advantage of a loophole, and thus normalizing the latter.

    If we think like that, we might as well give up and say that anyone willing to pay $500k a year or more on tax attorneys owes $250k a year in taxes and just give up, and let the middle class and the merely moderately rich take over the vast bulk of the tax burden in the US.

  130. @Fred Fnord – Studies have been done in various countries, determining how much of the GDP can be reliably sucked out of the economy by the government through taxes, fines, etc. The numbers flux somewhat under different economic conditions and do vary from country to country. (Getting good data is also hampered by poor accounting practicies and corruption.) In the USA, over a long stretch of time, the American people and businessmen will regularly remit about 18% of the GDP to the government in taxes.

    When tax levels push the total take higher than that – such as the upper levels of income tax – the money gets shunted elsewhere, to other sources that are not taxed the same, or just doesn’t get made, because the effort’s not worth the return.

    Various administrations have tried, but the motivation of individuals to hang on to their money is rather strong. So, basically, *yes* there is an upper limit to how much can be drawn from individuals or corporations. Loopholes – like ones encouraging hiring disadvantaged workers, charity donations, building in a depressed area, using greener energy – those are there to encourage people to do expensive things. If we don’t want people to use those loopholes, then we should not have them in place.

  131. @keranih, Tax credits or deductions for charity donations, building in certain areas, etc. are not “loopholes”. They are deliberate economic incentives to encourage particular behavior that is seen as desirable, such as giving to charity, or bringing business to economically depressed areas, that people might do on their own but are much more likely to do if there’s an economic benefit. A “loophole” would be, say, if I had to pay punitive damages in a lawsuit over terrible behavior that hurt many people, and found a way to classify that as an appropriate loss on my taxes so as to lower my tax liability, thus essentially shifting the cost of my wrongdoing to you all.

    Most people have a problem with the latter method of lowering taxes than the former, particularly when a reasonable far-sighted person business is able to get specialized laws in place that carve out exceptions and deductions for their narrow interests, regardless of the effects of those exceptions on tax revenue generally or on other taxpayers. I regret that I can’t find it, but there’s a pretty well-known NPR interview where they researched a ‘tall blond man with one brown shoe’ law that had been quietly introduced into the Congress, and found that the only company that fit the profile of one that stood to benefit was EDS. Halfway through an otherwise bland interview with Perot he was asked about the law, at which point he went into a frothing fit and hung up. Hm.

    (As an aside, I would be interested in seeing links to those studies; the idea that there is a fixed change at 18% of GDP threshhold sounds more like an article of political belief than a proven tenet of economics. Certainly you can’t just tax everyone forever at any level, but that’s not the same thing.)

  132. It’s this kind of tone deafness from Hilary Clinton that makes me thing that she’s NOT a lock to be the next president. Remember, everyone thought pretty much exactly the same thing in 2008 and that did not turn out well for her (things she and her husband did in the SC primary are pretty much sure to come back to haunt her also)..

  133. @keranih: Please don’t put words in my mouth; I never referred to “shady” accounting principles, only the fact that a tax deduction used as intended in a straightforward way is not a “loophole”. Shady accounting principles are something even different from loopholes, too. If the law allows me to fairly designate my business as a charity to avoid taxes that’s quite a bit different than if I lie about whether it is, legally, a charity.

    Re GE, as I recall the complaint was that a highly profitable company was able to avoid all tax liability, not that they did so illegally; in fact, if I do not misremember, the perfect legality of it was a chief issue.

    WRT your link, that’s a chart, not a study. What studies are you referencing, as those would contradict my earlier link (from the same institution) suggesting there is no fixed percentage cutoff.