The 1% of Problems

Today’s Thing About Rich People Appalling the Internet: “Wealth therapy tackles woes of the rich: ‘It’s really isolating to have lots of money,'” an article in the Guardian about therapists who help the rich deal with the apparent loneliness and isolation of having a shitload of money. Here’s one of the more choice quotes from the piece:

From the Bible to the Lannisters of Game of Thrones, it’s easy to argue that the rich have always been vilified, scorned and envied. But their counsellors argue things have only gotten worse since the financial crisis and the debate over income inequality that has been spurred on by movements like Occupy Wall Street and the Fight for $15 fair wage campaign.

“The Occupy Wall Street movement was a good one and had some important things to say about income inequality, but it singled out the 1% and painted them globally as something negative. It’s an -ism,” said Jamie Traeger-Muney, a wealth psychologist and founder of the Wealth Legacy Group. “I am not necessarily comparing it to what people of color have to go through, but … it really is making value judgment about a particular group of people as a whole.”

The media, she said, is partly to blame for making the rich “feel like they need to hide or feel ashamed”.

Oh, lordy, lordy, lordy.

So, point one: Rich people do indeed have problems, and while their problems are problems that most people would like to have, because those problems don’t generally involve lack of money, it doesn’t mean they are not genuine, actual problems that cause stress and unhappiness. I think money can indeed be isolating and strange, especially if you have money and those around you do not; money is inherently powerful and changes power dynamics and how people perceive you. I think rich people also probably need to be able to talk to other people without judgment about their particular and unique set of problems, just like anyone needs to. Otherwise their loneliness and alienation will get worse. It’s difficult for many people to imagine a ton of money being a curse, but if you don’t know how to deal with what money does to you and other people, sure, it can be a curse.

Point two, holy fuck does this article quote absolutely clueless people. “I am not necessarily comparing it to what people of color have to go through, but …” I mean, wow. This is the therapist-to-the-rich-people’s version of “I’m not saying it’s aliens… but it’s aliens,” especially since later in the article she directly makes a comparison by encouraging people to replace the word “rich” with “black” to see the problem with how she says people speak of the rich.

Here’s a handy pro tip for you: When describing the problems of the rich — who are, statistically speaking here in the US, a very white cohort; the 2010 Census has 96% of the 1% households being white — do not bring up in comparison, even to say that you’re not necessarily comparing them, the problems of people of color. Here’s what some of the problems of people of color are, wealth-wise:

The Great Recession, fueled by the crises in the housing and financial markets, was universally hard on the net worth of American families. But even as the economic recovery has begun to mend asset prices, not all households have benefited alike, and wealth inequality has widened along racial and ethnic lines.

The wealth of white households was 13 times the median wealth of black households in 2013, compared with eight times the wealth in 2010, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of data from the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances. Likewise, the wealth of white households is now more than 10 times the wealth of Hispanic households, compared with nine times the wealth in 2010.

So, yeah. This on top of every single other thing that people of color in the US have to deal with. One of the reasons the “replace ‘rich’ with ‘black'” formulation rings hollow is because no one who is not utterly delusional believes the average experience of a black person in the US and the average experience of a rich person in the US is anything alike, either in the day-to-day experience or in the power dynamic between those expressing the opinions and those on the receiving end.

Again, I’m sympathetic to the idea that the rich have their problems; everyone does. But I suspect that Ms. Traeger-Muney, whether she wants to own up to it or not, was trying in a sad and clumsy way to appropriate the dynamic of racial inequity to describe the absolutely entirely different dynamic of rich people problems, even while denying she was doing it. If you’re not necessarily comparing them, then don’t bring it up at all — it compromises your argument and makes you part of the problem. You help neither people of color nor the 1% by this formulation.

Point three: The media is making “the rich feel like they need to hide or be ashamed”? Really? Huh. She’s seeing different media than I’m seeing, at the very least. If you’re a horrid little shitlord like Martin Shkreli, who appears so cartoonish as a human being it’s amazing that he hasn’t actually been photographed diving into a pool of money, a la Scrooge McDuck, then yes, you may feel the media is trying to make you feel ashamed. But it’s not because Shkreli is rich. It’s because he appears by all indications to be a genuinely terrible person, and he appears enabled by money (and his control of it) to be a genuinely terrible person in ways that affect innocent others.

Indeed that’s the hallmark of what rich appear to be castigated in the media: they’re doing terrible or clueless things, often to other people, and use their money to further those ends, or use the money to insulate themselves from the consequences. Even the fictional very rich noted in article are like that. People don’t dislike the Lannisters in Game of Thrones because they’re rich. They dislike them because they’re a family of sadistic schemers who will absolutely cut off your head or have you gored by boars or whatever if you get in their joyless, unhappy way. The single good thing about the Lannisters is that they’re rich; they famously always pay their debts. It’s everything else about them that’s the problem.

So, yes. If you’re very rich and you’re acting like an asshole — using your money to rise prices on parasite-treating drugs or blocking access to a public beach near your house or trying to buy an election or shutting off electricity to grandmothers during a heatwave to make money on the margins or cutting off the head of the Hand of the King even though you agreed to spare him and let him take the black — people are going to not like you very much. People tend not to like assholes. This should not be a surprise.

More generally, the rich also have the circumstance of getting manifestly richer in an era in the US and the Western world in which literally everyone else is seeing their real incomes drop, sometimes by negligible amounts (in the upper heights of the middle class) and by more noticeable amounts the further down you go. Should this make the rich anxious? Probably, because if they’re decent human beings they will recognize the increasing inequity of wealth is no good for anyone in the long run, because it’s already giving rise to systematic problems that will take generations to correct. Should they be fearful? You know what, if the heads of the rich are not already on spikes after 2008, it seems unlikely they ever will be, so I’m gonna go with “no.”

In my observation of things, neither people nor the media seem to dislike people either becoming or being rich. I can speak to this a little bit personally: after my deal was announced earlier this year, I’d say 99% of the response to it, in the media and out of it, was “cool, well done” (1% was the usual people who dislike me continuing to dislike me, and, you know: HA HA HA sucks to be them). I know people who are worth substantially more than I am; there doesn’t seem to be a reflexive dislike of them, either. If anything, the media and people in general are tuned to like and admire wealth and those who have it. It’s that particularly American version of the Protestant Work Ethic which says that in the US there are two types of people: The rich and those who aren’t rich yet. You have to work hard (no pun intended) to make people dislike you when you are rich. It’s much easier — again, speaking from experience — for people to dislike you because you are poor.

So, yeah, no: I’m not inclined to believe the media is particularly hard on the rich.

Yet again, this is not say the rich don’t have problems, including alienation, loneliness and anxiousness. I’m sure many do, and I’m also sure that for many rich people having their wealth be their initial outwardly defining characteristic is not a happy one. It’s okay to have some sympathy for the rich. But it’s also okay to recognize that the problems of the rich are their own set of problems, often unlike the problems that most people have or, honestly, will ever have. They are the 1% of problems.

123 Comments on “The 1% of Problems”

  1. Quick notes:

    1. As this article touches on both race and general income inequality in the US, it’s likely to attract some comments that range from clueless to just plain genuinely bigoted. For that reason the Mallet is out and will be applied (to mix metaphors) with a hair trigger. Please be careful in how you phrase things so that you don’t inadvertently come across as a terrible person — and if you intentionally choose to come across as a terrible person, well, your comment won’t be around for very long, I suspect.

    2. For those who would like to point out the irony of me talking about the 1% as if I’m not one of them, agreed that I am indeed one of the ones who will be up against the wall when the revolution comes (which, as noted, I suspect will in fact never come, so no wall for me, at least not for that reason). However, this also gives me some space to speak with authority, so.

    With that said, yes, please, let’s also avoid any particularly intemperate rhetoric either toward those with lots and lots of money, or the large majority of those not in that situation, particularly the poor. We can do better than that.

  2. Well said.

    Some of the wealthiest people in our society are also some of the most generous – seriously embracing the idea that from those to whom much is given, much is expected. Bill and Melinda Gates. Warren Buffet. George Cloony. Angelina Jolie.

  3. Speaking as a man with a more or less average US income — which puts me far higher up the ladder than millions of my fellow Americans — and having always been rather on the morbidly shy, retiring side, I’ve always thought that the whole point of having sacks of money is to keep the rest of the world at arm’s length. So I really don’t get the whole “alienation” thing. Not denying it; just don’t get it.

  4. I like their reference to the Bible. Sure, Jesus warns about how difficult it is for a rich man to get into heaven, as he fights against the Righteous and promotes his very liberal values. But obviously it is easy to ignore that example and pretend that one’s own values are obviously the Right ones.

  5. I have been poor and I have been rich. Rich is better. Is rich life perfect – nope, but compared to eating Ramen every night and working 60 hours a week I will take it.

  6. One of the biggest problems a lot of rich people face is that many of the things which might obviously solve some of their problems might result in them becoming significantly less rich, at which point they go back to the previous set of problems, which isn’t necessarily an improvement.

    I actually really want to spend some time talking to the people who have the Rich People Problems because I have some ideas for cheap and reversible experiments that might help them be happier. Or might not. But I can’t tell until I find rich people to test them on.

    That said: If you have disposible income, at all, it can be a really enlighting experience to periodically buy poor people some food. It really helps put dollar values into perspective. The people who say money can’t buy happiness have overlooked the possibility that it could buy *someone else’s* happiness.

  7. I just finished listening to a Hari Kondabolu CD (a stand up comic who skewers the pretensions of privilege among various other targets from his self-avowedly left wing perspective) and then this post….Zeitgeist flare! Cool. I like your hotel room view shots well enough, but this kind of post keeps me checking in.

  8. I started reading this, expecting to be offended at some point but I seriously cannot find anything to disagree with. That’s now two posts in a row; I might have to find some other website for my daily does of offense.

  9. I very briefly used to work for an organization called Resource Generation that existed, basically, to support liberal rich people with encounter groups/deformalized therapy and a how to guide to navigate philanthropy.

    It was a weird time (and I was profoundly not rich).

  10. Oh, FFS.

    Unlike our esteemed host (who is not even close to being in that 1%, as he himself notes), I have no problem with saying that whatever the charms of individual truly rich people may be, as a class, they just have to go.

    I am not actually comparing the problems of the rich to the problems of tapeworms, lampreys, remoras, or kudzu. I am comparing the problem of having the rich around to the problem of having tapeworms, lampreys, remoras, or kudzu. Just to be clear on that.

    We’ve got a whole media culture, with a captured academic discipline of economics, one completely and one mostly captured major political parties, and countless captured churches, dedicated to defending the necessity of the 1% — actually if you’re talking the true owning-deciding (i.e. oligarchic or plain old ruling) class it’s more like the 0.6% — with all that horseshit about job creation and the people who get things done and make things happen and the innovator-entrepreneur and so forth, i.e. attributing to the owner what is actually done by their deputies and managers, or crediting the sitters-on-heaps-of-money with what is actually done by the riskers-of-small-piles. Apparently a whole world chorusing about their greatness can’t assuage their awareness of their tapeworm-hood.

    But then it took a few thousand years to get it firmly established that because war and peace and criminal justice affected everyone, those should be under the democratic control of everyone, and that we needed to stop having wars about which inbred son of a bitch got to wear the cool hat and sit on the cool chair and own Poland. Having mostly gotten rid of the literal barons, perhaps we should begin dreaming of shaking off the metaphorical ones.

    And if you’re one of that owning class reading this … I hope your feelings are really hurt. Maybe you should drink more.

  11. It’s extremely tough to think that the media has it out for the rich, when they regularly flout items that only the rich can buy, look at the real estate section of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and San Francisco Chronicle. Regularly they run articles of what $1 million can buy across the country. A million-dollar house is never going to be something that a middle-class family will be able to afford. If anything, the media has been doing a perfectly good job in showing off how the betters live.

    As for people having problems, yes some people in every economic class will have problems. In comparing the problem of having too much to the problem of having too little the author of the article loses credibility. Add to the fact that if you have resources available you actually get treatment and help for such problems, if you don’t have resources available you will be blamed for whatever ailment you have, we here in the United States have a perverse and persuasive cult of Victim blaming.

  12. I am rather expecting the mallet to descend on my previous comment. Will probably repost in my own blog for the curious, so if you see this and no previous, you can go look over there.

    tl;dr: Rich people feeling bad about themselves is a feature, not a bug. It will help them find their way to the dustbin of history.

  13. F. Scott Fitzgerald to Ernest Hemingway: “The very rich are different from you and I.” Hemingway: “Yes, they have more money.”

  14. John Barnes:

    I’m going to allow it, primarily as an example of “This is the edge of where I want the rhetoric to be; if you’re on the other side of it, the Mallet will find you.”

  15. The nice thing about needing therapy to cope with the stresses of being very rich is that you have plenty of money to pay for it. Trying to get therapy to cope with the stresses of being very poor is a much harder proposition.

  16. I don’t think I agree with point 3. The example of the response to your book deal is confirmation bias and a corollary to the asshole thesis. Most of the response you got was from people who already liked you. They were friends and fans. Of course they were happy for you. I suspect a survey of your detractors and those who are wholly unfamiliar with you would present a significantly different response.

    I also think there is a meaningful animosity toward the rich because by and large we don’t realize how little it takes to enter the 1%. This may be more pronounced in Canada but bear with me. I think most people view the rich as the ultra-rich when in actuality some of our friends and neighbour’s are 1%ers. Our doctors and dentists most surely are among others we wouldn’t typically expect to fall into the “rich” category. Perhaps the very fact we don’t realize who all constituents the rich is proof itself that they feel shamed and try to hide their true wealth?

  17. Ford was walking north. He thought he was probably on his way to the spaceport, but he had thought that before. He knew he was going through that part of the city where people’s plans often changed quite abruptly.
    “Do you want to have a good time?” said a voice from a doorway.
    “As far as I can tell,” said Ford, “I’m having one. Thanks.”
    “Are you rich?” said another.
    This made Ford laugh.
    He turned and opened his arms in a wide gesture. “Do I look rich?” he said.
    “Don’t know,” said the girl. “Maybe, maybe not. Maybe you’ll get rich. I have a very special service for rich people…”
    “Oh yes?” said Ford, intrigued but careful. “And what’s that?”
    “I tell them it’s OK to be rich.”

  18. If those rich people feel miserable having all that money they can always give it away.

    And for what it’s worth, if John (or do I call him Mr. Scalzi?) ever feels miserable about having lots of money I’d happy to have some of that money… ;-þ

  19. Apparently the price of entry to the top 1% is $7.8M in net wealth, so you’ve probably got some way to go yet.

    The top .01% are untouchable, they buy the politicians and cut taxes on themselves, as until their heads are on a pike the demolition of society doesn’t impact them.

    I can see the impact of sudden wealth can be a bit difficult to deal with – e.g. the Minecraft bloke who became an instant billionaire, and now he is worried about golddiggers etc. I do have a certain degree of sympathy for him, as he comes from a more equitable country, but my main words of support are: “Dude, move the hell away from LA if you’re not interested in hanging out with the fake and the golddigers”

  20. I gotta say I have very little sympathy for the problems of the rich. Whatever other problems they have, they will never know what it’s like to wonder if you will have a place to live next month, be able to put gas in your car this week, be able to put food in your mouth today.

    As someone who just found out that her job is ending next month, and who has barely enough savings to get me through the end of the year, and who has to job hunt at the beginning of the holiday season when most companies aren’t hiring .. I still consider myself more fortunate than so many people out there who have less.

    Yeah, the “problems” of the rich really make me roll my eyes, to be honest. Screw them.

  21. Jamie Schmidt:

    While not disagreeing with the general idea that my friends and fans are likely to be happy for me, I’ll note the news of the deal went rather far and somewhat wide (this is what happens when one’s deal is covered in the New York Times). Even factoring out fans and friends, the general response to it was overwhelmingly positive.

    I’m also not entirely convinced by the “it doesn’t take much to enter the 1%” thesis; in the US, it takes an annual income in the neighborhood of $380,000, and the average income of the 1% is over $1 million. The average doctor salary in the US ranges from well below that to only slightly above that (the average dentist salary is less than half that). And of course, by definition “the 1%” excludes 99% of people however one wants to define it. Now, you may be arguing that $380,000 isn’t actually that much money, but, you know. It’s more than seven times the average household income in the United States; that’s not chicken feed. In Canada, the amount is lower ($191,000 Canadian), but that’s still not chicken feed, and still a healthy multiple of the average Canadian income of $38k Canadian.

    Not Reddit Chris S:

    There are several ways to formulate the 1%. Income is one; net wealth is another. In both cases, of course, the super super rich skew the averages considerably.

  22. I would not mind having the problems of wealth. Something between 1 and 10 million in the bank would be nice. Not so much money that I have to worry which 3rd world country I should buy or that my relatives might be kidnapped for ransom. But enough to do anything I might reasonably want to do. So if you have an extra 10 million you wish to get rid of, I’m your man.

    I have/had very wealthy relatives and well-to-do friends. What made me uncomfortable and defensive is if my position in the relationship seemed to be primarily one to admire their success or if I was shut out. It’s not the money, as some were friendly and humble besides being wealthy. It appeared that some children of the wealthy gained in alienation with each generation. Part of it is just the logistics and societal differences. I couldn’t go to a black tie ball even if I was invited nor attend a family get-together in Aruba. Nor would they like me to. We live in different worlds.

    So if rich people feel alienated from the rest of us, yeah you probably are.

  23. @John Barnes: It seems to me that if your solution to the problem of people who think some other category of people don’t matter and should feel bad, is to think that some people don’t matter and should feel bad, you are not actually proposing any kind of substantive change.

    Even if we grant for the sake of argument that it’s all good for people to feel bad about doing bad things, that’s not actually what they end up feeling bad about, so it’s not accomplishing anything useful. If anything, I think it’s mostly a *barrier* to them finding ways to better integrate with and be useful to society. So I’d rather they didn’t feel bad in easily preventable ways that make it harder for them to think about other people in more caring ways.

  24. I have a relative in the 1%, and I can say for a fact that it makes interactions with people in lower brackets awkward no matter how much love is there or how close you were before the money inequality. It just becomes this thing that’s there whether you talk about it or not.

    One day of his income would pay off my house, but he doesn’t want to damage my pride and I don’t want to take advantage. So it’s just there as this unexpended energy that hangs in the air while we talk.

    And all his money couldn’t keep his mom alive.

    All that being said, it also depends on how you make your money. His employees are treated and paid well. I have much less sympathy for a CEO who builds up his wealth by walking on the backs of an army of minimum wage employees who work 40+ hours and still qualify for government assistance. Those people can feel vilified all day and all I can say is maybe their conscience is guilty for a reason.

  25. John Scalzi wrote, “You know what, if the heads of the rich are not already on spikes after 2008, it seems unlikely they ever will be…”

    I’m not so sure about that. If 2008 happens again, and we have no reason to believe it won’t and several reasons to believe it might, things may get much uglier. Especially if it happens within the next few years. If we go into “great recession” territory again, say, 2028 or later, the likelihood of corrective action is diminished. A generation will have passed. We may simply view it as life going back to its normal, pre-1929 days. A depression every 15 to 25 years.

  26. Oh, I expect we will still get the heads of the rich on spikes, but it won’t be immediately and it won’t be for directly economic reasons. When climate disaster reaches the point at which the rich withdraw to their controlled bubble-fortresses or to Mars or to whatever other safe place they’re going to be preparing for themselves over the next however many years it takes, while the rest of the population has to suffer the catastrophes caused by the policies the rich enforced because it kept the money rolling in, I fully expect that the masses will storm the gates and go after those inside.

    That’s beside the point, though. The thing I really wanted to focus on was your point about accusation that the press was making rich people look bad… I don’t think you understand what they mean by that. The objection isn’t that the press makes rich people look bad *just for being rich*, even if they haven’t done anything wrong. It’s that the press lets people know *what bad things specific rich people actually DO*, and therefore has a chilling effect on their freedom to do — without legal, economic or social consquences!! — anything they damn well please.

    Too many rich people consider this absolute freedom from consequences for anything they choose to do, to be one of the best perks of being rich. So they get really upset when anyone dares to challenge it. We’re taking away the most fun part of being rich at all!! If they can’t do bad things without any consequences, by paying their way out of them, what fun is it?? We’re so mean!

  27. I like to think that we as a species have a decent shot at someday getting to a post-scarcity future ( a la Star Trek) where money is mostly meaningless. Do you think the rich would embrace such a change or fight tooth and nail to defend their fiefdoms? How would we adapt to a society where all the necessities of life are just free? I realize not many authors play in such worlds because of the inherent lack of conflict but that’s the thoughts reading this post brought to mind.

  28. Percentiles are a distraction – there will always be a 1% at the top, and a 20 (30, 40, etc.)% at the bottom, in the worst gilded age or the dreamiest utopia. My utopia has no one lacking for food, clothing, housing, education, healthcare, and fulfilling activities (work and/or leisure). If that requires “sacrifice” on the part of the 1%, I say “so be it”. If the 1% find they need approbation, it might fall under the mental health aspects of healthcare, available to all.

  29. Somewhat more temperate followup, as a matter of ethical disclaim-iness: I do not mean (hopefully obviously) that every rich person does bad things, or wants to do bad things. But not every rich person — or even most of them — whine in the press about how badly the press treats rich people, either.

    Yes, I was being snarky about an attitude for which I have zero sympathy, but it isn’t because I have zero sympathy for anyone who happens to be rich. Yes, they have them. There are some problems which come from having more money than is good for you (literally), even if they are generally preferable to those which come from having too little. And there are plenty of problems which are the human condition and no respecters of wealth or any other controllable factor. I wasn’t denying any of that, and am not now. And yes, those people deserve the same sympathy I give to anyone else with problems that aren’t of their own misbehavior.

    But the sort of mindset who whines in the press about how the press is treating rich people isn’t just a matter of being rich; it’s a matter of being rich AND entitled AND self-centered AND stupid. That particular subset of richfolks are the ones most likely to have the Sads because we won’t let them do anything they want and buy their way out of the consequences they make other people suffer. It is, fortunately, a relatively small subset of the rich; but — especially when combined with the power that great wealth brings — it is a subset who can do a great deal of damage to everyone around them.

    And for that small subset, I have no sympathy whatsoever.

  30. As for why nothing happened in 2008—say, have you noticed how we’ve gone from calling it the “Wall Street meltdown” to the less accountable “2008 recession?”—in a book currently on the stands called “The News” by a writer I enjoy, Alain de Botton, subtitled “A User’s Manual,” there is an idea that day-to-day contextless news (“Just the facts Ma’am”) lets us down. There’s no reporting of what might or should happen.

    Debotton writes not just of Occupy Wall Street but of other activisms too when he writes, “…combined with a lack of any effective or forensic knowledge about what has caused it in the first place. A complaint that might have occasioned an intricate political argument instead ends up as a primal scream.”

  31. It doesn’t help that Occupy sabotaged itself by adopting an organising system that has no way to deal with people who shouldn’t be part of the movement. By the end, only the creeps were doing the organising.

  32. you know, if being rich makes one sad, there is a simpler way to solve the problem than therapy…

    Which makes it clear there’s no problem. Entertaining article by the Guardian, however.

  33. It’s interesting how Bill Gates get painted as a saint these days, for using his money to help eradicate diseases and such, with no reflection of how he actually got all the money he’s using — ruthlessly destroying other companies, stealing people’s work, bribing the DOJ into not splitting up Microsoft, being horrible to his employees and laying them off, hiding income offshore and getting massive tax breaks at the expense of the U.S. and world economies, betting on the collapse of economies, sending jobs overseas to Asian countries that used child and slave labor to make their products, and keeping those countries deliberately impoverished and backward so that the very diseases, malnutrition and lack of education that he’s trying now to improve, spread widely, killing thousands and millions of people.

    It’s rather like a pirate captain has retired and returns to the villages he used to routinely set on fire to help them have fire protected buildings from the other pirates — who still pay him tribute on a regular basis. We’d rather have him doing it than not, but it’s hardly a matter of moral generosity.

    And the issue is that most well off and certainly the very rich see nothing wrong with this system, even when they are distressed with the world’s problems — that they caused. And when the media and people speak up and point out that they are in fact killing people for more wealth than they are ever going to spend, that it’s blood money and usually massively bigoted to boot, they not only don’t like it, but they are supremely annoyed that people dare say it. The peasants are supposed to be quiet, work and die.

    And yes, they do in fact worry that people will put their heads on spikes, because after all, they are getting a lot of their money through investments and companies that put poor people’s heads on spikes (figuratively and literally.) There are very simple things that most countries could do that would still leave the very rich insanely wealthy, the moderately rich quite well off and the well off at the bottom of the 1% perfectly comfortable. But they don’t want to do them. We are still locked into feudal systems.

    Which wouldn’t be so bad, since it’s a system that is correctable, not by violence — which just creates a new group of feudal tyrannical rich people — but by social and economic change. But in the process of pirating, the wealthy have destroyed the planet, and continue to trash the environment into the dust, and much of that isn’t going to be correctable. They are blowing up the ground they’re standing on. While still complaining that we should have sympathy for how expensive it is to live in San Francisco and send kids to private school. (Remember that fun conversation?)

    I’m delighted to hear that the rich feel vilified and guilty. It means they aren’t entirely sociopathic yet. I hope more of them feel even more vilified and guilty, because it often means that they cough up some dough for social improvements in order to create a better image — like Bill Gates. That’s Gates’ biggest use now — he makes other billionaires feel guilty and cough up money, and he funds politicians who are slightly kinder pirates, which is indeed substantially different from the ones who are sociopathic pirates. But this article, I suspect, will not help alleviate their suffering much.

  34. There are some powerfully negative language norms in the United States when it comes to personal values and their financial valuation.

    As an obvious example, “Billy Bob is worth $5M.” Perhaps the person making that statement actually believes that Billy Bob’s past actions, present life (past, present, and future) isn’t something that can be described in financial terms. But their statement carries the assumption that money is the only thing that can or should be used to evaluate the life and potential of Billy Bob – and, by extension, every other person. Whatever the speaker’s intent, the language carries the clear message that money is the only criteria used in measuring a person’s worth.

    For another obvious example, a reasonable person could be forgiven for accusing me of ambiguity in the use of the term “person”. Should I have specified that I mean to refer to a human being? Or do I really mean to be vague in referring to a “person”, which (in the US) could just as easily be a shared illusion registered in the State of Delaware as it could a human being?

    These norms help create their own reality by cementing the sociopathic assumption that wealth is inherently a virtue, and even that humanity is here to serve money. Anything else is secondary at best – tolerated only to the extent that it does not interfere with money. This in turn helps perpetuate all sorts of awfulness in pursuit of the right spreadsheets showing the right numbers, including burning our way to climate collapse, allowing (even encouraging) people to shoot each other (and each others’ kids), cheering on the excess of the ostentatiously wealthy while spitting on or at best ignoring the dire want of the homeless, and so on and so on.

    Let’s help nudge our friends, family, and colleagues toward a more healthy way of thinking by politely but persistently questioning “worth” as a financial measure, just as we do when “gay” is used as a pejorative term.

  35. Empathy is a lot harder to earn from someone who simply can’t relate to their situation. Having spent most of my life living week-to-week I just plain don’t have any patience for someone upset that they’re negatively viewed because they have lots of wealth.

    I have zero problem sympathizing with someone with a lot more than me who’s been injured in an accident, whose spouse has just told them they want a divorce or who’s having difficulty handling the stress from work/family obligations.

    Sympathizing with someone who’s complaining about problems that exist solely because he never has to worry about the most troubling aspects of my life – and to be blunt money problems tie into almost every significant problem poor people have from finding quality education and healthcare, to marriage and family happiness – that’s going to be a hard ask however you make it.

    Especially when we (in Australia) have a government made up significantly of people born into privilege whose policies almost exclusively make life harder for the poor and otherwise disenfranchised, while making it easier for the wealthy and connected.

  36. I wouldn’t be so complacent about the no pitchforks and torches. Some very middle class people are currently walking across Europe as refugees. Okay they were not the richest of rich countries, like America is, but at least a couple of them were well enough off. It can happen. I personally am of the opinion that the war on Occupy was probably a lot closer run than we ever thought.
    As to the point about the lonely rich people. As my grandparents used to say: Money doesn’t buy happiness, but it does get you into more places to look for it than poverty.

  37. Actual income distribution is hard to get any numbers on at the top (rich people don’t like nosy questions) but it probably looks something like a cross between a giraffe and a turtle, i.e. a big bell curve that is almost the whole 99% and then a little bubble very far over to the right (super high incomes), with a large range of incomes that have almost no one earning them. The petit-bourgeois of high paid surgeons, college football coaches, etc. peters out somewhere in the low millions per year; then there’s a long, long gap until, probably, somewhere in the $15 million a year and up range. That gap is actually entirely within the 1%.

    @Spencer Bernard: Post scarcity (often called post-economic because economics really only applies to situations where someone can’t have all they want) society has been a regular subject of speculation in SF fora long time. See Heinlein’s “Beyond this Horizon,” Zelazny’s “The Graveyard Heart,” or much of Ian Banks’s work, or my Thousand Cultures series, or many, many more. I have faith in my species; being descended from killer monkeys and having evolved the abilities to lie, cheat, steal, and be horny all the time, we will manage to make a situation dramatic.

    An often overlooked aspect of wealth is that it’s useless unless there’s poverty or at least desire; the rich would have no power if the rest of us didn’t need any money. A quote from John Ruskin I use too often, but haven’t used in here yet … “”… riches are a power like that of electricity, acting only through inequalities or negations of itself. The force of the guinea you have in your pocket depends wholly on the default of a guinea in your neighbour’s pocket. If he did not want it, it would be of no use to you; the degree of power it possesses depends accurately upon the need or desire he has for it,—and the art of making yourself rich, in the ordinary mercantile economist’s sense, is therefore equally and necessarily the art of keeping your neighbour poor.”

    @Seebs: ah, but that’s where we disagree. I don’t want the owning/ruling class, the superrich, or the upper half of the 1%, whatever we call them, to be better integrated into society and to approach people in more caring ways. (We might call that the Scrooge Solution — Dickens wasn’t bothered by Scrooge having that money and power, he was only bothered by the heartless way he used it). I don’t actually care what becomes of them or what kind of people they become. I simply want that power out of their hands, or the hands of any private unaccountable individual, and placed in the hands of the citizenry as a whole — just as we eventually did with military power and police power, or at least have tried to. An individual should no more own a bank than s/he should own an army. Taking the fun out of it is the first step, and perhaps the only one we can accomplish in this generation.

  38. “People don’t dislike the Lannisters in Game of Thrones because they’re rich. They dislike them because they’re a family of sadistic schemers who will absolutely cut off your head or have you gored by boars or whatever if you get in their joyless, unhappy way. The single good thing about the Lannisters is that they’re rich; they famously always pay their debts. It’s everything else about them that’s the problem.”

    Exactly. I mean, you know who else is rich? The Starks. (At least at the start of the story.) 95% of the population are subsistence farmers, and the Starks own an enormous castle.

    “a big bell curve that is almost the whole 99% and then a little bubble very far over to the right (super high incomes), with a large range of incomes that have almost no one earning them.”

    But then there is almost no one earning the super-high incomes either.

  39. It isn’t an ‘ism’ because you can simply chose to not be rich. Anyone having difficulty with implementing that decision can come to me and I’ll help.

  40. Quick skim, and I’ve noticed no one’s mentioned it, so I’ll mention it. What’s happening in the article here, and the 1% in general, is the same thing that happens to people with privilege — gender, race, orientation, class — realize that they are not having their concerns, fears and emotions made front-and-center for everyone else.

    And what happens then to them is that they interpret this lack of centering as a vicious disregard to their welfare. And that’s not true. Someone not focusing 100% at your problems ≠ someone who aggressively disregards your problems. It’s not that the rich are hated, it’s that people just don’t have time or mental bandwidth to care about rich people problems when they’re worried about whether their kids will make it to adulthood, and how are they going to pay their crushing debt, or survive in general.

    I mean, if you’re going to complain about it, though, and belittle other people’s problems… well.

  41. As others have noted, there is a very simple solution to any problems associated with being rich; you can just give the money to assist those who are desperately poor. Of course, it is economically rewarding to tell the rich that they have problems which can be fixed by them giving you money, as the counsellor quoted has discovered, but I very much doubt that said counsellor would be happy to work pro bono assisting wealthy people not to worry about being wealthy…

  42. You know, it is possible to feel alienated because you have money. But only if you’re aware, one some level, that you are doing nothing useful for the world with your money, or in the way that you got money.

    I believe that one component of happiness is “contributing to the world in a positive way.” I don’t think a normal person can be happy without feeling that something they’re doing matters. Some people get to do this as part of their paid work — you can be a pediatrician, or a roofer, or a lawyer working for tenants’ rights, or a grocery store cashier, and SEE that you’re making people’s lives better, by helping their health, giving them shelter, helping them keep shelter, or interacting with people in a pleasant way . You can be a mathematician or a programmer, and enjoy the beauty of the work itself. You can be a QA engineer, and enjoy the process of making things better. You can create art or entertainment which brings people diversion, joy, or disturbs them in useful ways.

    Or you can have a job which DOESN’T make any obvious contribution to the world, or whose contribution doesn’t move you personally, but use the rest of your time and resources to help the world — raising a family, being part of a church, being a town alderman, just generally being a good neighbor and friend. And THAT can be a source of joy.

    People who inherit their wealth and then take all the energy they’re NOT using for earning a living and use it to help their communities — they usually don’t feel embarrassed about being wealthy. Or alienated from their communities.

    Generally speaking, if you feel embarrassed about your wealth, you probably ought to.

  43. I know people who are worth substantially more than I am;

    The thing is, outside of the absolutely mega-rich, so do most people.

    I was involved in a project a while back that had some “angel” funding. There were several investors involved, and each brought in the next saying: “Oh, you need to talk to my friend X. Now, he’s rich.”

    The very least of these can buy and sell me – he’s probably just into the 1% (by local standards).

    My other point is: the rich are often vilified. Quite a lot of the time, it’s because they are vile.

  44. Of course, it is economically rewarding to tell the rich that they have problems which can be fixed by them giving you money,


    The father of a friend was wont to say: “A customer is an unstable compound of an idiot and some money.” It seems very apposite to this case.

  45. I am helping a wealthy person not worry about being wealthy, pro bono. He’s my brother, a corporate computer programmer.

    I’m compelled to turn other places to help me deal with my own fairly intense poverty (lotta people worse off, but I am constantly scrambling to pay bills and survive things happening and that’s qualitatively different from richness: it’s a scarcity issue and scarcity thinking). My brother is unhappy to see this and wants to be Santa, but I would lose all independence of thinking, would still have just as much scarcity thinking except I’d have to manage him emotionally to survive, and would be his whore rather than his friend. It’s rather annoying that he can’t see this, but that’s a rich-person issue shared by more than just him.

    Notch is my brother writ large. Just because a system dumps insane wealth on people doesn’t make the people bad for being unable to handle it. However, their only real recourse is to go to work reforming the system, or to sulk and tell people it’s not fair to be mad at them because the system made them do it. And I’m afraid it is more than fair to be mad at the people, as well as the system, because systems are expressed through people.

  46. I’m like schrodinger’s cat, I’m simultaneously rich and middle class, it all depends on your viewpoint.
    In Portugal where I live, I have a comfortable live and I’m considered rich by 60% of the general population, the top 20% considers me middle class.
    In most of Asia, Central, South America and Africa, I’m filthy rich.
    In most of Europe and North America I’m middle class once more.
    Rich or Poor is very dependent on the view point of the observer.

  47. Yes, and today’s chilly 30some-degree Fahrenheit weather would be considered positively scorching from the viewpoint of Pluto at night. Funny how removing things from their original context changes the meaning completely!

  48. Doonesbury once ran a parody of Erhard Seminar Training (est) for the very very rich. “Is this one of those deals where we can’t go to the bathroom for hours on end?” :”Heck no, you’re rich.”

  49. Anyone who has a genuinely disturbing problem deserves respect and attention. Like someone offended by improper racial, ethnic, gender, etc. insults, that someone else might not understand, must be respected and their offenses and feelings addressed, so a wealthy person bothered by their status deserves care and relief. And so does anyone miserably poor dealing with feelings of inadequacy while trying to assemble sufficient healthy calories on $143 of SNAP benefits over 30 days. And in addition to emotional problems of being poor, actually eating on $143/month or finding a place to sleep, etc. deserves respect and help. And health care, and education, and employment. Casually considering the triage of these problems has me agreeing that the woes of the rich, in this case, fall in the bottom 1%.

  50. As Daniel Ameida notes, he is from Portugal, where

    the top 20% considers me middle class. In most of Asia, Central, South America and Africa, I’m filthy rich.

    I think a lot of other responses here are small-minded. For example, kara writes:

    Yeah, the “problems” of the rich really make me roll my eyes, to be honest. Screw them.

    Well, kara, I’d say chances are even with your stated problems you’re part of the 1%. Not if your cohort is assumed to be the USA or wherever you live, but (to Daniel’s point) globally. And right now, if you asked some subsistence farmer in Andhra Pradesh what their thoughts were about your problems, they’d probably roll their eyes and say “screw her”.

    We are all filthy rich. We shouldn’t forget that.

  51. It’s obviously easy to say “hey, if the rich feel burdened by all that dosh, hand it out to the rest of us” because so many have said just that. But consider the existential fear that they may not get more to replace it, because they know that the game is rigged, that building wealth from nothing is hard and they either didn’t amass their pile on their own or know they can’t repeat the trick that got them to the top. If this truly was a meritocracy or had a sane wealth
    distribution (see Dan Ariely’s work on this) you could fall but not far and not too hard. And then you could start over. That fear keeps them alienated from the rest of us, the knowledge that they didn’t earn all of it (unearned income is a piece of the .1%ers portfolio) and that the rules that benefit them now would work against them.

  52. Several thoughts, in no particular order:

    1. Is she really named “Traeger-Muney”? Because if i was going to make up a name for a filthy rich supervillian, I would reject that one for being too obvious.

    2. I wonder how much she charges for “money therapy”?

    3. I deal with a lot of estate planners, and I suspect this is an issue that they have quietly incorporated in their counseling for years. They’ve just had the good sense not to brand it as such.

    4. I wonder what the actual therapeutic activities are. I suspect that this type of villification may actually sting a little more if there is some kernel of truth to it that a wealthy client realizes subconsciously but can’t quite bring themselves to put their own finger on. I also suspect that if said wealthy client makes conscious, thoughtful efforts to ensure that some portion of their wealth is used for making the lives of others better, that might take some of the sting out of this. Hopefully “money therapy” puts the client on the road to purposeful philanthropy. If it just helps them hide their head in the sand a little more thoroughly then it probably won’t help anyone much in the long run.

  53. “It’s because he appears by all indications to be a genuinely terrible person, and he appears enabled by money”

    yyeah, that’s basically the key here. having money is to be empowered. but what it empowers you do to is…. be more of yourself. so if you are a genuinely altruistic person, chances are that you will be extremely generous with your money. but if you’re an absolute bastard, then chances are that you’ll be extremely dangerous as a wealthy person.

  54. We have come to a point in economic development where we could keep everyone fed, clothed, housed, provided with safe water and sewage disposal and basic health care, and even enjoying a modicum of toys – with only 10% of us working.

    Nevertheless, we still have social structures that are based on a hardscrabble agrarian economy, where if 95% of us aren’t engaged in backbreaking labor, nobody will have enough to eat.

    The problem that we face is to come up with motivators other than the Four Horsemen to offer an incentive so that the toilets still get cleaned and the strawberries still get picked. Right now, the only thing we can think of is to have the wolf close to everyone’s door; even a ten-percenter is one crisis away from homelessness. Then we have to create no end of bullshit jobs because we don’t need everyone working all the time, but everyone needs to be under the whip in order that the relatively small amount of useful work will get done by somebody.

    And that system is falling apart. Those who are employed are overworked. Those who are unemployed can’t find work. And there actually is a shortage of work that many of us can do. There just isn’t that much call for ditch-diggers, cobblers, parlourmaids, or ploughmen in a world that has backhoes, shoe factories, Roombas and tractors. The remaining work is either too specialized and perceptually complex to be automated readily (the aforementioned strawberries) or requires considerably more intellectual talent (compare managing a combine harvester with swinging a scythe).

    And the psychopaths then can become “job creators” simply by directing meaningless work because everyone still has to “earn a living.”

    We’re clever enough as a race that we should be able to do better. We’re not going to eliminate psychopathy, but we should be able to come up with systems that are robust in the face of it.

  55. There is a song lyric that refers to “posh isolation” and I think that is correct. People use wealth to isolate themselves away from other people. Poor people use the bus, richer people buy cars. Poor people have to communicate regularly to get what they want, richer people pay their way out of problems.
    Having been recently impoverished the most striking difference is time. Poor people are kept waiting, queuing, sitting around.

    I think a car analogy fits. Most people start off in a rubbish car, then buy better and better vehicles. They get used to the better vehicles better handling, better braking, and so they think they are becoming better drivers and everyone else is becoming worse at driving. In reality they aren’t, they are deluding themselves.

  56. “Is she really named “Traeger-Muney”? Because if i was going to make up a name for a filthy rich supervillian, I would reject that one for being too obvious.”

    Yes, but she’s American, though, and – please don’t take this the wrong way, guys, the American genius for creativity, invention and innovation is truly awe-inspiring and has made the modern world what it is today, but – Americans are really, really bad at thinking up non-obviously evil names for their real life supervillains. John McCain pointed out that the three leading opponents in Congress of campaign finance reform were called Doolittle, Ney and DeLay, which even Dickens would have rejected as a bit much. Then you’ve got Newt Gingrich, Hans von Spakovsky, Bernie Madoff (“what did he do with my money?” “He made off with it”), Joseph Tyree Sneed, etc.

  57. So, there’s an interesting thing that happens in people’s minds to do with money. People who don’t have it are forced to care about it, and people who do don’t understand why because to them it’s easy.

    It’s actually kind of like anything that humans have or do. People who can have or do something necessary for life within society do not understand how people who don’t have or cannot do feel. And then they try to empathize, and do so poorly.

    And it’s painfully obvious to anyone who actually cannnot do or cannot have.

    It sometimes makes me wish that people would talk less and listen more, but I know that there are things outside of my own experience, and no matter how I try to listen, I don’t hear everything that’s being said. I can’t… I lack the background to truly understand the subtext. But it’s made better when the person who is “talking” is skillful – it’s why we need storytellers.

    So that people can experience things they have never actually experienced.

  58. @John; you stated: “Now, you may be arguing that $380,000 isn’t actually that much money, but, you know. It’s more than seven times the average household income in the United States; that’s not chicken feed.”

    $380K a year costs you $5.8M and change as an entry fee. This will be money which you are unable to touch, because it’s working for you producing investment income. Even then, it takes careful management to get to that level, and it takes investing about half of it, after taxes, back into the fund, on an ongoing basis. Taxes generally come out to about $170K a year or so on that, between the state and federal income taxes, if you live in some place like California.

    So basically you get to spend all your time working on managing your money, instead of working on other (more interesting) things, in order to get an income that can be (very slightly) beaten by the Apple vice president of core operating systems, who is listed as making $390K according to Edgar filings.

    At that level of income, you will be lucky to be able to afford a home in Silicon Valley; being on “The V.P. Gravy Train” would be a nice thing to have happen, but practically speaking, it’s not the most stable job you could have.

    Boards of Directors have a fiscal horizon of one quarter; CEO’s, CFO’s, etc., generally have a fiscal horizon of half a year. V.P.’s tend to have a fiscal horizon of one year (at each stage, you are allowed to miss one target, after which you may be kicked to the curb). So the shelf life for a V.P. is about a year to 18 months; it can be longer if they are good/lucky, but it’s mostly the “lucky” part, assuming an up economy.

    So it’s a constant scramble to sell yourself to the next boss (and no, I’m not on “The V.P. Gravy Train, nor have I hit your income number of $380K, nor would I count someone who’s working a job to hit that number as being in the 1%; being in the 1% means not having to work or worry about money matters).

    One thing that most people do not talk about with the 1% is that there is a rather high Pareto efficiency to have one person making decisions about leveraging the assets of society to achieve social goods. This is true despite the tendency of that wealth to have been accumulated in less than savory ways. Such as fighting with the other sharks in the water in order to assure your place on “The Gravy Train” to get to the “You’ve Made It” point.

    We see this with what Bill Gates is doing; we see it with what Warren Buffet is doing; we see it, perhaps more strongly, with what Elon Musk is doing. And we saw tremendous social benefits from what Andrew Carnegie did with his wealth, later in life.

    The sad fact is that you can’t “fix poor” by throwing money at it. And if it were merely education that was the answer to all ills, we most certainly would no longer have a problem with HIV, given what we’ve spent on education surrounding that issue.

    What you *can* do, however, is throw money at the big problems facing society; literacy was a huge problem, before Carnegie established his free libraries. We have similar, large problems that can be tackled, although mostly not by one person. I know a few people who could address these on their own, but they’re people like Sergey Brin, and others with more money than God. Actually — the Catholic Church and the LDS Church could also afford to solve some of the issues — and they have *exactly* as much money as God.

    It’s generally fun to demonize the 1%; it’s one of the reasons we engage in that recreation with such gusto. But consider that someone who knows how to work the system well enough to achieve 1% membership status, and is ruthless enough to do so, is probably better positioned to tackle big problems than most governments or individual politicians; and sometimes, it can be a good idea to step back, and let them do so.

    I’m reminded of a science fiction short story, in which a man is in his house being besieged by insects (and I’ll paraphrase, since it wasn’t worth committing to memory 20 years ago), and some spiders get in, and he reacts by stomping them. But they talk to him and tell him to “Stop!”. And wonder of wonders, he does.

    And the spiders go on to say that while things look bad, “We generally like humans. We think we can save you.” Of course the man is incredibly relieved and asks “How do we do this? How can you save me?”.

    “Oh.”, say the spiders, “We didn’t mean *you personally*; you’re pretty much toast; the ants alone will definitely get in eventually. We meant the human species.”

  59. literacy was a huge problem, before Carnegie established his free libraries

    I don’t have time to pick through your entire comment to point out all the mistakes, so I’ll just confine myself to this one. What ended the literacy problem was not Carnegie’s free libraries, it was universal education *done by the government.* (largely state governments in this one). People didn’t learn to read in the Carnegie libraries, they used the reading skills they had already achieved in public school.

  60. “But consider that someone who knows how to work the system well enough to achieve 1% membership status, and is ruthless enough to do so, is probably better positioned to tackle big problems than most governments or individual politicians; and sometimes, it can be a good idea to step back, and let them do so.”

    Who’s stopping them? Nobody’s saying that Bill Gates can’t go out and buy mosquito nets or whatever. But we’re screwed as a society and as a planet if the only way we can get a problem solved is to concentrate 90% of our resources among a few people and then hope they decide they want to solve it. Unfortunately, that’s the system we’re careening toward.

  61. I miss the days when one-percenters were badass outlaw bikers like the Hells Angels, and not people whose wealth buys them a disproportionate level of influence over a world the rest of us have to live in.

  62. I’m no commie. But after reading the following sentence as a gay individual, I’ve never come closer to wanting to brain somebody with a hammer and sickle.

    “Often, I use an analogy with my clients that coming out to people about their wealth is similar to coming out of the closet as gay. There’s a feeling of being exposed and dealing with judgment.”

  63. So I started reading this thinking, “Yeah, that’s okay, rich people are people too and have problems. That’s legit.” But then the comparison to the issues that blacks have faced was brought into it and I have to admit that I felt a certain revulsion, like, no, don’t even go there.

    Scalzi, I agree with most of your assessment here, however, the bit about the Lannisters and portrayal of the rich in media I think can’t be denied. Sure we hate the Lannisters because they’re assholes, but the author made a decision to make the rich, wealthy family known for their “Lannister gold” a bunch of backstabbing assholes.
    And it can’t be denied that this is a *very* common portrayal of the rich from the bible to Dickens to GRR Martin.

  64. I was raised to believe that money didn’t determine the value of a human being. Those are orthogonal attributes. The quality of being a jerk can exist irrespective of income, as can decency. Furthermore my family does not talk about money or income outside of the private circumstance and necessity of managing money. Even casual discussion of income in a social situation can be used or seen in negative ways.

    Therefore I suggest that wealthy people who are criticized for their wealth, may want to alter their behavior. Don’t talk about money in ways that seek status. Don’t continue friendships that seem to be based upon envy, greed, or other negative features. Leave your circle of family or friends with their dignity under all conditions.

    The best part? This advice works for people who aren’t wealthy as well.

  65. $380K a year costs you $5.8M and change as an entry fee.

    What is this assumption based on, exactly? If this is a complaint that becoming a Silicon Valley software engineer is expensive because you need a degree, 1) they don’t cost five million dollars and 2) the ‘you’ paying for that entry fee is not automatically the ‘you’ making the money, particularly for those wealthy people who come from wealthy families.

    You’re illustrating Scalzi’s point very well, by the way. Boo-hoo-hooing about how $385K (for one person) ‘barely’ lets you afford a house in Palo Alto ignores the fact that rather a lot of people don’t make anywhere near that, and yet need a place to live. Do you think all those people who cook at the artisanal food trucks or clean cube farms after hours make $385K a year? How do you think somebody making $35K a year feels about hearing a rich IT dude bitch about his mortgage?

    This is why people get angry about “the rich” – it’s the attitude, not the money. Everybody can sympathize with a rich person sad about the death of a child, or who was dumped by an unfaithful lover, or who was just told there’s nothing the doctors can do about the tumor. These are human things, and rich people are human beings. What few people give a shit about is whining about how to manage their privilege or complaining that they can ‘barely’ manage to do things that are completely out of reach for most.

  66. Perhaps the more salient pathology to study and treat is that which compels victims to accumulate and via their striving to calm their burning itch cause significant harm to the world.

    Palliatives are not a true cure. The philanthropy mentioned above is admirable in comparison to other examples but fails to account for the negative effects produced as a side-effect of accumulation. For instance, converting vulnerable currencies to dollars by selling software with a vanishing small marginal cost of production into developing nations can’t be fully corrected by returning a paltry fraction of the funds in the form of a donation.

  67. Percentiles are a distraction – there will always be a 1% at the top, and a 20 (30, 40, etc.)% at the bottom, in the worst gilded age or the dreamiest utopia. My utopia has no one lacking for food, clothing, housing, education, healthcare, and fulfilling activities (work and/or leisure). If that requires “sacrifice” on the part of the 1%, I say “so be it”. If the 1% find they need approbation, it might fall under the mental health aspects of healthcare, available to all.

    The problem isn’t that there is a one percent. The problem is that one percent holds more than 35 percent of ALL the wealth in this country.

  68. This is long because Scalzi doesn’t like multiple posts. :)

    Applejinx, nobody makes it without others, institutions and governments investing in them, from public schools to angel investors. Your brother sees you and he as a family unit; you’re sinking and he has the means to get you to higher ground, because the corporation he works for has invested in him, rightly or wrongly. He loves and values you enough to invest in you (which is the definition of family — people who care about and caretake each other.) Hopefully he isn’t controlling about it.

    Taking his money to solve problems now, while he has it, to invest in yourself, is not losing independence, nor a failure in yourself, as the deck is stacked deliberately against most of us. It’s what we’re hoping to change the system into — where everyone is helped and invested in as people, rather than wasting them so that a handful of people can try to outrace each other in status symbols. And the reality is, refusing to use resources to deal with the problems now may then end up costing your brother a lot more money down the road if problems get worse. A gaping chest wound does not get better without sutures. Your brother has sutures. And if you can recover with that aid, you in turn can help others as well. Your brother I’m sure understands that you don’t like feeling helpless or dependent. But his belief in you and his fear for you and his being your brother means he doesn’t see it as you being dependent on him, but part of his family that needs temporary help so that you can then go out and give to the world.

    Comparative Kayaking — No, Kara isn’t part of the 1% in North America. She’s part of the middle class, who are then due to things like lay-offs, falling into the working class (the working poor) at higher and higher rates. She has a lot more resources than a subsistence farmer in Cambodia, but may have less than a factory worker in Germany. Instead of trying to raise subsistence farmers in Cambodia and everybody else to higher levels of stability in the world, we’re instead having the global .01% trying to make more and more of us closer to subsistence farmers in Cambodia. Who is in the 1% is different for each country, many of which aren’t democracies but still feudal one way or another. It’s the inequality gap between those people, as the top group goes higher beyond anything they can really ever spend (owning banks and countries, as Barnes noted,) and the rest of the population (who are being drained like blood banks,) that causes the massive problems throughout and the greater increase in poverty, disease, unnecessary death, etc.

    Kara and the subsistence farmer in Cambodia are in the same boat; it’s just Kara has a somewhat higher seat due to geography. That doesn’t make Kara ungrateful for the resources she does have in that higher seat, but it’s not going to make her more sympathetic to the wealthy folk screwing over both her and the subsistence farmer in Cambodia. The more people like Kara get screwed over in the U.S. economy, because we are globally connected and the U.S. is a big market for world goods, the worse it also is for the subsistence farmer in Cambodia.

    We have actually decreased worldwide poverty, violence, malnutrition, childhood death and epidemic disease. But at the same time, those at the very top continually work to undermine those gains for more profit, while spewing the line that those who suffer from those problems brought them on themselves. That is the heart of why Kara got fired and why the Cambodian farmer lives at subsistence.

    Terry Lambert:

    The sad fact is that you can’t “fix poor” by throwing money at it.

    Yes, actually it does in fact fix poverty to throw money at it. It is much cheaper to spend money putting the homeless, especially homeless families, into actual homes than leave them on the street or temporary shelters, and passing laws that others are not allowed to “throw money” at them by feeding them in the hopes that they will somehow disappear from view. Counties that have tried housing the homeless have had terrific results. It is much cheaper to throw money at poor kids in school meals — and good quality healthy meals — than let them starve. Social Security and Medicare rapidly decreased the number of senior poor in the U.S. We have also for the money we’ve thrown at HIV, gotten it to the point where people can live with the disease a long time without it turning to AIDS and death, and gotten increasingly closer to a cure.

    But the problem is, for every dollar given to deal with poverty and health problems — mostly by governments — the top of the 1% wants to take a dollar and a half back for themselves, making the poor poorer but blamed for taking public funds, and leaving that subsequent poverty set of costs and human loss as someone else’s problem. The wealthy and corporations have fought against funding HIV research and education, in the U.S. and all over the world. They’ve hiked up the cost of the HIV drugs, restricting access to medical treatment to the well off, causing governments three times as much costs in cases. They’ve fought against birth control access for the poor, government healthcare, decent and equal wages, pollution and carbon regulation, alternative fuels, etc. In the U.S., the top of the 1% have tried to drain money from Social Security, infrastructure, the post office, Medicaid, food stamps, etc., and for the past thirty years have been trying to privatize (drain the money towards themselves) and dismantle (by starving of funding through politicians,) the public school systems so that poorer (and often non-white) children will have less and less access to basic education.

    Unfortunately, a lot of the top of the 1% don’t feel that they can be truly, really rich and successful unless a lot of other people globally are made as poor as possible. (This is traditional.) And since they’ve become global citizens and companies able to manipulate currencies easily, they’ve made that gap quite large. Which does in fact mean that the poor cost us more because they are being starved of resources — including appropriate, not stagnated, wages for work.

    So it’s not throwing money at the poor that has to change — it’s the pirate raiding of the money for the poor that needs to change, and the ruthless dog-eat-dog ethos of corporations that you describe that needs to change. The ruthless are not good at solving problems — they are awful at it. Their solutions are for them to take all the money, throw a short-term lip service “solution” at a problem they made worse (and the worsening of the problem also makes them money as they bet on themselves making it worse in markets,) and wave as they leave. And then complain because the poor have not somehow fixed themselves. They complain about how much a house costs in Silicon Valley, and not about the sick corporate culture that created that cost — another inflated bubble that may collapse. There is a movie coming out, The Big Short, about a group of wealthy people who saw the real estate banking bubble was about to finally collapse, and then sought to make gobs of money off of it. How nice for them — they got richer and people all over the world died in the Global Recession/Depression.

    We need to change the idea of a “rat race” by changing the idea that human beings are rats. And while we have slowly done that over the centuries, in some parts of the world, we’re still a long way from managing it fully. So again, we don’t need to stop people from being “rich,” but we do need to stop them from continually seeking to make others poor and seeing it as the only way to be rich.

  69. Oh yeah, such a curse. You know, if curses were a thing you could donate to charity and not have them anymore, except you don’t actually want to. Whine whine whine.

  70. If the 0.1% are having issues with being portrayed negatively in the media, then perhaps they ought to stop behaving like Milburn Drysdale.

    I’ve been saying that for years, at least since the 0.1% threw a hissy fit when Obama dared imply that they might not be the pillars of society. They’ve obviously been scheming for decades to make off with other people’s money, and, unlike Mr. Drysdale, have generally been succeeding.

  71. Yeah, speaking as a kid of two parents who literally went from food stamps to 1% (Dad’s family went through some tough times when his dad had a heart attack, Mom worked her way through Harvard and was the first person on her side to go to college, Dad is now senior VP of R&D for a Fortune 500 company and makes hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, I’m going to a $56,000/year school without financial aid, and we installed a freaking pool in the backyard three years ago), I can say: Rich people problems exist, but they’re basically the same as straight white male problems*–they’re simple, not very problematic problems that most people would be GLAD to have.

    So yeah. The article OGH discusses? Not cool.

    As for Shkreli…he’s about the perfect incarnation of a human-shaped bag of reeking offal and raw feces. Not because he’s rich, but because literally everything he does is the direct opposite of the business ethics that my Dad spent an entire weekend yelling at his minions about over the phone.

    When you’re the poster boy for the business ethics violations that drive my dad into an actual screaming rage (he NEVER shouts–when he yells, it is Serious Business), you’re kind of a shithole.

    *And I say this as a straight cis white male.

  72. The gap between the bottom of the 1% and the 99% below (and indisputably the 50-99%) is insignificant compared to the gap between the 1% and above. I’m surprised and a bit disappointed you didn’t point this out.

    A doctor, a lawyer, a dentist, a good programmer, and someone who owns a small business and works IN that business are probably earning more than $150K/year and are, therefore, by definition, part of “the 1%”.

    Even up to $1 million/ year you are mostly talking about professionals — who generally get most of their income from ORDINARY sources (their own labor) and are taxed at rates around 50% (Fed + State + whatever). And, guess what? These people generally shop in normal stores and have friends who are mostly in the 99%. These professionals generally rose up from the 99% through personal hard work (a lot of study and/or personal ass on the line).

    Somewhere up above the $1 million mark people cease to get most of their income from ORDINARY sources and start getting PREFERRED tax rates as their income increasingly is classified as “CAPITAL GAINS and dividends and other rentier sources. Why should someone selling a capital asset, especially a stock, get tremendously advantaged tax rate? Are we really trying to punish those who actually sweat for a living?

    The 1% line is catchy but it mostly it serves as propaganda. It serves to divide and KEEP those who are getting preferred treatment BECAUSE OF POLITICAL CORRUPTION safe and protected by a buffer of very ordinary people who happen to be at the top of the pile of the working slaves.

    How dare I say such things? I am in the 1% but I am surrounded by family and friends and neighbors who are not. And this “1%” distinction is secret shame of the US — and one Obama, Bush, etc. really don’t want to talk about.

  73. I read about an investment seminar that was attended by a number of families all comfortably in the 1%. After the seminar was over the mullti-multi-millionaire who led it was heard to remark that he didn’t see how some of the people attending could make it. “Some of them barely had $10 million in assets!”

  74. “$380K a year costs you $5.8M and change as an entry fee. This will be money which you are unable to touch, because it’s working for you producing investment income. Even then, it takes careful management to get to that level, and it takes investing about half of it, after taxes, back into the fund, on an ongoing basis. Taxes generally come out to about $170K a year or so on that, between the state and federal income taxes, if you live in some place like California.”

    This is wrong on a couple of levels.

    That’s a 6.5 rate of return. Which is actually somewhat less than the stock market has returned, with inflation factored in. What you need to do manage this is nothing. An index fund that literally requires you to do nothing but slap your money in and withdraw it when you need. Vanguard, for insance

    Second, you don’t need to put half of it back in to keep it. Although it’s not a bad idea.

    That’d be capital gains, so you’re also NOT going to pay 44% taxes on it.

    So aside from not having much to do with what Scalzi was saying, it’s also wrong on pretty every level it could be.

    Which is impressive, in its way.

  75. While this post was an interesting read, you could have just gone with “you can give away your money and no longer be rich, but you can never give away your black.”

    People who are rich are choosing, on an ongoing basis, to be so. Makes complaining about their hardships rather absurd.

  76. A doctor, a lawyer, a dentist, a good programmer, and someone who owns a small business and works IN that business are probably earning more than $150K/year and are, therefore, by definition, part of “the 1%”.

    As has been pointed out upthread, “the 1%” generally means “the top 1% of income-earning households”, which is an annual income of about $380K, which is a little more than double your suggested cutoff.

    (And you’re lumping some rather disparate groups in together, there. The small business owner may be running on a thin margin indeed, not $150K a year. Bimodal income distribution means your small-town lawyer may be making a reasonable six figures, but her counterpart fresh out of Yale who got hired by BigLaw is making $160K out of the gate, and a doctor who is a teaching cardiologist at a big-city hospital is going to be making a frack done more than her colleague at the rural health clinic.)

    Talking about the obscene concentration of wealth at the top end of the scale? Absolutely important, and kind of a separate point, which is that even at the bottom end of the 1%, ‘rich people problems’ are colossally clueless whining.

  77. As an added note, I see a few people talking about relatives and loved ones who are wealthy, and how that makes things difficult.

    I do have wealthy relatives. One end of my family is very wealthy (in assets rather than income, but they make enough of an income from interest on their investments that they are still able to live in more comfort than my family, without any of them needing to work), and the little branch I was born into is fairly solidly middle class. I’m on the poor end (a combination of life choices and the fact that I graduated from university in 2007, meaning that I’m currently straddling the poverty line for my region, and have little likelihood of rising any time soon).

    Granted, I’m not one of the wealthy ones, but I’ve never noticed any alienation. The very wealthy branch of the family shares their stuff with the not-as-wealthy branch (letting us vacation in their summer homes, letting us borrow their boats, paying for the food and beer at gatherings, etc), and there are no hard feelings. They manage to strike that balance between putting their extra funds to use without coming off as if they are flaunting it, and the whole family benefits.

    If the wealthy, as a class, had a mind to, I do believe that that my family could easily be a microcosm for our whole society. But it takes the wealthy to make that first step, as the ones who hold the lion’s share of the power.

  78. Steve:

    The 1% line is catchy but it mostly it serves as propaganda. It serves to divide and KEEP those who are getting preferred treatment BECAUSE OF POLITICAL CORRUPTION safe and protected by a buffer of very ordinary people who happen to be at the top of the pile of the working slaves.

    Yeah, no. As someone who isn’t in the 1% but is close to it enough to be in the upper middle class with the bottom of the 1%, I call bullshit. First off, Obama and Bush talk about the hard working upper middle class and how to help them all the ding dang time. They may not always agree on points, but it’s been discussed ad nauseum by politicians. Second, the upper middle class are the most coveted, cossetted voters around. They get continual tax breaks and tax credits and tax-free investments available to them. They are not taxed anywhere near 50% and haven’t been for decades. They get regular financial benefits not available to lower incomes. That’s all “political corruption” too.

    Most of the upper middle class in North America are white and they’ve been able to get in the upper middle class or stay in it in large part because they are white, able to get loans, go to universities, get jobs and promotions, etc. way more statistically than other groups. That’s “political corruption” too. They are able to get mortgages and take the interest as a major tax deduction, get small business loans and take major business deductions, and student loans, get better jobs out the gate to repay loans. The working poor and lower middle classes work just as hard as the upper middle class — including often multiple jobs with no to little childcare — and they also pay large chunks to federal, state, local, Social Security, sales and gas taxes — many of the latter at the same rate the upper middle class pays, since they are not based on income. Plus, they have to pay a large chunk they can much less afford for health insurance and have to still pay way more for healthcare and are up a creek if they lose their job’s healthcare benefits, as they are the first to get fired. They just get paid substantially less for what they do, promoted far less and don’t at all have the same ability to generate non-income wealth growth, much less income wealth growth.

    An upper middle class family can save, invest and grow wealth, and they get all sorts of tax breaks and incentives to do that which others don’t get. A family that gets $400,000 post-tax net income can live as if they only had $200,000, plant $200,000 in tax-differed or tax-free accounts and have that grow into millions within ten years. A working poor family can never do that — they can’t necessarily cover basic expenses each month, and the expenses continually rise. (For example, schools used to provide kids with way more supplies, now parents have to buy them or hard-working teachers are expected to supply the really poor kids out of their own pockets, or the students simply go without — who cares if they get a fair education. And that’s in large part because the upper middle class didn’t want to give property taxes to help schools, especially for poorer kids, and fought to change the laws — corrupt politics.)

    Even if the upper middle class person uses taxed investment accounts, mutual funds, etc., they get taxed at a lower capital gains rate than most income. In fact, an upper middle class family can even use offshore accounts, small ones, although the IRS has now started sniffing around about it. An upper middle class family can have an accountant, a financial planner, a loan officer on speed dial. They have resources that are simply not available to others, resources that generate more wealth.

    The vast majority of the 1% are upper middle class. Granted, they don’t have as much political and corporate influence as the top .1% or top .01% — the tiny group of households with vastly disproportionate wealth. But a lot of them are in corporations, not doctors, and their demands are quite influential, especially locally, in having wages below them stagnate with no real rise in the minimum wage. The prices in Silicon Valley for housing aren’t simply a matter of a handful of billionaires — it’s the upper middle class moving in and making demands. Gentrification causes others’ incomes to fall as the upper middle class gets great property steals and then jacks up prices.

    So the gap between the upper middle class and wealthier and the rest of the populace of actual working slaves in terms beyond annual income is large and getting larger all the time, as more and more of the middle of the middle class can’t keep up and drop back into lower classes, then get hit by massive medical bills and local taxes and fees they need (property tax and insurance on a car because there’s no good public transport, license fees to do certain types of jobs, etc.) but which means it’s hard to pay the electrical bill. And the upper middle class still demands that the benefits come to their neighborhoods, while the other neighborhoods lose decent roads, schools, public transport, social services, libraries, etc., as a result. And the upper middle class is much less likely to get thrown in jail on minor charges, and be kept there because they can’t afford the debtors prison fines and interest on the fines.

    If the upper middle class in the 1% want to be thought of as the middle class rather than the well-off, then they need to start actually banding together with the lower middle class and the working poor, and helping them, rather than continually doing their level best to screw them over in favor of their own families. Otherwise, that gap is quite, quite real, and more real as university education becomes more and more essential to even getting a living wage.

  79. Man, talk about a problem that is easy to solve. Indeed, that therapist person is doing their small part to relieve them of some of their problem; but obviously not enough. Fortune favors the bold.

  80. ” Sure we hate the Lannisters because they’re assholes, but the author made a decision to make the rich, wealthy family known for their “Lannister gold” a bunch of backstabbing assholes.”

    As I say, though, almost _all_ the main characters in the book are rich. The Starks are rich. The Tyrells are staggeringly rich. The Baratheons are rich. Magister Illyrio is one of the richest men in the world.

    And it can’t be denied that this is a *very* common portrayal of the rich from the bible to Dickens to GRR Martin.

    It really isn’t, not for Dickens, and if you think so then you probably haven’t read any Dickens except for A Christmas Carol. And Scrooge’s crime was not being rich but being mean.

  81. The Wealthy DO have problems, albeit not the problems of the 99% or 99.99%.
    When my wife’s lineal ancestor John Carmichael was knighted by the King of Scotland, for saving the King’s life in battle against English, blocking a sword slash with the handle of his mace, Sir John Carmichael had the hereditary duty of preventing other English incursions. Done.
    The compensation: about a hundred square miles of land along the border, now worth roughly a trillion dollars. But the family from whom the land was taken by royal edict sued. The lawsuit went on much more than a century. By the time the trial ended, under the great-great-great-grandson of the opening attorney, neither the Carmichaels nor previous family owned the land. The family of lawyers owned the land.
    Sir Walter Scott (of my wife’s family) fictionalized this as about “The Croftangry” family.

  82. I must confess to a bias. I have sympathy for people who acquire wealth and come from the working or middle class. Knowing people may be approaching you because they want something can’t be a good feeling. When it comes to generational wealth, I have seen a lot of stories in the news of spoiled, sometimes heartless behavior so I have far less sympathy. Admittedly, the stories that get told tend to the negative. I’d love examples of people coming from generational wealth doing good things.

  83. A strange article for the Guardian, which is Britain’s main lefty newspaper (VERY lefty by US standards). Jealousy is more socially acceptable in Britain than in the US, and the rich are the last minority one can openly hate in both countries and elsewhere without being reproved. There is also a certain Militant Middle Class Mediocrity about which disapproves of anyone who falls below or rises above a narrow range of income and behavior.

    But the old saying is still true. Money CAN buy one a better class of misery.

  84. 2. For those who would like to point out the irony of me talking about the 1% as if I’m not one of them, agreed that I am indeed one of the ones who will be up against the wall when the revolution comes (which, as noted, I suspect will in fact never come, so no wall for me, at least not for that reason).

    Not quite – I point out that you’re one of the rich who got there by dint of producing something that people want, and being clever about getting paid for it (and you sorta only qualify for the 1%)

    There is a LOT more goodwill for the rich in that situation than there is for the rentier rich, those that sit upon an income stream usually produced by someone else and suck away at it like ticks, to the detriment of society as a whole. That little shit Shkreli is a fine example.

    I don’t begrudge the productive rich at all – if you’re wealthy because you’ve done something that improved society, then good joss to you.

  85. Kat et al,

    What I can speak for is my own percentage of taxes in a typical year – which is over 50% except in those years when I have large capital gains (not very often but nice when it occurs). And $150K is the approximate cutoff for individuals in the top 1% of income. For a married couple it is higher, yes.

    My point stands, although you don’t seem to want to see it — or maybe I didn’t make it clear enough for you: Raising the ORDINARY income tax rate on the uberwealthy wouldn’t bother them at all because that is not the source of their income.

    So focusing on income disparity rather than income TAX LAW disparity is convenient for the powers that be and is the main “smoke and mirrors” mechanism which most perpetuates the growing wealth gap. It allows Soros, Google founders, the Clintons (who magically became worth something like $200 M as payout for “public service”), investment bankers, hedgies, etc. etc. to vote Democratic and push for higher ORDINARY taxes on the “rich” while continuing to dramatically increase their own net worth and the worth of their monied supporters. It also serves those uber wealthy Republicans who talk about smaller government while continuing to use larger government to their own ends. (BTW, the debt-money system is another major mechanism — as only the uber wealthy can borrow at or near federal funds rates).

    When I say “uber wealthy” I’m talking about those repeatedly above 1/10th of 1% in annual income. And you aren’t thinking very hard, or are majorly detached from reality, if you don’t know that when Trump or Soros calls, even the President will likely pick up the phone but when the dentist or small business owner wants to call there is nobody available.

    Anyway, you can continue voting for Hopey, Dopey, and Gropey (Obama, Bush, and Clinton) or you can actually strike at the root of the problem: political corruption. Pushing to raise taxes on ordinary income instead of removing tax exclusions, categories, and preferred access to government money isn’t a very strategically bright move. Unless you are a major beneficiary of the system, of course. (BTW, I also advocate for eliminating corporate and foundation preferences — fictitious entities shouldn’t have more rights than real citizens…but they currently do, and it is an interesting story how that was finagled and why next to nobody questions it.)

  86. PS I think it’s amusing to realize our last four Presidents, at least, have all been moral dwarves.

    I’m predicting Obama will somehow “earn” a multi-hundred million dollar net worth within a few years of leaving office.

  87. PPS Not all those in the 1/10 of 1% of income earners actively curry political favors, either. So generalizing about the 1/10th of 1% runs the risk of falling into the same logical trap as generalizing about “the 1%”. However, it is also true that when you are earning more than $25 million a year you can AFFORD to drop a million dollar — 4% — “donation” on one or more politicians. It can be rationalized as an INVESTMENT which may (likely will) see your income growth accelerate “coincidentally” thereafter. Those making only, say, $2.5 million a year from their business or a one time sale of a piece of real estate are not in nearly the same position to “donate” 4% of their income ($100k)…nor will a “mere” $100K donation get the same personal “thanks” from the politician.

    I also want to point out that something like the bottom 50% of the population actually extracts more money from the system than they pay in. So many of them are also invested in perpetuating the status quo. There are many systems of control and the vast majority of Americans are complicit in sustaining the corrupt system in one way or another — even though they never donated directly to any politician at all. That a middle class income earner legally writes off their home mortgage interest on their taxes hardly makes it reasonable to put them to “the wall” along with those uber-wealthy in the banking and real estate industry who instigated the interest rate deduction. However, once one participates, in any way, in a corrupt system it is near impossible to escape as “innocent”.

    The poor, minorities (including blacks), middle class, upper middle, professionals and business owners, etc. all have filth on their hands and all serve their role to keep the corruption in place. ÉTIENNE DE LA BOÉTIE wrote his “Discourse on Voluntary Servitude” in 1548 about monarchy. Democracy just happens to be an even better glue for holding together a despotic and morally corrupt system. It becomes important realize that government comes from thuggery and is always wanting to maintain and extend thuggery. Liberty ultimately means freedom FROM government or it means nothing at all. But we forget this, because it is not convenient to remember…nor to think.

  88. Phoenician —

    What “improves” society is a highly subjective measure. Hobby Lobby improves society, but I’m not patting their owners on the back. People who build wealth are no less likely to be dicks about how they do it than people who inherit wealth. We need to get past the idea that the value of human beings is how someone else in power subjectively determines their “merit” and “contributions” in the world, and in terms of their productivity at making money. And the idea that the noble poor, the successful rich, or the intrepid poor who became (due to luck and the help of others because that’s how life works) rich, have their personal worth from their income profiles doesn’t work. A lot of folk would say that Scalzi is vastly overpaid for what he does — stories and corporate writing — while someone like a vet tech or a garbage collector are vastly underpaid for the valuable tasks they do.

    Money has nothing to do with our humanity. Money is simply a tool. Scalzi is not using his money to deliberately impoverish others directly — though he is doing so indirectly because of the way our society and economies work. He does not believe that others must be squashed for him to do well or better. He does not believe in starving his neighbor’s children so that he can have lower property taxes. So yeah, points for that, but he’d get those for those views even if he inherited his money.

    Take the erroneous and long debunked claim that Steve has drug up that the lower 50% of the income pyramid drain more than they put into the system. This is not at all true. They are the ones who are continually drained in order to provide more goodies for the upper levels. They give the government a huge amount of income they actually need for basic expenses in taxes and fees, and the government designs regulations to insist on even more. Once a year, they get a small portion of that money they’ve loaned the government interest free for a year, and on which the government has made huge amounts of profit, back or partially back but that’s basically it. The rest of the taxes and fees they’ve paid they lose, so each year, they’re further behind. They are also the ones working hardest into the system, while their wages are deliberately stagnated, are subject to wage theft, insane demands of employers, all in an attempt to drive down the lower labor market as much as possible. For more and more people, the chance at a university education — and the higher income that comes with it statistically — is becoming less and less possible.

    They pay in quite a lot to get government services, both regular and emergency, but when they use those services in bad times, they’re called parasites. The money they’ve put in for roads, schools, healthcare and unemployment insurance gets diverted to corporations — and to the upper middle class and richer neighborhoods — and the roads crumble and the schools in the “wrong” neighborhoods fall apart. A lot of money does get thrown to the police (though not to help out their families,) for fancy equipment so that they can go roust the black neighborhoods, throw mostly non-whites and poor people in jail, milk them for fines they can’t pay and be able to keep them from legally voting and changing anything.

    And if the poorer speak up and complain about it — complain about that corruption — they’re told that they are vilifying the rich. That’s what these rich people in the article feel stressed about, whether they are a billionaire or a dentist with a nice house. They aren’t getting vilified for having money or savings — the tools. They are getting vilified for the abuses in the system that not only benefit them but do so at the expense of everybody else — how the tools are used. I have relatives at nearly every income level. I know their tax, insurance and expense situations. And it’s skewed unfairly upwards, dramatically, by government, by employers, by banks, by insurers, by business interests in the communities, sometimes by religious organizations.

    Until the dentist with a nice house stops calling the people below him parasites and trying to keep their kids out of his local schools or take away their school breakfasts, it’s difficult to change those abuses. To get change requires forcing the dentists, silicon engineers and mid-level V.P.’s to face those abuses, to declare them not acceptable because their poorer neighbors are also human beings, and to insist on change — at the local level where the upper middle class does most of the damage, not just the global politics and trade level. Which in the long term will grow economies and help out dentists, engineers and V.P.’s too. But a lot of people in the 1%, including the upper middle class, don’t have that mind-set as yet. They want to be excused from the anger directed at the very wealthy, while still looking down on their neighbors as undeserving targets, and trying to harm them for what they see as their own benefit.

    The upper middle class do in fact have a great deal of political power in their countries, especially at the regional and local level. And so far, most of them have used that power to try to benefit themselves and screw over poorer communities to do so. Smaller businesses are just as likely to screw over their employees as large ones. And then they’re astonished that their employees aren’t sympathetic to their complaints about their lives. They rant that the poor have cheaper used smartphones, never mind that the poor often have to have them in order to work and have any Internet access which they also need for work, their children’s school, access to government services, etc. And that they give up other things, including food, clothing, etc., in order to keep that phone on.

    A poor person living in a state in an area that has no decent public transportation or is required to have personal transportation for work — because the wealthy and upper middle class won’t allow public transportation needs for the poorer to be built and enrich the economy — has to pay for the used vehicle, upkeep and insurance. And if they’re in the wrong state? They also have to pay property tax on it. Or they lose it, which means they lose their jobs. So they go without electricity for a bit to pay the property tax on a car or truck. Their kid could be on the school soccer team, but they have to pay for the uniform (whereas before the school used to pay for them) — a hundred dollars they don’t have, never mind used cleats.

    Does the dentist with the nice house donate so the poorer kids in the school can have uniforms? Mostly the dentist does not. The dentist lobbied to lower the school tax and government school funding, which helped cause the demand that the kids pay for the uniforms if they want to play. The dentist regards the beat up truck and the family that goes with it as parasites who lower his property values, especially if they aren’t white. The dentist wants the family gone and won’t take Medicaid for patients either. The dentist votes in conservative millionaire politicians who promise him always lower taxes and the lion share of the public services. The dentist wants a flat income tax that will wildly benefit him and raise the truck family’s taxes past where they can afford again to keep the truck. The dentist is responsible for most of the problems we currently have in the country, thanks to thirty years of this crap.

    So no, the dentist doesn’t get a pass. The upper middle class has relentlessly screwed over those beneath them for as long as they’ve existed, and whenever they emerge as a larger group in a newly monetized country. They’re the ones who helped make it possible for the very wealthy to give themselves higher and higher bonuses, bigger and bigger tax shelters, and less and less trade regulation so they could gut the world. And then they were rather astonished to find during the global recession that they might be considered just as disposable as they regarded the family with the beat-up truck. But they are also the ones who actually have a much better chance of changing things than the poor and working class ever have had, at least in democratic countries. Because the poorer groups are swimming just to keep their heads above water, while the ones above try to dunk them. The upper middle class are riding around on the surface in a boat. And nobody gives a shit if the upper middle class wants to complain that the CEO’s boat is way bigger and commands more of the sea. Especially when it’s usually the upper middle class person’s hand that’s helping dunk the swimmers.

  89. Isn’t there a term for this? Privilege Distress, I think?

    The Rich in the USA have basically never had it better (you can argue between now and the 1st Gilded Age). Yet the whining, oh the whining.

  90. The pollution in U.S. cities is less than in the Gilded Age and they have antibiotics, so they definitely have it better. :)

    This video is indirectly relevant:

  91. An interesting discussion. I’ll add my 2c – I’m currently studying medicine, and one of our lecturers put up a slide about the effect of wealth inequality within a community on people’s health. Apparently there was a study done on this which concluded that not only did the poor do worse health-wise in societies with more inequality, but the rich in those societies had worse health outcomes as well.

    Haven’t looked at the study myself, but I find the idea that the architects of the inequality are also impacted by it somewhat reassuring.

  92. Apparently there was a study done on this which concluded that not only did the poor do worse health-wise in societies with more inequality, but the rich in those societies had worse health outcomes as well.

    Which isn’t really surprising. The rich and the poor are not completely segregated in any society; there’s plenty of opportunity for a poor person who’s sick (and who can’t afford proper treatment, or isn’t allowed to take paid sick leave, or risks losing her job if she stays at home sick) to infect the rich people who are, you know, eating the food she prepares, or living in the house she cleans, or sitting in the back of the taxi she drives.

  93. So, lots of interesting stuff both in the post and in the comments, but unsurprisingly, the comments are mostly from people who are on the outside of the issue looking in. And OF COURSE it looks like being rich is a pretty sweet gig, mostly because in a lot of ways it is, but as a borderline-one-percenter with entirely inherited wealth that’s been in the family for a couple of generations, I feel like I might be able to offer some insight into the ways it’s not as simple as it looks. I am obviously actively choosing my problems over the problems of being poor, because I think they’re less bad, but that doesn’t mean my problems aren’t also real. I don’t think I deserve sympathy, but understanding, sure, how could that hurt?

    For starters, please understand that the people who are negatively impacted (on a personal, emotional level) by being wealthy are the ones who already aren’t huge jerks. I mean, I don’t THINK I’m a huge jerk anyway! I’m making light of it, but seriously, the people who should feel bad are exactly the people who think there’s no need to feel bad, because they think they are somehow actually more deserving than everyone else. So it’s all fine and well to say we can stop feeling bad by just being a little more generous with our wealth, but in fact, most of us who feel bad are *already* quite generous.

    Since my money is inherited investments, my income is actually not stratospheric, compared to someone who has wealth due to earning a high income as a CEO or whatever. But I do give away between 20% and 30% of it every year, and that’s just the tax-deductible nonprofit giving (so yes, I derive some benefit, though the motivation is more that I’d rather give it to charity than let the government spend it on new fighter jets). It doesn’t include the offers to pay for meals out with less-well-off friends, or the cash I sometimes offer to friends who find themselves in tough spots, or even several houses I own that friends and family live in rent-free. Please understand I am not patting myself on the back here. I don’t think I’m awesome for doing this. I often don’t think I’m doing *enough*, because I still have plenty to live a very comfortable middle-class lifestyle in an expensive-ish part of the country, where I could choose instead to live in more modest circumstances and help others more.

    So, with that as background, what are the problems I claimed to have at the beginning? Well, other than the constant feeling of not doing enough, there are a couple of broad categories: how others feel about me, and how I feel about myself. If I hung out with other well-off people I would probably experience less awkwardness with others over money, but, well, I don’t want to do that. I don’t think it’s helpful to anyone, and I would hate it. If anything I would like to seek more diversity of all kinds in my social circles. And in any case, the rich mostly wouldn’t have me. I am not “presentable”, I am not fashionable or pretty or concerned with presenting a classy image. So I hang out with people who seem more…normal?

    But because of that, I often have to watch my step and wonder about motivations, both my own and those of others. If I suggest going out to eat, should I suggest a place they can afford and let them pay their share, even though we’d both rather go somewhere more expensive that I could easily afford to treat us both to? If we get in the former habit, we’re missing out on enjoyment of good food–silly if the only benefit to having money is to use it to buy happiness, as someone upthread said, my own or someone else’s (and yes, I buy food for homeless people sometimes, both via donating cash to food banks etc and via “Hey, come with me over to this food truck and we’ll each order a sandwich!”). If we get in the habit of them letting me pay for the nicer place, the pitfalls should be obvious–am I being bossy because I hold the purse strings so I decide where we eat? Do they really like me or just like what I provide? Etc. And beyond that, it is difficult and stressful to watch friends struggle in life when I could help without feeling the strain much. And I imagine it is painful for them to see me not struggle, too. So what’s the solution to that pain? Should I pay their rent/student loans/etc just because I *can*? I could in theory give up shopping at Whole Foods and devote that money to a more worthy cause any time I wanted to, so any time a friend’s struggle seems like “a more worthy cause” (hint: it’s always), it’s a friction point, to which there is no real solution other than to have friends in one’s own economic bracket only. In practice it’s a problem I don’t solve so much as just live with, feeling uselessly guilty all the while, knowing that friction isn’t inherently bad, but it sure is uncomfortable.

    But how about my other problem, how I feel about myself? For me that’s the more crippling one. I am smart and educated and utterly, utterly useless. I have no profession, probably because I haven’t had to have one. I am very good at lots of things, though mostly not ones anyone gets paid for; because I have money, I don’t have to stick it out through the hard parts of having a career, and because of that, I don’t have all that much faith that I’m employable. So while I could theoretically give away all my money and feel better, the costs for me might be especially dire because I’d be pretty helpless. That’s not a good feeling. It means there’s an undercurrent of fear–a fear you’d think money would make better, but it actually makes it worse. I’ve shied away from finding a career path for various reasons; in addition to the lack of confidence, there’s the fact that I’d be taking one of a limited number of jobs available to people who actually do need them. So there isn’t a great answer for me there, and in the meantime, I am throwing away a great education. I do volunteer work, but that seems inadequate, and besides, I don’t want to displace a paid worker who needs the income that way, either. It’s very invalidating all the way around.

    And let me say again: NONE OF THIS COMPARES TO THE REAL CONCERNS OF THE POOR. My general unease with myself and my life is trivial compared to worries about obtaining basic human needs. But small though they may be, my worries are still real.

    Oh, and one last thing, in response to Another Kevin, who said:
    “The remaining work is either too specialized and perceptually complex to be automated readily (the aforementioned strawberries) or requires considerably more intellectual talent (compare managing a combine harvester with swinging a scythe).”
    Actually, scything is probably more skilled than driving a combine. *Programming* a combine, perhaps…but in general, the higher-tech everything gets, the less skill we need. Most forms of manual labor are actually quite intellectually demanding, albeit in ways that are not valued, especially in those jobs typically done by women or minorities.

  94. Katie:


    And yet, you feel compelled to tell us about them anyway. To insist that poorer people hear about your worries, acknowledge your worries and understand that you are a person who has worries — a number of them the same sort of worries those lower on the economic scale also have. And most of your worries aren’t actually worries — they’re guilt. Nothing wrong with guilt or being thankful for what you have. Nor is there a need to beggar yourself. (If I remember correctly, you are the person who just lost her job — so definitely you need all the resources you can get.)

    Because, AGAIN, it’s not the money. It’s not the wealthy going to therapists to talk about real personal issues they may have or them having health problems. It’s the cluelessness, the callousness, the insistence that poorer people “understand” and reassure wealthier people that they are nice people anyway as individuals and everything is okay (which often becomes non-white people reassuring white people.) The insistence that somehow the poorer people don’t understand the issues facing wealthier people, even though poorer people work with wealthier people all day, listen to them drone on about their problems, and watch movies, t.v. and other popular culture that features the rich and upper middle class far more than anybody else.

    Wealthier people want poorer people to absolve them, to declare them to be good people who have nothing to do with inequality in the system — so that nothing gets done about inequality, so problems can be acknowledged, patted on the head and then subsequently ignored. But the problem the poor have is not a coveting of rich people’s money. It’s the continual legal, business and social-medical policy attempts to beggar them further. And those laws, business practices and social policies are put in place by the wealthy and the upper middle class. They are put in place in North America with the claims of cutting taxes, shrinking government, cutting public services, reducing business costs, etc. — all code for “we’re going to smoosh the people down below again.”

    Like Texas and Oklahoma allowing big corps to opt out of state workers compensation, so they don’t have to pay worker injury claims and can do whatever they want — a “cost cutting” measure taking us back to the 1950s in labor. (Et tu, Costco?) Or the large regions of the U.S. south that don’t have access to decent schools, hospitals, jobs, regular electricity and heat, and an illiteracy rate of 25% in 2015. It’s not simply that the poor have way worse problems than yours; it’s that the poor do not therefore have the extra energy to spend reassuring you that they don’t hate you too, because people above them are continually trying to kill them and starve their families.

    Which is why the article was ridiculous. It asked us to be understanding of and nice to the rich, while people who don’t need to die are dying because of the choices of the rich. Because of the votes of the well off to put politicians in place who enact predatory laws. Because of the policies of state governments run by corrupt corporate ghouls. It’s the prison guards saying, “Yes, I’m beating you to death, (or looking on while the other guards beat you to death,) but won’t you please think of my children and not complain so loudly while I do it?” It’s not a fair request. It’s a power play.

    These are heavy, complicated problems that are not easy to solve immediately. We do what we can do, with our vote, our voice, and when we can help financially. We help our relatives. We try not to over consume resources. But that doesn’t give us the right to tell those poorer than us that they aren’t allowed to be unimpressed by our fairly paltry and badly managed efforts, or that they should listen to our problems and our feelings. They don’t have to. Those of us who are better off financially, a lot or a little, are not owed understanding.

  95. Kat, I think you have me confused with someone else, as this is only my second post here. But anyway.

    I agree with much of what you say about policy. As I’ve said, I already do give both my money and my time to causes that I believe help others. I campaign for progressive politicians, though I am somewhat cynical about the prospects for real change under our current political system.

    But still, the best I can hope for for myself is to be a bit less of a disappointment. Nothing I do will ever, apparently, exceed anyone’s expectations, even (especially?) my own. And the reason that’s true is, in large part, money. If I had less, less would be expected of me and it would be a lot easier to find personal fulfillment.

    To some extent all human problems are, well, human, so sure, other people have felt guilt and inadequacy without having money. But in my particular case the things are linked in a way that I think isn’t obvious to people who think I’m just very lucky and should be happy with what I have. Guilt is a useless, destructive thing, and I personally have compassion for other people who are needlessly consumed by it. I don’t think it’s hugely unreasonable of me to wish for the same compassion from others. That’s all. I’m not insisting people should stop doing more worthwhile things and devote themselves to feeling sorry for me. But I do believe wealth brings with it some unique sources of pain, and I don’t think it’s ridiculous to acknowledge that they’re real. Everyone is owed that much.

  96. Kat, you’re doing that thing where you conflate different voices and attribute all characteristics of one to the other, Kate and the article in this case. Your perfectly cromulent policy statements are mixed with frankly unfair readings of what Kate said about her own experience. Since the two of you don’t disagree on policy and you don’t think Kate is wrong about her own experiences,the gist of your argument is that Kate should STFU because you don’t want to listen to her problems. Though apparently you went out of your way to listen to them and write a small essay on them before you came to that conclusion.

    At no point did Kate say her problems precluded people thinking about larger social issues and at no point did she disclaim responsibility for working on these larger issues. She specifically said these were her personal issues. Anybody who does not want to read about a stranger’s personal issues on a third person’s blog can take fairly simple steps to be the Least Cost Avoider, as they say in Chicago.

    “These are heavy, complicated problems that are not easy to solve immediately. We do what we can do, with our vote, our voice, and when we can help financially. We help our relatives. We try not to over consume resources. But that doesn’t give us the right to tell those poorer than us that they aren’t allowed to be unimpressed by our fairly paltry and badly managed efforts, or that they should listen to our problems and our feelings. They don’t have to. Those of us who are better off financially, a lot or a little, are not owed understanding.”

    “And yet, you feel compelled to tell us about them anyway.” Are you not seeing the irony here?

    Beyond that, if the “poor” are here, they can speak for themselves and if they are not, you cannot speak for them. They might actually have a human impulse to learn about other people and to show compassion which is not overdetermined by their economic conditions. While they don’t owe Kate that, they might do it anyway.

  97. Kate: “the best I can hope for for myself is to be a bit less of a disappointment. Nothing I do will ever, apparently, exceed anyone’s expectations, even (especially?) my own. And the reason that’s true is, in large part, money. If I had less, less would be expected of me and it would be a lot easier to find personal fulfillment.”

    Or you could work on getting yourself out of that mindset. It’s navel-gazing. If you think it’s easier to find personal fulfillment if you have less money, that’s wishful thinking (“If only I weren’t me, I could be better.”) and not based in reality, as people who don’t have that much money and have a lot of difficulty finding personal fulfillment can tell you.

    There are wealthy people who achieve much and don’t measure themselves by others’ expectations, just as there are wealthy people who are self-indulgent and spoiled. You don’t have to choose the path of least resistance you seem to be following now. You have many choices, and you acknowledge yourself that you fail to take advantage of them. That isn’t because you have money, as can be shown by numerous counter-examples. From what you write, it’s because you, personally, seem to need an external force to motivate you. There are people at all income levels who achieve because of internal motivation. You could too. You just don’t want to or have some kind of internal block that you seem unable to work on removing (or perhaps prefer not to because it’s your comfort level). There are people at all income levels like you too. External motivation works for some of them, not for others.

    How others feel about you and how you feel about yourself are likewise not an income-related problem. People at all income levels have those concerns. You, being a person with significant wealth, tie them to your wealth. People who are poor might tie them to their poverty. But it’s not an issue of your social or economic class. It’s a personal issue that manifests itself in you, the individual, as guilt and anxiety about the things you have described feeling guilty and anxious about. If you lost your money or never had it to begin with, the guilt and anxiety would manifest in some other way. So while I do have compassion for you because of your emotional suffering, that suffering, at root, has nothing to do with your income. It might be easiest for you to frame it that way, since you can then wring your hands and say it’s out of your control. But I suspect you know deep down that isn’t true. The wealth isn’t the source of your pain, just a convenient scapegoat. The question is how you will find the courage to face the real issues inside you that are the source of your pain. I think you can, but you have to want to.

    If the best that you can hope for yourself is to be less of a disappointment, this is a personal problem, not a socioeconomic one. I can hope for lots more than that for you, and I do.

  98. BW, I’m not sure you really read my first post. I can and do strive for many things. To flesh it out a little bit, I’ve pounded the pavement for a number of political campaigns, I brought food and clothing to our local Occupy site regularly and helped out there however I could, I spent years volunteering in a prison two days a week (ended because the prison closed the program, not because I stopped being willing to do it), I’ve worked for nonprofits doing everything from wining and dining donors to shoveling literal shit. I have plenty of motivation to do good in the world. The problems I see in the world are my external motivation.

    That said, you’re perhaps uncomfortably perceptive about my personal failings; I’m sure it’s true I’d find something to feel guilty about no matter what. But since there’s no double-blind study for life, all I can say is that having money is one of the major things that drives a wedge between me and my friends if I’m not careful. And it’s one of the things that makes all my life plans seem suspect.

    Put yourself in my place, if you want: imagine you are traveling in the developing world, and you have enough money for the whole trip, but you meet some local people who are funding their trip across their country by stopping and doing day labor in towns they come to. Would you feel right joining them in their work, knowing not everyone in the group was going to get hired, so your taking the job for a couple of bucks you didn’t actually need meant someone else sat around all day feeling anxious about money and unable to do anything? Or would you let one of your new friends take the job instead, and then feel guilty living a life of leisure while they did hard work? Or would you just say “Hey, I can pay for all of you to travel the whole way right now instead of having to work your way along, and by the way, let’s take the train instead of the bus, it’s only a little more expensive,” knowing “a little” was an entire day’s wages for them? You have the power to make sure your friends get where they’re going quickly and comfortably and it will cost less than a dinner out in your home city, so how can you *not* do it? But if you do, how can it not affect your relationships with these people? And the effect it has is at least partially good, they’ll be thankful and happy they got to their destination, but they also won’t be able to help wondering what it’s like to be so rich you don’t even have to think about such an act of generosity before committing to it, and then they’ll wonder about you.

    That is a set of issues you never have to weigh if you don’t have extra money, or if you don’t hang out with people outside your own economic bracket. You can tell me my problems are about my inner self and not the money all day long, and as I said, your comments about me as a human being are uncomfortably perceptive, but it’s not that I’m not willing to examine my true issues, it’s that I genuinely have some issues I wouldn’t have without money.

    And as I began this whole thing by saying, it’s also obvious that I choose, for various reasons, not to trade the problems of money for the problems of no money.

    All I’m saying is, they are truly different problems.

  99. Kate:

    Kat, I think you have me confused with someone else, as this is only my second post here.

    I thought when I was posting that you might be Kara, who I mis-remembered as Katie, and I do apologize for that. But that was one sentence out of the entire post and I said, “if I remember correctly” which I clearly did not. The rest of what I said was directly related to your particular post, however, and still stands.

    But still, the best I can hope for for myself is to be a bit less of a disappointment. Nothing I do will ever, apparently, exceed anyone’s expectations, even (especially?) my own. And the reason that’s true is, in large part, money. If I had less, less would be expected of me and it would be a lot easier to find personal fulfillment.

    The poor are held to the highest expectations there are and are not granted the luxury of finding personal fulfillment. The upper middle classes get into good colleges on mediocre grades and records because they’ve social status, resource help and money. Where the poor are expected to be brilliant to get anywhere near the same, without resources and money, and when they do, particularly if they are a woman or non-white in the West, will be considered to have been let in not on merit and must prove themselves again and again. The more money you have, the less is expected of you as a person and you are considered accomplished because you have money, which, especially if you’re white in the West again, is assumed to have occurred due to inherent merit.

    Meanwhile the poor have no merit in our society. If they work three jobs, society calls them lazy and a poor parent. If they are sick in the U.S., they can die and/or go bankrupt. If they complain about inequalities, those exist due to their own fault. They are parasites – failing expectations. They are ignorant and unintelligent – failing expectations. They are never happy and grateful for their small lot – failing expectations. Having high expectations for them and then making sure it’s not legally possible for them to meet most of them is how our societies keep the poor poor.

    Whereas, those with money can spend a lot of time seeking out personal fulfillment because they have resources. They are trusted and given a pass. They often have the gift of time from their resource of money. And EVERYBODY understands our problems of not always knowing how to act with people more disadvantaged than us, including the disadvantaged, because we talk about them incessantly. There are entire industries dedicated to helping us deal with this problem of which you speak and our personal fulfillment. It’s not a big secret that those with lower income who have participated on this thread aren’t in on until you tell them. The majority of western feminism efforts, for instance, while widely beneficial, have still been concentrated on the problems of white, educated, upper middle class women and professional women, and their hopes for fulfillment, while routinely ignoring the serious problems of and sometimes harming working class, less educated women of color.

    In any discussion that involves inequality, there tends to be an entitlement tax demanded. Those in the catbird seat, even when sympathetic to the disadvantaged, first insist that the disadvantaged acknowledged that those in the catbird seat are human, have their own problems including those from being in the catbird seat, and most particularly that the advantaged individual is a nice, sympathetic person. This has to be done before or in the process of acknowledging the awfulness to the disadvantaged. Before you can talk about racial discrimination in the west, first we must acknowledge white people’s problems, men’s problems when it’s about sexism, the difficulties and humanity of the upper middle class in the process of talking about how awful it is to be poor, etc.

    The assumption first off is that the disadvantaged are not familiar with this concept, that it is not constantly demanded of them at every juncture to acknowledge the humanity and hardships of those granted more advantage. And the second assumption is that it is a reasonable request. It’s not a reasonable request. It’s not a request, which those of us more advantaged seem to keep forgetting. That was the point of the therapy to the rich article – that the rich (and the well off) are entitled to respect, compassion, gratitude and/or understanding from those poorer, including compassion over the peculiar situations their money may put them into. It’s a demand that the poor not be too mad at them or the situation, a demand that can come from progressives almost as often as it does from conservatives. And from some people and society at large, it’s a warning – be nice to us and be quiet about your problems or we’ll hurt you. That article’s swipes at Occupy were about that.

    The people who are poorer who participated in this thread are well aware of the humanity and issues of those with more money. They said they were aware in many of the posts. But they don’t have to be, is the point. They don’t have to pay the entitlement tax to the rich or to the upper middle class. They can just be pissed off at a really nasty rich ego-stroking article. And we’ll survive just fine either way, as you’ve said yourself.

  100. Kat, maybe consider not talking down to me? I understand very well the hardships of poverty, and how I’ve benefited from privilege. I’m not asking/demanding/forcing those less well off to acknowledge my humanity before I will help them. The question under discussion, as I understand it, is whether wealthy people do or do not actually have problems that other people don’t have. I believe the answer is yes, and I’ve laid out why I believe that, largely in the form of personal anecdote, because I have a perspective that seems to me not otherwise represented in these comments. If you don’t agree with me, that’s fine, but please let’s skip the condescension.

  101. Kate:

    I feel your perspective is very well represented in the society at large already, and in fact, gets trotted out at every opportunity that involves the poor. And was also a point already made by Scalzi in the piece he wrote — that the rich and well off do have their problems and that some of those problems are related to their having money. (See Point #1 in his piece above.) The piece did not ask a question about this at all. The piece was about the cluelessness of the article:

    In my observation of things, neither people nor the media seem to dislike people either becoming or being rich….You have to work hard (no pun intended) to make people dislike you when you are rich. It’s much easier — again, speaking from experience — for people to dislike you because you are poor.

    I never said that you insisted on sympathy from poorer people before you would help them. I said that the upper middle class tend to insist that those poorer listen to their experiences in any discussion about inequality as part of having that discussion about inequality. And to believe that those experiences and issues of the upper middle class are somehow unknown instead of commonly expressed and of highest import in our society.

    It’s not condescension. It’s frustration that you don’t get what other people are saying, and feel you have to provide what they get told all the time on this topic. I admit I have less patience for it than I used to, and so I will stop trying to make a point that is not getting through. All you hear is that I’m calling you a bad person, and again, that is so not what this is all about.

  102. This is literally the first time in my entire life that I’ve discussed this issue with anyone. It’s something I–and I would guess many others in my situation, though I don’t know because, again, we don’t discuss it–feel a lot of shame about, because we know most people will just scoff and say they’d love to have our problems, as has been the case in this thread. I don’t know where all these people who like rich people are, but I have rarely met any of them. People quite often seem to think less of me when they find out things about my life that clue them in that I have money, as if I’ve somehow been masquerading as a decent person but now they have found me out. In my case maybe it’s *because* I don’t live a “rich” lifestyle–no yachts or European vacations or even new cars in sight–so people feel like I’m posing as something I’m not, or something? Or just that my credibility as a hardworking and therefore virtuous person has evaporated because I don’t need to work for money? I’m not really sure. But the fact remains that many people disdain anyone wealthier than themselves, and, well, no one enjoys being disliked.

    Anyway, I’m sorry you’re frustrated and have no patience, that’s a tiring state of being. I encourage you to consider that maybe you *are* getting through to me and I just don’t agree.

  103. Kate:

    I think we do agree on most points. The frustration is not at your good intentions, or about your circumstances, but about the cultural conditioning that occurs in discussions about various types of inequalities.

    Numerically, the 1% exists just as a matter of counting and economies. But the 1% and the 99% are also an old cultural philosophy that operates that a small group not only must have plenty but that the only way to have that plenty is to cause enormous scarcity, poverty and death to millions of other people — to create a massive gap. That those designated scarcity are disposable and not really equal humans (including slavery,) have to be kept from plenty and kept desperate but sedated or prevented from rousing, and exploited for their labor, productivity and skills to build massive wealth for the plenty. Dog eat dog, zero sum, and no amount of statistics that this is actually not necessary and disastrous tends to persuade otherwise for many.

    This is not a particular political-economic system. The plenty-scarcity philosophy occurs in capitalistic democracies, social democracies, communist governments, theocracies and dictatorships. The ideal of full democracy is to change the philosophy, to believe in equality, but democratic societies don’t necessarily do this. We have, despite billions of people and a planet in environmental crisis, the ability to feed, clothe, house, heal, and educate everybody. We just choose not to attempt it very often. And it’s not a matter of re-distributing wealth or cutting up the wealthy into pieces. It’s a matter of getting out of the mindset that we build plenty for top dogs by deliberately keeping millions of people poor and dying. It’s a matter of taking inequality out of wealth and growth building as a method, of collaboration that benefits all, instead of predadation that benefits only a few and often only temporarily.

    Why do the suburban mostly white public schools get all the goodies and the urban, mostly not white public schools are starved in the U.S.? Because we linked control of funding to property ownership and gave the upper middle class control of school funding, and they followed that they needed plenty for their kids only by taking money and keeping it away from scarcity kids. They don’t need to beggar the urban schools to have good schools for their own kids. All the kids could have good schools. But they think they do and those ones have the economic and political-legal power.

    Why do so many corporations seek to pay workers nothing, get them killed, avoid regulations of any kind, keep workers from organizing and demanding better deals for their labor which provides the corporation with its plenty? Because they think there can only be plenty for the big people at the top and the shareholders if they grind their workers into the dust and often pollute the planet to boot. It’s not just that Bill Gates got rich. He got rich by screwing over U.S. workers and then keeping Asian countries poor, their workers nearly slaves and frequently dying. Because that was seen as necessary to have plenty and dominate.

    And take your imaginary case — the new friends who can’t afford the train in Europe. The issue isn’t that you have money for the train tickets. It’s that they’ve been kept from being able to have money for train tickets too. They’ve been kept in scarcity and their money that they do earn often taken from them, funneled to the plenty. It’s not your money that is awkward. It’s that they don’t have enough money, and you know there’s no good reason for that. If you buy them train tickets, you aren’t really doing an act of generosity, or charity. You are basically just giving them back some of the money that was kept and taken from them and funneled upwards.

    But we are culturally conditioned to get defensive and view a discussion or complaint about inequalities as a matter of our individual morality and merit rather than systemic repression when we’re in a plenty group, to discredit the complaint and the issue of inequality. We focus on us, on claiming that we are not the bad guy, that we’re powerless and apart from the system that is benefiting us on the philosophy of grinding others into the dust, so that we can try to lessen, avoid or shut down the conversation about inequality.

    Occupy had a lot of people with different goals, but its central goal was to have the conversation about income inequality. Which is why it was denounced as saying those with money were the bad guys, instead of what it was mainly saying, which was why are all these people suffering and kept poor in an unequal, predatory system. Black Lives Matter — which is about activism and conversation about black Americans living in a police state — being kept in scarcity and exploited — got the instant reaction of “All Lives Matter” — i.e. don’t say white people are bad guys, completely ignoring the police state issue. Because black people talking about repression to keep them poor and in prison — that’s the scarcity rabble rousing. It might result in changes that lead to more equality. And to many whites, even those without a lot of money, having black Americans be less repressed and jailed and have more economic opportunity, that makes them uneasy on a number of fronts, including fear of being the bad guys who benefited from it, so the important thing to establish is that, individually, nobody can blame them for anything, never mind that repression stuff.

    So if Scalzi hadn’t put in that “rich people have problems too” part in his piece, someone would have popped up and claimed it was required, (don’t say rich people are bad.) And inevitably there will be someone like Steve, claiming that the upper middle class part of the 1% really shouldn’t be lumped in at all and are powerless (don’t say upper middle class people are bad.) You can’t just complain about an unequal system and some clueless rich people in an article. First, you must pay the entitlement tax and reassure them they’re good people individually, before you can talk about scarcity experiences or the unequal system. It’s an automatic defense and it’s controlling, but people don’t often realize it is because they’ve been conditioned to view it as reasonable for those in the plenty group to demand the reassurance from the people in scarcity. We all do it in one situation or another, because the subjects are uncomfortable and it’s habit.

    So when you run into people who get upset about hearing you have some money, it’s less about the money than that they assume you have the plenty-scarcity philosophy towards them along with it. That you see them as untrustworthy, disposable, lacking in merit, exploited so you can do well, etc. That you benefit from and therefore support a very unequal system. That you don’t want them complaining about inequalities around you. It makes them see you as now less trustworthy, which does in fact give those with plenty some insight into how those in scarcity are continually made to feel by laws, the market and the society.

    I don’t know if it helps, but this article related to the article Scalzi was examining made me think of you and might be useful (even though you aren’t near the income level of those in the article):

  104. It’s not your money that is awkward. It’s that they don’t have enough money, and you know there’s no good reason for that. If you buy them train tickets, you aren’t really doing an act of generosity, or charity. You are basically just giving them back some of the money that was kept and taken from them and funneled upwards.

    Look, I mean, I obviously agree that all people should have enough to live decent lives, and I even agree that giving my money away in that situation is potentially giving it back to those who should have it. But my point about being a disappointment hinged on that too–that no matter how much I give back, it isn’t, in some senses, enough. I can’t give back my privilege entirely, because it isn’t all liquid, some of it is in my education etc, and I could reduce myself to poverty and it might still not change the system at all. So I choose instead to believe–and who knows if I’m right or not, but I have to choose something, or else be paralyzed by doubt and thus even more useless–that I can make more of a difference for the world by not doing that, but instead strategically spending it to improve things that I can actually improve.

    I suppose you think it’s self-serving of me to think so, but I believe I have good judgment and some amount of vision for how the amount of money I have to work with can change things for the better, even if it happens in small, undramatic ways over time. I could go out in a blaze of glory by giving every dime to some major cause, and then I wouldn’t offend anyone by having money that’s been taken from them, but I don’t know that it would actually make the world any better. (As a side note, I know one of the people in the article you quoted, I’ve been to his home, I’ve participated with one of the organizations named in the article, and in the end I felt that their style was not mine, perhaps because I don’t believe I should just give money and get out of the way and not try to guide its use at all.)

    And in the meantime, on a strictly personal level, when I do buy that train ticket or whatever, it is uncomfortable for everyone, because it is simultaneously too much for the recipient to accept as an ordinary gift (that they can’t and shouldn’t reciprocate) and also not enough for me to do to balance the philosophical scales. They feel both beholden to me and resentful of me, and nothing I can do really makes it any better. Anonymous gifts are a little better, but they still sometimes leave the recipients feeling like they failed to make their way on their own (not saying this feeling is *rational*, just that it happens), they just don’t have my face to pin that feeling on. If I don’t help, that is, well, unhelpful too. So the specific personal interface between me and other people in this sort of situation is a problem with no clear solution. Whether it’s my money or their undeserved lack that’s awkward, the situation is problematic and it always feels (justly, I suppose) like the onus is on me to make it better, but I can’t.

    So when you run into people who get upset about hearing you have some money, it’s less about the money than that they assume you have the plenty-scarcity philosophy towards them along with it. That you see them as untrustworthy, disposable, lacking in merit, exploited so you can do well, etc.

    I mean, maybe that’s true. But if that’s what people think even when I am actively showing them the opposite–when I am volunteering my time because they deserve it, when I am campaigning for a politician who will tax me more so they can have better lives, when I am holding a protest sign in the heat or the cold to show that, yes, Black Lives DO Matter–what exactly is left for me to do?

  105. High points of Terry Lambert’s truly wretched comment:

    1) It’s tough in upper management, so we musn’t harsh on their six figure salaries. (Carefully ignored: Why so many strivers keep volunteering themselves for that treadmill. Could it be that it’s extraordinarily lucrative? And by the way, at those levels, it’s obtuse to pretend that **salaries** are the major form of compensation.)

    2) If I use the term “Pareto efficient”, I can bamboozle anybody! Here the claim is that Gates et al* are uniquely capable of producing “social goods”, i.e., that but for them certain technologies wouldn’t exist. You **might** be able to make this claim about Thomas Edison or Henry Ford, but it’s a lot weaker for our newer magnates.

    If Gates hadn’t existed, presumably Microsoft wouldn’t either — but when he made his original Big Score with IBM there was so much activity bubbling around small computers that some person or persons would have emerged to fill the void. Ditto Bezos and Amazon. Ditto Facebook and Zuckerburg. The “social good” is latent in technology, in the application of science. I doubt that anybody really denies that the first guy to develop something rates substantial rewards. But that’s a very different thing from the immense power that can now fall into the lap of the first mover.

    * Lambert names Buffet and Musk in his list. I’m not sure quite what “social good” Buffet has ever performed; he’s very skilled and shrewd in the casino, but I’m at a loss to think of any tangible thing that will endure after he’s gone. I think the jury’s still out on Musk.

    3) Argument by tendentious assertion: “…you can’t “fix poor” by throwing money at it”. One obection is that it’s debatable whether this has ever really been tried.* Yet the history of the entire western industrial world, from 1945 on, shows pretty convincingly that concerted public social spending has mitigated want one helluva lot.

    But my favorite part of Lambert’s comment is this historically bogus line: “…literacy was a huge problem, before Carnegie established his free libraries.” In fact North America had unusually high literacy rates long before Carnegie was ever conceived. Universal public schooling predates the Constitution; the Northwest Ordinance of the 1780’s set aside land for schools in every township of the (then) Northwest Territory. It’s true that Carnegie endowed libraries and other cultural institutions, and that was nice. But when he did so a common observation was that the gifts he claimed to be bestowing on working people were generally unavailable to them, because they were at the mill when the libraries were open.

  106. I think there’s a reasonable argument that you can’t fix poverty *just* by throwing money at it; look at nations rich in natural resources where the population is still in dire poverty. Just throwing money tends to bring out the most ruthless members of a society in full force, which makes the most vulnerable even worse off. If we were truly capable of throwing money in a way that ensured everyone had a minimum amount necessary for a good life, then yes, clearly that would be the solution, and it’s kind of a thing that actually exists in, say, Norway. But then you have to wonder if they’ve just kicked the can down the road by making sure everyone *in Norway* has reasonable access to basic needs, without providing any kind of roadmap for poorer countries. You could argue that closing the gap between the rich and the poor in a country where *everyone* is rich in a global sense doesn’t constitute a real solution.

    So. You can probably fix poor by throwing enough money in exactly the right way. But that is hard work, which, of course, no one ever really wants to do, especially the idle rich (tongue mostly in cheek there…).

  107. Hey John, I stumbled onto your blog after googling “whatever” after being hit with insomnia and loneliness. I was originally considering seeking the company of an escort (as I am wont to do in this mood but for one reason or another these considerations never become reality); I ended up scrolling through your blog instead. Funny how that works out. I hope you’ve reached your target audience. :P

    Here’s a demographic profile: college dropout mid 20s Chinese immigrant straight cis male living in Texas with his single mother. As far as income in the US goes, we’re under the poverty line, but from what I understand, in the context of the globe, we’re actually living approximately an average life, if one uses income as a gauge of life quality.

    Hey Kate, I’m sure you’re a lovely girl, and while I’d guess that I’d want in your pants, I’d also like to reassure you that this (perhaps pointless) advocacy of what I perceive is your character has nothing to do with my unfulfilled desires… I think. Anyway, I have a rich friend, and your stories remind me of him, minus the charity part, but I tend not to disclose my involvement in charity organizations, so basically you remind me of him… and most importantly, he’s been a great friend. Maybe this sort of case by case thing isn’t the sort of thing that solves big problems, but then again, well, maybe it is.

    As for the black thing, I can’t say for black people that life is easy (hell, my mother still generalizes them to be mostly violent criminals, and she can’t speak English all that well), but on the other hand, being Chinese in America isn’t exactly a cakewalk either. There’s nothing I can do to remove that part of my identity, and a lot of people identify me primarily through my race still (“chino”). While I am ashamed of being a loser who lives with his mom, I am also not blind to additionally being treated with cold suspicion because of geopolitical bullshit in which I have neither hand nor say. I can’t say for certain the absence of nice things in my life is due to factors outside of my control and not personal failings, but often, I feel like my race threw a wrench in most of the encounters in my life. Basically, the comparison between being rich and being black is faulty (as noted by others), and the problem of isolation is not unique to the rich.

  108. Kate:

    I mean, maybe that’s true. But if that’s what people think even when I am actively showing them the opposite–when I am volunteering my time because they deserve it, when I am campaigning for a politician who will tax me more so they can have better lives, when I am holding a protest sign in the heat or the cold to show that, yes, Black Lives DO Matter–what exactly is left for me to do?

    Again, you’re looking at it backwards. You’re making it about you, an individual who is helped by the system, instead of about them and how the system of inequality punishes them. It’s not about you giving up your goodies — most of your goodies you don’t need to give up; it’s about them being kept and stolen from in the system. You want them to like you and reassure you that you, the person with plenty, are a good person because you are helping those with scarcity that they are wrongly stuck in.

    The desire to be liked is natural, but you are imposing that demand on them from the position of plenty, from the position of people who can hurt them if we get mad. They may end up trusting you, like the person in the article I linked found with Occupy, they may partially trust you, they may never trust you. And they don’t have to. It’s not their job and it doesn’t matter. But we in plenty groups/up axis have grown up being taught we’re entitled to demand that they trust and be grateful to us, that people like us for being nice. We are taught the lie that it’s a merit system, where if we do good things, we get good things. In reality, the system mostly gives us good things because we were in the right group — like a tax break for charity and a better shot at a job because you are white — and that golden rule is used to claim that since the poor (and black people, etc.) don’t have good things, they must not do good things — they deserve their scarcity. The system isn’t that focused on lifting you up, per se; it’s focused on keeping millions of others down (as well as the planet’s ecosystem,) and that’s the big change that has to be worked on.

    The system is unequal in dozens of ways and changing the system in any country requires relentless, continual, unstinting call-out focus on those inequalities — to those in scarcity, those in plenty who agree that it’s wrongly unequal, those who kind of agree but worry about losing plenty, and those who deliberately want to keep the system unequal. That’s what Occupy did, that’s what Black Lives Matter is doing, that’s what feminism is about. It’s not a struggle that is going to end in our lifetimes. It may never end. But if the struggle does not go on, millions of people die who don’t have to, regarded as disposable cogs, not human beings. If it doesn’t go on, we wreck our planet further. Change occurs because the inequality is shoved in the faces, pushed down the throats, disturbing the “natural” or “divine” order, etc. — because people won’t shut up about it, which leads to people who don’t like it changing it and other people developing economic/political reasons to go along with it. Progress comes in bloody increments, including very real threat of violence, imprisonment and death to those in scarcity.

    So the number one thing that is needed from people on up axes is letting people talk and yell about inequality without getting defensive and making it about themselves instead, demanding cookies, exemptions from the system and special treatment, demanding to play “devil’s advocate” about people’s lives, without trying to shut down, temper or control the conversation, without claiming that the experiences related can’t be true (those in scarcity labelled untrustworthy or ignorant,) without regarding such talk automatically as a threat to themselves (zero sum loss of plenty,) and without insisting that people not be mad about a maddening thing. Without focusing only on the individual, rather than the fact that it’s a systemic issue.

    And it’s a hard thing to do, getting out of our own heads and lives. We will mess up. We will have intersectional conundrums. But the biggest problem we have is that protest and talking about inequality — from which change towards equality comes — is repressed — from which all the more violent problems come.

    sglover: Oh yeah, it’s about 800 to 1, the gap now in the U.S.:

    isomorphia: Hiya! The absence of nice things is indeed due in large part to factors you can’t control, especially in Texas. While you will face various sorts of racism everywhere in the U.S., if you and your mom can ever do it (and I know that’s very not easy,) I’d suggest, as someone who lived there and has relatives there, that you get out of Texas. There are better benefits in other states, but mainly it’s the general climate there for the last twenty years. While there are a lot of lovely people in Texas, they get sold a bill of goods about repression many of them show no sign of dropping anytime soon and their current governor is batshit dangerous.

    It’s a great country with great ideals. It does still have some mobility that many other countries do not. But the plenty for scarcity system is very much in effect.

  109. Okay, Kat, I think this discussion is ultimately fruitless because the larger discussion you want to have (about which, as you noted earlier, we mostly agree) makes you unwilling to engage in the actual topic of conversation. I am certainly not “demanding cookies”, but you are kinda “insisting that people not be mad about a maddening thing.” Not nearly as maddening as other things, as I have said and keep saying, but it’s not the goddamn Oppression Olympics up in here. My problems don’t have to be the worst, most sympathetic problems anyone has ever had to make them real. Getting told over and over again (by many people throughout my life, not just you) that I should shut up because my problems are the wrong kind of problems to expect understanding about…yeah, that doesn’t inspire me. It’s not because I need to have my ego stroked before I will be willing to do good in the world, it’s because no one performs her best on a steady diet of deliberate ego non-stroking. I deserve to be told I’m a good person exactly as much as anyone else who’s fundamentally a good person does, and rewarding people with appreciation when they do their best is how we get people to be inspired to do even better. If you think bolstering people’s ego is a zero-sum game, well, that seems rather bleak to me.

  110. Kate:

    Okay, Kat, I think this discussion is ultimately fruitless because the larger discussion you want to have (about which, as you noted earlier, we mostly agree) makes you unwilling to engage in the actual topic of conversation.

    The actual topic of the conversation is the societal myopia of many people with some to a lot of money, especially toward the larger discussion of poverty. That was what Scalzi’s piece was about, along with condemnation of the dodge of those with plenty trying to co-opt the experience of those with scarcity (black people with racism,) as an excuse to say that we should pity them their good fortune because they have personal problems.

    The more specific topic was you complaining about others on this thread complaining about the myopia of the wealthy — that you wanted others not to speak about that unless they also pitied you a little for your good fortune because you specifically are a good individual.

    I don’t know if I can walk you through this because I’m clearly doing a bad job of it. So I’ll leave it with two points:

    1) Those in scarcity aren’t told they are a good person when they do good things. They are frequently not rewarded, and if they are, it’s often considered a fluke or a threat to the society. They are often punished for it. When they do their best, they are told that they were simply given things and should be grateful because they don’t really have merit and aren’t trustworthy. That they are not as good, as smart, as worthy as those in plenty. And they are not supposed to complain about that and face condemnation, argument and scolding when they do, and also violence and death.

    2) If you are a woman, you are in a scarcity group. Switch out the poor with women and the well off with men and have it be not about income inequality but sexist inequality. Do women automatically trust men who say they are good men and support feminism? How do women feel about men who expect to be praised for not engaging in oppressive sexism, when oppressive sexism shouldn’t exist in the first place, or for helping fight sexism when that’s what men should be doing in the first place? How do women feel when a man tells them that they need to stop talking about oppressive sexism and clueless men, and/or while they do, that they first must understand the dilemmas a supportive man faces concerning sexism and that men have problems too from being men? How certain do you think the women are that if they don’t give proper deference and sympathy to the man on that topic, which the man is used to getting in society, the man will throw a hissy fit about it and accuse the women of calling him a bad or selfish person?

    I’m just saying to think about it a little. Because the personal is part of the larger discussion. We’re not separate from it. Doesn’t mean we’re not nice people.

  111. The more specific topic was you complaining about others on this thread complaining about the myopia of the wealthy — that you wanted others not to speak about that unless they also pitied you a little for your good fortune because you specifically are a good individual.

    Really? Seriously? I said I didn’t want people to speak about whatever they wanted? I think you are so busy performing your holier-than-thou routine, with me as a convenient foil, that you are not interested in what I actually said.

    I’m not trying to coopt the experience of anyone who suffers more scarcity than I do, nor am I throwing an MRA-like “hissy fit”. I never asked you to walk me through anything. YOU are pretty sure that nothing I say has any value except to highlight your own humblebragging, virtuous self-abasement, so we’re done here. My attempt was to share my experience and perspective, because more understanding is never a bad thing (not because I think my lot in life deserves more airtime than anyone else’s), but perhaps I should have foreseen that someone would want to use it to score personal points rather than to further any kind of theoretical discussion.

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