There are two kinds of people in this country …
Wow, there’s an original thought. You can divide people in about a billion ways, starting with men and women and finishing with who watches Honey Boo Boo and who doesn’t.
Give me a minute. I’m hoping to be a little more profound than that. The way I would divide the country is into people who think that if you’re honest, work hard and treat other people well, you’ll get ahead, and people who would call folks like that “suckers.”
Maybe they are, although I think that’s a little like blaming the victim for the crime. There have certainly been plenty of American workers whose companies made good products and turned a profit who absolutely couldn’t understand why people would close their factory and send the jobs to China — just to increase profits.
Average folks simply look at money differently than the uber-entitled rich. People living from paycheck to paycheck and deciding which bills will have to wait till next month might say that if they had a million dollars, all their problems would be solved. The main reason that isn’t true is that lifestyles expand to fit incomes. When I got my first full-time newspaper job in 1979, I was getting paid $180 a week. Less than $10,000 a year. I remember thinking if I could make $20,000 or even $30,000, that would solve my problems. Well, I had nicer apartments and a better car, and I paid my bills on time, but I knew I hadn’t exactly reached tall cotton.
But in general, if a working-class person comes into a windfall, they don’t all of a sudden step up and buy a Learjet or a Bentley. The ones who do are the ones who generally lose it all in the end.
The other side of the coin is the really wealthy, the ones who insist they built everything they have on their own without any help from anyone else. It’s funny, the ones who inherited their wealth are the ones who seem to be the most obnoxious about it. The four children of Walmart founder Sam Walton have spend tens of millions in campaign contributions to try and eliminate the estate tax. The sons of Fred Koch, who made billions in energy and then helped found the John Birch Society, have provided much of the funding for right-wing political groups in recent years.
But the worst person of all isn’t even an American. Australian Gina Rinehart, who is worth about $19 billion, is the world’s richest woman. Her money comes from mining, and she has been whining about how much she has to pay Australians to work in her mines. She also had some good advice about class envy:
“There is no monopoly on becoming a millionaire. If you’re jealous of those with more money, don’t just sit there and complain. Do something to make more money yourself — spend less time drinking, or smoking and socializing and more time working.”
Of course, Rinehart didn’t have to worry about any of those things. She inherited her money.
Now if you’re like me, you find yourself wondering why anyone would need $19 billion. I went through a thing with my friend Mick a few years back where we were talking about an insurance CEO who had made about $110 million the year before. Even figuring about half of it would go in taxes, the executive would still have more than $1 million a week.
So try this:
You get $1 million every Friday. The first Friday you buy a nice house. The second Friday you buy a nice car and set up college accounts for your kids. The third Friday …
You get the picture. Very soon, you’ve got more money piling up than you can spend — unless you decide you need four or five houses, 10 or 12 cars and all the other things that go along with being fabulously wealthy.
Some people read stuff like this and accuse me of hating rich people. That’s just not true. I’ve always been a fan of the “build a better mousetrap” types who come up with a product that improves our lives. But in the last 30 years or so we have seen the advent of jobs where people get rich just by moving money around. And when they move the money around, they try to increase the return on their investment.
That’s why there aren’t steel mills in Pennsylvania anymore, and why most of the textile mills have left the South for South Asia. Not because they can’t be profitable here, but because the profit margin is higher when the labor costs are lower. A business can be running a 10 percent profit margin, but if the “experts” think it should be making 12 percent, then something has to be cut somewhere.
What annoys me the most about it is the people who see unfettered capitalism — what former French President Jacques Chirac called “capitalisme sauvage” – as the purest of all human motives. It’s as if we’re fine with assuming the worst of people. At least that way we can’t be disappointed.
The true irony is that a lot of these people who seem to worship at the altar of Ayn Rand and rugged individualism also claim to be Christians. It seems amazing to me that in this era that has lasted for about 30 years — back to Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority — the one part of Jesus’ teachings they seem to ignore is the most important part.
Helping the poor.
We don’t judge nations by the quality of their rich people. Nobody thinks America is a wonderful country because we have Donald Trump. The true measure of a country is the quality of life of, for lack of a better term, its middle class. And the real irony is that after doing pretty well in the post-war era, for the last few decades the American middle class has been on life support.
Average folks used to have pensions. Not anymore.
Average folks used to have healthcare through work. Not so much anymore.
For all the ridicule thrown at European “socialism,” middle-class workers in Germany, Sweden or France generally aren’t filled with anxiety over medical bills, they aren’t wondering if they’ll ever be able to retire and they’re getting more than twice as much vacation time as American workers.
The one thing about the middle class in both Europe and here is that most folks play by the rules. They don’t look at other people as potential victims, or suckers, or steps along the road to getting rich.
There’s really nothing wrong with this country that better rich people couldn’t fix.