Rich. Poor. In-Between.
I was raised in what I would now call a lower middle-class neighborhood of the middle-class town of East Haven, Connecticut. Back then, of course, my economic awareness wasn’t as finely tuned as it is now. We had our own house, plenty to eat, a late model car and new clothes when we needed them, so I knew we weren’t Poor. My Dad worked two jobs to provide us with that lifestyle but how many kids appreciate that at the time? To me, it was just how it was. Even in our own neighborhood, other kids had fancier toys than I had, wore clothes they found in the expensive shops (while I shopped at Sears and Anderson-Little), and when we were old enough to drive, they had their own cars while I borrowed my Dads. So, I knew I wasn’t Rich. I thought of us as In-Between. My conception of Rich came from my Mom, who liked to drive along Ridge Road in nearby Hamden to look at the Rich people’s houses, especially around Christmas. At 71, I live in a neighborhood that could be a Southern California interpretation of Ridge Road but I don’t think of myself as Rich. However, when my Dad was in his eighties one night in his room at the assisted living facility, he said, Bud, I usually don’t ask this but I’m curious. How much do you make? When I answered, his response was, Holy mackerel! Sometimes, Rich, Poor and In-Between are a matter of perception.
So. Why do I bring this up? For some reason, my Facebook friends seem to be on a Sociological bent these days. I see quite a few posts about the 1% with the very strong implication that it is because the 1% have so much money, the rest of us have less. I get to read on Yahoo about how much the CEO of the Gigantic Corporation is making, particularly if the Gigantic Corporation is losing money or laying off workers. In politics (which I rarely talk about here), much of the populace seems to believe that the Party of the Rich doesn’t care about the poor and that the Party of the Poor should redistribute some of their wealth to the Poor and the In-Between. Doesn’t anyone notice how much money the Rich contribute to both parties and how affluence seems to follow our politicians … or that it’s the political elite that seem to gain from wealth distribution?
But I don’t want to argue about economic policies or politics. I want to address the notion that somehow virtue and compassion is inversely proportional to income. I didn’t reach the level of success I have by climbing on the backs of poorer people and I daresay I am a better person … who contributes more to charity … than I was when I was right out of college and living hand to mouth. Have there been Robber Barons? Of course, but there have also been billionaire philanthropists. Do you know that the top two philanthropists in the U.S. contributed over 3 billion dollars to charity last year. And for every Mother Teresa, there is a Lee Harvey Oswald. Andrew Carnegie, by the way, started out poor and after building a huge steel empire became one of the leading philanthropists in the U.S. I am sick of hearing people demonize the successful just because they are successful. Limiting what the most financially successful can make … or following policies that redistribute their wealth … strikes me as more about envy than helping the poor.
Am I talking through my hat? Look at this chart from The Economist based on a measure of well-being called the Better-Life Index developed by Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. It shows the Better-Life Index for the top 10% and bottom 10% of the population in terms income and education for 18 countries. In other words, it compares the richest and the poorest.
As Tim Worstall, a European-based contributor to Forbes observes (here): We know very well that the US has both the highest living standards for the rich and also the largest inequality among the large, advanced, nations. However, look at it a little more closely in relation to other countries. We’re often told that to be poor in the US is much worse than being poor in the social democracies of Europe. And the bottom 10% in the US are indeed worse off than the bottom 10% in Sweden. But they’re better off than the bottom 10% in Germany or France: places where we are told that there is indeed that social democracy. Take another look as well: we know that Russia is where bloated plutocrats loot everything from the country: and yet the bottom 10% in the US have, by this measure at least, better lives than the top 10% in Russia. And the top 10% in Portugal and Mexico. Hmmm.
No, I’m not turning Older Eyes – Bud’s Blog into a political forum. But the stated goal of this blog is to provide an Older Perspective on what I see happening around me. In my In-Between, lower middle class family, my Mom used to say, I should be rich. I would be a good rich person and do a lot of good with the money. Mom taught me that being rich was an admirable goal and that rich people were like everyone else, some Good, some Bad and some In-Between. And I still believe it.