Sunday, September 17, 2017

They Have Money. (Shhh.)

CreditMatt Chase
To the Editor:
Re “Rich People’s Secrets,” by Rachel Sherman (Sunday Review, Sept. 10):
This essay and the online reader comments that followed were supremely annoying. Since when is it anyone’s business how much money other people have? It’s everyone’s business if they cheated or got it illegally, but what if they just worked hard? To the commenters, get a grip. You are not entitled to have any of their money!
The guilt over money expressed here and the conclusions of the author seem based on what nonrich folks want to believe, rather than reality. Who hires a nanny and then feels accountable to the nanny for the cost of furniture? She works for you. She’s an employee, not your mother. If you can afford a nanny and also buy furniture, then bravo for you. And, by the way, where do you get expensive high-end furniture that is shipped with a price tag hanging on it?
The essay seemed a bit wrongheaded and — like the message of a certain president — geared toward stirring up people who feel sorry for themselves and think their problems are other people’s fault.
To the Editor:
I just read Rachel Sherman’s essay about wealthy people who feel guilty because of their spending. May I suggest that they pay their nanny a real living wage, donate very generously to charities they believe in, and offer scholarships at their children’s private school or for the children of their servants (maybe anonymously)? There is real need everywhere if one just looks around.
Continue reading the main story
As for guilt about buying $6 bread, perhaps ask the shop if you can pick up the unsold bread every day and take it to a food pantry. Then yours will taste lots better. You could also buy your nanny a loaf when you get yours, asking her what kind she prefers. There are endless things one can do to be part of the solution; no need to feel guilty.
Let your children see how you care for others, and there will be no worry that they will grow up selfish and out of touch with the real world.
To the Editor:
Rachel Sherman draws just the right lesson from her fascinating interviews with spectacularly rich New Yorkers who just want to be seen as not so different from regular, normal, hard-working folk. She says this desire diverts their attention from the much more important issue, which is why we permit astronomical levels of inequality, and how we can change this.
Perhaps Ms. Sherman’s interviewees could deal with their psychological discomfort while also helping make the change she calls for by joining Patriotic Millionaires, whose website states, “The mission of The Patriotic Millionaires organization is to build a more stable, prosperous and inclusive nation by promoting public policies based on the ‘first principles’ of equal political representation, a guaranteed living wage for all working citizens and a fair tax system.”
The fair tax system they envision raises their own taxes, a logical direction for these “traitors to their class,” as they call themselves — and a constructive way to help rectify the unfairness of contemporary American inequality.
The writer is a professor of philosophy at the University of Massachusetts Boston.
To the Editor:
Rachel Sherman writes that “it is hard to know what they, as individuals, can do to change things.” Are you kidding? How about giving all your excess away to provide direct care in the communities you live. Nothing is stopping you but you.
“But I give to charity!” That’s not enough. That you live the way do while homelessness persists indicates a level of insincerity and selfishness that is hard to comprehend.
Here’s another solution: Use your money to lobby for higher personal income taxes solely on the rich that would be funneled into housing homeless populations, or providing infrastructure and services in poor neighborhoods.
Try valuing something more than your acquisitive self-interests. Otherwise, “socially liberal” or not, you’re greedy, plain and simple.
To the Editor:
One question conspicuously absent from this article’s interviews is: What do you pay your nanny? Your driver? Your housekeeper? Your husband’s assistant? Those interviewed don’t hide the price tags from their household staff because they want to think of themselves as “normal” — they do it because it keeps relevant data from their employees who might ask for a raise.
Most Americans don’t want the rich to make less — they want the poor and middle class to make more. They want public services (particularly education and health) to be adequately and fully funded. If that can happen without the 1 percent making any less, great. But if doing that means one less $5 million penthouse or private jet, so be it.
If the 1 percent backed a $15 minimum wage in record numbers or free college tuition for all Americans, the stigma for this group would lessen greatly.
In the meantime, please don’t fill your column inches with the self-serving justifications of the selfish.
To the Editor:
Rachel Sherman shares how wealthy, mostly liberal people hide clues that they’re among the richest people in the country. I grew up wealthy, but my discomfort wasn’t tamed by hiding tags or bragging about shopping at Target. I found my way to Resource Generation, a nonprofit founded by young, wealthy, progressive women in partnership with poor and working-class leaders to figure out how wealthy people can be transparent about their access to wealth in order to better support movements for economic and racial justice.
Today, as Resource Generation’s executive director, I work with an expansive, multiracial community of millennials in the top 10 percent of the economy. Our members have protested in the streets, spoken out at city council meetings, led their family’s foundations, founded donor networks, and moved millions of dollars into organizations led by working-class and poor communities and people of color.
Hiding or staying silent about our wealth and class empowers a deeply unjust and racist economic system. Don’t be silent.
To the Editor:
Rachel Sherman explores the reluctance of the affluent to discuss their wealth and suggests that some of this secrecy serves to hide the immorally large gap in wealth in this country. I agree. If, as she reports, the wealthy have debilitating anxiety surrounding their wealth, why not help them by leveling the playing field?
As a psychotherapist and former retailer, I find the psychology of spending to be fascinating. I owned a store in Jackson Hole, Wyo., in one of the wealthiest counties in the country. My anecdotal evidence is that howsomeone comes by their money affects their attitude toward it — their enjoyment in spending it, and anxiety around losing it.
I found that those who earned their money spent it freely and enjoyed it as a perk of their hard work. There was no pretense or gamesmanship. In comparison, those who inherited their wealth seemed to have an awkward relationship with it. They appeared to not enjoy spending it, and they were always pretending to be less well off.
I believe that much of their discomfort comes from fear. Many of those who inherit lack the confidence that they are able to, or know how to, make money. Maybe we’d have a greater chance of bridging the gap and redistributing wealth if we gave the extremely wealthy some assurance that they would be able to maintain an adequate lifestyle. If we can give everyone the peace of mind that comes with not having to worry about money, maybe we could inch toward bridging the gap.
To the Editor:
One phrase in this piece scared me: “When we evaluate people’s moral worth on the basis of where and how they live and work, we reinforce the idea that what matters is what people do, not what they have.”
It was not that long ago in human history when the norm was to evaluate people’s moral worth on the basis of what they have and not what they do. Those in possession of good names and fortunes were seen as morally good and the others (the poor, mostly) as somehow morally corrupt. I sincerely hope the author is not suggesting a return to that system, even if the labels are reversed (that is, poor = good, wealthy = bad).
I absolutely believe that each person’s moral worth should be judged based only on what he/she does. No amount of wealth makes you morally good if you lie and cheat. Neither does the absence of wealth make you a good person if you lie and cheat.
And yes, “being astronomically wealthy” is acceptable as long as that wealth was acquired honestly — no lying, cheating, robbing or otherwise abusing anyone. And some of those “astronomically wealthy” got that way by inventing things that have improved millions of lives.

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