Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Rich: Disinterested in the Rest of Us or Just Plain Mean

I haven't lived in New York City since 1977, but it's a measure of that city's impact on me that I still (and continuously) have subscribed to New York Magazine.

An article in their most recent issue caught my eye. It asks the all important question, "Are the Rich Meaner Than The Rest of Us?" It's a long and fascinating article, which seems to conclude that the rich are not necessarily meaner but they are not much interested in the plight of the rest of us. We recede into the background and take a distant second to the main concern of the rich--which is maintaining and increasing their wealth.

In my workplace, we once had a daylong workshop presented by Dr. Donna M. Beegle, author of "See Poverty. Be the Difference." Part of the book details her personal struggles as a poor white woman, teen mom, and eventual Ph.D candidate. She also speaks of the characteristics of those mired in poverty that are admirable but ultimately less than helpful as one moves out poverty. She is clear that many, many of her relatives and friends who had little themselves gave generously as she worked and studied her way into the middle class. But she also writes about how hard it is for her to now save money, when that is not a shared value. In fact, it is expected that she will "give back" by loaning or giving money to others in her family/community. The poor, she writes, don't always see the value of saving money over time. And her need to save now that she is in the middle class makes her seem unkind and ungrateful in her former community.

I am discouraged by the research outlined in the New York article. I'd like to think that if I had more money, I'd give more, and I'd be happier doing it.

Apparently, NOT.


Suzi said...

I can see how, once one digs one's way out of poverty, one wants to do whatever is necessary to prevent ever landing there again. Hence, the need to save. Whenever someone wins the lottery, people come out of the woodwork looking for money, either loans or gifts, and the next thing, the winner is broke again. There must be a way to save some and also help some. It does no good to get out of poverty and end up there again.

Anonymous said...

I dearly wish that our lower SES relatives would self-insure. But they don't. Instead, they spend whenever they have a wind-fall because they're expected to give to other relatives if they have any money leftover. This means when they have an emergency, they don't have an emergency fund to turn to, instead they turn to their relatives. And sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn't. When it doesn't, it means bad credit rating which means high interest rates, it means bankruptcy, it means power being shut off, and so on.

And this is really difficult for us, because too many times we've sent in $50 (even back when we could ill afford it) because they needed groceries for their kids, but a week later they tell us they've spent $50 on a video game. Because if they saved that money, they'd never be able to buy video games because they'd have to give it to the next needy family member.

So no, as an upper middle class person we are very careful about where we direct our aid money for our relatives (currently, education) and we don't feel guilty about not giving until we have nothing for ourselves, and no other safety net but the family. This enables us to help when it's really important or in ways that are investments for the family as a whole.

Is that mean? Well, not being mean doesn't seem to help either. What we want is for everyone to have an emergency fund, for everyone to not have high interest debt, for everyone to have good credit, to make money from investments, and so on.

Anonymous said...

I would hope that as I get out of debt and save more that I will continue to donate and help others. I think for some of the "rich" they have never struggled or been really poor so the idea of helping doesn't occur to them. Sure they may donate to help a museum or a charity but as far as though who are truely struggling the really don't understand or see them.

I am also a big believer of charity begins at home. And by that I don't mean my home I mean my neighborhood, my church, the people I meet at work. If I can help one person that way maybye they help someone in there own "home"

Great food for thought though.

Suzi said...

Coming from an applied behavioral science background, I loved this article. "It's not just about you." vs "You're #1". These two sentiments seem to cover the differences between the groups perfectly.

Jerry said...

Becoming rich does not necessarily mean that it will lead to you becoming a heartless jerk but if you don't make a conscious effort to think about others, it's easy to be aware of only your own problems. The insurance for this is the volunteer and seek out those who are different than you and this will keep you grounded.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes, I can never understand how misguided people can be. Who do you think donates money to build hospitals, clinics, schools, or sets up scholarships to pay for medical or nursing educations? Think it's Poor Ole Joe Smoe? Or some rich multi-millionaire, like Bill Gates and his wife, Oprah, Richard Branson (Virgin Airlines) and thousands of other less well known rich people?
Does that sound like the rich are disinterested in you and me? If it weren't for the kindness and largesse of the rich, nothing would ever get done.
Don't you all understand that this is an election year and the only way for one candidate to win, he AND the media must bad mouth the rich and destroy them. It's unfortunate that you fall for this bias and hype.

Think American poverty is bad now? Wait till the 1% leaves your town and goes to Monte Carlo.

Grace. said...

Anon (Morrison, is this you?)--I don't disagree that some wealthy people donate large amounts. I am grateful they do, but I suspect it may be more of tax write-off and to get one's name on a building than any interest in helping out me. The articles I cited have more to do with personal empathy and how wealth seems to be inversely proportional to one's empathy for the poor.

Janette said...

I do not agree Grace. I think you might be seeing the public people- but there are many, many wealthy people who do tons for their communities. We just lost a very wealthy family in a plane crash. Only after that did we come to realize that most of the updates in technologies in the schools were financed by their matching grants ( that they wrote). Others in our small town put together backpacks for families for the weekends when school food is not available.
Maybe some of the wealthy you see are ill mannered- but I see it in a different way. Not so keen on giving when they know it will be wasted- but when it isn't....the money comes. I've seen US money from Habitat to garbage pits in Ciaro.
I think in large cities it is easier to criticize. Then again, many of the people there "look" like they are wealthy...but are deeply overdrawn.
I am not sure any of us has a good way of attacking the generationally poor- to give a hand up instead of a hand out. Hand outs are good when a child is hungry- but a hand up will feed them for life.

Barb said...

I agree that there is definitely a disconnect in this country with regards to this kind of thing. SOME rich donors such as they gates' donate to many causes. There are however just as many who do absolutely nothing, and equally importantly, apparantly dont see the need. In terms of percentages, the rich are actually poor givers overall, Morrisons comment to the contrary.

Households of less than 25 grand a year give clost to five percent of their income annually, while households of six figures generally give two percent (often less). I would suggest that this is from being close to the problem.

Living Almost Large said...

Agree 100%. The big thing is as you move out of poverty you save because you worry about falling there again.

But there is a huge difference between being poor and middle class/upper middle class and truly rich.

I have now met people who are truly rich and inherit millions. They do give, a mom said "I expect my daughter to not get gifts from birthdays, she has enough."

My opinion? If you even get a gift from a giver you should do what they want. Why? Because I have many relatives and friends who don't even give gifts.

Anonymous said...

Grace, I agree with - they donate for tax write offs and to get names on buildings/bridges/schools, whatever. If you want to understand the nature of poverty, I strongly suggest reading "Bridges out of Poverty" by Dr.Ruby K. Payne. Her book looks at the framework of the poor, middle class and wealthy. I think it is spot on. If you get a chance to check it out, please post about it. :)

Grace. said...

Anon--I have read Payne's work. Some of it seems spot on to me, too. But there is a rather disturbing racial bias there, as well. I prefer Beegle's analysis, which differs only slightly, but with far more empathy, understanding, and true knowledge since she came from severe poverty herself. There are fewer implied judgments in Beegle's work.

Anonymous said...

Interesting. I missed the racial bias in Dr. Payne's books. I will ask my friends and former colleagues if they missed it too. Shame on me. :( It seems Dr. Beegle will be in my area in September. Might have to try to find a way to that seminar. :) thanks for sharing your thoughts. :)

Super Saver said...

IMHO, the experimenters have a bias towards villifying the rich :-), which seems to be in vogue nowadays. I interpret the results in a different way. To me, these experiments are similar to the brown eye, blue eye experiment a teacher did in the 1950's class room. In the experiment, she told the class that blue eye children were superior to brown eye children. Blue eye children were smarter, more capable and all around better people. The blue eye children then acted like many of the subjects in how they treated brown eye children. A few days later, the teacher told the children she had made a mistake and that it was really the brown eye children that were superior. Interestingly, the brown eye children didn't act the same way as when blue eye children believed they were superior. The brown eye children were more empathetic.

OK, wealth is a way to create a feel of superiority. So can rigging the rules of Monopoly, which does not necessary correlate with being rich. I've seen athletic ability, looks, job title and other non money factors create the same results as the subjects showed in the article's experiments.

Maybe interesting reading, especially to create more fuel to villify the rich, but poor science. If I were rich, I definitely would not contribute any of my money to Berkeley :-)

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Super Saver. You see the correct point. Anything can be said of anyone who exceeds. A kid who gets an A+ on a test will act cocky compared to a kid who gets a D-. A young adult who gets and drives a corvette will act superior to another young adult who drives a Ford Fairlane.
I am sick and tired of the class warfare that the current admin is pushing on all of us. It's ridiculous. He is bashing people who are prosperous and have exceeded. He is bashing the people who have worked hard and have gotten an A+. He is demoralizing those who do well. And the media is just chiming in so he gets re-elected. And you, Grace are just more of the same.
As for Barb's comment, a person earning $25K donates 5% of income=$1250. A person earning $900K donates 2% which equals $18,000. Which donation would anyone prefer to get? From the richer, of course. Duh?
Living at Large-WTF are you even talking about? You still rattle on nothing?
Yup, it's Morrison and I am so GLAD I dropped out of this madness.
Carry on.

Anonymous said...

Actually, high income people don't get much of a tax write-off, since that deduction is phased out or removed when you are subject to the AMT. So the idea that the rich donate for the tax write off is false.

I'd like to point out that as high income earners, the rich are in fact contributing to society. They are highly valued producers of a good that is in high demand. Where would we be without the engineers, programmers, doctors, nurses (yes, at least in my hospital nurses are very highly paid) chemists, and all the other people who do the work that has allowed our standard of living to quintuple in the last 50 years? THe fact that you are paid well is a reflection that you are doing something that is valuable to society.

Grace. said...

Anon--right now, the working definition of rich appears to be $250,000 or above. I personally don't know any engineers, chemists, or programmers who make that much. I absolutely don't know any nurses, including nursing administrators who make that. OTOH, I do know doctors, and the occasional techie who have earnings in excess of $250,000. The point of the article was not to denigrate the rich, but to point out that there does appear to be less empathy when one gets money. Whether that's for reasons the previous anon brings up, or because the studies are not scientifically valid, I couldn't say. But this whole discussion does intrigue me.

Anonymous said...

In my experience, my wealthy friends, and previous employer and current boss (all over 250k) have blatantly told me that at the end of the year they donate if it means they save on taxes..not because they particularly care about a cause, but because they save a buck...straight from the horses mouse.

Would it help to have a reality tv show featuring poor families? Something along the lines of Keeping Up with the Kardashians, except the direct opposite where every day is a struggle. Would that help, do you think? Poverty isn't glamorous and it does exist. And, the challenge is trying to find a little bit of empathy from folks that have excess for the ones that have little. I suppose that is a heavy cross for the rich to bear; a little empathy. Keep on blogging Grace. I appreciate your voice! :)

Financial Independence said...

I do not believe they are any meaner like any of us. They just do not care, like a lot of us.
Why should anybody care about anybody? There is always belief in a greater good, but it is not happening..

As the fortune grows so the expenses. If we would only use ratio income vs. savings /expenses, most likely they are like the rest,

It is like story with Africa - we could eliminate poverty there in a few years time. But we do not do it. We just do not care, judging be our actions.

Maura said...

Grace... I agree that there are probably few engineers, nurses etc who make the $250K you mentioned, My sister is an RN and makes a decent salary, but nowhere NEAR that amount. I She counts her pennies like everyone else, The point of the article, as you mentioned, was not to denigrate, but to state an opinion and open a discussion. As usual, when it comes to the economy and money, it becomes a political debate.
On another note, as soon as i read the first "Anonymous" post, I knew it was you

Maura said...

Grace, great subject to discuss. As usual however, when it comes to discussing the economy and money, there is someone (Anonymous-not really) who turns this into an Obama bashing forum. It gets old. I appreciate your comments and your even handed views on this and other subjects. Keep writing.

Living Almost Large said...

Ah morrison the return of the crazy. Notice how when life gets tough she no longer is a millionaire? LOL.

She aspires to be rich but isn't. Not even close. And those who are rich don't even feel the way she does.

I love the fact she still posts as Anon, but you can see the seething anger over the "injustice" of the decisions she's made and brags when she feels entitled.

Anonymous said...

Not to beat a dead horse, but the 250,000 dollar mark that qualifies you as "rich" is family income. For an individual its 200,000. In the Boston area, this is quite attainable for a nurse married to an engineer. Do they just not care about people?

There are plenty of rich jerks, but honestly, there are plenty of poor ones as well. Suggesting that the rich are all self-centered jerks is untrue, and really unproductive in a society that is already plagued with too much animosity and divisiveness.