October 17, 2009

Does anything illustrate the bubble some people live in better than this New York Times column?

BEATING up on the wealthy seems to be the order of day. I suspected that. But a recent Wealth Matters column touched a particularly raw nerve. It looked at how even people with sizable fortunes were concerned about money in this recession and the impact that could have on the rest of us.

Readers rejected the attempt to understand the concerns of the rich.

“That’s so stupid that you ought to be slapped for it,” one woman wrote. My favorite began: “Bowties and Reaganomics are for losers. You can cry for the rich all you want, the rest of us will be happy to see them get taxed.”

The vehemence in these e-mail messages made me wonder why so many people were furious at those who had more than they did.

Uh, because we're paying for it when we're out of work and don't have affordable health care?

And why are the rich shouldering the blame for a collective run of bad decision-making? After all, many of the rich got there through hard work. And plenty of not-so-rich people bought homes, cars and electronics they could not afford and then defaulted on the debt, contributing to the crash last year.

"Collective run of bad decision-making"? Let's back up there a minute, pal. As anyone with half a brain knows (yes, even people who write for the New York Times), the financial services industry pushed our country over the economic brink through an assortment of unethical and illegal practices. Someone maxing out their Visa is not exactly in the same category; they merely bought the crack. Wall Street marketed and sold the crack. See the difference?

But in this recession, anger flows one way. Eric Dammann, a Manhattan psychoanalyst, theorizes that a lot of people are angry that the rules of the game seem to have changed.

“There’s always been envy and hatred toward the rich, but there was also a strong undercurrent of admiration that was holding these people up as a goal,” Mr. Dammann said. “This time it’s different because it feels like it’s a closed club and the rich have an unfair advantage.”

Gee, ya think? When corporate gains are privatized and losses are socialized, you think maybe the working people have finally had enough of picking up the slack? Can you say "market manipulation"? Can you say "front running"?

What is troubling is that the anger has hardened for some into a suspicion that all wealthy people are motivated purely by self-interest, said Brad Klontz, a financial psychologist in Hawaii and a co-author of the forthcoming book, “Mind Over Money: Overcoming the Money Disorders That Threaten Our Financial Health” (Random House).

“The script goes like this: Money is bad, rich people are shallow and greedy, and people become rich by taking advantage of others,” Mr. Klontz said. “But the same people who say money is bad say money is connected to their self-worth — they wished they had it and you didn’t.”

Would you like me to explain the difference, Brad? People who have earned their money through providing a service or product, people who hire others and treat them fairly - we still admire those wealthy people. We'd like to be like them.

Wall St. traders - bloodsucking scum who, as Elizabeth Warren puts it, made their money through selling "tricks and traps" - tricks and traps that destroyed our economy and sent them running to Washington with their hands out - those wealthy people can kiss our collective grits.

Go read the rest. It's all about how "good" wealthy people are suffering by association, how they do their fair share, they fund scholarships, live "modest" lives...

Let's be blunt, shall we, Mr. and Mrs. Wealthy Person? You get hefty tax write-offs for those donations. Yes, you like the feeling of helping, but you really like the tax write-offs - and your pictures in the society pages. Wealthy people haven't been paying their fair share of taxes for a really long time, but like to think they're "giving back" quite enough through supporting charities. (Oh, and it's voluntary. Unlike the banking bailout the rest of us are paying for.)

You're not giving back anywhere near what you're taking. Seen the pictures on the news of Americans lining up like cattle for free health care? That's our reality. So if you really want to help, start lobbying to change the tax laws. Support real healthcare reform.

Because for some odd reason, they don't pay much attention to us.


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