Is it possible to hold together in the same place, i.e. in my mind, the abhorrence of wealth with the dreams of how I might spend the $350,000,000 that I am going to win tonight at 10:59 EST? Closely related to this conundrum is the question, How much is too much?
I scratch my head when economists, politicians and others proclaim that all persons should make a living wage of $15 an hour when they themselves make far more than that and can make very comfortable declarations from very comfortable surroundings about an issue where they would never make any sacrifice of ANY of their comfort to have such an economic boon to many come to pass. While I am glad my employer took the step to encourage the rest of the business world to move to a starting wage of $15 an hour, I know that this publicity stunt didn’t cost Amazon.com much at all. Human Resources got together with Accounting in order to rob Peter to pay Paul. And I am Peter, having lost my annual stock options and my monthly bonus opportunities. I personally lost about $1,800 a year or $150 a month. A drop in the bucket when you make $17 an hour. Just 5% of my annual income. No big deal.
But, hey, now I am making the big bucks ($20.25 an hour) after the compensation “adjustments” and I guess I can pat myself on the back as I step along Moral High Road as it was ME who actually DID sacrifice so another person can make $15 an hour.
The real issue, though, is not hourly wages. The real issue is how much stuff costs. My $20.25 that I earned from 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. yesterday buys less than what it could buy in 1973. And, seriously, how many of a particular subset of my larger set of friends and acquaintances has tried to make do on $31,200 a year ($15 times 2,080 hours)? Good luck. Some callous folks might say, “Get a better job.” My reply is, “It already is a good job.” Remember when hourly wage folks in good jobs could have a house, a car, two kids, one dog and one cat and still hope to pay for medical bills and college tuition? (Hmmm. What were the marginal tax rates at that time, a time when roads and bridges weren’t crumbling and a human being stepped out onto the moon?)
I am one of the lucky ones. I can “live” off what I make because some big expenses are covered. I pretty much own my home. I have no debt. My daughter, like her two older sisters, has a chunk of change already devoted to her college expenses. My healthcare costs are ridiculously low thanks to working for a company where the average age of employees is pre-teen and therefore the pre-teens basically subsidize my more expensive getting older health care costs with their, “What’s a primary care physician?”, healthcare costs. AND, my life is made far more richer through the generosity of my parents. (Had to get that plug in…)
I can look at my economic situation and think pretty good about where I am at, though, in the following sense: I am doing what any loving parent would do for her/his children by going down the road of making less than my parents, before my children walk/work down that road. In other words, my daughters are of the generation that will be the first generation in our great America to make less than their parents, i.e. the generation that includes me. (Well, not me, because I don’t have a good job and really shouldn’t be thrown into the same strata as my socio-economic peers.) Like any good parent would, I am trailblazing and getting a sense of what The Land of Less looks like so that I will be able to more effectively help them through it. Of course that help will be more of the moral support help and not include much economic help.
And since I am on the topic of parental economic support, I will share why I have the antipathy I do towards wealth. My first job out of an elite university at an elite financial institution on LaSalle Street in Chicago was doing the investment accounting for a new subset of elite clients, the super-wealthy. Individuals and families with less than $250,000,000 need not apply. One of our accounts was a large set of family trusts where the beneficiaries of those trusts received their economic welcome into the family when they reached a particular age. There was quite a stir in the office in the time leading up to The Birthday Party as the family had quite a reputation for silly extravagance. We all wondered what would be splattered on the front cover of People Magazine and The National Enquirer as Junior began spending his money to celebrate his birthday at The Plaza Hotel in New York. There was no inexpensive game like Pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey at Junior’s party. And, as I accounted for one 7-figure wire after another to fund Junior’s lifestyle, my dislike and horror and outright loathing of wealth grew greater. Since that time I have held to the position that a 100% tax on estates over a certain dollar amount is the only way to counter this kind of obscenity (and economic power and control) that results from the pure luck of birth.
I DO recognize as a parent, though, that if I only dwell in the Land of Less I may be short-changing my daughters some important part of the human experience that could contribute to their development as loving and gracious human beings. Therefore, of the $350,000,000 that I win tonight, I pledge to pass along $174,500,000 to each daughter. What a party!