Rich People are Rich Because They Deserve to be Rich

Browsing Cracked, as I am wont to do, I found this article by David Wong: 6 Things Rich People Need to Stop Saying. In it, Wong does a better job than I have done historically in explaining one point in particular:

… “anyone can get rich” isn’t just untrue, it’s insultingly untrue. You can’t have a society where everyone is an investment banker. And you can’t have a society where you pay six figures to every good policeman, nurse, firefighter, schoolteacher, carpenter, electrician and all of the other ten thousand professions that civilization needs to survive (and that rich people need in order to stay rich).

It’s like setting a jar of moonshine on the floor of a boxcar full of 10 hobos and saying, “Now fight for it!” Sure, in the bloody aftermath you can say to each of the losers, “Hey, you could have had it if you’d fought harder!” and that’s true on an individual level. But not collectively — you knew goddamned well that nine hobos weren’t getting any hooch that night. So why are you acting like it’s their fault that only one of them is drunk?

A great number of different kinds of people are necessary to have a functioning society. To say that someone whose job has an immediate and demonstrable result (say, a paramedic) is of less value to society than someone who manages a hedge fund is patently absurd. The money that is being manipulated by the hedge fund manager is meaningless outside the framework of a functioning society. As such, he should appreciate the interconnectedness of the world. Preferably without being a jerk about it.


From the book Bounce: Mozart, Federer, Picasso, Beckham, and the Science of Success by Matthew Syed, I got turned on to Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck. Her thesis is that we have two basic mindsets that she calls “fixed” and “growth.” I am always a little leery about binary divisions, particularly in something as complex as human psychology. Nevertheless, I find much of what she says very compelling. Dweck’s so-called “growth” mindset leaves individuals open to expansion and promotes the idea of hard work. The “fixed” mindset, on the other hand, is characterized by a reliance on real or perceived talent. In a variety of experiments covering a broad range of tasks, an obvious pattern emerged. Subjects who were led to believe they were particularly talented underperformed thereafter, while subjects complimented on the amount of effort they had put in tended to overperform.

As I was reading through right-wing nuttery lately (I have odd hobbies), I hit on a sort of epiphany. I wonder to what extent Dweck’s “mindset” idea explains our current national character. Where most of the developed world was left devastated by the end of World War II, the United States was relatively unscathed. I think few would doubt the worth of the generation of Americans that survived the Great Depression and emerged from the second World War an economic juggernaut. Those who grew up in the post-war years, however, embraced the concept of American exceptionalism. The baby boomers have made this country into that coddled brat who has been told of his greatness since childhood. Meanwhile, the real assets of this nation are forgotten. Disagree? Who listens to Rush Limbaugh and, in the 21st century, is still frightened of “socialism,” women, and dark people? I rest my case.