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The most stupid thing I've ever heard!

This was not going to be my next blog topic. However, I was recently trolling through the radio in my car and came across a talk show discussion on class warfare. First of all -- my mistake for listening to this program for any length of time! But, before I could even reach to change the channel I heard a caller say, "You're poor, because someone else is rich." Seriously?

Well, being the kind of guy that I am, I tried to process this before becoming totally outraged with such an asinine comment. Although my first inclination was, as the title states, "That was the most stupid thing I've ever heard!" I didn't want to really say that out loud without considering the basis for making it. Of course, I really couldn't go back and listen to the discussion again to see if the caller has a reason for the statement. I don't even remember what station it was! However, my thoughts turned to wondering from what vantage point this caller spoke. I can really only think of two positions from which to make such a statement. The first is from the position of relative wealth. I have $100, but you have $1,000. You are richer than I am. There is the old joke about the guy bragging that he is worth $8.4 million. Another guy listened to the fellow flaunting his wealth for a while, and then said, "Well shoot! You can't buy a very big jet with that." The moral being that wealth is relative. A few years ago, a client came back to my office to update his estate plan after several years. He was always somewhat condescending in his speaking. However, he started off the explanation for his meeting with me by stating, "I am substantially worth more than I was the last time I was here." He started explaining how much more he was now worth and has an air about him that, as a result of his substantial wealth, he was really better than me and most everyone else. When we got down to details, it turned out he now had around $200,000 more than he did eight years ago when he first visited with me. Although $200,000 is a lot of money and I was happy for his newfound gain, $200,000 is not what I envisioned as substantially wealthier. I was thinking millions... not thousands. Regardless, he was happy and comfortable declaring that he was "wealthy" with an additional $200,000. That is relative wealth. I have no problem with relative wealth. I do not consider myself wealthy. However, my father always considered my house a "mansion" because it was big (of course, so was my mortgage payment!), and people just assume I am wealthy, because I am an attorney (I refer you back to my mortgage payment, and then add to that two sons in college). I was conducting a trial several years ago and had my client on the witness stand before a jury -- a jury composed of school teachers, minimum-wage employees and other clearly NOT wealthy people -- and he said something about being "broke." The opposing counsel then asked, "Well what do you consider being broke?" My client replied, "Well hell! If you don't have $200,000 in the bank, you're broke!" Not surprisingly, the jury found against him for, coincidentally, $200,000. Relative wealth. Live with it!

The other position this caller could be taking is one of not necessarily class envy (although that is part of it), but actually a position of thinking that because you are rich, I have to be poor. In other words, there is some sort of quid pro quo out there that prevents me from having any degree of wealth, as long as you have wealth. We both cannot make money, only one of us can. To some, it is sort of the ultimate Ponzi scheme. There is just a finite amount of wealth out there and if you have more, that means that I must have less. Therefore, if you are trying to become wealthier, it means you are hurting my chances of gaining wealth because, every dollar you make takes away a dollar from me.

I believe this approach is a good rationale for someone unwilling to put forth the effort to gain wealth. I do not find many individuals out there who work a nine-to-five existence and become wealthy. Most of the wealthy people I know work feverishly and diligently to earn their wealth. For many of them, five o'clock is not quitting time, it is just time for a dinner break. I have often called clients on Saturday or Sunday from my office and they are SHOCKED that I am not at the golf course and SHOCKED that I am actually in the office working. A corporate client of mine fired their in-house attorney once because, one day, his wife called the office (not the attorney -- but the attorney's wife!) to say that he wouldn't be in to the office that day, because he had a head cold. My client was very disappointed in that attorney. He was relating the events to me and said, "Marty, you and I go to work when we're half dead sometimes, because you just have to do that." In other words, wealth and reaching for that wealth is in the work ethic. In the early 1990s, the City of Oklahoma City passed a one cent sales tax increase for a series of city projects known as MAPS (Metropolitan Area Projects). Prior to the vote, there was a lot of criticism over this plan to spend around $300 million on a new arena, a canal, a new baseball stadium, a new library and other projects as being a waste of taxpayer dollars. As a result of the municipal spending, however, more than $1 billion in private money was invested into the city and now Oklahoma City is one of the up-and-coming cities in the country. Most of us have heard the adage, "To make money, you have to spend money." That seems like it shouldnt' work. Yet it does. Similarly, a thought process that even if I work hard and gain wealth, you can also work hard and gain wealth is not radical or far-fetched. Of course, you might be MUCH more successful at gaining wealth than I am and for that you should be congratulated, not penalized. If, on the other hand, I am not willing to struggle and sweat and put in the extra hours to gain the wealth, I should not be given benefits from the government for that and, more importantly, you should not be forced to have to share your wealth with me because I was not willing to put forth the effort to make my own wealth. My LACK of wealth is not your fault!

As always, there will be those people who either can't do the work or have other calamities in life that keep them from being successful. They do need our help and, I believe, the community will step forward to help them. However, the willingness of the community to help is and will be based on the circumstances and sincerity of the people in need of that help. Consider the following situation: You are a parent and your 16-year old son walks in and says, "I've got a date tonight. Give me $20 -- NOW!" Are you willing to give him that money? Are you eager to help him out? With that sort of demand, instead of giving him $20, are you prompted in your heart to make it $50 instead? Probably not! What if instead you see that same son working hard, trying to earn the $20 and, just before the night of the big date, he has a car problem or other calamity and has to spend his hard-earned money on that. Well, the date is off, unless he gets some help. Are you willing to give him $20? I would be, since I saw him trying to make the effort and, unfortunately, life got in the way. Of course, I can only help him if I have the wealth to do so. Do I HAVE to help him? Clearly not! He could just put off the date. It's not the end of the world, although he might think so. Also, it is likely he may resent me for not giving him the money because he knows I have it to spare. Of course, he may not realize that my car broke down too and I had to spend money on it and, my insurance is due next week and....

Your money is your money. Your life is your life. You choose your life by the choices you make IN your life. President Reagan was criticized years ago for making the statement that some poor people choose to be poor. It is a true statement. I am sure most poor people do not start out life saying, "Yeah, when I grow up, I wanna be a deadbeat!" No, they start off life by saying, "I'm gonna try to get by doing as little as possible." Recently, I saw a Facebook post from a college student saying, "I really don't like doing extra curricular activities. How I am supposed to fill out this scholarship application?" I gleaned from his post that he considered it the fault of the "system" that he didn't have a chance of getting a scholarship because he was lazy and didn't want to put forth to participate in activities and organizations that could enhance his chances for success. He didn't see it that he was lazy. He saw it as extra curricular activities being an intentional impediment barring him from applying for a scholarship. In simple terms -- he was not taking responsibility for his life choices but blaming it on society.

Our laws and our government should not be used to benefit the lazy and the devious who try to get by with as little effort as possible. Similarly, they should not be used to penalize those who work above and beyond to achieve success. Of course, there are those who will say that taxes, like the estate tax, are not penalties. They are simply mandating what a wealthy person should be doing anyway: Sharing wealth. To an extent, that is a valid position for some. I, for one, don't really have a problem with that position. However, I detest my government telling me -- ordering me -- to share my wealth (what little I have). But the estate tax laws really apply to so few people because most wealthy individuals do their part to help their community. However, from the standpoint of the needy, it is never enough. If you give $10,000, you are asked to give $20,000 more. If you give $100,000, you are asked to give $500,000 more and when you refuse to give that additional amount, you are branded as selfish.

Until we change the mentality of "I'm poor, because someone else is rich." We cannot save society as we know it.

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