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September 2012 Archives

If I just became rich, did I do good, or did I do bad?

147695972_9200caaf6b_m.jpg Let's say that I was a poor person (NOTE: I was once told we are all just one paycheck away from bankruptcy.). Possibly, I was an Occupy Wall Street participant or someone on food stamps, welfare, unemployment compensation, or any number of other government programs available to "assist" me in getting by. What would be your opinion of me? Based just on that information, would you consider me to be a good person or a bad person? Would I presumably be characterized as good, lazy, worthless, radical, bad, subversive, or evil? Would I be championed by either of the major political parties? Would I be a target for any group protesting either party or their politicians? Based on my observations of current political trends and what I just described about me, I would be embraced by the Democratic Party as one needing the further assistance of the government and protection from the greedy, evil, wealthy corporate society. Clearly, from their position, I am in my current state as a result of corporate greed, corporate waste, and the indifference of the rich. I need the government's protection and care. From the current view of the Republican Party, I am, most likely, minimalized because I either am not trying to be successful or I am not taking appropriate action to become successful (E.g., Newt Gingrich's admonition, "Go get a job, right after you take a bath!") Regardless of your political leanings, I am not a success and can really only be a political football for both sides. I am not a productive part of any society. Now, what if -- for whatever reason -- I suddenly become wealthy? Does my existence and physical presence all of a sudden change for either of these political parties? Clearly, that answer is yes! Although I was just previously embraced, comforted, and consoled by the Democratic Party, now I am, most likely chastised. HOW did I become wealthy? According to our President, I clearly didn't do it on my own! If I am now wealthy, I would venture to guess that most people would suspect my wealth did NOT come on my own accord. Of course, if I inherited that wealth, well, I don't deserve to better my life as a result of that. I should be forced to pay most - if not all - of my inherited wealth to the government. People on both sides of the aisle seem to feel that way to differing degrees. If I was a lousy, low life, who just fell into wealth as a result of a relative's death, I shouldn't be permitted to raise my standard of living because I did NOTHING to earn it. Isn't that usually the sentiment, whether silent or spoken, that accompanies news that a derelict friend just received wealth? How many of you remember The Beverly Hillbillies? The reaction is usually one of jealously or feigned jealousy, masked by the anger that a poor person is now suddenly rich through no effort of their own. However, if the current president's goal is that his economic policies will make everyone more successful (i.e., "a rising tide floats all boats"), what happens when I am just more successful than you? If we are all subject to the same laws, receive the same benefits and opportunities from the government or otherwise, and pay the same taxes, but I just work harder and do better than you, when do I go from being a "good person" to being a "greedy rich person"? At what income or asset level does my very nature seemingly change? At what point do I go from being embraced and championed by the Occupiers, liberals and Democrats to then being a pariah to them? If, under the same laws and opportunities, I am willing, ready and able to go to work for "the Man" but you are not, does that make me bad? If I choose to further my education in a practical field that will allow me access to more jobs and you don't, am I still evil? Finally, what if we both follow the same goals, market our skills, services, or products in the same way to the same markets and I just end up making more money than you? At what point do I become evil and you don't? The point I am trying to make is that our society has clearly defined classes. We are not separated into castes, like the Indians, through markings on our foreheads. We are separated into classes based on the numbers on our Form 1040s each year. I believe these classes are popularly defined as the Poor, the Middle Class, and the Rich. According to our President, the qualification for membership in the Rich Class is that you make more than $250,000. It doesn't matter how you make it. (NOTE: The President is part of that class!) You are just lumped into that class if you earn $250,000 or more. I disagree with that categorization. In today's society, I am not sure that $250,000 qualifies you as rich,. It depends on your obligations and needs. Regardless, there is that invisible threshold that does move you from the Middle Class to the Rich Class. How you get there does lend itself to criticism. If you earn it, I believe you deserve to keep it. It is the reward for your success and effort. Of course, the morals of society should compel you to share some of your newly found wealth with those less fortunate. With the current, progressive tax system we have, you definitely WILL share more of it with the government! However, beyond that, why shouldn't you be congratulated, cheered, or rewarded for your success? On the other hand, if you received your wealth through gift or inheritance, should you be treated differently? Most people are NOT congratulated or cheered when their relatives die and they become wealthy! However, what that newly made rich person does with the wealth often dictates how they are perceived in society. Mitt Romney and George Bush are and were both chided and ridiculed because they were born into wealth. However, as has been pointed out in the current campaign, Mitt Romney has worked as his state's Governor and as the head of the Olympic Committee without pay. President John F. Kennedy, also born into wealth, rejected his salary too. All three of these men were benevolent with their family fortunes. Probably the epitome of generosity has to be Bill Gates. Creating wealth at a young age through his own skills and talents (Obama, stay out of this one! The government did more to thwart the growth of Microsoft than help it!), he is now one of the wealthiest men in the world. Well, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is also one of the most impactful and benevolent charitable organizations in the world, helping eliminate disease (that foundation has given more than $500 million to The Rotary Foundation to eliminate polio), furthering educational opportunities (The Gates Millennium Scholarship) and helping other just causes. People with wealth who use it the right way should not be derided and harangued by those who have less. The poor are defined as anyone receiving government assistance or otherwise not being able to function economically in our society. They might be on food stamps, welfare, disability, or other federal, state, or local assistance. You are defined as poor, because you can't make it on your own. In other words, you clearly didn't build that. To an extent, I agree with the definition of poor. However, I draw the line in assisting them --  either privately or through government funds - until it is determined how they got into that class. Much like the criticism of how the wealthy person got there (e.g., earning it versus inheriting it), I want to know how and why a person is classed as being poor. I have seen seemingly "poor people" standing on street corners asking for money, while reeking of alcohol. I have also heard stories of these "corner people" making $30,000 to $50,000 a year holding their signs! I have seen people on food stamps with large, colorful tattoos and body piercings pulling wads of cash from their pockets to pay for beer and cigarettes in the store. I have also seen welfare recipients who cuss out businesspeople and refuse to work for "corporate America" when it is corporate America that could get them out of their lowly existence, if they would just cooperate. We will always have the poor. There is a segment of society that is just down on their luck or disabled or just from a bad situation. Regardless of their desires and their efforts, they just can't and won't succeed. Many times, sadly, they are children from unproductive homes struggling to get by, because they don't know any better. They deserve our help. I WANT to help them. I want to educate them on how to succeed and awaken that work ethic that can make them successful. However, I have no desire to help those people who thumb their noses at our system of free enterprise and then try to milk society for everything they can take, while doing their best to skirt around the traditional work ethic of our ancestors. "Go get a job after you take a bath" is truly a problem in our society today. People who are socially dysfunctional or educationally unmarketable - even with advanced degrees from elite and expensive institutions - want to blame the wealthy for their inability to find six-figure incomes. To use the old adage, "If you are pointing a finger at someone, there are four fingers pointing back at you!" (NOTE: That adage really doesn't hold true, because your thumb points generally in the same direction as your pointing finger!). The bottom line is that the fault for a portion of the societal poor rests with themselves. We can argue over what percentage of the poor caused their own problems. We'll never agree. Furthermore, there will never be a "truth detector" out there that can discern what percentage of the poor truly need our help and what percentage is just too lazy to work. However, as long as the portion of society that is poor opts to vote for more government benefits instead of more opportunities for productive work, society will continue its downward spiral. That leaves the Middle Class. Who are they? They are what are left between the two other classes. They are supposedly what most politicians claim to be fighting for. The Middle Class is that group of people who are either working hard and trying to get ahead, trying to feed their families, and trying to aim for a better station in life, dreaming of and aiming for the time that they can move up in class to the Rich. That was always the goal I aspired to when I was younger. It was the "American Dream"! Now, children are being told that "American Dream" is vile and something to be avoided. That is because the Middle Class is also comprised of those people who have given up and don't want to do any more. Sometimes that is caused by their lack of strength and will to achieve. Sometimes it is caused by illness or injury - sometimes self-inflicted -- which takes away their desire or ability to achieve. As a result, they sit and exhaust what financial nest egg they have until it is gone. They are often the ones who then chide the government for not paying more Social Security to them, chide employers for not paying greater benefits to them after retirement, and chide corporate America for making everything so expensive. In other words, their dwindling financial situation is almost NEVER their fault. It had to have been caused by someone or something else. They have lost sight of the American Dream and, out of their jealousy or frustration, counsel their children and others against seeking that dream. If today, a young child was asked, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" and they replied, "I want to be rich and earn a million dollars a year working for a corporation on Wall Street!", how would the media portray this child? Would the child be considered a pawn of the right? Would they be considered misguided and brainwashed by their parents? Sadly, how many people would feel the need to counsel this child that such a goal is crazy and stupid and demean the child for even thinking they could do that? I started this article by asking when does the public perception of me change when I start accumulating wealth? Clearly, the perception depends on from where I am being observed. Wealthy, successful people seem to appreciate and welcome those who used their skills and efforts to obtain success and wealth. Poor and middle class people look on such newly made wealth as ill-gotten and deride those obtaining it. Clearly, in their eyes, the person did something illegal or evil to obtain it, even when the person gained the wealth through their own talents and hard work, or just through good luck. Of course, even with the talents and hard work, it is the belief of our own President that the person really didn't get there as a result of their own talents and hard work! The government was the real reason for the person's success, even though it is usually the government that puts impediments to that success virtually everywhere. The most common frustration and derision of wealthy people seems to be laid on those with inherited wealth or those who "lucked" on to it. It is often curious to see some poor person's story when they win the lottery. All of a sudden, family and friends come out of nowhere! Surely, the lottery winner can just give me a few hundred thousand or a million dollars! They've got plenty left, right? Of course, if the winner refuses to share, he is chided as being greedy, right? Then, he becomes the subject of derision and ridicule because he won't help his "fellow man." Forget that his fellow man" is doing very little to help himself! No, the winner is just expected to communally share his or her wealth. You might know of the story of rapper M.C. Hammer. In his heyday, he was making a tremendous amount of money. With it, he hired friends and many others to work for him. He was paying large salaries to men just to walk with him, just to stand on his stages, just to hold things for him, and just to ride in cars with him. These people had no real skill. He was trying to help them and give them some worth. As a result, just like the lottery winner, everyone was clamoring to be part of his entourage. However, when the cash stopped flowing, and he was bankrupt and foreclosed upon, where was that entourage As you might expect, almost all of them were nowhere to be found! Margaret Thatcher has often been quoted for saying, "The problem with socialism is that, eventually, you run out of other people's money!" Truly, that is the problem with wealth because, regardless of how much I share, it is usually never considered to be enough, because there are still poor people out there. Our society has never been able to appreciate and accept the successes of the "other guy." That is an emotional flaw that isn't easily remedied. I understand people feeling the way they do. It is just human nature. However, it is not the duty of our government officials to seek to pacify our human nature of jealousy and/or rage through legislation that penalizes me for being successful. No, seeing the success of another should be incentive for us all to try to achieve more. I know "the American Dream" is still alive for me.  

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