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What the Rich Won’t Tell You
The New York Times Company · RACHEL SHERMAN · 9/8/17
The New York Times Company
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6 comments
13 min read

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  • aussak - 1 year ago
    Extremely curious to hear others' thoughts on this piece. Aside from "effective altruism" or giving away huge chunks of money, what can the "affluent" do to help income inequality? How can we create a society where we can talk about these things?
    • jeff - 1 year ago
      What is income inequality? Unless everyone on the planet is paid the exact same rate irrespective of their job there will be income inequality. That doesn't sound reasonable to me so I'm curious where the cutoff is. What's the maximum acceptable difference between minimum wage and the income of the highest-earning person in the world? The concept of income inequality as a problem that needs to be solved is complete nonsense.

      I don't even understand the point of this article. The author opens with a bunch of assumptions about the reader's class prejudices, gives a few examples of wealthy families making rather mundane personal financial decisions and then closes with a disturbing call to look past the actions and merits of individuals and instead question whether their wealth should be taken from them simply because they are wealthy.

      The distribution of wealth and income is not a zero-sum game. Just because someone has a lot does not mean they took it from someone else.
      • bill - 1 year ago
        I do think income inequality is a problem.

        While I agree that it's not possible to come up with a "cutoff" point -- some lower level of inequality that can be regarded as socially acceptable -- I don't think that that is sufficient evidence to suggest that inequality, in general, is a non-issue. One could use that same line of reasoning in the other direction to make the exact opposite argument: Would it be appropriate if, say, one single person had 100% of the world's wealth? Obviously not. And obviously that's an absurd suggestion. Just as absurd as suggesting that the only answer to income inequality is "everyone on the planet is paid the exact same rate irrespective of their job."

        Some amount of inequality is obviously appropriate just as some amount of inequality is obviously inappropriate.

        I don't think we need to talk about this as a problem that needs solving by government. (Although I'm also opposed to considering that the government should play some role.) On the contrary, it's more like a philosophical/moral/ethical thing that society, and individuals, need to wrestle with. To answer aussak's question directly, maybe consumers will have to start thinking more carefully about what they do with their money? Where and how they spend & save? I sometimes (but certainly not always!) think about the environmental ramifications of my spending, but I literally *never* think, "How should I spend so that I can keep the playing field level?" Maybe one day we'll have to?!

        I enjoyed this article. At the very least, it does a good job of showing how wealthy people don't necessarily see themselves as wealthy. I've always thought that that was a funny conundrum. One oversimplification that I hear all the time is that with money you can have the luxury of not stressing about money. I definitely don't think that's true.
        • jeff - 1 year ago
          > Would it be appropriate if, say, one single person had 100% of the world's wealth?

          Yes. Ignoring the impossibility of your proposition, the key point is that, like I said already, this is not a zero-sum game. Such a situation could only ever potentially exist for a single instance in time. Humans have the unique ability to materialize value (and hence wealth) through their creativity and ingenuity. Technology has a multiplying effect on this phenomenon. It is easier than ever for a person with a novel idea to develop and cultivate it and share it with an ever increasing number of people. I submit that it should be a given that someone who creates something of value should be able to accumulate as much wealth as any number of people might be willing to exchange for it. Seeking to shame those who accumulate wealth or limit the rewards of such aforementioned creativity is fundamentally anti-human.

          > Some amount of inequality is obviously appropriate just as some amount of inequality is obviously inappropriate.

          "Obvious" only to you and your personal sensibilities. You're mixing up the idea that income inequality is something that some individuals seem to have a negative emotional reaction to versus something that requires an overthrow of the free market system. The author ends her penultimate paragraph with a call to "...change an unequal system of accumulation and distribution of resources." This kind of communist garbage has to be called out for what it is. These ideas have led humanity to the absolute darkest depths of suffering and misery and it's disgusting to see such flippant references to something so reprehensible.
          • bill - 1 year ago
            I agree strongly with everything you said from "Humans have the unique..." up to "exchange for it." In the sentence that follows, however, I think you're using too strong of language when you say "fundamentally anti-human." What's anti-human is when people watch other people suffering and dying even though they can do something about it. That's where the term "inhumane" comes from.

            I understand why you're interested in the zero-sum argument. I have thought a lot about that and I think it's reasonable to acknowledge that wealth can be created from nothing (versus taken from others) while ALSO acknowledging that people in the world are starving and other people are capable of feeding them, but, instead, they are spending their money on caviar and fur coats. This isn't a shameful judgment, it's just an objective statement about the world. I've eaten caviar. It's tasty.

            Shame is an interesting term to bring into this conversation. I'm just now realizing that it's basically the main point of the article, even though the author doesn't use the word even once. What the article doesn't explore (and what I'm really curious about) is whether or not this shame comes purely from within. Today, in the USA, wealth is widely respected and admired. (Do you agree with this?) I think it's up at the top of the pedestal with beauty and intelligence. Assuming you agree with that, then the shame must come from within - right?

            Like most people, I usually look away when I see homeless people. I try to block the whole situation/dynamic out of my mind. Shame has something to do with it.

            Somewhat related, I want to get rich. And I don't feel bad about that. But I'm also proud of some decisions I've made in my life where I've prioritized other things over money & wealth.

            I didn't think the author or article were "communist garbage." Per usual, fascinating that we had such different reads!
  • bill - 1 year ago
    I always get tripped up when the term "privilege" is used to describe financial advantage versus an advantage based on identity, especially one like skin color which isn't something that can be hidden. There should really be two different terms for these very different concepts.