Logtar has a great post about wealth:

The word rich is so inaccurate at times. I have met people that have a lot of money in my short life, but in reality it does not mean as much as most people think. Much like race, there is a lot of preconceived notions about how people are in higher economic levels, but those notions are less accurate than even race stereotypes. My Great Grand Father was the owner of two hotels, several properties and was able to give each one of his kids a house when they got married. My Great uncles drank and partied two hotels down the drain and in the end were left with nothing. If you saw either one of them on the street you would have never even imagined that they came from such wealth, because in the end money did not do much for their lives.

Rich can mean a number of things. Most studies have demonstrated that wealth is in many ways a relative concept. We judge ourselves not by what we have, but by what we have in comparison to what our neighbors have and what our parents had. Though almost every realtor will tell you that it’s better to get the smallest house in the richest neighborhood that you can rather than the biggest house in the smallest, most evidence suggests the opposite. Living among rich people will make you see all the things that you don’t have. Living among poorer people will help you appreciate what you do have.

When I was in high school, I was from a “poor” family in a number of respects. First, though my father was pulling down substantial income, he was pulling down less than a lot of people that went to the high school. Further, we were in some ways poorer than families that made less money.

Being rich, to me, is not about what you make as much as what you spend. My family lived well below its means until recently when they finally discovered that they had quite a bit of money and not but a few decades left to spend it. Now, according to this theory, a $30,000 credit line makes one just as rich as $30,000 in the bank, provided that the latter lives within his means. In some ways that’s how I think. It’s definitely what I think when I harbor a distaste for what I consider “rich people.”

In a wealthy society, wealth is a zero-sum game once you get out of the lowest income bracket. Look around at the wealthiest among us and look at what they spend their money on. You don’t even need to go to the upper classes to see it. I’ve commented before that an economy in which people willingly pay $5 for a cup of coffee, $4 for a pack of cigarettes, and $20 for an SUV that will never drive on dirt is not an economy that is struggling in any meaningful sense. Except when compared to the wealthy, who often flaunt their wealth and then get defensive when it starts to make people angry.

How much money is spent by the middle class to get away from poor people? How much money is spent by the wealthy to differentiate themselves from the middle class? These are the things that, for whatever reason, really bother me. Mostly because, as a society, it seems to do so little good. Individual familes improve their prospects by moving to the tony suburbs and their flush school systems, but most of the improvement is comparative. Zero-sum. Nothing is really improved.

The same applies in a deeper sense in the world of fashion. Much of what we spend when we buy better clothes really does affect the quality of the clothing. Wrangler Jeans cost twice as much as Faded Glory, but they look good for three times as long. But once you go above Wrangler, you’re spending money just so that you’re not wearing Wranglers like everyone else. Nobody’s life is improved. Your prospects got better by making someone else’s worse (cause they’re stuck in Wranglers). People buy huge houses on huge lots with huge yards that they don’t their kids play in.

There’s a suburb of Santomas that is apparently banning basketball hoops that are visible from the street because the hoops betray property values. As do environmentally-friendly clotheslines. In some ways people aren’t buying their houses as much as they are merely renting against the property values thereof. Things that would actually improve our lives are passed over for the sake of maintaining the wealth that is supposed to improve our lives.

Wealth becomes its own happiness… at the expense of the real thing.

Category: Coffeehouse

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3 Responses to Conspicuous Wealth of Nations

  1. Webmaster says:

    Wealth, wealth… hmmm…

    90% of my possessions are the cheapest things I could get. My bookcases cost me $25. My shelving units are the square blocky things you get at lowe’s or home depot where you get a 6-block “grid” arrangable how you like it for $10-15. I have a wire “corner” shelving unit I got for $30 from target, and my desk and chair each cost me $60 for what were normally ~$200 items because I bought them on closeout.

    I own a few first-edition books (harry potter and dragonriders of pern), but I’d say 95% of my collection comes from Half-Price Books or similar stores.

    Most of my DVD’s are from the bargain bin or sales from rental stores.

    My car? I own it. It’s getting older every day, but it runs fine, and even having to put in a bit of money now and then, it costs me less to repair it and keep it in condition than to pay out $300+/month on the car plus have to pay a higher insurance premium.

    In terms of vanity, the only thing I can say I own that is a major purchase of that type is my television… and even that is better than it might be because I was smart enough to keep paying for the extended warranty on a previous model.

    You know what? I consider myself as doing pretty well. I have decent health, two pets, good friends, I can afford my hobbies. I can fix just about anything of my possessions that might break.

    So I’m not rich. So what?

  2. trumwill says:

    I forget, what’s your computer set-up like? That’s my chief vulnerability.

  3. Webmaster says:

    Big monitor, but CRT that I’ve had for going on 4 years now and got at extreme discount. RAM, processor, etc all purchased as cheap as possible going through pricewatch.

    Not top of the line, but more machine than I technically “need” as it stands.

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