With good intention, I proposed one way to help level the playing field through a Wealth Identification Program run by our all-powerful government. By identifying wealthy people who got wealthy through 100% luck (born into wealth), we could empower decision makers to make more informed choices when deciding between equally qualified candidates. Whether a decision maker chooses to help the less lucky is entirely up to their discretion.
The Wealth Identification Program could also put pressure on life’s lucky winners to use their finances to give back to those who need help the most, while pushing themselves to see what they can achieve on their own. Imagine being born with the gift of Mozart, but never realizing your full potential because you didn’t have to. Having money from the start can limit motivation!
With a public wealth ID program, the fortunate will tend to give more and try harder to maximize their potential. After all, when the the boss is not around, why do anything at all?
WHEN BEING RICH IS SO EVIL
Despite my tenant self-identifying he had a trust fund, and that it would take an extra day to access his trust fund in order to pay rent, almost all the feedback from my post on creating a Wealth ID program took a default assumption that getting identified as rich is bad.
Is there nobody out there who believes being identified as rich is good anymore? There are massive displays of consumption today that show off one’s wealth through fancy cars, clothes, watches, and so forth. Perhaps this whole consumerism criticism / debt-addicted culture is untrue? I thought most people aspired to be rich. Let’s dig deeper.
The Program doesn’t directly take money away from you like the progressive tax system. The Program doesn’t sear a painful mark on your forehead. All The Program does is create a government-run data base that identifies who are life’s lucky financial winners.
Not only is getting identified as rich bad, plenty of commenters went so far as to equate The Wealth ID program to a Nazi run program during the Holocaust! Whoa. How did we go from making a suggestion on how to help the less fortunate get ahead, to one of the most evil times the world has ever seen?
Have a read of some of the comments below.
“I’m pretty sure the Nazis began the Holocaust by “identifying” the Jews and allotting a certain kind of ID to them. Think: Star of David.
The only difference here, is discrimination against the rich by class. Considering that taxes are heavily funded by the rich, why is there so much animosity? Are we losing focus as to why we chose Capitalism?
I’m curious here, Sam. Do you hate being privileged? Do you feel guilty for the wealth you have amassed? Or Maybe ashamed of it? I don’t know what you think, but it comes across like so.”
“Having lived the life of “Fred” (the poorer candidate) you are describing in this article, I have a huge problem with this idea. There are ways to address inequality, but encouraging classism and institutionalizing the bypass of corporate meritocracy has got to be one of the worst ideas I’ve heard in a long time.
It’s not a far step from this logic to the racist logic that affected my family 50 years ago. As a son of Jewish immigrants who lived in the south, it was openly discussed when I was growing up about how my father must have had all the advantages due to his connections, and therefore it was ok to pass him up or treat us differently. And god forbid you tell this idea to my father about your color coded classes – he’d think you were putting a gold star back on his chest.”
“How long before some politician decides to blame the economic ill of the country on those evil trust fund babies and put them in concentration camps and confiscate their ill gotten wealth?
Besides, by the third generation most inherited wealth is gone. Without work ethic and properly instilled values, family dynasties cannot last.”
“Horrible idea. What you are also doing by accident is letting the world know who does not have a wealthy family. Whatever happened to privacy? What’s next? Make them wear pins on their jackets with the letters “W” for wealthy and “P” for poor? Do we give poorer people an automatic advantage for jobs?
The Nazis did something similar when they thought a certain class of people had a leg up on the rest. “
And if billionaire Venture Capitalist Tom Perkins read my Wealth Identification Program post, he might have commented in a similar way to the letter he wrote to the WSJ in response to attacks on the wealthy and his ex-wife, Danielle Steele (anybody bagging on an ex-love will get an earful from me as well!).
“Writing from the epicenter of progressive thought, San Francisco, I would call attention to the parallels of fascist Nazi Germany to its war on its “one percent,” namely its Jews, to the progressive war on the American one percent, namely the “rich.”
From the Occupy movement to the demonization of the rich embedded in virtually every word of our local newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle, I perceive a rising tide of hatred of the successful one percent. There is outraged public reaction to the Google buses carrying technology workers from the city to the peninsula high-tech companies which employ them. We have outrage over the rising real-estate prices which these “techno geeks” can pay. We have, for example, libelous and cruel attacks in the Chronicle on our number-one celebrity, the author Danielle Steel, alleging that she is a “snob” despite the millions she has spent on our city’s homeless and mentally ill over the past decades.
This is a very dangerous drift in our American thinking. Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930; is its descendant “progressive” radicalism unthinkable now?”
After massive backlash from the public against Tom Perkins, he went on TV to apologize for his remarks in the video below and in writing.
UNDERSTANDING WHY RICH IS EVIL
The anthropology behind the responses is very interesting since I’ve never equated identifying wealthy people in order to help people without similar advantages with Mr. Evil himself, Adolf Hitler.
In the case of trying to level the playing field, something I’ve talked about time and time again about the importance of helping others, there must be some deep-rooted concerns by life’s lucky winners. Based on my retirement wealth poll with ~1,200 votes, over 20% of you are very lucky, with over $1 million in retirement savings, excluding the value of your house.
Why Being Rich Is Considered Bad
* Earning wealth is admired. Inheriting wealth is not. The American dream is about starting with nothing, working hard, and making a better life for ourselves and our families. The American dream is not about inheriting big bucks so we can just sit back. But, given that over the past century, so many of our parents have fulfilled their American dreams, many children today are benefiting from their wealth accumulation through trust funds and inheritances.
* Guilt affliction is nature’s way of making sure people give back. I’ve spoken to many people who were born rich, and they do seem to exhibit feelings of guilt when they constantly ask themselves, “why me?” As a result, you’ll see plenty of lucky winners spend their lifetimes trying to give back. Even those who’ve become tremendously wealthy without the benefit of family money experience the same sort of guilt. One of the simple solutions is to simply commit to giving back while alive, and donating the vast majority of wealth to charities.
* We will never forget the atrocities of the world. From the Nanjing Massacre to the Second Sudanese War where 2.5 million people were killed, we will never forget the horrors we’ve committed against each other for the sake of wealth and power. It’s unbelievable that the root cause for all conflict is man-made. Some families have profited enormously from past wars. For example, did you know that the Quandt family, who founded BMW had heavy Nazi ties? They employed 50,000 slave laborers during wartime, and the heir is a multi-billionaire. How about using some of the billions he inherited to help out the families his grandparents abused during the war?
* Projecting our feelings is inevitable. Conflict used to bum me out because I had few outlets to express my feelings. Nowadays, conflict is an inspiration for writing new articles on Financial Samurai because conflict creates emotion. The best ideas come from emotion. “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader,” as one saying goes. My posts are equivalent to your comments, just in a longer, more structured format. Writing is a healthier way to heal and I welcome anybody reading to vent their feelings in the comment section. Use me as a punching bag before you do something really bad to yourself or to others.
ARGUING THE OTHER SIDE
After reading all the comments about how wealth is evil, a commenter, “SelfAware” provides a counter point,
Great blog post and great read through the comments. I agree Sam, that it’s fascinating to see the clear reaction to the identification process. I didn’t read nor feel the implication that the identification process was to be a penalty so much as simply allowing folks to have more information prior to making decisions.
Why would folks that already have more than enough monetarily, vehemently oppose if someone that didn’t have that position get a shot? A lot of these comments are pointing to things such as race or gender based discrimination and I don’t believe that wealth falls into that bracket. One can not choose their race or gender and for those that wish to say you don’t choose to receive a trust, well you can always simply refuse or donate the money from said trust if you feel that you don’t wish to be identified.
I feel you’ve touched a real nerve here Sam and I think the underlying issue here is that if you were to identify those that are rich, people would need to face their privilege. A lot of people don’t like the concept of acknowledging that they have an advantage when accomplishing something. The reality though is that this happens in so many things Dwight Howard has an advantage in basketball because he’s 7′ tall. Is it unfair that he’s so tall and athletic? Sure to the folks that aren’t and yes he had to work very hard to get to where he is but let’s not overlook the fact that he’s 7′ tall! It’s the same thing with trust funds, sure you could be the most hard working accountable and responsible person there is BUT if you have a huge amount of wealth sitting there waiting for you that is an advantage pure and simple.
As a matter of opinion I feel it’s so evident that’s true just by looking at these comments, if everyone here thought it wasn’t a big deal, this SUGGESTION that Sam has would have went over without so much as a whimper. But all of this backlash has me thinking yes people don’t want their advantage to receive scrutiny and they definitely don’t want that advantage to be counter balanced in anyway.
If you notice Sam didn’t say for that person to lose their money for it to be transferred, he merely suggested identifying folks that have money and folks here lost it. We want so many other folks identified for anything, Passports, Drivers License, Residential Status (citizen or foreign), etc… But when it’s suggested to identify wealthy folks oh heavens no we couldn’t bear to stand it!
With all that being said taking the idea on the merits your difficulty in implementing this would reside with the fact that generally folks in power are wealthy. They wouldn’t want a system that would adversely affect them or their progeny which would mean that this idea would die on the vine in Capital Hill and if they didn’t squash it the Corporations that sponsor all of the politicians would lobby it into it’s death bed. Let’s be clear in understanding that nothing stands in the way of wealth and power having their desires foisted onto the powerless. At least that’s this man’s opinion…
WEALTH PERCEPTIONS ARE CHANGING
I never met someone who openly told me they had a trust fund until I met my tenant. 15 years ago, nobody ever admitted they still lived at home with their parents after college, but now it’s no big deal. It’s actually quite smart in order to pay off student loans and save money.
For those of us who never had a trust fund or a massive inheritance, we should be careful to judge others who do. By judging, we’re really just being jealous. It’s not their fault they were born rich! At the same time, it’s good to ask ourselves whether we’d be who we are today if we knew a pot of gold was already waiting at the end of the rainbow.
For those who were born rich, I think it’s your duty to use your good fortune to help other people. If you’re arrogant and do nothing to display your gratitude, people will logically hate you. And for those who weren’t born rich, but were able to somehow get rich, then all the more reason to help others given you know how brutally hard it is to get ahead.
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