Monthly Happiness Report: Rich Is Part Of The Global Elite And His Quality Of Life Is An Oppressive Symbol Of Class Warfare. Pass The Quinoa Crackers. –June 2017

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Penny,

I’m going to take my happiness report in a different direction this month. I’d like to respond to an article that popped up regarding the way “the rich” spend their money. I saw it on BBC, entitled “The New, Subtle Ways the Rich Signal Their Wealth.” Originally it was written for Aeon and entitled “Conspicuous Consumption is Over. It’s All About Intangibles Now.” By any title, this article represents what I perceive as a growing resentment toward the rich. Toward me, in other words.

I encourage you to read the article, but I’ll summarize it here.

The rich are getting sneaky. They used to separate themselves with the conspicuous consumption of luxury goods for all to see — fancy TVs, cars, and handbags. But now, luxury items are widely available to the masses. So, to set themselves apart, the rich are increasingly spending on inconspicuous social and cultural status symbols: education, health, and retirement.

This kind of privileged spending activity is subtle but “pernicious,” benefitting rich families while excluding the middle class.

And here’s the concluding paragraph: “Inconspicuous consumption – whether breastfeeding or education – is a means to a better quality of life and improved social mobility for one’s own children, whereas conspicuous consumption is merely an end in itself – simply ostentation. For today’s aspirational class, inconspicuous consumption choices secure and preserve social status, even if they do not necessarily display it.”

End summary.

So Penny, you might be wondering why I’m talking about this in my happiness report. Here’s why. We have a high household income ($260,000), and I’ll grant that we are more or less rich. I’ve written extensively about how I prioritize my spending, both for optimal happiness according to my values and for the benefit of my family’s financial security (in 3 easy steps!). The above article is essentially saying that my way of spending is harmful (“pernicious” was an interesting word choice) as a form of class warfare and social privilege.

In short, I’m part of the problem.

Ok, well … let’s grant for a moment that I’m unknowingly part of an elitist conspiracy to oppress common folk by eating free range chicken and saving for college. How could I take action to distance myself from such a dangerous subculture? How could I prove my desire to be on the side of fairness and equality?

Should I take my kids to McDonald’s and tell them that one day, if they live long enough on nuggets and soda, they could ignore higher education and work behind the counter? Should I blow their college money on a Porsche in the hopes that they will make a career out of filling it with gas? Would I then be regarded as a more moral and less pernicious rich person?

Chicken nuggets — a great way for rich people to champion social equality.

I have another theory. Maybe the rich are just discovering that luxury doesn’t bring happiness, and that the best way to build a stable family environment is to promote health and education. And maybe that’s a good thing.

I think you, Penny, are proof that this way of life is not exclusionary. You have a family of 6, you have a relatively low income, and you still manage to prioritize healthy food and good schools. As a rich guy, there’s nothing about this that bothers me — I’d wish this sort of lifestyle on anyone in any social class. I’d be happy for your family to be as healthy and as smart as you can be. Why would I be threatened by that? Eating vegetables and reading books are not zero sum propositions. Amazon just bought Whole Foods — is there any doubt that organic fruit will soon be just as available to the masses as fancy TVs?

Needless to say, I think the article’s argument, or at least what it’s implying about harmful class-based behavior, misses the mark. It might even be mostly illogical nonsense. That said, I’m not ignoring it. There’s a growing perception that society is just not fair, that the rich are doing well while everyone else is struggling. There’s an undercurrent of anger from the have-nots toward the haves. Forget that I grew up solidly middle class, a farm boy from a small town — now that I have a high income, there’s a sense out there that I am the enemy. I want to understand why.

In the meantime, I’d be a fool to stop eating healthy food and investing in education. Along those lines, the kiddos graduated from preschool this month. They have a few weeks before summer camp starts, so we’re juggling work schedules and trying to keep them busy with swimming and playing and some medical checkups for public school Kindergarten and so on. You know, pernicious parenting stuff. It’s what we do to maintain our elitist lifestyle. 

It’s also quite tiring — the kids are pretty crazy without the structure of school.

4 out of 5 smileys.

Best,

Rich   

PS — I’d be curious to hear from you or from other personal finance bloggers about what they think is going on in this article. Am I missing something?

8 Replies to “Monthly Happiness Report: Rich Is Part Of The Global Elite And His Quality Of Life Is An Oppressive Symbol Of Class Warfare. Pass The Quinoa Crackers. –June 2017”

  1. Well, Rich, I’m with you on that article. Having just read it, some parts twice, I’m still not sure what point the author was trying to get across.

    Is she trying to say that the ‘inconspicuous consumption choices’ are not available to the middle-class and that in her opinion is not fair?

    Perhaps if they didn’t spend money on conspicuous consumption those things be.

    I’m going with it being “mostly illogical nonsense.” Unless someone can explain it differently.

  2. I vote illogical nonsense as well. Life and the economy are not zero sum games. If you have a child that becomes rich because they invent a cure for cancer, the society gets a cure for cancer in addition to your child getting wealth. The added years of someone’s life added to society. It’s possible to argue it did disproportionate benefit to certain groups in society, but it didn’t remove benefits from any group and some of them are likely to show up in others.
    FullTimeFinance recently posted…Important Dates and Goal SettingMy Profile

    1. FTF I like your comment about how someone could become Rich by doing something great in life. My problem with a lot of social class commentary using income is that it’s simply a snapshot in time, without any regard for how a person got there. Sure, I’m “rich” by income standards now, but 15 years ago I had almost nothing to my name. My grandfather was a farmer and practically illiterate. The article discounts that journey and gives me a label because I’ve learned to enjoy smart magazines and healthier produce. Silly.
      Rich @ pennyandrich.com recently posted…Rich Is Preparing To Move. He Enjoys Moving. Wait … He’s Paying HOW MUCH On Rent???My Profile

  3. Oh, this article rubbed me the wrong way. It’s a lot of what we’re heard over and over again about how if everyone just made the same amount of money, everybody would be happy. As I’ve said before, I think there is a lot more that goes into life and wealth and happiness than the amount of money that somebody has. Just look at lottery winners who spend all their money and end up exactly where they started. Throwing money at something is not (necessarily) the answer). Articles like these like to blame the rich and they come across as knowing everything that is best for everybody else when, in reality, the solutions are much more complicated than the ones they’re espousing.

    It also had a real 99% against the 1% vibe that I’m getting tired of. I read a quote from someone who became disenchanted with the Democratic party due to what he saw as a preponderance of “the intellectual, tweed-wearing middle-class socialist” who “didn’t like the poor; they just hated the rich.”

    Not that I’m against Democrats any more than I’m against Republicans (they both have their problems, if you ask me), but what I am against is dumb articles like this.

    It’s great that rich people (or any people) are doing good things for their families, like providing nutritious food and education for them. Why would we want to shame them for that? Good for them!

    I’m a low-income person and I breastfeed and spend money on private schools for my kids. It’s not that hard to do. Maybe I’m just a culturally elite person in poor person’s clothing. I don’t know.

    This quote from the article: “Inconspicuous consumption in other words, has become a shorthand through which the new elite signal their cultural capital to one another.” – Dumb, dumb, dumb. Maybe their just trying to do what they see as best for their families?

    Granted, maybe there are some rich people who do this, I don’t know? It just seems dumb to make such a sweeping statement in assuming less than stellar intentions.

    I was walking through Whole Foods the other day, and I can kind of understand what this article is saying, because some of the food seems pretty pretentious. And I get that wealth and class separates the quality of education that are children are getting. A quote from a book I read: “Private schools are better for your children, but public schools are better for everyone.” I get that too.

    This is a complicated issue. One much more complicated than this article is implying with it’s oversimplification and shaming of the topic.
    Penny @ pennyandrich.com recently posted…Monthly Happiness Report: Rich Is Part Of The Global Elite And His Quality Of Life Is An Oppressive Symbol Of Class Warfare. Pass The Quinoa Crackers. –June 2017My Profile

  4. Not sure I get it. If you drop your kid off at a $30,000+ a year private grade school, and tell your friends, that’s very conspicuous consumption.

    Education is a big debate. The interesting thing is when you spend your entire K-12 going to private school and you end up at State U versus Private U. Was it all worth it? I say NO!

    And perhaps I’m biased going to William & Mary, a public school that cost $2,800 a year in tuition when private school at the time cost $25,000 a year. And maybe I’m biased due to going to public high school after going to private international middle school while living abroad.

    The internet makes everything free folks!

    Sam
    Financial Samurai recently posted…Focus On Trends: Why I’m Investing In The Heartland Of AmericaMy Profile

    1. Education is indeed a debate, Penny and I had a massively long blogchat about it. I agree that there is relative value. That said, I think it’s still the best idea for most people to go get that 4-year degree at a halfway decent institution.

      My kids went to international preschool because we’ve been living overseas. Where were you?
      Rich @ pennyandrich.com recently posted…Are The Rich Hoarding The American Dream? An Examination Of Penny And Rich’s Path To Income Inequality.My Profile

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