Uncle Roger's Notebooks of Daily Life
Friday, September 16, 2005
The subject of wealth has been on my mind a lot lately. From keeping up on the world of the wealthy and lusting after yachts, to worrying about the attempts to turn social security into a tax break for the wealthy. This is the first of a serious of posts (in theory, anyway) to explore my conflicted feelings.
Let's get one thing clear -- I wouldn't have any problem with having many billions of dollars. Aside from a few houses, a plane, helicopter, and yacht, I could do a lot of good with a lot of money. I understand, however, the unlikeliness of that and I'm not worried about it at all. I don't not want that, but I also don't especially want it.
What I do want, however, is to work for myself on a flexible schedule, part-time. I want to own a vacation home and a canoe. I want to be able to travel and to write and help out in my kids' classrooms. I want to cook interesting meals from scratch with fresh ingredients. I want to be a part of my kids' lives.
It doesn't seem like I want that much. On the other hand, I own a home. I own a home in one of the most expensive (133rd in the country!) and desirable markets in the country, and I have enough equity in it that if I cashed out, I could probably buy a mansion most anywhere else in the country (or even my own private island) and still have enough cash to live on for a very long time.
There are an awful lot of people who don't own homes and may not ever be able afford one. Most people spend their whole lives working for someone else, nine to five, Monday through Friday. And an awful lot of people don't make as much as I do. So what right do I have to want more than others have? Am I somehow special? While I might think so, in the grand scheme of things, I seriously doubt it.
Now, there is the valid argument that if you work hard, you should be rewarded for your effort, more so than someone who prefers to take it easy. That makes sense. If you want to slack off and hang out on the beach, that's fine, but don't expect to make as much money as someone who works hard at their job. That's the price (literally) you pay for enjoying yourself more.
There is also the argument that some poeple's efforts are more valuable than others. Eric Clapton should certainly earn more than I for playing the guitar. That's obvious. And while a school teacher could, with minimal training, fill in at the local Peet's, the opposite is almost certainly untrue. So yes, those with more skills or who are less easily replaced should be paid more.
I agree with all this, to a point. Should someone like Bill Gates really earn that much more than everyone else? Does Larry Ellison really need the world's second biggest yacht all for himself? Does Jay Leno need all those cars? On the other hand, how could you justify taking away the money from people like Joseph and Stephanie Koret?
There are so many people in this country who don't even have basic necessities like food and shelter, how can I justify wanting or having not two houses? There are millions of people in the US whose jobs don't offer health insurance (let alone dental or vision!), how could I look myself in the mirror if I didn't work for a living? And that doesn't even take into account the millions of people around the world living so deep in poverty that they can't even imagine what passes for poor in this country.
Is what I want unreasonable? Unfair? Or should I just say that the rules of the game are what they are and, as long as I abide by those rules, if I do better than others it's perfectly okay?