Now, More Criticism of the Self-Pitying Wealthy Poor

More

marie antoinette.jpgYesterday I posted some comments in defense of the "Whiny Law Professor" -- and similar families at the top of the US income distribution who find it hard to make ends meet. Now, for the other side of the story, a few of the (many) dissents. A reader writes;

>>Why does every defense end up showing how out of touch these people are? The sympathy list they always go through are the costs of private schools, elite private universities, large mortgages, and large loans for graduate schools (I note the lack of large loans for undergraduate).  This just isn't even a concern for 97% of Americans.  And to say life is difficult if you send your kids to a nice public school in a nice suburb, go to a non-Ivy school, live in 10-20% less of a house or live without a graduate degree, is quite simply crazy and just goes to prove all the stats about how happiness doesn't increase with income.<<

In the same vein:

>>I don't have much pity for those that make $250,000 or more a year. My husband and I are both college educated. Together we barely break $100,000 in gross income. We put our 2 children through expensive (Ivy and private) colleges by taking every loan offered by "financial aid" packages and second-mortgaging our home. We make too much to get grants but not enough to afford sending our kids to the schools of their choice ($40,000 per year X2) without going into massive debt. Luckily our home has more or less held it's value and we can pay the mortgage, loan payments, insurances, and other bills.

We live comfortably but not luxuriously in a high cost of living state. We have a roof over our heads and eat every day. Our home is a 40 year old track home. We drive our cars for 10 years. A dinner at a chain restaurant for a birthday is a splurge. I buy my clothes from the thrift shop or at deep discount. I buy one pair of shoes per year. And I think I have a good life.<<

And from a reader in Arizona, under the header Whiny Professor & Occam's Razor:

>>Perhaps the simplest reason for this guy's angst (and please recall that his wife* vehemently disagrees with him) is that his current professional perch gives him good access to really wealthy people (CEOs, Rich Donors, Inheritors, etc.). He can't help but compare his financial situation with theirs and so such comparisons become odious, making him blog in silly, yet self-revealing, ways.

When I was a CFP and heard well-off clients complain about not having enough money, I'd tell them to move to the poor part of town and so feel richer beyond belief (or at least spend more time in those parts of town). They never did, of course, though that would have solved their existential drama.

* the wife is a doctor, probably dealing with the whole social gamut in her workaday world. probably much different for the professor.<<

One more after the jump.

A lawyer in Michigan writes:

>>I had to write after reading your post on the "poor" law professor. He's suffering from a very common worldview I call L... K.... Syndrome, after my dear mother.

My late father was a physician. I grew up in a working/middle class part of downriver Detroit, and from an early age many a friend would comment on how "rich" I must be - compared to them. When I asked my mom if we were rich, however, she always told me no, we were not rich, we were just average.

So one day, few years back, while dining with my mom, the subject somehow came up again. And again my mom insisted "we weren't rich". I've been in the financial business for 30 years and I have learned a few things about where, exactly, someone making a quarter of a million dollars a year actually fits in the economic pecking order. So I laughed and said, "mom, seriously, dad was a physician. That had to put us in the top 5% of all families in the country, and the top 1% for downriver Detroit! Why do you think you're not wealthy?"

The answer was perfect. According to my mom, all of her friends, the women she played bridge and golfed with, were married to specialists. My dad was a GP. And their husbands all made a lot more money than, in my father's famous phrase, a "dumb GP". They were the rich. We were not.

Like the professor, it's all about your frame of reference. Seems kind of amazing that a prof living on the south side of Chicago wouldn't notice the obvious income disparity between himself and the average locals. But then again neither did my mom.<<

These last few messages make what I think is an important point, which takes us back to where this discussion began. Everyone has problems, and everyone makes tradeoffs. Very few people think they have "enough" or that they couldn't use a little more money (or time, or respect, etc). So no one should begrudge the professor, or anyone, a comfortable status. What's gone crazy here is the sense of relative deprivation, and the lack of awareness of where one stands in comparison with fellow countrymen, the rest of the world, or what fate could easily have dealt. This can give rise to self-pity among 99.9% of people and smugness among the rest. More to come.

Presented by

James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.


Elsewhere on the web

Video

Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.

Video

What Makes a Story Great?

What makes a story great? The storytellers behind House of CardsThis American LifeThe Moth, and more reflect on the creative process.

Video

Tracing Sriracha's Origin to Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.

Video

Where Confiscated Wildlife Ends Up

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.

Video

Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.

Video

The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air

Writers

Up
Down

More in National

From This Author

Just In