The Poor Lives of Rich People

If one thing is clear about rich people, it's not that their lives are any easier than the rest of ours. In fact, if anything, it's hard to have money.

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If one thing is clear about rich people, it's not that their lives are any easier than the rest of ours. In fact, if anything, it's hard to have money. Really hard. Bloomberg's Max Abelson recently interviewed a bunch of Wall Street folks who got smaller bonuses this year, and as their comments indicate, more money either really does mean more problems, or it means that a wealthy person's sense of reality is just that much further off. Certainly, the expectation of more money when one is getting less money -- Goldman Sachs and Barclay's, for example, both cut discretionary pay at least 25 percent for 2011 -- really makes rich people say the craziest things!

For example:

  • “I feel stuck,” [director of marketing for broker-dealer Euro Pacific Capital Inc. Andrew] Schiff said. “The New York that I wanted to have is still just beyond my reach.” How so? "Paid a lower bonus, he said the $350,000 he earns, enough to put him in the country’s top 1 percent by income, doesn’t cover his family’s private-school tuition, a Kent, Connecticut, summer rental and the upgrade they would like from their 1,200-square- foot Brooklyn duplex."
  • “People who don’t have money don’t understand the stress,” said Alan Dlugash, a partner at accounting firm Marks Paneth & Shron LLP in New York who specializes in financial planning for the wealthy. “Could you imagine what it’s like to say I got three kids in private school, I have to think about pulling them out? How do you do that?”
  • “It’s a disaster,” said Ilana Weinstein, chief executive officer of New York-based search firm IDW Group LLC. “The entire construct of compensation has changed.”

It is a disaster. Of course, 15.1 percent of Americans are living in actual poverty. Meanwhile, Wall Street headhunter Daniel Arbeeny is buying discount salmon at Fairway after perusing the circulars to find the best deals on Chex cereal (and abstaining from his annual ski trips to Whistler, Aspen, or Tahoe). Life is tough for everyone, and nobody likes change, particularly not change for the apparent worse -- even if that worse is still far better than many people have it.

But, as we have learned previously, the rich really don't enjoy being made to feel guilty for being rich -- nor, we imagine, do they enjoy being mocked for acting like they're poor. Rich people have feelings. Recall the Urban Baby thread that made Internet waves earlier this year for the sheer wealth-obnoxiousness of its content? It asked, "What's your hhi and do you FEEL poor, middle class, upper middle class or rich where you live. No judging." Among the answers received:

$350K, so, so, so poor. Not being dramatic or anything, really poor. We totally struggle every day. UES.

180K Greenwich Village. I feel wealthy compared to most of the world. I feel like I am doing my child a disservice when she cried at age 4 because I told her we will NEVER buy a country house.

See? Feelings. Michael Sonnenfeldt, the founder of a peer-learning group for investors, told Abelson that these people aren't actually asking for sympathy -- and that they've had their own "crushing setback as well." A point taken; cutting back is never fun. But it's hard to relate.

The one thing that might mitigate this would be for rich folks to move to what would seem to be the next human level of thinking: Oh, if I have it bad, someone poorer must have it really bad. It doesn't seem that is happening, at least not here (nor in attempts to say poor people are actually doing great). Maybe that sort of public acknowledgment is too much to hope for, given that rich people also apparently like to take candy from babies. It's psychology, they can't help it! Poor things.

Image via Shutterstock by Evgeny Varlamov.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.