At one time it was said America was a country where anyone could get rich. We’ve gotten away from that in recent years. This is a pity because there are a number of obvious advantages which accrue to the wealthy. Among these are security, freedom, choice and power.
Long time readers will know that DINKs finance has changed hands a couple of times. This is because the original owners – me and my wife were overseas. For my part I spent a year in Afghanistan. The experience was real eye opener. It my first time in a country without an effective police force, without effective rule of law and an ongoing civil conflict. The evidence of war was apparent from the legless beggars on the streets to the burned out and ruined tanks on the outskirts of Kabul. What was also clear from the experience of being there was that anyone with sufficient resources (e.g. friends and money) left the country as soon as they possibly could.
Now, this may seem difficult for some people to accept, but America is not immune to the possibility of civil strife. There have periodically been wars, riots and incidents of civil disturbance in our countries history. Typically people who have resources are able to escape them, leaving the poor and disadvantaged usually bear the brunt of these things. It would naïve to assume that our iPods, McDonald’s hamburgers and the internet are going to save us from the worst angels of our nature. On the other hand a million dollars in the bank will allow you to be safe and the secure in the very rare event something like this does happen.
Freedom, in particular free exercise of speech:
In 2002, then Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill was dismissed by the Bush Administration for his multiple disagreements with the President’s foreign and economic policies. In case you don’t recall, the Bush Administration had a reputation for running nasty smear campaigns against prominent former members of the government who were publicly critical of accepted policies. O’Neill famously said this regarding his decision to go public with his disagreement: “I’m an old guy, and I’m rich, and there’s nothing they can do to hurt me”. O’Neill was a former director of Aluminum Company of America (ALCOA) and was reputed to be worth several hundred million dollars. Because of this he could speak out without fear of reprisal.
Now, not everyone is going to be in O’Neill’s shoes but even a few hundred thousand in the bank will make a big difference if you see a petty immorality like workplace misconduct, but don’t speak out for fear of losing your job. So the bottom line here is that wealth protects you if you need to say something unpopular.
It goes without saying that real wealth increases your options. Consider this, with a million in the bank you can:
1. Go virtually anywhere at any time.
2. Choose which kinds of activities you want to do
3. Choose the kinds of foods you eat
4. Choose what clothes to wear
5. Exercise choice over your time
6. Control who you associate with
It’s amazing to me, but many Americans seem not to understand this. I think it is because most of us have so little direct contact with people who are truly wealthy. This brings us to the next point.
Most Americans don’t have much, so they don’t realize the possibilities that even a modest amount of wealth can bring. According to the U.S. Census Bureau the median net-worth in the U.S is something like $68,000 – peanuts. This is typically spread across a checking account or two, a bit in retirement accounts, and some home equity. Very few Americans have access to or experience with real wealth – dealing with large blocks of stock or cash.
Consider what a war chest of a million dollars would do for your interpersonal situation. You could:
1. Sway a local election: While lots of local municipalities have rules regarding campaign contributions, in reality is possible to dump tens of thousands of local dollars into a particular campaign. And at a local level $50,000 can mean the difference between winning and losing and accordingly whether or not you have to suffer under policies you disagree with.
2. Sue and prevail: Often companies, individuals and governments get away with gross violations of law or civil rights. Consider Wal-Mart’s illegal firings of workers who resist their unfair labor policies or the highly questionable firearms confiscation policies implemented by California Governor Jerry Brown. With a million dollars cash in the back you can sustain the high fees needed to hire a professional legal team to defend yourself or right an obvious wrong. The poor usually can’t do this because they can’t afford it the $300 bucks an hour a competent attorney will charge you.
3. Realize an important goal: Having wealth allows you to achieve goals you wouldn’t otherwise, even in the face of opposition. This could be ensuring that your children get the best education possible, living abroad or owning your dream home – against the expectations of your family or friends. All this is a lot, lot easier if you have a large bank account.
Its not mentioned in the title of this posting, but wealth also facilitates marrying well. Like it or not American society is hierarchical. People are often ranked by things like the kind of job they have, their personal characteristics such as moral character, emotional temperament, attractiveness and intelligence. If you read classic works of economic sociology like Gary Becker’s work on marriage you’ll understand that marriage is at least in part a utility maximization process, everyone attempts to maximize their own subjective utility by finding the best possible partner.
If you’re rich your relative “purchasing power” in the marriage market is better. You can find a more attractive, smarter more capable or healthier partner. It’s cliché, but older fatter rich guys do date supermodels. Why? Because the money means you are a more desirable partner.
Despite the obvious advantages of wealth, may people seem to ignore or deny that their goal is financial security. I would urge you not to listen to them. At some level, deep down inside all people value freedom, power, security and love. Having great wealth helps you to attain all of these.