Saturday, April 10, 2010

I don't hate rich people

A friend was reading a story I'm working on and one of his notes was, "Wow, you really hate rich people!"

I don't. I hate hierarchy. Transcending your class is damn near impossible: if that wasn't true, humans wouldn't tolerate class systems. I hate hierarchy because the privileges of the rich are built on poverty and cheap labor, but I can't hate the individuals who benefit from institutional injustice. They mean well. They do the best they can within the limits of what their class expects of them. Hell, many of my favorite people are rich—including the one who gave me that note.

As I was thinking about this, I came across an article that might help explain why I have a problem with hoarding wealth: What Gives? - Los Angeles magazine: "In a city packed with millionaires, it should be easier to raise money for the poor"


  1. Have you read John Dominic Crossan's work on the historical Jesus? It fits right in...

  2. To my own astonishment, I find myself writing a great deal about rich people myself these days - they are a class with their own interests and preoccupations. But I agree, that it is almost impossible to transcend your class - although almost all the rich people in America had exceptional ancestors who did just that (okay, mostly through enterprises at least vaguely criminal).

  3. DSD, I have, and like it a lot. I think the only sensible way to interpret the Jesus story is as a people's revolt against the Roman Empire. Hmm. I feel another post coming on.

    Deborah, yep. Those exceptions fuel the myth that anyone can get to the top of the pyramid.

  4. Joel, there are exceptions in any system. Nobility sometimes raised commoners to high positions. But a good system should not be judged by its exceptions. (Very tempted to slam up against Godwin's Law here, but I'll try to squeak by on a technicality.)

    The US population is 307,006,550. Check my math. By your figures, that means your chance of becoming rich is 3%.

    But I must note that your figures may be deceptive. What percentage of those new millionaires moved a little higher within the top quintile rather than moving up, say, four?

    That said, I appreciate the links. They may be very useful.

  5. Your math is good, but I'd modify the premise: if those millionaires are heads of households, then the number of people, including children, (who are counted in the total population), in the top quintile would be 12-15%.

    Yes, many of them may have just moved higher within a quintile- Bill Gates wasn't poor before founding Microsoft. But as the number of millionaires is growing faster than the population, some of them must be crossing quintile lines- how many lines, I don't know.

    But more important to me is that for every person who crosses four quintile lines at a leap, there must be a dozen who cross one or two- which is substantial improvement for an individual or family. I don't know of any other systems that produce more of that kind of change; I think our hierarchy is less rigid than England's class system, for example.

  6. Nobility sometimes raised commoners to high positions.

    Reminds me of one of my favorite lines from Showtimes' trash-fest The Tudors. One of the lords complains that King Henry VIII's favorite artist (Hans Holbein) has assaulted him, which a peasant like Holbein has no right to do. Henry retorts "Let me tell you something, my lord; if I had seven peasants, I could create seven lords. But if I had seven lords, I could not create one Holbein!"

  7. Joel, I can't remember if you've read any Marx. He and Engels praise capitalism's power to create wealth. Where capitalism fails is in sharing it.

    But you're wrong about our system and England. I'd seen some studies about five years ago, but I just went googling for something more recent:

    Blue, great line!