It’s just plain weird how blog posts come about. You hear or read something one day, and a line sticks with you, and then another totally different thing occurs a day or so later. They are not connected, neither is that interesting in and of itself, yet somehow, together they raise an issue you feel worth talking about, and away you go, starting to write in your head all morning while mopping the floor and wiping down counter tops.
At least that’s the way it works with me.
Here’s what happened:
I was, as usual happily sipping my coffee this morning, when I heard about this out of Connecticut. It seems that Coach Jim Calhoun’s unseemly response to a reporters question has sparked a bit of controversy. He was asked, that given the one billion deficit in Connecticut and that other state workers are being asked to take pay cuts, might he think his 1.6 million dollar salary a bit much. He said he wouldn’t return a single penny period, and that the best think the reporter could do was to shut up.
That was coupled by a remark a woman made on forum about excessive greed on the part of business CEO’s. “Why are some people so class envious?”
Well, let me clear my throat and begin.
First of all I thank the woman for stating the truth in one respect. We are a class society in America. Many of course deny this, but it’s true and we all know it. While most in the middle class probably don’t look down in disdain at the average working class person, the mega wealthy generally do. And we all recall easily the snickering we do about the “hill people,” “the rednecks,” and the “trailer trash.”
The common denominator isn’t just wealth of course. We tend to include education in all that as well. And to be sure, there is some actual truth to it. Education is important. You can sound and be dumb when you don’t know the facts. But I dare say there are some very poorly formally educated out there who could argue rings around me. They are self-taught and widely read.
I learned long ago however that formal education was no necessary barometer of intelligence. I learned that in law school and later in practicing law. I knew some God-awful stupid lawyers. It took about three seconds for me to figure out that that meant there were some damn stupid doctors practicing medicine, some bad accountants and stockbrokers, dentists, and on and on.
I figure most folks know this.
Please do not get me wrong. I don’t have a problem with being rich. I figure there are three kinds of rich. The rich who just want with all their heart to be wealthy, and work night and day to get it. They deserve it. I’m not going to work that hard, and never wanted to. The second is a group that sincerely love what they do, spend the hours at it because they love it, and incidentally become wealthy. They are entitled to it as well. The third, they inherit it. They’ve never known any different. I don’t deny them the right to live the good life either.
All can be susceptible to excess however. The unbridled use of wealth to buy anything and everything for no reason than because one can. The $6,000 umbrella stand, the 7th house, the imported marble and plated gold faucets. This is the excess I mean. Crap for the pure desire to own. To show it off. Parties that cost $3 million dollars. The list is long and shocking.
There enters into this a sense of entitlement. These folks don’t stand in lines or wait ever. They get all kinds of things for free just because they have chosen to patronize a business. The people who need it the least, get it for free. Go figure.
I don’t mind as I said one living well. I don’t mind having a home or even a second that has within it all the rooms and accommodations that make your preciously small leisure time enjoyable and usable. I don’t mind the indoor pool, or the game room, or the home theater. I mind having seven homes so equipped, some of which you may visit less than two weeks a year if that. I do mind as I said, the need to spend tens of thousands on simple implements that I can get for $14.95 at Walmart. I can see the rich spending maybe $50, but $6,000? When there is a kid on the planet who is dying of hunger?
How do you live with yourself?
Don’t tell me you give a lot to charity. So does Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. Nobody is much accusing them of living high on the hog like this. They live well, no doubt, but they don’t live extravagantly.
It’s not whining and its not envy. I’ve lived well in my life. I’ve taken home two grand a month, and that was back in the eighties and my monthly expenses were around $800. I lived well, and pretty much bought what I wanted. And I can surely tell you I live with much less today, and I’m happier than I was then. Is money the decisive fact in my happiness? No. It didn’t bring me happiness I can say that. Would I like a bit more today? Sure, but I don’t need it, am not the least interested in working for it, and thus don’t envy those who have more.
I just recognize that being filthy rich is, well, filthy. It apparently makes you oblivious to real pain in the world, other than going to very lavish “charity” events and having a lot of fun, eating great food, and drinking expensive booze. That is worth dropping a few hundred grand a few times a year. That appears to salve the soul of the filthy rich. It shouldn’t of course.
But if you couple that with an attitude that I deserve what I have AND they deserve what they don’t have, we got a problem. Because if you, Mr and Mrs garishly wealthy think that, you are just kidding yourself. Telling yourself that the poor are that way because they unfortunately aren’t smart and aren’t willing to work hard. That allows you to feel it’s okay to throw a little charity all the while looking past the guy who parks your car, dropping the keys, trusting that his hand will be there to catch them.
It allows you to do that all day long. Looking past all the people who serve you for pennies. Never seeing their faces, never looking into their eyes. Trusting that the chair will be there when you bend you skinny ass to sit, the door opened by the faceless doorman, and even someone to catch your coat as you fling it off your shoulders.
This is the unbridled ostentation that we object to. It’s not the money, it’s the attitude. That is why Jim Calhoun was and remains wrong. It ain’t his paycheck, it’s the freaking arrogance that makes people like him oblivious to real people.
Calhoun is a symptom, and not a particularly good one. If you look at the actualities of his situation, he probably deserves his money. He brings eight times that into the UofC in revenue. The better examples are the nut cases on Wall Street who pay themselves and others lavishly for failure and corporate CEO’s who come a beggin’ at the public trough via their private jets.