Now the Rich Want Your Pity, Too

Oct 05, 2019 · 679 comments
Richard Marcley (albany)
Reading this left me with a feeling of intense nausea! Tax everything over 5 million at 90%! Give the millionaires Gold trophy plaques they can hang on the wall, in their paneled game room, instead of cash!
SteveRR (CA)
Heck - are you kidding? We have whole university departments now dedicated to claiming a special form of suffering - we call them Grievance Studies and they turn out professional victims. I recall the age-old adage: When everyone is a victim then no one is a victim and that is never truer than in 2019.
James J (Kansas City)
Gee, I think next weekend I will hold a bake sale do the wealthy can get their children in to an Ivy League school. For the ultra wealthy whom I know, everything is fashion: cars, homes, lake homes, clothes, food, vacations. And children. Especially their children. They flaunt their children's specialness the way drug dealers flout Rolexes and gold chains. Get your cakes, $2 next weekend.
Walking Man (Glenmont, NY)
Is there , perhaps, something else going on here? One of the tried and true methods to amass all that wealth has been by kicking those beneath them and for those folks to kick those further down the food chain. The poor are taking away your wealth. Don't blame the wealthy. It isn't the payoffs of colleges to gain entrance that is to blame for there not being a slot for your child. It's all that racial quota stuff that is keeping your child out. But now we learn that all those upper income tax cuts were never going to be shared or the money was never going to trickle down. And when donations to private universities alone just wasn't enough to get your child into that school when the kid didn't come close to the standards for acceptance, you made up the story to make it all possible. And now the folks below the wealthy are looking at what they have to do to keep their share of the pie like separating children at the border, taking away health care, and shooting refugees in the legs. While all they read about is how much richer the rich are getting. And they are starting to turn around and point the finger at the wealthy and saying "Wait a minute. You said I would get some of this because YOU got more". And that finger in your face is becoming pretty stressful. Surprise. Surprise....Surprise. A smart person would have seen it coming.
SusannaMac (Fairfield, IA)
This article is about the meritocratic "elite" and the pressure they put on themselves and their children. These people make their own problems as well as their own successes, and they are already taxed at way higher rates than the bulk of the population. True, most of them likely had favorable access to an excellent education, likely in public schools, and reasonable financial security with the middle-class roots from which they rose. The REAL problem for our society in general is not these people but the uber-wealthy who get the bulk of their money from non-work sources (capital gains, inheritance, etc.)--at lower tax rates than earned income. These are the people who need to be TAXED AT HIGHER RATES so that EVERYBODY'S CHILDREN CAN HAVE A GREAT START and everybody can have some degree of safety net, as Liz Warren and others propose. Don't let indulging in jealousy of "rich" professionals muddy the waters on policy. It doesn't matter if you feel sorry for them or not. Massive bucket-loads of money have been siphoned off of our economy into the coffers of the super-rich--hollowing out the middle class and making the lives of the poor a living hell. Keep your focus there, for policy purposes.
Omar Temperley (Punta del Este, Uruguay)
“The way the world works these days is unbelievable.” Where? The Un-United States? Yes. Right at last. You're living in the Twilight Zone. The rich and the privileged are stressed-out. How tragic! And the true-believer-poor population's biggest problem is "Fake News" while they work two minimum wage jobs to make ends meet - they don't meet - pay the rent - no own-your-home now - put some Walmart food on the table - Yeech! - and hope the kids don't need to see the dentist. It's a miasma. You believe everybody is corrupt: the government, the church, the politicians - for sure - the guy that fixes your refrigerator, doctors, nurses, the Mayo Clinic - they order too many tests when you're having major surgery - the veterinarian - might be right there - public school teachers who want some retirement benefits: "I don't have any retirement...why should they?" (No deposit - No return) And the all world is corrupt too. Except for North Korea, China, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Ukraine, and - last but not least - our big friend Russia!
Mark (Winter Park, Colorado)
“Now the rich want your pity too”. Really, and from whom exactly? Too bad you don’t say where you got this idea, provide any supporting quotes or data or do much of anything except complain about “rich” people without defining who that might be. This reads like a Bart Simpson book report. Here’s a thought, how about if “rich” people are like everybody else just with more money. I know, I know it’s crazy. It’s like one minute you’ve graduated and have some lowly job and no money, then 40 years later you read that somehow you’re rich and of course being rich now you’re a completely different person.
Blackmamba (Il)
Of the 44,000 Americans who die from gunshot every year about 2/3rds are suicides. A majority are white men and veterans who tend to use handguns. White European American life expectancy is uniquely decreasing with an aging and shrinking population with a below replacement level birthrate. Primarily due to alcoholism, drug addiction,depression and suicide. Jesus Christ of Nazareth was a socialist. See Matthew 19:24; 25: 31- 46.
Phillip Wynn (Beer Sheva, Israel)
I must most strenuously object, sir, to your denigration of the virtues that have made this country the greatest the universe has ever seen. You lay such stress on this matter of "choice," as though that is the solution to all our problems. Well, may I remind you, sir, that it is the God-given right of all decent, hard-working Americans to choose ... that's right, choose ... to ignore your ridiculous protestations, and instead to do all I can, at work, at school, at home, in the bathroom, to be the best, or better, than every other human being who has ever lived or will ever live on any planet in our solar system. What I choose ... there's that word again ... to do with my short life on this earth is none of your business, and I'll thank you to keep your paws off my choices. Also, keep your paws off my money and my stuff. Especially my car. Do you have any idea how much it costs to polish off your filthy handprints? That's money I desperately need to pay someone to take my son's SAT. How dare you!
Critical Thinking Please (Vancouver, BC)
@NY Times Please stop with the constant framing of "the wealthy" as worthy of ridicule, or worse. This is a class of people. You are building and feeding a prejudice against this class of people. They are individual people, with their own lives, dreams, and failures. Let's not write people away into a category, and then foment ill will toward the category.
Paula (New York)
The author is misleading us. Those people he is putting down are not the rich but the merely upper middle class. The truly rich don't hothouse or push their kids like that because they don't need to. It's the upper middle class always worried about them and their children falling down the class ladder...and with good reason: the middle class has vastly shrunk over the past decades. You tell them to not stress about their jobs as new lay-offs are announced every day. As the truly obscenely wealthy have stolen profits from all the other classes, there is an increased stress and fight to have a piece of the ever shrinking available economic pie. The behavior of the middle class is not "the problem", it is a symptom of the actions of the truly rich and their wealth stealing & hoarding. The truly rich delight when you pit the other classes against each other this way because the truly rich put a lot of effort into remaining "out of sight, out of mind". Their biggest fear is all the classes putting their differences aside and actually forcing the truly rich to stop stealing the fruits of our labor & wealth of our nation!
Cold Eye (Kenwood CA)
American culture is best represented, in a metaphorical way, to football. Football teaches us that the world is divided into winners and losers. It glorifies fighting to win real estate. Teams vie for every possible legal advantage. People get hurt and are carried off the field on stretchers. Players work their whole lives, sacrificing their high school and college careers to become part of the elite. Racism is obvious and celebrated. Millions watch the games on a regular basis because the game confirms their twisted notions of a meritocracy. A football game is a celebratory re-enactment of all that is wrong with this country. It’s no coincidence that since the Reagan Revolution, football has eclipsed baseball as the national pastime.
Larry McCallum (Victoria, BC)
“With the anthill, the respectable race of ants began and with the anthill they will probably end.” Dostoevsky. Has 21st-century America become the ultimate ant heap?
hazel18 (los angeles)
I am a Bruin, a graduate of UCLA the public University across town from USC, and the no.1. applied to school in the world. At our recent 50th reunion we laughed our sides off at the notion that people would pay to have their dumb rich kids admitted to our inferior rival. We wouldn't let our kids attend USC if they paid us.
Brookhawk (Maryland)
Sorry, but I have no pity for the fools who tie their happiness into the almighty dollar. They are doomed to be disappointed and unhappy, because there will never be enough money so long as somebody else has more. Measure yourself by what others have and you will always come up short. Pity yourself, competitive rich folks - you'll get none of mine.
Steve (Indiana)
You want stress ? Stress is the homeless lady and her little dog that we saw yesterday. Yes, we stopped and gave her some money. Not looking for thanks. Looking for more people to the same. You will be okay without the most expensive pair of Nikes or the latest iPhone. Really you will.
RS5 (North Carolina)
You can have my pity when I can afford it.
Kim (New England)
So much judgement and assumptions being made here. Maybe we should talk to one another and learn "why?" Why do you do what you do? I believe that includes racists and misogynists, bullies and cheaters. People have extremely complex reasons for doing what they do. It's stupidly easy to say "that's wrong." But how often does that actually change a person's point of view? Do we just want to feel superior and judge? Or do we actually want to change minds and make all people happier?
Greg Maguire, Ph.D. (La Jolla, CA)
Money can't buy happiness, but it can buy you a place at a private school (Golden, 2007, The Price of Admission), where meritocracy doesn't exist. Trump at Penn is but one example of the sordid system of plutocracy where know nothing, do nothing sons of money gain power.
ejb (Philly)
I can't help but think that if we only had print media and not visuals like TV and screens, the problem would be alot less.
CommonSense'18 (California)
... and what everyone forgets here is that we are all mortal and have a short shelf life. Death is inevitable. Our values have been distorted with society's emphasis on money, position and perceived "success." It's all short-lived. Why not help out others not so fortunate, of which there are plenty in front of our eyes, and know that you've done something truly good for posterity - even if it's getting just one person off the streets. That's the real feeling of success without stress.
ring (US)
The rich folks' claim that all is fair in love and war and a meritocracy is based on a knowing lie. The rich are very aware that what it takes to sit on top of the pyramid of seething masses is not what you know but who you know, or can buy. They know how to "work the system" through their networks and nepotism. It's unfortunate that the US is following the oligarchic pattern of so many other countries in the world. It's an easy slide into self-serving corruption, but not necessary, particularly for a nation built on such a unique vision of enterprise.
dairyfarmersdaughter (Washinton)
Cry me a river - no one should feel sorry for these people. They are making their own stress. The wealthy parents who cheated and lied to get their kids into elite universities are an extreme example of the mindset of many in the upper classes and upper middle classes. I would argue that making sure the kids have a little adversity will pay off a lot more in the long run. Instead, these parents try and make everything perfect, every wish granted, every desire and possible opportunity met. Unfortunately when these kids get out into the real world, they are likely to find that no one is going to make sure their path is unimpeded, every desire met, and there are no bumps in the road. The "stress" these parents supposedly are suffering is all self imposed. As has been pointed out, try dealing with the stress of working full time with no health insurance and no sick time off - then you will have something to be stressed about.
Judy (US)
What rich people fail to understand is that money is supposed to work for you and not you sacrificing a lifetime to work to protect your money. We live in a world where status and merit are measured by wealth. Sadly, wealth isolates and results in getting wealthy people disconnected from humanity, reality and diversity. What is life’s worth if you have to live in gated communities, need constant protection and never question or balance a budget, Children growing up without hurdles along the way and feeling entitled, never coming close to suffering humans or feeling their pain. No fancy food could be enjoyed if your self built luxury prison is surrounded by poverty and hungry people.
3rd mate (mate)
Pretty easy to get one's foot in the door if you have a STEM degree from most any college or university. Afterwards, where the degree was acquired is irrelevant. Just my2cents.
Allright (New york)
Its stupid to say just stop what you are doing. Some people have invested in businesses that employ people and support their families. Some, like me, are physicians with hundreds of thousands in loans working in a field that has become extremely brutal since venture capital and hospitals bought up all the private practices and measure your worth by billing and the number of patients per hour.
Sarah D. (Montague MA)
Well said, thank you.
J Johnson (SE PA)
The problem is not the so-called meritocracy, it is that our country has been taken over by a plutocracy, the Kochs etc. and their corrupt enablers in politics and the judiciary, who pretend we have a meritocracy. The reality is that they have corrupted the system to prevent those with real merit but no money or connections from ever getting ahead, while they continue to reap more ill-gotten billions at the expense of everyone else. The first thing we need to do is to get rid of the fictions that corporations are people and money is speech, then reform the system with truly progressive taxes (as many comments have said), better regulations on Wall Street and big banks, better support for public education at all levels, and many other measures to restore hope and status to the American middle class. Saving democracy comes first. Only then can we start talking about the possibility of a meritocracy.
Rc (New Jersey)
The author fails to cite any example of someone complaining about working too hard. He fails to produce any evidence that the “rich” require or ask for sympathy from anyone.
Once $ becomes you god of choice all boundaries - be they decency, honesty or simple ethical - often simply collapse......... In this $ worshiping Trump administration one needn't look far or dig very deep to find an entire nest of these greedy folk....... America's value system has been turned upside down - everything now has a price tag on it.....even the qualities we once held dear - compassion, ethics, honesty, fairness - all are for sale today in Trump and the Republican Party's dystopian world.....
Rhporter (Virginia)
hmm, as I understand it Mr Reeves went to a British "public school" and then to Oxford. He is a nationally established author who easily enough gets a piece printed in the New York Times. And he is telling us to forget meritocracy?
yulia (MO)
Maybe, because he knows his success is not because of meritocracy, but rather luck
CathyK (Oregon)
A mute point with global warming
Tony (New York City)
The reality that America is not the land of opportunity anymore in myth and never was. That is why we put native Americans on reservations, stole their lands and had to fight a civil war to end slavery. America is the land for white people, they shave good schools, and have minorities cleaning their homes, When there academically children are challenged by college applications they just pay other people to take their exams. Simple that is how the rigged system works. We must have poor people in poverty and white people in charge, So as you troll me my comments are about the rigged economic system, it is such a pity that rich white people are having a hard time. Really no one cares. I read the book and it truly highlight's how rigged the system truly is. There is a Bernie /Warren/Yang revolution on the horizon. We can not continue with this self made Wall Street disparity . The issues in the real world are intense, dramatic. White superiority just wont save the day. So everyone better get busy and help turn this self indulgent world around.
I was a fourth generation student at elite private schools and what I saw in that environment was enough to send my children to NYC public schools, even sending them to the one my parents used to threaten us with if we didn't get As. At one point I took my daughter to my former girls' school and saw that by the end of the fourth grade she was a year ahead in math and had had infinitely better foreign language instruction. My family and I have been enormously enriched by living a simpler life, one where we can share our resources with our church and organizations serving those in need. Once you realize that you have enough, you become empowered and able to focus on the the work you were put on this earth to do.
El (NY)
Thank you, Richard.
Ken (CA)
There are actually some fields where you might love the contents, such as STEM or manufacturing, where you just can't stop being in a stressful environment. Modern America seeks out the corners where life is not so stressful and systematically attempts to fill it with stress (see "continuous improvement", "lean manufacturing" , and "private equity" for examples). The pressure is relentless and never-ending for many with little refuge and time for family, community, travel, and personal fulfillment. Whole lives pass this way, much more in the USA than other developed countries. Often there are not ways to "stop" and still earn a living. If one tries to "downshift" into government or non-profit work, he/she is often met with suspicion and closed doors.
Someone should let these rich people who struggle with their wealth that there are many charities that would love a large donation, and that the IRS always allows for optional overpayment. Giving to charity would also allow them to donate their time to those in need, which seems like it would be helpful for all involved. Or maybe it’s not the fact that they have money that’s bothering them? Maybe it’s what they’ve done with that money that’s really making them feel bad?
Walt (Arlington)
While I understand the points the author is trying to make in this piece, I think it is too facile for him to suggest that the stresses of the well-off are of their own doing and hence unsympathetic. Isn't this the traditional argument made to disfavor the poor as well -- that their burdens are their own fault?
yulia (MO)
For whom is it much simpler to avoid the stress? For poor or for rich?
JBR (Westport CT)
Some people live in cement and steel barred prisons, others in elaborate gold gilded fortresses they themselves made. Money, materialistic bobbles, and more money than is humanly safe are not keys to happiness. What the rich and super rich do not understand is that happiness is a choice. No amount of things will make you happy, comfortable, perhaps, happy... no. One of the main fears that many rich and super rich people have is losing it all and having nothing. This fear becomes part of the drive, a drive for survival. I have seen this consume my own family members to the point of a life of unnecessary misery. We all need money for our basic needs, after that... unnecessary. Choose to be happy... not rich or super rich.
Dundeemundee (Eaglewood)
You might also want to add if you work yourself to the bone and hate yourself for doing it, don't treat people who take time out to enjoy their lives with contempt.
Paul Jannuzzi (Florence, MT)
As Commander Cody sings (Crash Pad Blues), "If you think life is tough at the top, you ought to check it out here at the bottom."
Mark (San Diego)
Stop calling it a “meritocracy.” It’s a valuetocracy where what a human being deserves and the moral stature of a person is based on how much money they can make.
Kai (Oatey)
"If you are a professional working yourself sick in order to make a big salary: Just stop. " This is all very nice but in order for this article to have any credibility I'd like to know what kind of houses do Messrs. Reeves an Markovits live, what kind of neighborhoods, where do their children go to school , and which college are they thinking about. In the absence of such disclosure we have two rich, supereducated professionals living super comfortable yet intense lives (Yale! Brookins!) lecturing other professionals to step off the hamster wheel and relax. It must feel great to be righteous. It's even better when you practice it.
yulia (MO)
I guess they refer to all these rich who is complaining how stressed they are.
MarcS (Brooklyn)
@Kai How do you know that they're not living it?
Terri Yenco (Hebron, Maine)
I’m selling my car to make it through the winter. Cry me a river.
Marty (Jacksonville)
The article refers to "the rich." There is no "the rich" any more than there is a "the blacks" or "the women" or "the Jews" or "the white people." Unless, of course, you are simply generalizing and demonizing for the gratification of the people who are not part of the group you are describing.
Undergraduate (ATX)
Dominant - dominated = dominated
Lost in Space (Champaign, IL)
What in the world does merit have to do with it?
hen3ry (Westchester, NY)
There's something that is never discussed in America and it's not money. We're all created equal in terms of rights. However, we are not equal when it comes to intelligence, economic status, talents, gender, looks, ability to withstand stress, etc. There are things that make every person's life better. One of the biggest is security. That includes economic security, physical security, emotional security, and probably a few no one thinks about. In truth, most jobs do not require a college education. They require a solid K-12 education, an apprenticeship, the opportunity to receive more training to advance, and decent pay. Most of us don't need to go to college to have decent lives. The problem lies in this country's refusal to admit that equality in terms of rights, respect, etc., is a man made idea and a worthwhile one. But that equality doesn't translate into biological equality: we're all different the moment we're conceived. Ask any parent who has raised more than one child. However, all of us are being forced to work ourselves to death because our country offers us nothing in terms of a decent social safety net. There are too many Americans who cannot afford an emergency of any sort. And there are way too many American politicians who do not understand that working Americans are tired of hearing how much the country "loves" them. It's not about the meritocracy. It's about the economy and how it's failing all of us. 10/6/2019 12:10am 2nd submit
Grace (Bronx)
Let's just get over the victimhood mentality. To a very large extent individuals - especially with the support of their families are masters of their own destiny.
Liz (England)
The societal problem is in the definition of “rich.” Many humans have totally lost sight of what abundance truly means.
faivel1 (NY)
I think Bernie said that billionaires should not exist. Bernie Sanders: Billionaires shouldn't exist. Mark Zuckerberg doesn't disagree... It's total obscenity to amass this kind of wealth, it goes against our country claims of any equality in this failed system.
JPE (Maine)
Mr. Reeves’ commentary would be more credible had he earned his degree from Iowa State rather than from Oxford. Appears to be a classic case of the “last Pilgrim syndrome:” i.e. “I’ve made it now you be happy with what you have.”
Tony Mendoza (Tucson Arizona)
It is the rich's fault. Much more than the poor, they can change things.
James (Germany)
Poor little rich boys and girls and their poor parents. They have it so much worse off than the genuine poor. Best solution: Future President Warren's 2 cent tax. It seems so harmless, expressed that way, but if you can't hide the yachts and the Rembrants, and they can add up. That's the bad news. But the good news is that, if you lose it all, you can acquire the advantages of the genuine poor -- and be better off!!! If that's true, ask yourself why the super rich don't choose to become genuine poor.
Kelly Grace Smith (syracuse, ny)
As a formerly wealthy person I can attest to the fact that "the rich" are indeed, creating their own stress... Until you've wondered if you have the $2.00 you need for gas to get to your minimum wage job, despite the fact that you recently managed a $16 million budget and a 150-person workforce very well... Until you have eaten a Carnation Instant Breakfast for breakfast, a hard boiled egg for lunch, and used food stamps for a modest dinner... Until you've laid awake sleepless because every time you hear a sound on the street you are sure the tow truck has come to take your car... Until you've experienced fear most every day because you know you are not well, but you have no health insurance, nor any money to pay for an urgent care of emergency room visit... Until you have wondered if it is "so bad" to take that extra roll of toilet paper in the rest room because you cannot by a box of kleenex... Until the IRS woman has treated you like you are worthless, even though you've paid hundreds of thousands in taxes over your lifetime... Until you've not yet recovered from the Great Recession, more than 10 years later... Until all of your friends and family are angry with you because your financial crisis makes them uncomfortable... ...please, please , please do not believe - even for one moment that you are now, nor have ever been...a victim.
Chris (Florida)
Amen, Mr. Reeves.
Allright (New york)
I think we are working ourselves to death because the wealth gap is so enormous. Without enormous wealth a lost job or an illness and a person can lose their home and end up totally bankrupt. That will put a real fire under your tail.
J. (Keeler)
This is just another log on the polarization fire. Can’t we all just get along?
yulia (MO)
Sure, when we will all have similar opportunities.
Sherrod Shiveley (Lacey)
I agree with my favorite fictional billionaire here. “The harder I work, the luckier I seem to get.” -Christian Grey
Helvius (NJ)
8 hours for work; 8 hours for sleep; 8 hours for what we will! (Doesn't sound bad, huh?) You know there used to be a thing called a . . . union.
Claude Vidal (Los Angeles)
Will I betray the fact that I am a French immigrant if I say “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”? And I am betraying the fact that I am 74 if I say “There’s nothing new under the sun”? Let’s be serious.
Jeffrey (07302)
I have been fortunate to see my income rise drastically over the last few years, best I can determine, I am in the top 2% to 4%. I do not encounter daily stress that the author describes. I am very fortunate. I have had some of the arguments discussed in this opinion with my wife around sending our toddler to some fancy multi-lingual day care. I think it is excessive when we have a perfectly good one already for half the price. My personal concern, is how much is the amazing amount of income I am currently getting going to last? At the end of the day, I am a wage slave just like much of the country. As soon as I am out of favor with my current corporate overlords, I could be out of a job. And while my industry is humming along currently, there is no guarantee it will continue for the rest of my career (I am in my mid-thirties). So while I am not stressed or worried about my day to day, I am worried about the next thirty plus years, I think this is the general insecurity that the people who are not the titans of capital feel. Everyone is just trying to do their best within the system. This is why I hope Elizabeth Warren becomes the President and can implement her signature policies. I think it is the only way for the 99% to get out of this prisoners dilemma we find ourselves in.
Richard (New York)
Contrary to popular belief, you can “take it with you”. You do that, by making sure your children have the freedom to do anything, but not so much they can do nothing. Next you attempt to pass along enough inter generational wealth that your grandchildren have the same advantages. Effectively, you “take it with you” by passing it along to your own heirs. The rich are different (and not in the F. Scott Fitzgerald sense) in that they tend to think decades or generations ahead. Any hustler can live beyond their means in the here and now. The trick is to perpetuate resources (and the freedom they buy your progeny) well into the future. Finally, few successful people I know stress about keeping up with the Joneses, or affording a third house or fourth car. They are stressed about politicians like Warren or Sanders picking their pockets so they cannot provide for their kids and grandkids.
Larry McCallum (Victoria, BC)
@Richard If you believe that’s taking it with you, then I have a nice pyramid I can sell you. It sounds more like leaving it behind for some entitled people who happen to be genetically and socially linked to you — but who, by virtue of their inherited wealth, are actually very different from you.
Former NBS student (Takoma Park, MD)
As Reeves points out, at a certain point, the rich have choices about how to live and how much stress to take on. Poor people have very little in the way of choice, they are truly trapped. Middle class people can find their narrow range of choices quickly gone when they lose their jobs in a bad economy. Much of what the rich are stressing out about are status symbols and power. That includes their kids' schooling. The children don't need a top-10 college for a good education, but the parents need it for bragging rights. And the achievements of rich parents are not necessarily inspiring their children. The college-age son of a successful law firm partner once described his father's life to me and then said he wanted nothing like it for himself. Finally, is it truly meritocracy that creates wealth, or is it a drive for ruthless competition that makes these people rich? In a true meritocracy, the system would identify the meritorious among all classes of children and educate them to their full potential, and the mediocre children of the rich would be allowed to sink to the level of their limited merit. While the rich embrace the idea that they got there by merit, the truth may be that their economic success stems from being willing to engage in brutal competition and even a touch of sociopathic behavior. And maybe a bit of luck also got them their wealth, like being born to rich parents.
Auntie Mame (NYC)
LAWS have created this system. All sorts of laws - tax laws, the ACA (protects many of the corporations for which these people work), real estate laws (just ask Trump), deregulate Wall Street laws, and the FED (another branch of the govmt.) The laws MUST be changed. The super rich must pay proper taxes and I mean more than the mere wealth tax. All of us pay tax on our cheap McDo hamburgers, but there are way to purchase the 50 million painting at auction and not pay a penny in tax - all legal. The Democrats are just as remiss in improperly taxing the rich properly as the Republicans. Clinton: deregulate W.S, eliminate the 10% luxury tax, eliminate certain welfare programs, keep people in prison (privatized!); Obama, the "bailout" of the big banks keep wars going and start a couple new ones (Libya and Syria), the ACA. No president has asked the FED to raise interest rates- which would slow down W.S. The economists with whatever incredibly theories they promote and their acceptance of the status quo (habituated=bline and unthinking) are also to blame. Max re-imagined the economy... or at least imagined it. If even the rich aren't "happy" in the current consumer, ….. capitalist economy, just maybe it's time for some radical change. There are so many make-shift jobs -- tax payer paid; there's China making every thing; there are service jobs in the USA.. and supposedly there's all of this money ?? but our sidewalks are broken, our subways are dirty ?
Hope (Massachusetts)
In order to feel superior, you have to see an awful lot of people as beneath you. The rich saw that the middle class kids were getting college education and competing with their own kids and now college is a $200,000 debt trap. Middle class families started getting nice 4-bedroom houses and now those houses cost $500,000. Modern health care extends lives and now premiums cost $20,000/year with a deductible more expensive than my first car. And those are just the basics of middle class life, while a running car and a modest house feel like the trappings of poverty. Superiority is more expensive than ever, and more people are competing for it. The “stress” that the rich impose on themselves is a byproduct of trying desperately to top everyone else. In order to “win,” the rich crush even the upper middle class under toxic insecurities.
Shiv (New York)
This article is utterly confused. Its primary premise - that people at the top end of the income/wealth distribution are complaining or whining about how hard they work to get or stay there - is plain wrong. No one is complaining or asking for sympathy. The wealthy are just making the point that they didn’t achieve their income/wealth by fluke or by cheating anyone else, but by personal effort. This incorrect premise is then followed by an exhortation to professionals to stop working so hard or overextending themselves financially, physically or emotionally. The bizarre notion that economic success is “self inflicted” is thrown in to somehow support the author’s idea that the wealthy should pay higher taxes. As far as I can tell, the author is telling high achievers to tone it down because they’re making everyone else look bad. This message is affixed to a rather menacing “or else”, whereby higher (punitive) taxation will cause them to come to heel.
R Biggs (Boston)
Interesting pair of opinion pieces. In this article, city folks are urged to move away from their expensive zip codes (never mind that this is where the jobs are). And in “The Land of Self Defeat”, rural Americans are viewed as stubborn for not moving to the city, where the jobs are. 🤷‍♂️
c harris (Candler, NC)
As is well known wealthiness is close to godliness. Americans are propagandized to see wealth as the end all and be all. Amazon makes billions in profits during the year and gets an 11million dollar tax return. The meritocracy is a classic rationalization for the fact that people get very wealthy in the USs winner take all economy. The US is a fabulously wealthy country that badly maldistributes its riches. The dumb notion that a class war is being promoted against the super wealthy. The class war was won by the plutocrats in 2016 with the election of Trump. The "meritocracy" wants an aristocracy not of talent but of wealthy people. It has been shown compellingly by Piketty and Stigletz that wealth accumulation is making the US economy more stratified, less equal and less competitive. Yet with all the advantages those in the meritocracy need to cheat to get their kids even more divided off from society in some exclusive elite school.
Doc (Georgia)
Well said and overdue. When the revolution comes, ask yourself which side you will be on, OR perceived to be on. Because revolution is the most likely outcome of massive sustained inequality. See France, China, Russia.
Contrary DAve (Texas)
Yep. I live in a neighborhood with a public elementary school 3 blocks away whose principal has a sign on the door that says, "this is not a private school". The school is superb. My elder went all the way through public schools (granted with PTO meetings that were standing room only and parents all over helping out in the schools) and graduated phi beta kappa from a top private university. Yet 3/4 of the parents on my street have their kids in private schools for up to 20 grand a year. I think they are fools and would be better off helping their kids by helping out the public schools in neighborhoods with 90% low income, single parents who had kids as teenagers and got a pitiful education themselves.
ChesBay (Maryland)
They are victims, of course! Along the lines of donald j. tRump, the biggest whiny victim of them all. Victims of tax preferences, and loopholes. Victims of corporate welfare. Victims of a 2nd, higher, level of justice. Victims of a whole different set of rules. Victims of much better education, and immunity from massive violence. Victims of ownership of multiple completely secure shelters/homes. Victims of massive inherited wealth, upon which they pay no tax. Victims of better health care, and immunity from their white collar crimes. My heart does not bleed! 4 of these victims have more wealth than 50% of our national population, many of whom have no health care, no shelter, no food security, nothing but misery, dealt to them by the oligarchy, who got rich on their backs. But, our filthy rich victims will say that the under classes are responsible for their own misery.
Jim Linnane (Bar Harbor)
Reeves is a lonely voice crying in the wilderness. Chances are that those reading this in the Times will imagine that he is talking only about people whose wealth is on the order of Bill Gates or who have the politics of Donald Trump. Sorry, dear readers, he is talking about you in your Manhattan apartments, you in Scarsdale, and you in Newton. Will any of the Ivies eliminate legacy admissions? Will any state make spending on public schools truly equal by taxing wealthy districts and handing over the proceeds to poorer districts?
I want my children to be the best they can be. I want them to put the effort in and I support them in everything they desire to do. I can afford any college they want to go to. It will be their choice. If they want to start at community college then great. I will support them in every endeavor. I will never push them into anything. If you pursue a career for the wrong reasons then you are going to be miserable.
cbarber (San Pedro)
There are a lot of people who work hard ,who are not rich and are one paycheck from the street. Know thats stress!
Robert (Virginia)
If we really want to make America greater than it has ever been, we should provide every child with the best educational opportunities. It should not matter how well off their parents are. The only thing that should matter is the child's willingness to work hard to maximize the opportunity. I realize that parents that support their children's educational efforts wind up with better outcomes. But the outcome should not be diminished because you can't afford it. The child you ignore may be the one that would have found the cure for the cancer that will kill you.
Bob Curtis (Santa Fe, NM)
Money can't buy happiness, but poverty can sure buy misery.
markd (michigan)
Jean-Jacques Rousseau said it well: When the people shall have nothing more to eat, they will eat the rich. I'm willing to give it a shot.
Lillijag (OH)
In the nineteen eighties I learned a lot from a Japanese-Italian plumber. You can run around banging your head on brick ceilings to gather loot, but if you get too greedy you are going to fall.
mpb (Michigan)
This article is silly. Full of generalizations, cliches and assumptions. Working hard and being wealthy is not something to be ashamed of. It is a privilege to pay my taxes to support public works in this great country. Defense, health care, education are part of the deal. But what irks me is that so many want my money because they think I have too much of it. Like they have a right to it. Earn it.
Rich Pein (La Crosse Wi)
40 years of Milton Friedman, and Arthur Laffer’s trickle down and gush up voodoo economics and the folks who benefited from it have become neurotic. You can not make this stuff up. You can not worship mammon and serve god.
Michael James Cobb (Florida)
Why then are the richest supporting the democrats? Why are Democrats the darlings of Silicon Valley? Ideology? hahahaha No, money. Electing a Democrat with the idea that they will "go after" anyone or anything that represents money is simply silly.
Peter Aretin (Boulder, Colorado)
Very well put.
DA Mann (New York)
You mean to say that the rich are stressed out about the money they have to spend on their privileged kids so they can be even more privileged? Horrors! My heart bleeds.
Jeffrey Waingrow (Sheffield, MA)
Is Mr. Reeves serious? I can't believe valuable space in The Times is being devoted to instructing the rich to dial it back a bit. I personally don't give a hoot what they do. Rather, I want things done to them: namely that they be taxed more highly and that they get locked up more often when the crooked schemers among them get nabbed.
TR (Raleigh, NC)
The world, especially the US, is full of rich people with more money than brains. They're not smart enough to figure out how to get off the stress-producing treadmill.
DJS (New York)
To the author and the other bashers of "Rich People": Given your contempt for 'rich people" which includes the author including reducing children being " pushed to the brink of suicide or breakdown " to "whining ", I've decided to cease donating money to those who hold such contempt for "rich people" and will encourage those whom I know, including those who have donated millions of dollars to help those in need to donate their money to animals in need. It's too late to relay this message to my late father, who donated millions of dollars and most of his waking hours to help those who were less fortunate than himself, or to my grandfather, who is listed. in the Encyclopedia of American Biography right under F.D.R.. My mother was the UN-PAID, volunteer international chairwoman for an organization that helps abused and neglected children. My grandfather was the President of U.J.A. Childcare Federation, and founder and trustee of the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, for starters. My family has employed hundreds of union workers who were very well paid and had excellent benefits and pensions, and would be doing so today if Americans didn't prefer to buy cheap imports that are manufactured with slave labor ,while given lip service to support American workers. Going forward, all my donations will go to help animals who are in need. Animals don't view those who care about them , and who will go to great lengths to help them with contempt. I
Kim (New England)
@DJS Well said! Animals have given more than anyone (yes I mean that in all possible ways) in support of our comfort. Animals have incredible complex social and intelligent lives which we have not taken the time to acknowledge but just abuse for what we think is ours to have. Likewise the resources on this planet. This article just pits one group of humans against another and where does that get us?
DJ (Tulsa)
OK rich guy, I’ll make a deal with you. I’ll feel sorry for you. Now pay your fair share of taxes.
JS (Northport, NY)
"People with money, power and education have the privilege of being able to lead a good life without too much stress and insecurity." That statement shows a stunningly shallow understanding of the sources of stress and insecurity in the human existence. In fact, it is further evidence that we have a society where far too many believe that material wealth and power are all that really matters.
Open Mouth View (Near South)
Dear NYT readers, You are not going to like my story. I was raised in a middle class home that valued education. I went to a state school and got a medical degree. I felt stressed my whole career. Not for financial reasons but for fear of harming a patient. I often worked 12 days straight and 24 hour shifts. Not for financial reasons but because I could find no one else to do it. I am now retired and wealthy by any measure. Sorry, but I feel no stress at all, financial or otherwise. And worst of all, I am a Republican.
Lynda (Gulfport, FL)
@Open Mouth View Just like everyone else you can't take it with you. I hope there are former patients including you in their thoughts and prayers.
Suburban Cowboy (Dallas)
I like your narrative. You seem to merit your wealth and well adjusted attitude. So why are you a Republican may we NYT readers ask ?
WJG (Canada)
@Open Mouth View I actually do like your story. You did a difficult job at some cost to your sense of ease in the world, and were able to retire from the stress in a comfortable manner - would that everyone could. At least on the surface your wealth come from years of doing a difficult job aiding others. Nothing wrong with being a Republican either, the country is built on the back-and-forth between different political and social views. On the other hand, if you think that being a Republican means that you have to support Trump without question in all things he does, then maybe you have to ask yourself if you are really a Republican.
ellen luborsky (NY, NY)
The idea that there is a' best school' and a 'fast track' gets people to race toward a fictional goal, one that misses the meaning along the way. A good education helps you take perspective, not beat others. I am grateful that I was able to transfer from a school where people were valued by their clothes to a Quaker school where we went on weekend 'work camp', and helped people paint their living rooms. I think all kids could benefit experiences that let them see the world from another's perspective, rather than ones than make it seem like there is one road to the top.
WJG (Canada)
The current version of meritocracy is largely a tautology. Wealth indicates merit because merit leads to wealth. There are lots of meritorious people who are living a fine life without being in the top 1% of wealth and there are certainly people in that 1% who are so far from meritorious that it makes you wince. So the next time someone asks "If you're so good why aren't you rich?" the correct answer is "If you're so rich, why aren't you any good?". Wealth is far from everything important in this world.
Glenn W. (California)
I couldn't agree more with the author's perspective. I would add that a possible cause of the behavior in question is a belief that "natural selection" is something that is based in individuals' "fitness". So many people misunderstand the idea of survival of the fittest to mean survival of the strong or in the case of our economic warfare, survival of the wealthy. That fitness is actually a measure of how a species fits into its ecological environment escapes most people. The rise of "social darwinism" probably contributed most of the confusion. That bankrupt idea was probably advanced as a rationalization for our greed-driven economics much like the "prosperity Christianity". It is profoundly strange that the wealthy bemoan their insecurity and therefore demand even larger slices of the pie to assuage a discomfort caused by insecurity.
EGR (Madison, CT)
Reading the comments makes it clear that there will never be a solution acceptable to all. While most commenters make valid points there are almost always valid opposing points that will likely never be heard. Those who believe they are right refuse to listen to those they think are wrong. Those who think they are right attribute motives to those they disagree with and assign pejorative labels to those whose “values” aren’t in accord with what they “know” to be true. This holds true at opposite ends of the political spectrum. People are talking but few are listening. Judgement is everywhere. Insults run rampant. Listen to what it is that people really want, and to what they really fear. Act, respecting the dignity of every individual, and respond with kindness and understanding to their concerns. As long as everyone is on the offensive, and as long as everyone feels under attack, there will be no meaningful resolution. Enough with thinking we have all the answers... we don’t even know all the questions.
Anne-Marie Hislop (Chicago)
True. They could also love their kids a little more and themselves a little less. The parents who cheated on college admissions, for example, believed that it was about wanting the best for their kids. Yet, if their kids are not really capable of getting into elite colleges on their own then maybe they should see that child for who he or she is, find out what their kid wants, and help him/her move in that direction. The actress' (Lori Lachlan?) girl who was on video talking about having no interest in the school part of school clearly does not belong in ANY college, much less an elite one. Why did her parents not help her discern what her next move should be based upon who she IS, not who they want her to be?
ROK (Mpls)
I am sorry Richard Reeves but you don't know from rich. There is a vast difference between the doctors, lawyers and other white collar workers you pillory and the truly rich. I know people who haven't worked a day in their lives, whose monthly interest on their investments equal my yearly salary and who couldn't spend all their money if they tried. As far as I am concerned my lot lies with the working class. Where my husband and I to lose our jobs we would lose everything we have. Yes, the descent would be a lot slower than a working class family but descend we would.
Terry Lowman (Ames, Iowa)
If we taxed incomes like we did mid-20th century, it would remove some of this destructive nonsense. Why do we choose to elevate jealousy to such a crazy level. I always thought the phrase "keeping up with the Jones" to come from a sarcastic place--why does that matter? We need to be working to make the world a better place and obsessive workaholism will not get us there.
Joseph (California)
It’s difficult to have much empathy for these people. People driven by money have never been those with whom I care to associate. Often times, their lives seem so complicated and lacking in happiness. A simple life spent enjoying friends, family, and time outdoors has been incredibly rewarding. Most of the wealthy will die with far less, and they certainly won’t be taking their wealth with them.
Mark (Texas)
Thank you for adding fuel to the fire. We are all Americans. What is rich to one person is not to another. I hope we can come together and assess for our country.
Eliza (Bethany)
One hierarchy not mentioned here is Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Until we manage to move up from physical insecurity, stop being on guard every moment for safety sake, have the ability to share some bit of time in our lives with people we care about, value our own contributions and feel valued by others, and at least enjoy a hobby that drives our curiosity if not have a career in it - until these options are within reach for all people, there is no point in comparing situations. Reaching such a basic humanitarian plateau is not a far fetched notion. Bhutan is there, many countries are more egalitarian than ours. It wouldn't mean no one could be a little bit wealthy, just that no one needlessly suffered. It's true our current ways are so out of whack that destroying our planet seems more likely than moderating our systems. But a paradigm shift is underway... let's help by voting for the environment, social justice and cooperation among cultures.
Vicki (Boca Raton, Fl)
When "success" is defined as how much money you have (and regardless of how you acquired it), there is never enough.
Susan Miller (Pasadena)
Many people who appear to be wealthy because of their lifestyle, actually aren't. They spend every cent they earn (and receive from their parents). This causes tremendous stress and anxiety Think lots of mini "Bonfire of the Vanities".
Bill (China)
While I don't have much sympathy of the whining rich, I understand that the stress of living in America today affects everyone below the level of the idle rich. The solution is to improve the public sector goods that belong to everyone. Public schools should be good in every zip code. States should fund their public colleges so that they are good enough for any career path and cheap enough for all hard working students. Libraries, parks and museums should be plentiful and inexpensive, so that everyone can enjoy the good things this country has to offer. No one should be stuck in a job they hate because they have a sick kid (e.g. diabetes). And taxing on income and wealth at high enough rates to pay for these things will encourage a lot more people to get off the meritocracy treadmill and enjoy life. Most of Western Europe has figured out that they are much happier living in smaller homes and paying high taxes, because the government safety net keeps the wolf from the door and they don't have to keep up with the Jones.
Sandie (Florida)
Excellent article, that doesn't address a point I discovered when talking with a very wealthy friend. She was always worried about money and talked often about sending her son to some of the most expensive universities in the country. She felt intense pressure to keep up with her peers in possessions and all other ways. One day she thanked me for being a friend who only wanted her to be happy. She said I was unlike her other friends who had agendas. I do feel sad for her, but the author is right, it's self inflicted.
Monty Brown (Tucson, AZ)
Striving often requires concentration of energy on a target; this also leaves other goals without attention. At the end of the roads taken, one can hope for no regrets. All roads lead to .....
Andy (Salt Lake City, Utah)
As someone who spent a number of years as an analyst, people often come to me with financial questions. I generally try to put things into perspective first. Most people are surprised to learn a $70,000 household income places their family ahead of 75 percent of the nation. $120,000 and you're in the top 90 percent. For a person or couple living in Manhattan trying to raise a family, $120,000 probably seems like pennies. However you can look at the same data by city or county and you'll find the same pattern. The median income in Manhattan is about $65,000. The scale shifts slightly but you're not too far off the national center. You're still doing better than most of the nation and even most of your neighbors. You are elite. Attitudes tend to change when you present these facts. The reaction is often shock followed by self-justification. People are surprised to find themselves in the economic upper echelons despite feeling so financially insecure personally. However, they will defend their spending decisions to the dying breath when challenged. My advice to most people is let it go. When push comes to shove, you will always be disappointed in yourself for what you cannot provide your child. I'm sorry but by definition, not all children are going to be elite. Statistically, you will most likely produce an average child. Average is okay. A happy, healthy child who finishes any college is still elite in this country. Embrace that fact.
Andy (Florida)
Poverty is never desirable, and as a society we should be trying to meet the basic needs of all people. I believe we have the resources to accomplish this. However I do not think promoting class warfare is the solution. As educated as the author is, he should know better. The root problem in American society today is a spiritual one, one in which our values have been distorted. This applies to all of us, regardless of income level. We have become hyper materialistic to the extent that our gods are now money and status. We no longer love our neighbor but rather covet his goods. Unfortunately lack of money is no virtue in this case. We can just look at the many cases where poor people come upon money and then behave the same crass way that we condemn the old money elites for. Joy comes from personal relationships, shared experiences, and service to a greater purpose. Money, on the other hand, buys a lot of goods, but not inner peace.
CarolinaJoe (NC)
@Andy Promoting higher taxes on rich is not promoting class warfare. Quite the opposite, promoting low taxes for the rich is promoting warfare.
Just paying attention (California)
Tell that to the CEOs who make 350 times the wages of the lowest paid workers. Would it kill them if they only made 250 times that of the people who work for him?
Until lack of money prevents you from experiencing those joys you speak of. Have you ever had to choose between your health or your children’s health, simply because you don’t have money for both? It’s an easy choice, but it’s not an enjoyable one. ‘Money doesn’t make you happy’ is a rich persons view.
AR Clayboy (Scottsdale, AZ)
It is not at all surprising that this debate would emerge within the generation raised on mommy rules and participation trophies. When America was great, we as a people nobly embraced competition as a way of allocating the rewards of our society. The spirit of competition was built into the founding principles of our nation and was part of our national DNA. And we were happy to compete both against the world and among ourselves. We admired those who invested their professional success in better neighborhoods, with better schools to create opportunities for their children. We wanted to work for companies that were growing, prospering and creating value. Now our nation is in decline, largely because a growing number of our citizens can't keep up and are attracted to a political narrative that politicians will rebalance the scales and award participation trophies in the form of a guaranteed basic income, free college, healthcare and childcare and rules regulating the treatment of self-marginalized groups. Earned success is now derided as "privilege." Not only does this weaken us as a nation, it strengthens those in other parts of the world where the competitive work ethic remains strong. Watching this racing toward us during this election cycle makes me glad that I'm old.
Darlene Moak (Charleston SC)
America was never as great as it thought it was. This country benefitted and continues to benefit from unspeakable brutality, genocide and racism. Were there bright moments, moments of honor, courage, kindness and compassion? Sure. But there is too much else, too much darkness to allow us to claim the designation of being “great”.
Our nation is in decline because of our reduced respect and appreciation for lifelong education. Entertainment has replaced personal growth. Most people get their ‘education’ from entertainment; television, radio, and free websites. None of which is actually educational. We’ve become a society of attention seekers, shouting out opinions and expressions, and no longer one of education and achievement. Thinking that lack of competition is what’s ailing the US is laughable. It’s gets more and more competitive every year.
Diana (Vancouver)
Professor Markovits would be very welcome to visit my modest home in a modest suburb. I'd even pick him up from the airport in my modest car. We could hang out with my 2 public-school educated children, now studying at nothing-special universities, and talk about our memories of weekends spent together as a family, of dinner around the same table, homework battles and bedtime stories. We could share our stories of family camping. He could see the old treehouse where I now sit and meditate every day, and take a peek inside the garage where my husband enjoys woodworking and I attempt to do very bad crafts. We could take him out in our kayaks, or he could join us when we walk our rescue dogs through the park. Maybe then, the professor might catch a glimpse of the nightmare the rich are trying so very hard to avoid, and the horrors of life in the middle class.
Markovitch's book was considered a reply to Piketty's book about capitalism . But Americans have such a poor conceptual level that they take it for the behaviorist meaning it already has in their own forclosed lives .
Carrie Richardson (Chicago)
How do you escape the values of the culture in which you were raised? Do you enter the Richness Protection Program? If you did, would you just end up starting a magnet school in some dusty one-stoplight town? Realities are never so simple.
Robert Allen (Bay Area, CA)
In California a kid cant even get into a decent state school without tremendous effort. There are not enough decent preschools, primary schools and high schools for all kids to attend stress free. That is across the board, rich or poor. It isn’t even about the best anymore here at least. I pay my taxes but also have to pay tuition because the school district where I live has terrible schools. Sure it is a choice but the choice is not as rich as is portrayed here. There is a spectrum of meritoctratic behaviors but when my tax dollars cant even produce reasonably decent schools all while the government is cutting education I get angry. Don’t feel sorry for me but stress is relative and it does cost more money to get better outcomes.
Louise (Louisville)
My dad used to complain about the local schools. I suggested he go visit one near his home and offer his help not criticism. He was very excited to be welcomed and he became a desired source for his WWII experiences. It’s people and the community together that make schools great.
David (Massachusetts)
I am a pediatrician in an affluent town. Most of my patients are from the upper middle class (or higher). Despite their economic security, many of my patients are anxious, depressed, and miserable. They are being diagnosed with mental health disorders at astonishing rates. They see therapists and are treated with medication. Some contemplate suicide. These kids are rich, but many are suffering, and they deserve our sympathy and compassion. I am disheartened by the inevitable "boo-hoo for you" comments when white people, especially if wealthy or male, complain about some difficulties in their lives. This is particularly salient with regard to my patients, who are children; they were not the architects of the historical systems that led to their socioeconomic advantages. They do not owe an apology, and they are deserving of dignity and respect. We all are. I believe that our current socioeconomic culture, fueled by economic disparities and simmering resentments, is hurting everyone. The poor are trapped by their circumstances. The rich are sick with worry. It's not so much that these rich kids want to move up, I think. It's more that they fear they can't meet the increasingly high expectations foisted upon them, and they rightly recognize that our society's safety net is shrinking away, and that many are rooting for them to fail. The solution to class conflict is not more class conflict. We are all in this together, and we need to start acting that way.
V.B. Zarr (Erewhon)
@David Nowhere in what you wrote did you mention the word "parents." I'm not trying to play "Gotcha!" here, as I know what you're writing about, having worked in education in a similar location. But a lot of the direct pressure on these kids, and/or lack of support prior to meeting crisis interventionists in the medical system, leads back to the question of parenting and, more generally, to the culture of adult values in those communities. The simple fact is that, collectively, the adults in those communities have way more agency than adults less well off, when it comes to dealing with these social issues and their underlying causes. I salute you, as I do all hard-working medical professionals, but I respectfully suggest the debate here is not about the minors you refer to--and I agree with you that it shouldn't be for the reasons you describe.
Kim (New England)
@David Well said. We are all human beings. All individuals. More empathy and understanding is going to get this country further than the opposite.
BC (N. Cal)
@David It's been pointed out a number of times here but it bears repeating; there is a huge difference between the circumstantial stress of the poor and the self inflicted stress of the wealthy. So sorry but no sympathy. You chose it, if it isn't working out find another way to go. That isn't class conflict. No one is being mean to he rich. It's just that those of us not fortunate enough to have been born to or to have attained that kind of wealth have real problems that we didn't choose and we have far fewer options to resolve those problems available to us, so the whining is a little annoying. If you want to create some empathy for the wealthy how about this; eliminate the wage cap on Social Security taxes. It will serve to make it at least look like the rich are sharing the burden and it will shore up that safety net you claim that they are so very worried about and a great many of Americans are depending on.
Thomas (New York)
Was it Sartre who remarked "Those who fear vertigo should not scale the heights"?
Ana Luisa (Belgium)
@Thomas Maybe, but he would certainly have disagreed with the 100% materialistic definition of "the good life" used both by the author of this op-ed, and the wealthiest in this country ... . Actually, ALL philosophers and spiritual leaders disagree with this definition. Only America's conservatives agree with it.
Ophelia (Chelsea, NYC)
Turns out, wealthy people are pretty similar to non-wealthy people in that they, too, have hopes, fears, disappointments, and anxieties. All are human, with the full range of human emotions. This class-based antagonism has got to stop. Everyone is concerned for their children’s future, their own futures, the country’s future. Mocking or dismissing people’s feelings because they have above-average wealth spreads toxicity and sows division. It’s easy to imagine a caricature of wealthy people as casually dismissing the non-wealthy and living lives of leisure - Marie Antoinette style - but as people on the left I’d like to think we’re better and smarter than that. I wish the NYTimes was better than that.
V.B. Zarr (Erewhon)
@Ophelia The question here isn't people caring about their own children, but also caring about other people's children. I've heard way too many rich people say flat-out that they don't. The fact they're in a position to act on those feelings, and have to an extent that's finally stirred up the rest of the population, is why we're now having this conversation.
BC (N. Cal)
@Ophelia No one is dismissing anyone's feelings. The issue is how much sympathy can you muster for people who choose to live a crazy stressful life and inflict that on their kids all in service of acquisition of wealth and status. It's not my problem to try and understand people who set themselves up for misery. They have the options and resources to change their situation. If they choose not to that's on them.
catalyzer (Highland Park, NJ)
It seems the obvious way to help people who are worried that their kids won't get into an elite private college, and – much more importantly, to help all the kids who don't attend an elite private college – is to return to a system where truly high-quality public education is available and affordable. Instead we have been steadily defunding the alternatives to elite private colleges for decades, led by the political right but with little opposition from the political left.
V.B. Zarr (Erewhon)
@catalyzer Exactly. The defunding and consequent skyrocketing fees for public universities since the Reagan/Thatcher "revolution" has been a disaster across most English-speaking countries, and beyond. Disastrous for a great many individuals, social groups and indeed society as a whole. In no small way it's led not only to dysfunctional, unbalanced economies, but polarized and angry public discourse that is fracturing society and undermining democracy.
David (Chicago)
America as a "meritocracy" is a principle that must endure in some form. There will always be hierarchies in society and it is far to broad (and nihilistic) to contend that the people at the top never deserve" their "economic rewards" and the people on the bottom are unfairly oppressed. The author is correct that complaints by the wealthiest Americans are self-inflicted and that our tears should be saved for others. But if meritocracy is a complete and total myth, the author fails to articulate a going-forward ideal that provides incentives for education and deserved success.
Larry L (Dallas, TX)
Greed, paranoia and self-delusion masking as virtue. The honest truth is that most of the affluent were ALWAYS affluent (many from birth). The tiny percentage that did NOT start that way is a relatively small sample of the population. Interesting social media stories are not reality. They are the exceptions. It is why they attract attention - because they are RARE.
tew (Los Angeles)
@Larry L If that is the case, then let's remember the adage about what to do when you're in a hole. Stop digging. In this case, our "digging" is the way the tax code allows those with inter-generational wealth to completely and permanently avoid paying any tax whatsoever on capital gains. For example, the basis step up. Then the various forms of trusts and how family offices are used. Get rid of all of those aristocratic tax privileges and then talk to me about increasing taxes on upper middle class incomes.
Larry L (Dallas, TX)
@tew , I was thinking the other day about the NYT article about the proposed tax policies of the Democratic candidates. The article seemed to posit that these were mutually exclusive choices. I would posit that the reason the old system pre-1980 worked was because it was a "system" that was meant to deal with tax avoidance. All income was taxed at the same rate. If you somehow managed to avoid them using tax schemes, the estate taxes caught it. The current tax system is built to be inscrutable for a reason: you can hide a lot in a 10,000 stacks of hay. I would eliminate the step up rule, tax all income at the same rate, eliminate the carried interest loophole and create new tax brackets above the current ones to deal with the reality of today's income inequality. Most billionaires literally pay LOWER taxes than we do. (And let me cut off the think tanks before they start posting misinformation: this includes ALL income - federal, SALT and payroll taxes).
Ann (VA)
It's always been said money can't buy happiness. This is proof. Most of us spend our lives working, toiling away, trying to make ends meet. We're sure if we can just get to a place where we're not robbing Peter to pay Paul or if we can comfortably pay our bills without worrying about due dates vs. pay days that we'll be happy. If we achieve that, then we start longing for the next promotion, the next raise that will allow us to buy even more, THEN we're sure we'll achieve happiness. I imagine for musicians and actors, they're convinced more recognition, more fame, more money will bring them happiness. It drives many of us. Except once we reach it, we still aren't happy Some of us do settle into our lives when we reach a certain point of financial independence, quietly admirably. And even start looking for a way to give some back to others. Some are happy with what they have. But some keep chasing it, convinced that achieving the next goal, the next acquisition, the next high, the next score will bring what we're looking for. It may, momentarily. But it doesn't last and as soon as it fades, we're back on the prowl. The satisfaction period gets shorter and shorter. Money doesn't buy happiness nor peace of mind. Some will scoff. But if you don't have a firm foundation to start, money isn't going to bring it to you.
RAH (Pocomoke City, MD)
Hmm, a bit judgemental I'd say. All people have expectations of themselves and others that seen from the outside seem to make no sense. Everyone suffers, none of us get out of that. Golden handcuffs restrict the same as regular ones.
mouseone (Portland Maine)
Ancient proverb: "One who knows what is enough, always has enough." This is not true for the homeless and very very poor, but completely true for people who can pay their housing costs, medical costs and feed themselves and their children. The vicious circle of thinking one is never rich enough, good enough, smart enough all the way down the social strata has to end.
Andrew (USA)
I believe it all started with business people just trying to get the most out of people. It’s simple capitalism. That said, capitalism doesn’t have to be a bad thing, but like many things too much of a “good” thing can become bad. Let’s find a better way to for as many as possible that doesn’t hurt those that seek to maximize their happiness the way they see fit. Not easy, but if we put our heads together, truly GREAT things can be done (and not solely greatness in the vernacular of our current President.).
M Peirce (Boulder, CO)
"There is nothing wrong with parents spending a lot of money ...for [their children] to attend a highly selective private college, religious institution or small liberal arts college, it’s their money." Yes there is something wrong with doing this. Paying for a "highly selective" private school is like paying for the best seed in a tournament. Like paying for booster springs in their shoes for the running races they'll enter. Like paying for plastic surgery for their teen beauty contests. Like paying for round-the-clock training to get on the ski team, which in turn will get their kid in college. Like paying for all the kinds of things that other parents cannot afford, often while other kids have to work instead. What's wrong is that all this money is spent toward gaining an unearned advantage. Unearned because, when such expenditures are allowed, the competition is no longer fair, and "merit" is indistinguishable from having a finger on the scale.
LS (Hartford, CT)
The problem is the belief system. These parents believe that happiness comes from the right career, power, etc. when, in fact, happiness comes from having a sufficient education, being able to support yourself, leading an authentic life and having the capacity for strong, loving relationships. I do really wonder if these parents ever slow down long enough to ask themselves if they are really happy living the lives they are trying for force upon their kids.
Mr. Moderate (Cleveland, OH)
"...he shows correctly how the ideology of meritocracy hurts the millions of people who don’t make it to the top." No kidding.
Christy (WA)
Agreed, Mr. Reeves. I read your book, I am not in the upper middle class because that class has disappeared. There are only four classes left in this country: the super-rich, the rich, the working poor and the homeless. As a member of the third, my heart pumps custard for the whines of the rich, just as it pumps custard for the whines of rural whites who have never seen an immigrant but still blame them for "stealing our jobs" and cheer Trump every time he tears another hole in their social safety net.
tew (Los Angeles)
@Christy What an absurd statement. The large majority people I grew up with and the large majority of people I know are middle class. Besides them I know a number of working class (not working poor by any stretch) folks. I know a good handful of upper middle class (e.g. no real family money, need to work to pay the mortgage, will need to work until at least sixty, but who can take a nice vacation each year and buy a high-mid end vehicle every four years) All of the categories you mention do exist. I come into some sort of contact with them just about every day. Sure, my comments are anecdotal, but that's a big step up from total nonsense conjured out of thin air.
It's evident in a million ways, that making a bundle does not make you smart. Mostly the opposite, but that's a lesson never learned in this society
Josh K. (New York)
Richard Reeves has a bachelor’s degree from University of Oxford, and Daniel Markovits is a Yale Law professor with two Yale degrees and an Oxford doctorate. It’s easy to criticize the upper middle class for trying to get their kids the same sort of qualifications when you already have them.
tew (Los Angeles)
@Josh K. Yep! They have secure lifetime high incomes and benefits that the vast majority of people in the U.S. or anywhere else on the planet could only dream of. Salaries well into the six figures. Ironclad job security. An ability to largely set the type and pace of work you apply yourself to. Well paid retirement with full benefits. Oh, and the very best inside information and connections necessary to ensure their children get into the best schools. Some upper middle class people are more equal than others.
Paulie (Earth)
I have a inherited wealth acquaintance, he has no true friends, that actually had the gall to say that managing his wealth was a full time job. This was his response to my stating he never did a day’s work in his life. His father, the one that earned the money through hard work in the garment industry was a left wing liberal. The son that as given a free ride in life is a hard core republican, that spends his days worrying that one day he’ll be broke. Other than smoking marijuana all day in a house in the Caribbean he does nothing. Having lived a life where he experienced no hardships, he is a huge bore, most good stories that people relate are often about a hardship they suffered. Now I’m supposed to feel pity for him?
Hector (St. Paul, MN)
“The idea of meritocracy has long been used by the rich for self-justification. Now it is becoming fuel for their self-pity.” I think that’s called having your cake and eating it, too. Having achieved wealth on the backs of others, only to whine about it and proclaim that you’re a victim, could be detrimental to a whole nation.
617to416 (Ontario Via Massachusetts)
Reading this and the story about the lower middle class in rural Arkansas I can only conclude that Americans of all classes are united by their own selfishness.
Mike Cos (NYC)
What is Reeves point, that rich people can’t suffer the same human condition we all do? This article just feeds a useless narrative. People with less money don’t spend time stressing about nonsense? I can point out a few.
Margaret (NYC)
Let your kids enjoy their childhoods. Don't sweat the retirement savings. This society will not be functioning in fifteen or twenty years. Enjoy what's left of your lives, try to help others and not be a jerk. See some of the world's beauty before it's gone. The world is bigger, darker, more dangerous and more glorious than most of us remember on the average Monday.
Beth (Baltimore)
Amen to every word of Reeves' piece.
Quandry (LI,NY)
Here's my take with the rich with their "inequality charade: I'll trade them my income for a year or two, for their income for a year or two. Some how, I'll do my best to handle it. I'll have your problems. And you'll have mine. Welcome to reality!!!!
FW (West Virginia)
This column blithely assumes that its easy for professionals to just cut back. Most professionals are subject to institutional and client demands that don’t square with slowing down. If you’re in sales, how will your managers respond if you tell them you need to cut back to be happier. Hint it rhymes with you’re tired. If you’re a lawyer, your clients have needs and expect results. If you can’t get something done, they will go elsewhere.
Passion for Peaches (Left Coast)
The following statement would make me rip this newspaper into shreds, if I were reading the dead tree version. Since I cannot rip up my iPad, I will have to fume with my fingers, furiously tapping away on the screen. So, we have this: “But there is no moral equivalence between the stress of a senior executive staying up late to polish a presentation for a client and the stress of a retail worker unsure if she will get the shift she needs to make rent.” Notice the heavy load of pathos tacked onto the retail worker side of that equation. The writer makes no room for argument. He is not open to discussion. What we have here is a failure to communicate, my friends. Because I close my ears and eyes when I see a one-sided diatribe coming on.
Jim (Gurnee, IL)
They got tax cuts during the 2001 & 2003 Mideast wars from Vice "Deficits don't matter" Cheney. First time in our history during war! Won't they feel better if they pay some of that back? Man up. Be American. Show your kids who you are.
Chuck Burton (Mazatlan, Mexico)
A little parable. A couple is staying at a 25k a night luxury beach resort. All the best and finest food, drink and services, the most beautiful decor and views, no amenities missed. Down the beach around the bend a couple of hippie backpackers are grilling some fish over a driftwood fire and rolling their sleeping bag out on the sand under the stars. Who is having a better time?
tew (Los Angeles)
@Chuck Burton Hey man, don't burn the driftwood.
syfredrick (Providence)
Hold my beer. But first, let me cry into it.
David (South Carolina)
All I can say is 'Pity the poor millionaires, billionaires, whatever'
tanstaafl (Houston)
Why oh why do we have to pit the pain of one person against the pain of another? What is the purpose of this article other than to divide people? What is the purpose of this false generalization of the rich as all crybabies? Sure, it's not as bad as racism, but it is bigotry nonetheless.
Dennis Callegari (Australia)
There is a simple solution: If being rich is such a burden, give your money away.
James and Sarah (Hawaii)
It sounds like Mr. Reeves is describing people who in this "Christian" nation, have chosen to gain the whole world while losing their souls.
Keith (Brooklyn)
Power's only rule, only goal, is self-perpetuation; it would take someone exceptional to break that cycle. Public policy absolutely shouldn't prioritize (or even intervene in) the problems of the well off, but that doesn't strike me as being the thrust of your argument. You seem to be arguing not that the rich don't deserve legal privileges (and they don't - end mortgage tax deductions and capital gains!) but that they don't deserve pity. I fundamentally disagree with you. The rich may have it enormously better off but they are still bound to and wounded by the same system (rhymes with "trapitalism") that kills the poor. If the rich are starting the realize this, that could be a good thing. Just as the patriarchy hurts men, capitalism hurts capitalists. The unacknowledged logic of the system pushes those with power to do terrible, dehumanizing things to those without. Our first thought should be for those being dehumanized, but dehumanizing others is in it's own way dehumanizing. The rich are people, and people should stand side by side with their brothers and sisters. Many individual members of the upper classes are personally at fault - but systemically it's the fact that there ARE social classes that is the fault. When this wheezing, failing system finally dies and a classless society of equals is born (as the next system? the one after that?) there will be no groups of people who don't deserve your pity. But, until then, they certainly don't deserve your tax dollars.
JMC (Lost and confused)
Please quit calling it a 'meritocracy'. It is anything but. It is a system built on privilege. You get into an 'elite' school because your family graduated from there and has since given a lot of money. You get 'elite' jobs because your family has elite connections. Merit has nothing to do with it.
johnw (pa)
The rich have layers of government programs,TaxWrite offs, lobbyist, lawyers, senators, Congress-persons,
Jane (Boston)
This article totally doesn’t understand what it takes to do big things in life and be successful at it. Sure you can sit back and watch TV but some people have an intense drive to do more, and that is part of what makes the country work. Fine to not want to do that but silly to throw stones at them. But regardless, the real story here is not that the rich have to work hard and it is hard, it is that currently in normal regular income suburbia, the competition for keeping your place in society has ratcheted up intensely. Sure the rich have it hard, of course they do, it is not easy rising to the top, but now suburbia is pretty crazy trying to keep your spot.
V.B. Zarr (Erewhon)
@Jane 1. Most people have always had to work hard unless they were lucky enough to inherit significant wealth, and not only those at the top and middle, but even at the bottom of the economic ladder. 2. Just because people don't want to be workaholics, that doesn't mean they just want to "sit back and watch TV." Quality time with family and friends, non-monetized community service, sports and nature pursuits are some examples (all of which, by the way, often make people more creative and productive when they're back at work). 3. We've drifted too far into an economic system where gaining wealth is more about profiting from ownership than from work (of any kind). The pressures you mention are real, and will only get worse as robotics and AI replace human labor. Eventually nobody will be able to keep running on that ever accelerating treadmill, so we'd better find another way to give everyone a stake in our economy and society.
M Piennett (Federal Way WA)
@Jane I think the author understands what it takes. What do you think it takes to make the country work? Looks to me like the country is not working very well at this point in time. Post secondary education is financially out of reach for most people. Those who decide to pursue their education get saddled with debt. Healthcare costs continue to rise faster than inflation, and we spend much more on it per capita than any other Western economy. By those two measures, education and healthcare, the stressed out elites have failed at making the country work. Maybe stepping back and devoting some time time to other pursuits would broaden their perspectives and reduce their stress load.
lisamadzin (Philadelphia)
@Jane umm maybe instead of watching TV one could just sit back and read more books -starting with the classics-free from your local library regardless of zip code.
KM (Hanover, N.H.)
The “just say no” reply to the disturbing phenomenon described in the Meritocracy Trap is founded on the assumption that everything will be fine if you just refuse to “play the game”. If Mr. Reeves is correct in this assumption, then it follows that the monied must be suffering from a “mass delusion” of sorts. Perhaps, but in our hyper-competitive world of ever increasing inequality and declining social mobility isn’t it reasonable to ask whether there is any basis for the nervousness of the top dogs? Of course, to answer that question you’d need to look more deeply into the structure of the current phase of American capitalism, a much harder ask than preaching “just say no”.
Bill Duncan (Woodbourne, NY)
@KM "Just say no" doesn't work with drugs and it won't work with wealth. Addiction is at work in both cases.
EGR (Madison, CT)
@raph101 Wow... what a concept! An extraordinarily good model for the perfect society! I’ve always dreamed of becoming an adventurer but would settle and become a seer if that better served the needs of society. And if competition were no longer a requirement I would definitely consider becoming an artist or musician. Oh, what a perfect world where all is fair and everyone gets to be happy. I’m not complaining about where I am now but this sounds even better. If you think it can work where and when can we begin?
gene (fl)
The 1% are affecting our human evolution. The bottom 99% are living harder shorter lives. When do you think humanity will figure out the rich are the enemy of their children future? They will move against them because it is human nature to protect our families future.
Matt Pitlock (Lansing)
I love this articles emphasis on choice and voluntary exchange! I think our political conversations should focus more on how we empower citizens in all classes and expand their options. Too often government programs and policies limit choice for the people they are intended to help.
Ana Luisa (Belgium)
@Matt Pitlock Any concrete example of a government program/policy that limits choice for the people they intend to help?
kgfgh (kgfgh)
@Ana Luisa Yes. Rules governing welfare payments and food stamps have many restrictions. In order to receive benefits, poor people cannot build savings, such as for college or to buy a house. If a relative gave a family in poverty a monetary gift over a certain amount--somewhere over $10,000 or $12,000 is the current limit, I think (for example, to pay for their children's dental work or to save for a child's college expenses) -- it would have to be declared and the benefits would be either rescinded or lowered. While these restrictions may seem fair at first glance, they make it much, much harder for people living in poverty to get out of poverty. This is especially true if they don't get to "leap" into a job with a livable wage or a middle class salary. Remember that welfare benefits for families are never enough money to live on. The people who receive them are mostly already working in low paying or part-time jobs. So, yes, government programs do limit choices by restricting the ability of people in poverty to advance. It's a rock or a hard place situation; most people choose to buy food or put the money toward their current housing needs, rather than leave their children hungry while saving for a college education, etc. Those are choices that the very wealthy don't even blink an eye at--and probably don't even know exist. All in all, many of the comments responding to this article seem to come from a vast ignorance of what it is like to be poor in America.
Ana Luisa (Belgium)
@kgfgh I completely agree, but Matt Pittlock seemed to suggest the opposite ...
Bramha (Jakarta)
Reeves's suggestion/solution ("just stop") won't work because it's a classic collective action problem - those who want to stop will feel that if they do, but most others don't, they'll be short-changing their children. As another comment suggests, the instinct to compare and compete seems almost primal/genetic. That said, however, in the North American + UK form of capitalism, there appears to have been a deliberateness in the design of the system by generations of largely self-perpetuating elites. "Economics are the method, the object is to change the heart and soul" - is how Thatcher put it in a Sunday Times interview. Lewis Lapham's essay, "The Servant Problem", is a great complement to this column.
tova stabin (oregon)
I think this idea is also a "modern" version of films during the depression that made it seemed that rich people were having a hard time so you would feel sorry for them, rather than be angry at them. If you don't want (as much) revolt on your hands, then find some ways to feel sorry for the "poor" rich people and all their stress.
Brassrat (MA)
I think people do not understand the pre vs. post Ronald Reagan United States. The 50s and 60s were times of high progressive taxes and high Union participation when the US had limited competition - moving up to the middle class was the goal. After Reagan we became the land of what's mine is mine and I did it all by myself, so the well off no longer felt any obligation to help the wider community.
mlbex (California)
Perhaps most Americans believe that you are unsafe unless you are rich. They believe that they and their children will not have secure access to housing, medicine, healthy food, education, and legal protection unless they are rich. Is this true? Are we drifting towards a society where only the wealthy have secure access to the necessities of life? There was time when the middle of the economic food chain was good enough. You could afford to raise a family without undue fear of going broke and not being able to support them. That was the American dream. Apparently that time has passed. When there is no middle, there is only the top and the bottom; predators and prey. This would explain why it is imperative to claw your way to the top of the economic food chain, and to ensure that your children do so as well. Can we do something about it, or must we listen to the advice given to Dr. Zhivago: "Adapt yourself"?
John Cook (California)
@mlbex Very on point. This is the flip side of social mobility - we open aspire to move (or stay) up -- but we secretly fear that we will fall down. The thousands of homeless people on our city streets are of course a humanitarian tragedy - and also a reminder to all the strivers without family money to land on that this too could be them.
There is no longer a middle class and in this country, it is dangerous to be poor. is getting worse.
mlbex (California)
@John Cook : There is also a difference between aspiring to something, and struggling for it because it is necessary. The homeless on the street serve to remind us that there is a devil to catch the hindmost. (Never mind the fact that most of the homeless that you see acting out have mental problems and substance abuse issues. There are plenty of homeless who do not have these issues, but you have to look harder to see them).
Ana Luisa (Belgium)
"People with money, power and education have the privilege of being able to lead a good life without too much stress and insecurity." They don't. What the author is reflecting here is the exact same, materialistic conception of "the good life" that Ancient Greek philosophers already showed to be inherently flawed (see Martha Nussbaum's book "The Fragility of Goodness"). ALL moral and spiritual traditions have rejected this kind of conception, and today, neurological studies have proven them to be right. Money and power to NOT lead to "the good life". And education only does IF it includes "emotional intelligence" tools and training, whereas our Ivy League university exclusively train skills that appeal to our IQ alone. So it is precisely because we don't teach stress reduction and compassion and happiness trainings (yes, both turn out to go together, science has now shown) at our universities that our very elites are so utterly unhappy, and as unhappy as the constantly hammered middle class and the poor, even though it's for different reasons. And as long as they aren't taught to value real spiritual trainings (whether religious or atheist), they will continue to ignore how to lower the stress in their bodies and minds, and will continue to live with a "scarcity" mentality that is such that they cannot but see ONE solution: lower tax cuts for themselves... In the end, we're all in this together. And that is and has always been what a democracy is all about.
McCamy Taylor (Fort Worth, Texas)
"The problems of the affluent are not systemic. They are self-inflicted." Toddlers do not look at the world and decide "I will forgo my humanity in order to amass more capital than I will ever be able to spend." Our culture's habit of belittling of family/spirituality/self expression/community/empathy--all the things that make life worth living---when these interfere with the pursuit of money is not a self inflicted one. It is a systemic one. No one is asking for the poor to pity the rich. However, we should ask the rich to shows themselves--and by themselves, I mean their true selves, not the "Lifestyles of the rich and famous" images of themselves--a little pity. God does not love you more because you swindled a bunch of retirees out of their life's savings, got rich and got away with it. God loves you. Period. But you guys need to learn to love yourselves.
Rick Morris (Montreal)
Mr. Reeves is naive to the extreme if he expects wealthy individuals to 'just stop'. Perhaps he has forgotten the core principle of capitalism - competition. The reason the 'ten per cent' are stressed is that they are comparing themselves to people even wealthier than they are and thus will continue to compete until they reach a station in life perceived to be high. This is not so much a wealth machine but a constantly churning race for social profit. Why would a billionaire drive a Jetta when he knows he should be seen in at least a Maserati? Why send a child to a public university when an elite one is affordable and confirms your level in the pecking order? This will never end. The wealthy cleaved themselves from the rest of the pack two hundred years ago. Wealthy children have been stressed out for decades trying to live up to the projections of their families. There is nothing new here. What Mr. Reeves is trying to deconstruct is the very nature of the financial system we all have lived in since birth.
deb (inWA)
@Rick Morris, it's wise to inject some common sense into the situation some times, no? Even though we are a capitalist economy, we sometimes need to be reminded that having "all you need" is enough. It's not naive, and the author isn't trying to deconstruct every aspect of our financial system, for heavens sake. He's simply reminding rich people that they get limited sympathy for not having oligarch-level access to everything all the time.
skeptonomist (Tennessee)
People will always compete, no matter what the rewards. In nature the competition is primary a matter of reproduction - the species which have been most successful at reproduction are the ones which exist. The "free-market" or capitalistic economic system is based on this instinct for competition - it is supposed to lead to economic benefit for all. But there is no natural or economic law which says that a state of equilibrium will be attained with an equitable distribution of rewards, or even one in which rewards are proportionate to ability. Those who win are prone to take all they can - there is really no point at which appetite for money and power is satisfied. Appealing to reason, trying to get people to stop when their material wants are satisfied, will do no good. There must be laws, regulation, taxation and other limitations which prevent the competition from leading to highly unequal societal structures.
Claire (Boston)
Everyone commenting here obviously doesn't consider themselves one of the wealthy who are making their own problems. Let me tell you what a lot of poorer rural Americans and sometimes Trump supporters think every time they hear college students and college graduates and city people with steady and plentiful jobs complain: how dare you ask for pity. You liberals preach that we should check our privilege, when it is you who have the privilege, and can't even understand how lucky you are. If college students, with flexible schedules, nearby dorms, social lives, and travel opportunities, want to stop being so anxious and needing safe spaces all the time, they could just start being grateful for what they have. The admonishment that the wealthy could just let their kids go to a great public university instead of a great Ivy League school applies to the middle and upper middle class too. Don't complain about going broke over college when you just didn't stick to your price range. No, you don't need to sacrifice *everything* for a career when you already have benefits and a good salary. This isn't just for the millionaires and billionaires. This is for the people making 80k or more per year, because newsflash, by virtue of that material comfort, your lives are already pretty good.
Laura (Boston)
@Claire Back during the 2016 campaign everyone wanted to know who the Trump supporters were. The demographics: Predominantly white, male with an average salary $75,000 annually as reported in the NYT and on NPR. They are a broad spectrum and many are straight middle class who make more money than I do. There are those at the bottom of that spectrum that may have reason to feel angry, but there are many in the same boat who are not Trump supporters. I think we need to stop lumping all Trump supporters into some down trodden category. They whine as much as the wealthy. They don't know how to be OK with their lives.
Rhonda (Pennsylvania)
@Claire "You liberals preach that we should check our privilege, when it is you who have the privilege, and can't even understand how lucky you are. " By "you liberals," do you mean "wealthy liberals"? You do realize that many elites of both left and right political leanings similarly go to great lengths to get their kids in Ivy league schools; and middle and upper class of both political leanings similarly spend beyond their means at times to provide special opportunities for their children, to go on lavish vacations, to live in expensive homes in good school districts and so on. Many near wealthy and wealthy elites of both political leaning may be unaware of the struggles of "common folk" and may justify expenditures we view as excesses as the necessarily thing to prove (often to others) that they are "doing everything for their kids," even when doing so, especially in the case of the not-quite wealthy, will cause them undue stress and debt, and even when the comparative advantages of their choices are negligible.
Sarah D. (Montague MA)
@Claire Newsflash: Not all liberals (by a long shot) are rich (by a long shot), even when well educated, nor do we have benefits and a good salary. I don't know where you get your information, but it's wrong.
Lynn Taylor (Utah)
Rich people can just cry me a river. Despite still working, disability limited our income (yeah, research that) and therefore our options. So while we lived on the margins, our children still did not qualify for financially-based scholarships. As a result, one of our children lived in his car during college, another is about to do the same after having graduated, but stuck with wage stagnation and a huge college debt. It's shameful that the ultra-wealthy have no clue and those who own the businesses do not pay their employees a living wage, just so these same ultra-wealthy can stress over their overly coddled children getting into supposedly "better" schools, apparently at least sometimes unlawfully.
rhdelp (Monroe GA)
Anyone compelled to justify the income inequality as opposed to addressing the devastating effects it has had on society needs to be reminded the US minimum is $7.45 an hour. Their children wouldn't hold a job for that amount.
Andrew (USA)
Also, a chain (the USA) is only as strong as its weakest link. And that link could represent those with the most assets as well as those with the least.
Lynda (Gulfport, FL)
Anyone born in the USA is assumed to have won the birth lottery which guarantees access to opportunity and a government which ensures clean water, clean air and clean soil. So it is hard to feel pity for any USA citizen especially a wealthy USA citizen who has the assets to live more comfortably than any royalty did in the past. Too bad the objective numbers and the world rankings don't reflect the USA number 1 status so many people assume the "greatest, most powerful country" in the world has achieved. The USA ranks poorly because the spirit of Grover Nordquist still infuses the rich and comfortable: " I've got mine and I am going to keep it so no more taxes especially on the wealthy and powerful." All that "A rising tide lifts all boats" is just socialism taking money away from those who earned it and giving it to lazy people who made bad life decisions and didn't have wealthy parents. Stress is felt by Americans at all economic levels. Those without assets are stressed to pay for the basic needs of humans. Those who have assets are stressed about their positions within their groups and being able to pass their good fortune to their children. As the author says, "Their stress is the result of their own decisions." The people society blames for failure, however, are those who have no assets and need the community safety net Trump and the Republican party are shredding.
Some of us now well-to-do came from a hardscrabble background (raises hand here). My parents always did without so I could get to where I am today. I still remember the pleasure I had at the chance to go to McDonald's for a hamburger on my 5th birthday. It was a rare treat.
Jeff P (Pittsfield, ME)
@KHM And the point of your comment is what, exactly? That the rich who weren't born into it (a steadily diminishing phenomenon these last several decades, by the way) do deserve sympathy for the stress and anxiety their decisions bring? That your children are more deserving than other rich kids of the wealth and status you've gifted them just because their grandparents (two of them, anyway) used to be poor? The "meritocratic" elite, whatever their origins, would be a lot less obnoxious if they were simply able to acknowledge their great good fortune rather than constantly working to convince themselves that their hard work is somehow morally superior to the hard work of those who don't get paid nearly as much for their efforts.
Anne Russell (Wrightsville Beach NC)
I have always pitied the rich, having known many of them up close and personal, beginning with the RJReynolds tobacco family. Too easy to indulge unhealthy behavior (alcohol, drugs), puzzling whether friends are real friends or attracted to your $. I'm glad some rich people maintain beautiful property upon which I may gaze, and donate to causes in which I believe. I'd rather be "comfortable," with a dependable car and room-enough house and affordable healthcare, than spend my life in a counting-house counting out my money.
sherm (lee ny)
In a dog-eat-dog peer group, taking a nap might require more courage than most have.
Peter (Colorado)
The thing is, dogs don’t eat dogs. The pack works for the benefit of all. Dogs are smart like that. It’s a pity people aren’t.
Steel Magnolia (Atlanta)
I grew up lower middle class in AL, got a good education at local public schools, a college degree via academic scholarships and part-time jobs, and after a break, a law degree via savings, summer jobs and modest loans. Thanks to that education—and the luck of immigrant grandparents who gave me grit and Depression Era parents who gave me prudence—I retired comfortably upper middle class. But that was back in the day when public schools were filled with good teachers because teaching was the only profession open to smart women. And it was before private academies sprang up across the South in reaction to integration, siphoning off those good teachers with higher pay. It was also back when university tuition cost in real dollar terms a fifth what it costs today. These days the education that boosted me from the lower middle class is only available to those who are already rich. I don’t fault the rich—or indeed parents at any economic level—for wanting the best education they can get for their kids. I know what a difference a decent education made in my own life and what a difference an ivy education made for our child who chose it. What I do fault is the unwillingness of so many of my peers—not to mention those far richer—to pay the taxes that would make a good education available to everybody. Don’t whine about the stress of getting for your kids what is out of reach for everybody else when you could change their world—and get a better educated electorate to boot.
Robert Scull (Cary, NC)
Wasn't it Thomas Jefferson who said that he wanted to free his slaves, but it was sort of like "holding a wolf by the ears... that we can neither hold them, nor safely let him go." The Thomas Jeffersons of today face the same delimma. Slavery has been replaced by globalization....a system that allows the wealthy to avoid the burden of looking into the eyes of those they exploit....but this still does not make them free. When I canvass a run-down trailer park made up of a lot of non-citizens, many of whom don't speak English, they appear to be happier in their crumbling surroundings than the wealthier, picture-perfect people I canvass in Farmer's Markets and urban festivals. But to some extent I think this is probably a facade. We all project an image that is somewhat different from reality. I feel some sympathy for the rich, who like the rest of us are victims of their choices. In their quest to obtain contentment through the multiplication of assets, they end up with a somewhat shallow isolated position in which they imagine themselves under siege from those without. They also miss out on some of the better things in life because the best things in life are actually free. The cure for this is to liberate the wealthy from their burden of projecting the image of being a winner and impose a maximum income to accompany meaningful minimum wage. Then the world will become less stressed and maybe there will then be more compassion on both ends of the spectrum.
LJMerr (Taos, NM)
Amen, brother. There is also the issue of what factors qualify as meritorious. These same people are often unwilling to pay living wages to people who perform services they could not do without: those who build their houses, grow and prepare their food, manufacture their cars or teach their children at these high-priced schools, to name a few. I can never understand why socialism is thought of as a dirty word. Seems like a great idea to me.
David Lloyd-Jones (Toronto, Canada)
As a member of several, though not all, of the elites, I feel obliged to tell Messrs Reeves and Markovitz our secret. We're relaxed about it because we're confident of our positions, unearned though they often may be. If you are worried about really being as wonderful as you want people to think you are, you probably aren't and the worry is justified.
kitty (fairfield, ct)
@David Lloyd-Jones And by wonderful, you mean rich? Is the fundamental assumption that your wealth is a representation of how wonderful a person you are? I suspect you know that's not true, and yet... your comment. The belief that wealth equals superiority is the problem for the rich. I watch it happen every day and I laugh and I laugh. Most of the remarkably bright and talented people I know are middle class and doing interesting and helpful things in the world. They're happy and their kids are well adjusted, bright and talented.
ubique (NY)
“But Professor Markovits also claims that meritocracy is as painful for the people on the top rungs of the ladder as it is for those lower down.” I don’t know what ‘meritocracy’ is, but I do know a couple of people who have some money, and I would wager that it’s far less “painful” to have an indefinite, seven-figure safety net, than it ever could be to have to compete against the children of highly-paid sociopaths. Not to suggest that anyone who is paid exorbitant amounts of money is necessarily prone to sociopathy, but it certainly does seem to convince some of these individuals that their mere existence is of a higher value than that of the plebeians.
Dan (Stowe, VT)
Being wealthy and having your kids attend “the best schools” is a pyramid scheme. Parents lament that it’s ostensibly about making their kid(s) lives better, but really it’s about them - Their social status, their keeping up with the Jones’, their fear of failure. It’s not easy to give up something you’ve worked hard to achieve though. So just to say I’ve had enough and I’m going to make less money now, sounds righteous but when you’ve created an entire infrastructure around you based on that salary and self vision, it’s hard to just change it all.
Suburban Cowboy (Dallas)
An interesting quandary many of us experience. We are unable or unwilling to keep up with the Jones et al. However, our children of middle income ilk and exposed to all sorts of Kardashian dreams and other life style delusions cannot fathom how come we refuse to fully submit to the rat race and sacrifice ourselves beyond our means for them. We marshal our resources and we provide the sustenance and guidance for success. Yet the child bemoans her struggle to be as free spending, jetsetting and sans souci as her endowed college roomies.
kitty (fairfield, ct)
@Dan It IS a pyramid scheme! And an effective one at that. There is no reason top universities couldn't double their class sizes. There's certainly no shortage of professors, and what with the $15/hr they're paid, salaries would be no problem 't'all! Keeping acceptance rates down is the only reason to limit class size, bolstering their selectivity rank but also perpetuating our elitist culture at large. It's coming unraveled though – Universities know it, Wall Street knows it. The jig is up, boys!
George Rowland (New York, NY)
Yep, the rich (which by the way includes me) have the fantastic luxury of being able to make so many life choices that can de-stress and improve their lives. People say money can't buy happiness, but it certainly can make your life a lot easier, if you let it.
John (NYC)
Oh poor little rich, or upper middle class, people. Don't you feel so sorry for them? I'm sure that anyone shackled to a ton of debt and so basically living a life of indentured servitude to unsympathetic creditors doesn't. Crying into a platinum cup doesn't elicit one iota of sympathy does it? Not from me. But that said, overall, it does seem to me that at a base level many have lost the sense of their needs as opposed to their wants. The reality is this; once your needs are met the rest is really just gravy. Here's the thing, needs are basic. Food, clothing, a place to live, and health. I'll add a corollary; a reasonable expectation of being, staying, debt free. That's it. Those are your needs. The rest are wants. You control them, else they control you. It is what you choose to do in pursuit of your wants that drives most people crazy. As simple as it seems Richard Reeves suggestion to not a bad idea. Take a break; a deep breath. Inhale, relax. Decide for yourself how your wants are negatively impacting your needs and move your life forward from there. I know....I know...that's easy to say but oh so very hard to do. Keeping up with the Jones comes in any number of forms. You can only decide for yourself the value in conducting any aspect of your life in that fashion, or not. Is that keeping up truly necessary, or is a life at a less manic pace more attractive? The choice is yours. John~ American Net'Zen
Dan (Lafayette)
The wealthy work hard to keep their money and their privilege? The average ditch digger works harder than the average wealthy person.
ZAW (Pete Olson's District(Sigh))
How quaint the advice “nobody is forcing you to do these expensive things.” All fine and well if you are genuinely rich (paid more than $400,000 a year is it?) or upper middle class but healthy (paid between $100,000 and $400,000). But what if you’re upper middle class and battling cancer or some other illness? Not doing “these expensive things” could literally mean death. What if you’re upper middle class and have a special needs child? Not doing “these expensive things” could mean putting your child in danger. . Don’t get me wrong. I am truly of the view that we need a much more aggressive tax structure. But still, I find myself worried when well meaning progressives say “tax the rich,” and don’t clarify who the “rich” actually are. My wife and I are barely into the upper middle class by income, but with our own health problems and our son who is on the Autism Spectrum, we are tapped out. We certainly couldn’t be considered rich, as much as Richard Reeves seems intent on calling us that and blaming us for the world’s ills.
Timothy Samara (Brooklyn)
@ZAW I'm of the progressive variety. Progressives understand that you're not "the rich". If you read their policy proposals, you'll see what they mean by rich, explicitly. Typically, it involves assets over $50 million. Interestingly, those proposals involve redistributing that wealth to help people like you (and everyone else) by shoring up healthcare and the safety net. So you don't have to be as stressed about caring for your son as you are.
Rhonda (Pennsylvania)
@ZAW One of the main reasons I support a single payer healthcare system is because of stories such as this. Chronic illness can easily leave one jobless, and in turn without health insurance, and in turn turn savings into debt, and leave children barely into adulthood going into debt as well as they scramble to figure out which treatments to pay for or not. Although my parents were not wealthy, their experiences and ours (my siblings' and my own) as children, taught me that even moderate wealth accumulation could not protect against losses incurred by severe health conditions. My heart goes out to you. I don't think those expensive things are quite what the author had in mind. Please know, though, some people don't have the option at all to do expensive things to help loved ones achieve better health outcomes. I've often wondered if my parents could have lived longer (and healthier) had we been able to do more. I certainly wouldn't hold it against anyone, wealthy or not, for putting family members' health above all else. What could be more valuable than that?
PGH (New York)
@ZAW well, if "tax the rich" resulted in the infamous "socialized healthcare", then a lot of these scary expenses that could put an upper middle-class family to the test would just disappear.
George (NC)
The goal defines the steps to achieving it. Why not enjoy the beauties of life rather than being nervously competitive for 80 years? You're a long-time dead.
Seb (New York)
Frankly, this piece comes across as pretty nasty and mean-spirited. If a kid is suicidal because they feel they have to get into an elite college, I take that seriously, whether that pressure is self-imposed or not (just as I sympathize with those who get sick from smoking cigarettes). And to address the article's giant straw man: very few affluent people think they are worse off than the impoverished — in fact, the reason people might put up with the stress of high pressure jobs is that they don't want to suffer the economic insecurity that comes with having less (and to insulate their children from that risk later in their lives). If people of any means say they are unhappy, I am inclined to believe them. And when even those doing well in our society are making choices that make them miserable, that worries me. Maybe the Times will publish an article which provides a solution that is more nuanced and thoughtful than telling people to stop whining.
yulia (MO)
So, it is OK to tell the poor people that their problems are the result of their poor decisions, despite the fact that system is rigged against them, but it is mean to tell the rich to stop whining over problems created by themselves? The kid is suicidal because of pressure, but who put this pressure on the kid? They don't want to change their 'highly stressful' job, because they are afraid of financial insecurity? Clearly 'financial insecurity' is much more stressful than 'highly stressful' job, otherwise the choice will be easy. Whining of the rich, reminds me the complains about the paper cuts to the person who is dying of cancer. Everything is relative.
Seb (New York)
@yulia Of course it's not okay to blame poor people for their problems! You've missed my main point which is that it doesn't make sense to dismiss a person's suffering on the basis that someone else is suffering more. I think it makes sense to prioritize addressing the issues poor people face, but this article goes much further than that. And if someone (even a financially well-off person) is harming themselves through their own choices, I think it is worth examining why they are doing that, rather than just telling them it's their own fault. And maybe trying to come up with a solution rather than just reacting with anger.
frank perkins (Portland, Maine)
Right from the get go i figured that i would have 70 to 90 years to live if i was lucky. What i subsequently valued much greater than the money that had most of my associates jumping through hoops to acquire was time. My time strictly limited while the money i could acquire was unlimited. A no brainer. Time was the most valuable commodity, by far. I attended a mid range college and did the minimum amount of work to graduate with a GPA of 2.00. My college debt was $300. This was an era before colleges became a money making scam. I took mid range jobs and went home asap so that i could do what i wanted. I eschewed dumb consumerism and spent money on things that generally gained in value such as real estate. I didn't care for wage work and my goal was to "retire" asap so that i could enjoy ALL my time. I avoided debt and paid off my mortgages asap. At age 74 i have been retired for some time now and spend my Summers on the Maine coast and Winters in south Florida. Rules of thumb:time is worth way more than money, avoid stress and dumb consumerism ($1000 in reduced expense has the same effect as $1000 in increased income.)
kitty (fairfield, ct)
@frank perkins You did it! You beat the game! Can we hang out? : D
Andrea (New york)
Ugh. I know lots of people who’ve gotten caught up in this richie rich rat race. No one needs that much money and that kind of competitive greed is really toxic. They must be using money to compensate for something else that’s deeply lacking in their lives. Perhaps they are spiritually bankrupt, or loveless, or filled with self contempt. In my experience, happiness come from charity, kindness, nature, and self respect and creative fulfillment. Sure, we all need money to live comfortably, but most people who get outrageously rich don’t get there by being nice.
kitty (fairfield, ct)
@Andrea Or playing by the rules. Can the all the people who've figured this out break away and start a new country? Or at least a state?
Ben (maryland)
Glad this piece ended the way it did. I have taught now for 29 years, almost exclusively to a large number of underserved students. And these kids claw their way every day. Last week a 14 year old girl from Nigeria arrived at my classroom door, 2 days on American soil. In a matter of days she's already contextualized the Grievances Against the King better than most students. Another girl apologized for missing the first month of class because her relocating family from Pakistan couldn't yet find housing. And I won't even get into the kids I get from West Baltimore. Spare me your tears you burdened wealthy.
moderate af (pittsburgh, pa)
As these comments reveal, the rich feel nothing if not smug about themselves. They believe themselves to be the paragons of virtue upon which society rests. A little bit smarter than the rest of us, a little more deserving, a little annoyed that their superiority goes uncelebrated.
New Jerseyan (Bergen)
You may be surprised to learn that once the die is cast, little can change it. Try to get a less pressured job for less money. Just try it. See how that goes.
M (Cambridge)
Who is this piece written for? Based on what Reeves is saying, I highly doubt that any of the whiny, affluent parents he writes about have the time to read it, let alone follow his patronizing advice to "just stop." It does seem to have given a lot of the commenters an opportunity to tell everyone that they did life right, though. There is a problem with affluent parents who compete intensely for their kids to attend elite schools. And I think that this drives up the cost of preparing for and attending all higher education. But the solution isn't to tell highly competitive people to just stop competing. The solution is to open up more opportunities for every student to get a free post-secondary education and to have all American taxpayers, according to their ability, pay for it. Maybe it's in his book, but Reeves doesn't point to any studies that show that the rich are more whiny about their lives and their work than any other group. (Read Monica Potts' piece on the folks in Clinton, Arkansas.) If the rich are more whiny, they can be pretty safely ignored. But this adds nothing to the discussion.
yulia (MO)
The piece is just expression of annoyance with complains of the rich people who already have a lot, don't want to share but yet want the rest of us to feel sorry for them. If they are so highly competitive by nature, what is their problem? Competition is just what they like to do, why should we feel sorry for them? I very much suspect that whining by the riches has the practical motive. It is difficult to support tax on the people who are suffering. By looking for sympathy the rich just hope to undercut the support for taxing them.
BK Christie (Brooklyn)
Income needs to be put back in the hands of the ones who have truly generated it - the masses - the low/middle and even upper middle classes who work, make products, offer services, etc. We need UBI, medicare for all and free state colleges. Until then, I hope the pitchfork revolution doesn't come...
we Tp (oakland)
it’s silly to say that choices cannot be traps or that it is easy or easier to quit. I see no reason to withhold sympathy (and no room for excuses). But Assuming people take responsibility, what’s the measure? It used to be that you were valued for your contributions to the social pie; now people see everyone taking what they can and wonder why don’t I? As far as I can see, no one is promoting or exemplifying self-sacrifice or the priority of social goods.
Bill (Lowell, MA)
@we Tp What? If you can't find people promoting or exemplifying self-sacrifice or the priority of social goods, then you aren't looking. I guarantee that there are thousands of people just in Oakland who do that every day..
esp (ILL)
We've always been told how hard they work for their money and that is why they deserve to keep it. And that the 99% don't work as hard or they would also be rich. I've known for years that it was a myth. They should try emptying bed pans, face a classroom of unruly kids (and their parents, those wealthy ones buy their kids way into college), the person who collects garbage, the people that repair roofs in the heat of the day, and so forth and so on. Then they would know what real work is.
Greg Jones (Philadelphia)
@esp but there is an arrogance that somehow they are better than being a school teacher or a server and if the school teacher or server was so smart, they'd be earning major income. What gets me is the people who inherit wealth or a family business or use family connections to get a job that leads to a high income and act like they made it on their own like Biden's son or Trump's kids. No humility at all.
esp (ILL)
@Greg Jones Totally agree. Thanks.
TurandotNeverSleeps (New York)
It isn’t about intrinsically wanting “the best” for one’s kids. It is all externally motivated, and about their own egos, i.e.: heaven forbid their children will _embarrass_ them by having to attend what these posturing parents consider “mediocre” schools, or living in dank studios eating ramen noodles once they graduate. I have friends who are working at high-pressure jobs, always worried about the target on their middle-class, six-figure salaried backs, who shop Goodwill while they subsidize their daughter or son’s flats in Paris or Rome, living vicariously through the child’s presumed more-exciting life. When the kid is out of college, these parents also subsidize their first NYC apartment - justifying it as, “well it’s only until they get ‘launched’...”. It really is about the parents own image. They want to appear successful through their kids’ lives, wearing that mantle as if it is a designer handbag. It’s pathetic.
Arthur Larkin (Chappaqua, NY)
@TurandotNeverSleeps - thank you for telling it exactly like it is. There isn’t a wrong word in your comment.
Anthony C (Portland, OR)
If you’d like to know what a victim consciousness looks like, go chat with Donald Trump. He’ll tell you there’s never been a greater person or a stronger president, and yet he’s constantly falling victim to something or someone. The wealthy groan on about the poor being entitled, but wealthy folks like Trump would never admit that they are the most entitled people around; entitled to wealth, power, and attention.
kas (Columbus)
The funny thing is - brace yourself - that whole elite college thing? It doesn't really matter. I know so many people 30-40 yo making multiple hundreds of thousands per year who went to state schools. In medicine, I know a married pair of 30-yo ophthalmologists probably making $1M between them who went to undergrad and med schools in KY that I have never even heard of. I was a lecturer at a large state university in the south and I routinely saw my students do quite well after graduation. I know a 40-yo partner at a corporate law firm in NY now living in who went to a SUNY law school. Point is, this obsession with elite colleges doesn't even make sense necessarily.
john boeger (st. louis)
we now are well advised that some wealthy people are very willing to cheat, lie, commit fraud and commit felonies in order to be the parents of sons and daughters who were permitted to enroll in a college of their choice. whether the parents did these things to boost their own egos, help their own kids because the parents did not think their own kids could cut it on their own abilities, i do not know. of course, we have no idea whether these kids would have the ability to be able to stay in these schools and graduate. i really do not care. so far, i think these parents who have plead guilty to felonies have gotten off very easy. this goes the same for the 18 year olds that knew about the crimes being committed by their parents and which they were unindicted co-conspirators. are these crimes more serious than making or selling some weed? after all many poor and/or black kids are in jail for selling weed over the years(still a federal crime).
Mor (California)
Wait! The successful don’t deserve the economic rewards of their success? Then what does it mean to be successful? Is the underlying thesis of this article is that it is somehow morally superior to be a high-school dropout than a startup founder or a PhD? Sorry, I am not buying it. Meritocracy is a great idea. Sure, some people go overboard in trying to make their lives perfect but this is hardly a significant social problem. The real problem consists of legions of uneducated, uninformed, narrow-minded people, mired in poverty, crime and drug abuse. But instead of uplifting the poor, the author of this article would take down the rich. May I remind him that this has been tried several times in history with catastrophic results? Economic meritocracy is the only way for democracy to survive.
yulia (MO)
Meritocracy is a myth. It could make sense if everybody starts from the same position and meritocracy is judge by independent objective judge, but it is not the case. That's why the wealth is not so much measure of meritocracy as measure of circumstances. Moreover, the rich are making everything possible to stay on the top even when they failed in meritocracy contest, through political influence. 'Meritocracy' as it is practiced now, leads to concentration of wealth and power in the hands of few, they is actually opposite to democracy.
Mor (California)
@yulia so what is your alternative? Go ahead, share your utopia with us. It is easy to criticize since every system has its flaws. But once faux “liberals” are asked to describe a better system, they are stymied. Socialism? We know its record. Social democracy? It is basically meritocracy with a stronger welfare state. Theocracy? You are welcome to move to Iran. Who is this “independent objective judge” to assign social position? You? The Central Committee? The Star Council? The only alternative to free completion, unfair though its results may occasionally be, is totalitarianism.
Carolyn C (San Diego)
The uber-rich need to learn their history. When they get out-of-control the masses eventually rise and it’s ‘off-with-their-heads’’. The arc of justice takes time but it will come for them eventually - and especially for the crooked - and cruel - players currently in charge.
Jean Kolodner (San Diego)
Striving to be the best is NOT a bad thing, it is being human. Meritocracy is NOT a trap. The stressed-out rich whiners are not trapped, they chose how to live their lives. Likewise, the poor are also not trapped, we still live in the land of opportunity. Can we all just stop whining, take a deep breath, count our blessings, and stop fighting?
Timothy Samara (Brooklyn)
@Jean Kolodner Except that, for the most part, the poor ARE trapped. that's the difference. money and opportunity help you with a way out.
DJS (New York)
"Children in affluent homes are being hothoused through childhood, stress-tested into elite schools and colleges, and pushed to the brink of suicide or breakdown." The whining of the wealthy is getting louder." Breakdowns and suicide are not "whining. " "The problems of the affluent are not systemic. They are self-inflicted." Can the author please explain his belief that " children who are being pushed to the brink of suicide or breakdown" are self-inflicting their own problems ? "If you are a professional working yourself sick in order to make a big salary: Just stop. Nobody is forcing you to work such long hours. " I'll have to forward this to all my M.D. friends. They'll be happy to learn that no one is forcing them to work such long hours, and that they an ignore the calls that come in the middle of the night. After all, why should those "whiny" professionals get out of their warm beds at 2 a.m . to rush to the hospital to rush to the aid of the likes of Mr. Reeves and the commenters who are posting comments about those "entitled rich people." I propose that Mr. Reeves and those of you who support his position create a "Do Not Call List "of your own.: Do Not Call your doctors outside of office hours. Do Not Call your children's pediatricians outside office hours. Do not call your furry family members' vets outside office hours. Do not call your dentists outside of their office hours. Do not call your attorney outside of office hours.
John (Berlin)
Maybe if the american wealthy were forced to pay a lot more taxes they would be less interested in working themselves to death for status trinkets.
David Henry (Concord)
This must be satire. The rich are different; they rarely pay taxes, and the little they do pay they complain about.
Mark (MA)
Never ceases to amaze me how the Socialists want to blame structural systems as causing "inequality". All humans are different. Period. And much of that is, in reality, genetic. Statistically speaking the biological children of successful people are more likely to succeed. Of course this scientific fact clashes with Socialist dogma so fake science is created to deal with that conundrum. Now, it is completely true that not having, for instance, enough income and savings will make climbing the ladder of economic opportunity more difficult. But the act of just handing out money doesn't really have the desired impact. If it did the trillions of dollars handed out over the decades on all kinds of schemes would have had produced noticeable changes in outcome. But they really haven't. Of course the standard argument is it wasn't done correctly because rich, old white men have conspired to prevent that. Quite an unscientific explanation in my book.
atutu (Boston, MA)
@Mark "it [allocating subsidies] wasn't done correctly because rich, old white men have conspired to prevent that" Historical premises and long-held biases don't need intentional conspiracy. They are held so deeply that they routinely guide the way people make decisions. And we don't "just hand out money". We invest in our country, with all the attendant successes and failures any investment encounters. And if you don't see the improvements over the last 40 years, you aren't looking.
Chris (10013)
Richard V Reeves snarky tone oozes Elizabeth Warren populism. Successful people that I know dont want other people's pity. But the constant portrayal of being cast as society's villain is a problem. Hard work and success is bad. Being poor is a virtue. Bad life decisions are a function of being victims of [fill in the blank]. Success is stolen from others, failure is always someone else's fault. As our good Mayor made clear, "there is plenty of money around, it's just in the wrong people's hands".
atutu (Boston, MA)
@Chris "But the constant portrayal of being cast as society's villain is a problem." Gee, what a crippling burden to carry. Might as well reduce the subject to black and white generalities, join the crowds and flee to the barricades.
JSK (Crozet)
The ideas here dovetail with earlier essays: ("The 9.9 Percent Is the New American Aristocracy," by Matthew Stewart). Our class divides have been poisonous and becoming steadily worse for some time. Whole social networks have been built and encouraged along these divides, so the resulting behaviors are not so easy to alter. Our president and his buddies are among the most visible examples of toxicity--but they are hardly alone. Some of these divisions are enabled and encouraged by our most elite institutions. I do not see any major changes in institutional behavior occurring soon and their alumni are unlikely to encourage that change. It is also unclear which, if any, approaches to the problem would work--besides some sort of enormous and general societal catastrophe.
Allright (New york)
So many people are struggling and the job market is so unstable with no security so of course people see that and do what ever it takes to avoid their children suffering.
Chintermeister (Maine)
Excellent advice! Every year the 1 percent crew is getting more out of touch with the rest of the country, not to mention the rest of the world. Many no longer even believe they are especially wealthy, and most appear to have lost any sense of obligation to their fellow citizens, if they ever had one. The lottery for admission to elite colleges in particular has become a darkly absurd, obscene circus, driven by their ambitions for their children.
Peter (CT)
No employer asks “Was the education you received at your state school equivalent to the education this other applicant got at Princeton?” - Because the answer to that doesn’t matter. The answer to the question is “Princeton.” And that’s what people are paying for. That’s our system.
William Ahern (USA)
The rich and powerful can play the victim at least as well as any other. That's how power works. The victim culture game is a dead-end (or worse) for the left, just as was the identity politics game. The righteous left can't shame people into submission any better than the righteous right could.
PieceDeResistance (USA)
As usual, these stereotype-laden observations about the “super rich” are as devoid of actual substance as ignorant observations in other places about the “super poor” all being lazy people who sponge off the tax-payers. The author should make a distinction between those who are rich and those who construct stressful lives to APPEAR richer than they are. Every human has a community that supports their existence and is integral to their personal well being. And among those viewed by others as “super rich” is a wildly over-represented group of people who strive and yearn to “fit in” with the community of their choosing, which is often slightly more “elite” than what they can comfortably afford. These people are reaching for self-betterment as they define it, but this often creates incredible personal and financial stress. Personally, I make many of the choices the author recommends and it has come at enormous social cost for me. The people born into the same cohort I was born into feel “sorry” for me because they see my apparent “downward mobility”. And the people in the social milieu where I reside see me as this weird (and often unwelcome) “rich” person who doesn’t belong. I’m in a social no-mans land, bridging different socio-economic communities, and I absolutely stay here on purpose, but it’s a pretty lonely place. The wealth gap in this country is a huge problem, but making stupid generalizations about people and their “easy choices” won’t fix it.
It's About Time (NYC)
But don’t you know? “ Just stopping”would create the biggest stress of all...having to explain why you didn’t make partner or managing director, why your children aren’t going to the best private schools and universities, why you are not going on that fancy vacation, and why you’re not driving the latest automobile. In certain social circles all this stuff is super important. It’s like going to a cocktail party and a woman being asked “ what she does.” If the answer is” stay home with the kids and do philanthropic work” you might as well be invisible. Same with all of the rest. It really is a superficial, competitive world and even the wealthy have to have some measure of their success. The stress is often the least of it.
L. Hoberman (Boston)
I think the nature of our current society and economy means all but the wealthiest are stressed out these days, or to put it more accurately I think, scared. Remember the Great Recession? That didn’t hurt only the poor and working class. My husband, a PhD and lawyer, was laid off during that period and his income became a quarter of what it had been. Six years later, three months ago, he landed a much better paying job for which we are both extremely grateful. It’s 10:30pm on Saturday and he’s at the office. Not so he can go from rich to richer but so we can feel comfortable that we’ll be able to put our daughter through college and maybe someday retire (I work full time also.). I read Mr Reeves’s book and I don’t buy it at all. I don’t expect an academic and “think tank” employee to have any understanding at all about the extremely long hours some professionals work. And I certainly don’t expect someone educated in the UK—and at Oxford no less!—to understand the fear of paying for college in this country. My family has been lucky and are extremely grateful and we don’t ask for sympathy from anyone. I’m not sure where Mr Reeves is meeting all of these endlessly complaining, rich people. Maybe at his college reunions.
Steve Singer (Chicago)
The rich already have my money and effectively control my future. I might as well be a bug in a bottle for all the economic power that I possess, forget mobility. Now they want pity? My pity? More’s the pity before I give them so much as a drop of mine off my brow.
phacops1 (superal)
This is definitely sad. What the wealthy and polictical elites fail fathom is a bit of history that runs constant through the ages. Countries, regardless of being democracies, monarchies, or authoritarian eventually fail unless there is a deliberate and consistent distribution of wealth. Those ouside the moat will come after those protected by the moat. Politicians snd media types in this country want to run with the wealthy, do their bidding and hand out largess to them in terms ofspecial legislation like tax breaks and adulation of the press. Our children are now raised to admire the wealthy and admonish the rest. Good luck. Like Franklin Benjamin answered, " It's a repyblic if you can keep it" One big difference today, corporate influence at all levels of goverment, local, state and federal and even the judicial branch. Corporations are not people and their $$ should not be allowed to influence politicians.
Anonymous (Orange County)
You are forgetting that the rich aren’t just working that hard for no reason at all. If you are happy to have them slum it and not make electric cars to save the planet, or movies you love to watch, or write bestselling books every 12 months that you love to read, or just dial it in for an NBA basketball game, then sure, go ahead and berate them or tax them heavily to do that. Work produces things the world needs. That output is measured in money as people buy things they find useful. It’s the output that is measured in money. If you have an open mind, look up “Milton Friedman” and equality to understand the problem. But if you just want to vent and your mind is closed, don’t bother.
atutu (Boston, MA)
@Anonymous "Work produces things the world needs. That output is measured in money " Except when money is measured as work. When that idea takes hold, it looks like labor, product and the common good take a backseat.
Grove (California)
Maybe they just need another tax cut. I’m sure Republicans are working on it.
USNA73 (CV 67)
University of Kansas, March 18, 1968 -Robert F Kennedy Even if we act to erase material poverty, there is another greater task, it is to confront the poverty of satisfaction - purpose and dignity - that afflicts us all. Too much and for too long, we seemed to have surrendered personal excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things. Our Gross National Product, now, is over $800 billion dollars a year, but that Gross National Product - if we judge the United States of America by that - that Gross National Product counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts napalm and counts nuclear warheads and armored cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities. It counts Whitman's rifle and Speck's knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children. Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans
Fred White (Charleston, SC)
I can hardly wait for Warren to wipe the floor with Biden, and then Trump, on the way to stressing these spoiled brats even more when she claws back in redistributive taxes a chunk of the money they've made from indefensible disparities between executive pay and that of average workers, as well as from gutting the Rust Belt for fun and profit by shipping the jobs to Mexico, China, and robots, in order to goose profits and share prices on the backs of those fired. Boo, hoo, hoo. It's great to hear that the wages of greed are no fun at all. You reap what you sow, meritocrats.
Mendel (Georgia)
The wealthy are also stressed out as they see the rabble becoming more aware of the absurd and growing US income gap and the mind-boggling wealth hoarded by the top .5%. The "billionaire" label should be a badge of shame. The ultra-wealthy are starting to fear they'll be taken down as "enemies of the people" by rage-filled mobs. A note to the ultra-wealthy: most people don't want your wealth. We just want you to pay your fair % of taxes, stop having undue influence over our government, and stop being greedy and exploitative. Is that too much to ask?
Jenifer Wolf (New York)
Good on you Mr. Reeves. This article needed to be written.
Koho (Santa Barbara, CA)
I missed the part where the rich were asking for sympathy.
Rosebud (NYS)
The pity party has been going on for a while now. A huge disparity in incomes has caused a multitude of problems beyond the anxieties of the rich. It would be one thing if the rich were making $250,000 per year. If you read that figure and think, "That's kinda low," you are delusional. That's rich. The problem is, being rich in America means making a million a year and even that is quietly laughed at by many at The Country Club. When a millionaire wants an apartment or shops at the grocery store everything changes. Landlords smell the money and raise the rents (or prices) astronomically. Grocery stores know that they can charge $10 for Cheerios and the rich will pay it. Regular people can't even remotely compete with this level of extravagance. The rich have built themselves a fortress for themselves with little contact with the hoi polloi. They can't believe that I am still paying off my student loans. They can't believe that I've gone large stretches of my life without health insurance. They can't believe I cut my own grass... with a push mower. They can't believe I buy my clothes off eBay. Their silly obsession with "the best" has repercussions. We live on the periphery of their turf. I'm glad they are miserable. That's my schadenfreude. Tax the rich now or eat them later.
perry hookman (Boca raton Fl.)
Completely agree. Everyone hates the super-achiever. It starts in first grade. Everyone must realize that we all have a choice-even the so called underprivileged. Read the Susan Brown article about her father.
Max (Moscow, Idaho)
When you work in academia, you have to work long hours to maintain any career, period.
Emile deVere (NY)
If you think it's difficult being rich, try being poor. Not knowing where your next meal is coming from produces stress in ways you cannot imagine.
n1789 (savannah)
Don't worry. Those that think only about money end up badly.
Tammy (Scottsdale)
Amen. This false equivalency narrative from the well off and truly wealthy is maddening.
Rich (California)
It was only a matter of time. Victim culture won't die out until every single one of us claims we're a victim of something. And there will be nothing but victims and no left to blame.
Elaine (New Zealand)
If the best way to get into a top college is to have rich parents, you don't have a meritocracy, from what I have read the best way to get into Harvard is to have rich parents. America has never been a meritocracy.
CL (Paris)
The system is rigged in favor of the light skinned and the heirs to small and large fortune, and everyone knows it.
Di (California)
Doc, it hurts when I do this...
JRB (San Juan, Puerto Rico)
What's the end game of it all? We're all here for what, 80 years? Take it easy folks. If you have enough $ to not worry about rent or food, what else do you want? Try to enjoy what little of life there is...
kendra (Ann Arbor)
Agreed. But we also need enough money for health care and retirement. And what about end of life care when we can no longer live independently? That costs at least $6,000/mo. in my midwestern town. One can commit to live a very modest life, and save save save and still have incredible anxiety because we alone are responsible for our safety net. We simply do not know how much savings we may need to pay for cancer, disability, geriatric care. The uncertainty makes us feel afraid that we are never working hard enough.
cl (ny)
All you have to do is picture the image of Brett Kavanaugh during his conformation hearings. This whiney resentful sorry excuse of a man was wallowing in victimhood over the fact that he might not be an automatic choice for the Supreme Court. He talked about all he had achieved just to reach this point, how hard he worked, all the good deals he had done and all the boxes he had checked in order to insure his selection to his dream job. If he was denied, it was not his fault, but because of all those mean people and Christine Blasey Ford. He does not seemed to have realized that many people worked just as hard if not harder without achieving what he already had. He had already lead an enviable life but it was not enough and still wanted our pity. Well, he is not getting it.
Bear (AL)
I mean no disrespect, but even if the wealthy are now self-pitying, who cares?
minkairship (Philadelphia, PA)
The image of a man wiping away tears with dollar bills (surely Benjamins!) accompanies this article and underscores the easy divisiveness on which it rests. Demonizing the rich does no favors for those who aren't. Everyone -- "us", the "Others" -- wants the best for our families, and everyone can and should whine at their lot. Thing is, whining doesn't make any of us feel better, and does exactly zero to change things. C'mon, NYT -- solutions are the way forward, not "permission" to express frustration.
DrDoom (Sydney)
Excellent advice. Just stop! Money should be a means to gain freedom rather than golden handcuffs to remain enslaved.
Karl (Melrose, MA)
The reference Sondheim/Lapine characters for this fable are heel-less Lucinda and toe-less Florinda. We're just waiting for Cinderella's birds now.
David J (NJ)
I’m laughing. A report the other day had an officer of the IRS saying that his agency is too under budget to audit the rich. So trump and rich company are not only stealing from the poor, they’re also stealing from the Government. Duh! So, uh, trump’s everlasting audit....I think that lie was still in double digits.
Ambrose Rivers (NYC)
1%er here. I am doing just fine and so is my family. Never been better. Thank you very much.
This takes ‘crying all the way to the bank’ to new levels.
Michael (Fremont)
Successful people are insufferable. All they do is make us feel miserable by comparison. And the reality is that they climbed to the top on our backs. If we band together, we can take them down. Remember, there are more of us than of them.
EJS (Granite City, Illinois)
I really rebel against the notion that we have any kind of a “meritocracy.” Just look at the people who somehow got into Harvard or other so-called elite institutions. Most of them are anything but world beaters. Why are people like hedge fund managers and Wall Street bankers able to pay themselves bilions? Their work is not important at all compared to the work performed by teachers or health care workers. Many of the rich simply inherited their billions. They were meritorious enough to be born of rich parents. They have stacked the deck, tilted the table, in their favor. The rich use their money to keep fixing the system further and further in their favor. If this is a “metitocracy” then Trump is a moral person.
Marti Mart (Texas)
It isn't so much the wealth its the obnoxiousness that goes along with it.....
math365 (CA)
Meritocracy. Really. What is that all about Mr. Reeves? Mr. Reeves went to Oxford. Did he do that by climbing his way up out of the muck of the incredibly poor? Or is he just feeling guilty about his elite privilege? That’s so unfortunate.
Wow. Why is Mr. Reeves so intent on encouraging class resentment? I saw no evidence in this opinion piece that the rich are asking for sympathy. I read The Atlantic article by Mr. Packer, and it was about the pitfalls of progressive pedagogy, not about how hard it is to be affluent. And Mr. McGlashan's ridiculous comments were gleaned from a wiretap, so they were clearly not meant for public consumption. Of course a stressed out executive is not the same as a worried retail worker. So? Should we not be concerned about sexual assault in Hollywood because it's happening to people who have seemingly glamorous lives? It's sad to see the NYT feature this diatribe against meritocracy. How about helping to redefine merit instead. Because what's the alternative? Turning to angry academics like this to dictate who is worthy of resources and attention?
yulia (MO)
Oh, it is Mr. Reeves who encourages the class resentment, I always thought it is growing inequality that does that.
hen3ry (Westchester, NY)
There's something that is never discussed in America and it's not money. We're all created equal in terms of rights. However, we are not equal when it comes to intelligence, economic status, talents, gender, looks, ability to withstand stress, etc. There are things that make every person's life better. One of the biggest is security. That includes economic security, physical security, emotional security, and probably a few no one thinks about. In truth, most jobs do not require a college education. They require a solid K-12 education, an apprenticeship, the opportunity to receive more training to advance, and decent pay. Most of us don't need to go to college to have decent lives. The problem lies in this country's refusal to admit that equality in terms of rights, respect, etc., is a man made idea and a worthwhile one. But that equality doesn't translate into biological equality: we're all different the moment we're conceived. Ask any parent who has raised more than one child. However, all of us are being forced to work ourselves to death because our country offers us nothing in terms of a decent social safety net. There are too many Americans who cannot afford an emergency of any sort. And there are way too many American politicians who do not understand that working Americans are tired of hearing how much the country "loves" them. It's not about the meritocracy. It's about the economy and how it's failing all of us. 10/5/2019 10:10pm first submit
kendra (Ann Arbor)
I couldn't agree more. thank you for your comments
Steve. L (New York, New York)
Thank you, thank you Mr. Reeves. The critical acclaim that the Markovits book garnered was a bit of a head scratcher for me (Perhaps my faculties are dulled because I didn't attend an elite college!). The winners of a rigged game whining that all that winning is so, so stressful? Well, I gess people get what they deserve in a meritocracy. What they don't deserve is our sympathy.
Paul (Phoenix, AZ)
This is Trump syndrome; those with the most are the real victims. It was learned from his base of not so well off persons which was labeled by MSM as "the forgotten man" narrative reinforcing the conservative fake meme that white privilege is a heavy burden to bear.
Matthew Carnicelli (Brooklyn, NY)
If we truly wish to meditate on the pernicious influence of family influence on American society, we need only consider the example of the last two Republican presidents - George W. Bush and Donald Trump. Both were born with silver spoons in their mouths, sent to the best colleges (and the story of how Fred Trump was able to get his perennially underachieving son into Penn, after two undistinguished years at Fordham, is yet to be told - but almost assuredly involves a large wad of cash heading in the direction of that institution), and both were able to use their families' money, contacts, and name recognition to achieve a degree of societal prominence wholly disproportionate to either their academic or management abilities. I wish that America were an authentic meritocracy - but so long as the children of the rich and famous continue to receive advantages that ordinary Americans can only dream of, this is society is anything but a meritocracy. When a low performing student like Donald Trump can get into an Ivy League school, that's corruption - not meritocracy. What the wealthy in America apparently seek is to create a new aristocracy, an aristocracy much the one the Founding Fathers couldn't wait to get away from. It's great that you've made it to the pinnacle of American society, but your children don't deserve any advantage over the rest of us because of it.
MCWH (Germany)
Get rich quick or die trying? What Reeves describes seems to me, as a European, to be part of the Protestant American work ethic which transcends class: the poor work hard, so do the middle class and the (self-made) superrich. But he‘s right when it comes to whining: only the rich whine, because this stress wasn‘t supposed to be a part of their self-made dream. I remember years ago reading a piece in the NYT whose headline I never forgot: „How the rich are left behind by the super-rich“. Doctors, lawyers with their own practice etc. now counting as comparatively poor and everyone pursuing investment banking, trading, working for big corporations. Get rich quick or die trying?
Lynn (Virginia)
I had a professor in college ask our class a simple question. “Would you rather be rich or would you rather be happy”. I was dumbfounded how many in the class couldn’t even conceive that they weren’t the same thing. Ask yourself the question and see if you are doing the same.
William (Westchester)
Their eyes were opened. Now they could see what makes for a better life, and how they could work for it. I had a few moments with a man who was among the top ten wealthiest men in America. What do you have to do to be successful? 'Whatever it takes'. And once one has acquired enough power, wielding it is not the stressful part. Despite the fact that many would like to cut back on incarceration, some see jail as an opportunity: out of the cold, three squares, lavatories, sometimes enrichment. One New Yorker bludgeoned four sleeping homeless to death; now he's off the streets. Whatever it takes.
Michelle Morrison (New Hope, PA)
In independent schools, we see this daily. Parents come in to find early childhood care and are already asking how many of our students went on to attend elite high schools and colleges. My son just took his first job in the Midwest and he and his dad and I can’t get over how tangible the more relaxed vibe is compared to the east coast, Ivy League town we live in. We hope our son will absorb this Midwest mindset - that life is pretty good if you’re doing what you enjoy, making a living, and actually have time to enjoy life.
Suburban Cowboy (Dallas)
Apart from the love we give and take among family and select friends. Materially, give me a good book, a healthy meal and a bicycle. Give me relative safety in terms of crime. Granted, I have worked 35 years so I am due my SS later. And Medicare kicks in. In the meantime, skating by as an empty nester with an elderly parent to care for.
Skinny J (DC)
It’s a badly broken system, especially in this country. What the author calls “meritocracy” has become nothing more than a highly-efficient wealth concentration machine. But, unfortunately for us humans, it seems to be indelibly written in our DNA. Instinct, honed by a billion years of evolution, compels us to compete. As wealth concentrates, successive generations devolve. Soon you have pre-Revolutionary France, Rome under Caligula, or the US of A under Trump. On a recent trip to Europe, I was struck that they seem to have all the things the vast majority of Americans want but are told we cannot have by our corporate/GOP overlords; healthcare, infrastructure, gun control, action on global warming, etc. These things are paid for (to the extent they have a cost) with higher taxes, notably on the rich. Hmmmm, they seem to have made it work, at least for now.
CarolSon (Richmond VA)
@Skinny J Ah, but they don't have 5,000-sq. ft houses, $80,000 cars, yachts, and concierge doctors. The rich in this country aren't willing to give up those "necessities." Big difference.
joe (atl)
@Skinny J I think they make it work by keeping their defense budgets low. The military industrial complex in the U.S. successfully lobbies Congress for a huge defense budget. That's why we can't afford single payer health care, better schools, infrastructure improvements, etc.
tew (Los Angeles)
@CarolSon They do indeed have $80,000 cars and some do live in large houses. They have more income redistribution, but they also have wealthy people. (In fact, they still have some families that trace their wealth back centuries.)
Bruce (USA)
Being one of those "at the top," I am also amazed by the actions and behaviors of many of my "peers." Perhaps it was my upbringing, but I am grateful every day for the blessings that life has brought to me and my family. I started my life in a small apartment in Brooklyn where both my parents worked so we could have a good life (very unusual for both parents to work in the 1960's). As a teen we were able to move to a small house in the suburbs of Long Island with the help of my grandparents. At 12 I got a job delivering newspapers and the money I earned frequently went to help pay for the food on our table. But LI was also the first place I met people with money who felt entitled, where the cars in the kids parking lot at the high school were newer and fancier then the teachers. As my parents were the first in our family to graduate college (NYC public colleges), I was the first to go to medical school. While I work hard and sometimes long hours, I gain tremendous satisfaction from helping others and don't have to worry about money - partially because I keep expectations in check. My children, now young adults, were raised with our same family values. While they had more things and more opportunities because of our growing wealth, they understand the value of family and hard work, and are also grateful. The problem isn't money, it is entitlement and ridiculous expectations.
valley girl (Vancouver)
This resonated with me as a mother. I grew up in Palo Alto, California surrounded by the children of wealthy tech executives and Stanford professors. The pressure to succeed was insane. It instilled extremely unhealthy belief systems and behaviour patterns and left me miserable. Fast forward nearly 40 years and I'm an urban professional with my own child. I see a lot of my fellow parents in my expensive neighbourhood falling into the trap of believing that their children's life is a dress rehearsal. It's not. Childhood is an opportunity for endless presence and wonder, and for learning who you are through exploration. It is deeply ironic that rich people making themselves miserable has created a race to the bottom in so many ways, including children's quality of life. And, as in so many things, the stupidity of the rich impacts everyone else much more.
Earl W. (New Bern, NC)
My wife and I were formerly in the top 2% by income distribution. Not über rich, but bringing in enough labor income from our professional jobs that together we paid as much in federal taxes each year as the median American family earns. While I wasn't looking for anyone's pity, I did eventually grow tired of being a tax donkey and consequently retired early at age 58. My wife and I presently collect as much in federal benefits each year as we formerly paid in federal taxes. While not a big deal as a singular occurrence, the phenomenon of formerly highly-paid individuals dropping out of the work force and going on the dole will blow a massive hole in the federal budget as it gets multiplied a few million times. Burnout at all levels is a real problem. It will only get worse as the politics of envy targets those who earn a good living but aren't so rich they can hire a slew of tax attorneys and accountants to avoid paying taxes.
Anish (Califonia)
One of my favorite quotes is "Even if you win the rat race you are still a rat." Having been part of the meritocratic race I can tell you that even making $500K in the Bay Area doesn't make you feel rich. But I would never put what my daughter calls "one percent problems" on the same level as someone struggling to pay rent and health insurance bills. I have choices they do not. I can chuck the rat race (and I did) by making different choices. Those choices are far more available to me than struggling working people.
Sarah (London)
@Anish I second your comments. These are choices.
Joan (NJ)
@Anish at least you have the grace to admit this. My very wealthy sister thinks that poor people are there because they are lazy. It is mentally challenging for me to sit back and listen to her and her friends drivel. I can tell you one thing for sure; they have zero empathy for anyone that is poor and can't pay their bills so you are refreshing.
Mark Marks (New Rochelle, NY)
The point missed or at least understated is that for wealthy people the stress of, say, getting your kid into an Ivy League school is a choice and falling short is not a real detriment to their success, while for those less wealthy the stress is about paying for needed healthcare by depleting all savings, lines of credit, and risking going bankrupt anyway, or whether they can send a child to college at all because of cost, forcing the choice of the quantifiable disadvantage of no college degree.
David J. Krupp (Queens, NY)
It seems to part of human nature to keep on accumulating money and suff. This can only be limited by progressive taxes and the control of monopolies.
David J. Krupp (Queens, NY)
It seems to part of human nature to keep on accumulating money and suff. This can only be limited by progressive taxes and the control of monopolies.
Su Ling Saul (Cartersville, Ga.)
If basic health care and food were provided for all citizens in this country, it alone, would reduce the stress level from the bottom all the way to the top.
Michelle Kim (San Diego)
This piece truly resonated with me. My sister and I had a truly blessed childhood and parents that catered to all our whims. This included private Ivy league educations. One great sadness I have is the divergent paths she and I have taken. My husband and I live modestly for a bougie couple, (I drive a perfectly functioning 10 year old Nissan Versa with manual everything) and we are content. While we probably overpaid to have IVF treatments, we never had kids and have diverted our attention to community activities. My sister married a physician, and has three beautiful kids. She lives in Silicon Valley in one of these wealthy stress bubbles. Her 3million dollar house is too small; her husband works 80 hour weeks to pay for it; the kids must have after school activities; expensive european vacations are a must so the kids are more well rounded etc.. Her endless complaining has reached its pinnacle for me and strained our relationship. Maybe some of it is jealousy on my part, I’ll own that. But thank you all for your comments here. It made me feel better. It is not just me who finds the lack of gratitude appalling.
Rethinking (LandOfUnsteadyHabits)
Another factor for many -not all - is that many people just compulsively repeat, 24 X 7 if the can, what they've been successful at in the past -> it makes them feel good or they lack the courage (or imagination) to try something different.
sjs (Bridgeport, CT)
Actually, life at the top (other than the 1%) is tough. For those who rose to their positions (finance, law, other professional positions) from the middle or upper middle classes, they know how insecure their position is and that they can't guarantee their children the same position in life. And its making them crazy. Just look at the college cheating scandle - secure people do not act like that. Its hard to have sympathy for them, but, trust me on this, underlying their lives is a quiet panic, a nagging fear, the realization how quickly it can all vanish.
Stas (US, Russia, Switzerland)
@sjs I totally agree. Quite a few of my top managers in the US seem to be worrying about their kids' futures all the time. Whereas I never worry about the future of my daughters. I mean, they are going to be fine one way or another. I do want my kids to be well-educated, but the rest is up to them. I mean, if my first daughter is interested in discourse studies and wants to study ancient Greek and Latin, I will be more than happy to foot the bill and then just give her as much money as her heart desires. I also have the resources to take care of her kids and the kids of her kids and so on and so forth, which is why it is quite hard for me to sometimes understand these insecurities that the highest-ranking people at my father’s company have. The single female employees in top positions seem to the least confident in the abilities of their children to succeed in life. This is the sort of stuff that always, without fail, comes up at the corporate retreats, but I am not sure whether I should feel sorry for them or not.
Robert Dole (Chicoutimi Québec)
The rich are indeed to be pitied since their entire lives are based on the extremely destructive myth that financial wealth can bring any kind of happiness or wisdom.
johnK (NY)
If you want to be better or achieve more: Just stop. It's much easier to lover the bar then to put time and efforts to get somewhere . The problem is the end result is an inert, gray but equal and easier to control and manipulate society where the difference is in declarations not achievements. Democratic dream.
Stas (US, Russia, Switzerland)
Well, what kind of parents want to see their child do worse than them in life? I mean, I went to one of the top colleges in the US for my master’s degree and I earned my doctoral degree in Sweden, but I went to an average college in Russia for my honor’s degree. It was a literal walk in the park, and I did not have to worry about anything at all there. Of course, in the US the pressure was much higher, but I responded to it by graduating at the bottom of my class. And it was fine, after all it was still a master’s degree from an elite college. And the hardest thing in my life was getting my doctoral degree, which was really tough and extremely stressful, even though it was in Sweden. I am pretty sure that I would not have been able to hack it if I were enrolled in a doctoral program in the US, as my father kind of wanted, but I balked and refused to do something like that to myself. Of course, my father was a woodcutter without any real formal education who made his millions in the rough-and-tumble of 90s Russia and so he was quite proud of me for graduating from high school, and all the rest was just a cherry on top for him. That being said, I want my kids to be at least as well-educated as me, but I want their education to be international. My in-group (International Elite) believes that US-only education is for “close-minded” monolinguals who cannot teach their kids German, Russian, English, French and Swedish, and it is hard to resist peer pressure.
Kevin Blankinship (Fort Worth, TX)
The increasing social immobility in this country betrays a more cynical reality - that the meritocracy is merely a transient phase intended to infuse the top ranks of society with talent. The reality is the eugenic social Darwinism that is a core Republican belief. Once you make it to the top, the tax cuts, deregulation, and legal system will allow you to stay there forever.
RM (Chicago, IL)
Making a lot money and getting the highest quality education isn't always about materialism and prestige, and not everyone has the "luxury" to simply say no to these things. The reality is our economic, healthcare, and criminal justice systems in America are broken. Perhaps, one day, they'll be fixed and everyone will be treated fairly. But, in the meantime, if you want to protect yourself from being mistreated by these broken systems, especially if you are a minority, the best tools available are a high-quality education and having a lot of money.
@RM Have you ever considered that playing along with a broken system doesn't go very far towards changing that system? "Perhaps, one day, they'll be fixed and everyone will be treated fairly." Who's fixing the system?
RM (Chicago, IL)
@JJ Of course. It's also, however, not easy to fight for a better future while protecting yourself from being swallowed up by the present. It's quite the conundrum. (Rest assured that I do not work in the health insurance industry. :-) ) As to who's fixing the system, we'll have to put our faith in people like Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders, and help them as best we can.
Sure, but, have you seen how hard it is to get in to the top state universities now? It is now much harder to get in to many of the top state schools then it is to get in to many of the top private schools (excluding the Ivy's). Parents are worried about price driving more and more of them including the well off into the state systems. There are less young people competing for spots in the privates leading those schools to aggressively recruit, develop designer programs and offer quite a bit of financial aid to those that qualify. This means the pressure is still on for those in the middle and those on the bottom because the better-off are coming for those college spots too.
Ana Luisa (Belgium)
If someone is stressed out, he/she is suffering. The only legitimate moral answer to that is not just "sympathy" but compassion - independently of how wealthy that person is. And the good news is: neurological studies have in the meanwhile proven that practicing compassion is actually GOOD for us - both for our physical health, and in order to build resilience, THE best skill to activate when stress levels go up. So compassion is no longer just a moral value, it has also become part of regular stress reduction trainings. And here's another advantage of practicing it: you cannot but realize that in the end, we're all in this together. Yes, in theory the wealthiest could decide to give up some wealth. But in order to obtain what? The different but not less intense kind of stress that less wealthy social classes experience too ? Conclusion: no matter how you approach this subject, in the end, it DOES come down to the fact that the US has installed an economy, GOP bill after GOP bill, that is 100% based on a materialistic worldview, AND on a "scarcity" mentality. And as long as those bills hammer the middle class and the poor, the wealthier and wealthiest will ALWAYS have the (correct) feeling that their wealth one day might no longer protect them from the worst catastrophes in life. That fear is justified, because: 1. the GOP system is such that most ordinary citizens can easily lose their healthcare/job/home 2. stress management is mind training, not possessing wealth.
Just Thinking’ (Texas)
Killing yourself to buy a BMW rather than a Hundai, or to buy a yacht or a second, third, or fourth house -- these are clearly problematic. Your values might be misplaced; they might even be killing you. But wanting to send your child to a "better school" or live in a "better neighborhood" is not so crazy. Sure, your child can get an excellent education in many colleges and universities. But some provide better labs, more well-trained faculty, connections for jobs, and more challenging students. It's unfortunate that there is this divide. But it is not crazy to admit it and while trying to fix it to take care of your kids. Living in a better neighborhood usually brings with it better schools, libraries, safety, better grocery stores, etc. My point? -- please differentiate truly wasteful expenditures, especially those made by the very rich -- how many cars does Jay Leno have, how many homes did John McCain have, how many tens of millions is that rock star selling their home for? -- from middle class folk trying to give their kids as much education and good food as they can within reason and a safe environment. Make your point, but don't confuse, conflate, and exaggerate. Thank you.
MidAtlResident (Washington DC Area)
I haven't read Reeves' book, so this column is a prompter to delve more deeply into the subject. Based on this column alone, I agree a bit with Reeves on discreet points and disagree strongly on others. The idea of the upper-middle class and the rich paying a few more taxes to support State School funding is a laudable policy. * But consider this: What if I'm an African-American Parent? An Upper-Middle Class, educated Professional African-American Parent with long roots in this country (e.g., a descendant of the "1619 Experience" and a result of a "Warmth of Others Suns" Great Migration story). When it comes to raising my children, am I supposed to "Just Stop"? Stop striving? Stop pushing? Is that his recommendation for me and my family? Sorry, my rise to the Upper-Middle Professional Class is both shaky in Trump's America and built on the blood, sweat, tears - and bodies - of others who sacrificed to give me the opportunity to provide greater socio-economic security to my children. Am I supposed to simply "stop"? Why should I "stop" now and simply freeze into place the deep and seemingly insurmountable wealth gap between black and white families? Until the economic uncertainty - and racism - of the real world subside, sorry, I'm going to continue to compete and push. At bottom, Reeves' conclusions here are too short-sighted and don't apply to my American experience (more reason to read his book).
James Siegel (Maine)
While true, a much higher tax rate on the obscenely wealthy would dismantle this ratrace that is stressing the Yuppies out, it would also fund the institutions that the other 90-99% need to live a reasonable life with some opportunities and choices beyond survival.
Dr B (San Diego)
@James Siegel Is it justified to take someone's legally earned money in order to buy things that someone else wants but cannot afford? If one believes that it is justified, and perhaps even morally obliged, then almost every American citizen who is not living in extreme poverty should have their wealth transferred to the rest of the world's population. Over 90% of Americans live better than 99% of the people in the world. The challenge with your suggestion is that just about everyone thinks that anyone who has more than they do is "obscenely wealthy".
Mark Marks (New Rochelle, NY)
@Dr B By 'wants but cannot afford' do you include food, shelter and healthcare? Also - taking wealthy people's money would not be even considered if there had not been a huge shift from well paying Union jobs to a surfeit of low paying, no healthcare, no pension jobs all of which serve to enrich the business owners and executives.
MKlik (Vermont)
@James Siegel I agree with you and I disagree with @Dr B because the wealthy have largely forgotten any idea of a social contract. As someone who is far smarter than I about this has said "There is nobody in this country who got rich on their own. Nobody." And, Dr B, yes, Americans should be transferring more of their wealth to the rest of the world. As Kristof notes today, world leaders once pledged to donate 0.7% of national income to assistance for poor countries. Now only a few countries do and while the average amount for developed countries is 0.31%, the US donates only 0.17% - that is shameful.
Wim Roffel (Netherlands)
There is scientific research that points out that increased inequality in a society is more stressful for everyone, even the top 1%. Yes, with a big bank account one could retire and just enjoy life. But that is not how most people work. They want to contribute to society and to count as somebody. And being human they can always find people who are doing better than them and who they envy as a consequence. And they will put effort in beating them. Markovits's "solution" won't help. It will only make the situation yet more unequal and as a consequence teriorate the problem.
Mike Page (Chatham, MA)
As I get older I realize that more is not better. What I materially have is more than adequate to lead a comfortable life. Time to concentrate more on relationships making better interpersonal connections. Life is short, and dying with the most toys doesn’t make you the winner.
GriswoldPlankman (West Hartford, CT)
@Mike Page -- Mike, I agree with you, but I have to note that you indicate you are writing this from Chatham. Nothing wrong with that, and for all I know you're there for a couple of weeks. I'd be happy with a little house in Chatham (especially if the sharks would move away).
Arthur (Western North Carolina)
The author's use of the word "self-inflicted" is what stands out to me. We have established a society where certain accomplishments (where you went to college or the neighborhood you live in for example) are over-valued. We have developed the system where the education in many urban areas is of lower quality than the suburbs. We continue to assume that the Ivy League graduate is innately better than an accomplished graduate from, dare day, a top 100 college or university.
ProSkeptic (NYC)
This strain of self pity is not limited to the rich and super rich. It seeps down into what might be called the middle classes (yes, they still exist). I’m a single man with no children, and I make almost six figures, and yet I sometimes find myself feeling very sorry for myself, despite the fact that I live better than 98% of the world’s population. It is in the nature of capitalism, and particularly American capitalism, that people are made to feel deficient, like “losers,” if they don’t have this or that product. It speaks to a lack of an alternative value system to counteract the ravages of the market economy and its essential amorality. The benefits of a brand new SUV, or a McMansion, pale in comparison to that of inner peace, which can’t possibly come from the marketplace. Mr. Reeves’s advice to the rich—“Just stop”—could be given equally to most Americans, and particularly to our corporate and political elites.
profwilliams (Montclair)
Yet another article that calls out "the rich" without setting a parameter for the term. 200k/year in NYC, you may be stressing, living in a small apartment, working long hours trying to send kids to pre-schools/private schools because your public school isn't very good- can't fault folks for that. In parts of NJ, you might find a teacher and a fireman making 200k/year, living in a house with a yard in a nice neighborhood with good schools. But they have free time- teachers in the summer, a fireman working 3 14hr shifts/wk. (And a pension!) Yet in other parts of NJ, 200K will find you in a small condo, on a bus at 6am, getting home at 7pm. So who are the "rich" ones?
Kathy (Syracuse, NY)
@profwilliams Is your point that those are not choices? Living in a major metropolitan area is also a choice. These same people can't find jobs in Dutchess or Orange Counties and increase the quality of their lives?
Moses Cat (Georgia Foothills)
We could all choose to help improve our public education system no matter what the ZIP Code.
Mark W (New York)
I see profwilliams criticizing the article’s parameters. His response speaks to the choices they make , some of which make them happy and some of which don’t. You do the same. I know many who stress about certain aspects of their lives, ie the small apt in Manhattan, but love other aspects of their lifestyle. The article tells us nothing new but does give many the opportunity to trash “those people” that are not like them and are therefore not as good as them. Substitute the word “rich” with whichever other word you like
HPower (CT)
Generalizations based on other musings and anecdotal reporting of academics. Extreme cases used to describe am entire demographic. Similarly beware of generalizations about other demographics like immigrants, people of color, white working class, LGBT etc. What sells books, reaffirms our assumptions, and makes for presentations at academic conferences is not the whole story.
Jamil D (Svelvik)
There are three kinds of democracy today: a) Liberal D, b) Social D. and c) Deliberative D as described by Jürgen Habermas. Americans are solidly behind Liberal Democracy including social Darwinism, meritocracy and the anarchy of neo-liberalism and the resulting trickle-up economy. Through the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund one has tried to export this kind of society even to Northern Europe. There even conservatives have resisted that kind of development. With social democracy productivity is higher, life expectation is high for everybody, and the well-off enjoy more leisure and freedom, are confronted with less stress and fear, although - or even because - they are not super-rich. These matters are really not down to personal choice only. If I was super-rich in the USA, I might have stressed the family a little to uphold its status. Living in a social democracy, we got all the benefits we could dream of. The deliberative democracy of Habermas is a further development that would solve many of the challenges of democracy as it is a fairly new and immature invention. That is, the challenges are also due to the structure of society. In social democracies like Germany and the other European nations top notch quality health care is available for every poor alcoholic from the streets. But the wealthy too somehow survive. One may be irritated that the British NHS achieves the same, if one gets provoked by living in a less stressed-out and more equal society.
dAvid W (home and abroad)
As someone who took the advice of this writer, and decided to be rich instead of super rich, I can say it has made my life intimately more successful. Understand how lucky I was to be born middle class white and get a good public school education always made me feel grateful for my successes. There were stresses for sure, but not chasing the last dollar, saving instead of flashing what I did earn, allowed me to enjoy my family, friends and activities. Frankly, I do pity the people who sit at near the top of the pyramid but can only see the few bricks above them. They should realize how much of their success is based on the hard work and sacrifices of others.
Dexter Kinsella (Goshen, CT)
True, there are people willing to game the system to get their children into a prestigious school. However, this seems to be more about the parents and their desire to maintain a status among their peers than a desire for their children to excel.
Bruce (Canada)
But the pity is deserved because these Ubermensch are the job creators and paragons of virtue. They are super-focused on the bottom line and must be respected for that. Sure they look down upon the poor because the poor did not try hard enough....always complaining about some sort of disadvantage or excuse. The poor need the rich more than the other way around and in my Ubermensch opinion there are too many poor people to employ even if they wanted to work... which I doubt. The rich should be lauded and given the moral currency they deserve.
Kathy (Syracuse, NY)
@Bruce Most poor people work. Many work more than one job. The majority of poor people that receive welfare benefits are children and disabled elderly. The fact that wealthy people have caused housing to be so unaffordable is why you see so many homeless. Perhaps you can start a foundation that builds public showers, mailboxes and lockers to make their ability to find new work and pass apartment applications easier. It is hard on people who have to live on the street. It makes their lives shorter and meaner.
ggallo (Middletown, NY)
I always say, "We rise to the level of our experience."
Arrowsmith (GTA)
"But there is no moral equivalence between the stress of a senior executive staying up late to polish a presentation for a client and the stress of a retail worker unsure if she will get the shift she needs to make rent." This seemingly commonsensical sentiment requires more specific parameters in order to signify. Yes, most retail workers are female. The gender of the senior executive remains open, but is more likely to be a white male in the real world. But the senior executive may have a huge mortgage and significant car payments, along with three college-age kids. We do not know anything about the circumstances of the retail worker, except that she is female. The moral valence of this comparison shifts every time we fill in the blanks.
Daniel F. Solomon (Miami)
Too many people who started on third base think they hit a triple. Many people who consider themseves superior to the rest of us, were merely lucky to have made it.
Doug (Falls Church, VA)
I was not born rich, but I guess I am one the successful "rich" people you refer to - though I am neither super rich, stressed out, nor feeling sorry for myself. I wholeheartedly agree with your argument. Those who have the freedom to make these choices are privileged, and instead of feeling stressed, should take responsibility for the decisions they make. I have at times chosen to sacrifice for my children, a choice people from all walks of life make, and I have no regrets. I have at times chosen the more stressful path, and I still have no regrets. I have made many mistakes, but that's just life. As the author says, the ability to make these choices is a great privilege.
Greenie (Vermont)
The problem though is that the rich recognize that if they "just stopped" as you propose, very likely their kids wouldn't make it into the select preschool, private school, college, grad school program etc. This would then mean that they wouldn't be courted by the top law or finance firms, thus endangering their kid's ability to also be filthy rich. If the rich didn't buy a home in the "right" zip code, attend the "right" parties, join the "right" clubs etc, they would endanger their ability to continue to function in the elite world. This all means that the rich would need to recognize that being an ordinary middle-class sort, sending your kids to a good enough public school, a state college etc. is just okay. They would still have it better than the vast majority of the world's population. But given that they look down on "the little people" why would they wish to join us? And no, I don't feel sorry for their self-inflicted woes any more than they feel sorry for the choice of an addict to use drugs. I won't shed any tears for the stresses felt by the rich.
Vox (Populi)
I am assuming that Reeves addresses some of the issues I am about to raise in his book, but this excerpt, as it stands, is rather flabby. My top salary as an educator was 60K, and it was enough to support two people comfortably. I was able to pay the rent, purchase a car, save, and contribute to a 403(b) account. That was a decade ago in southern California. I don't drink or smoke or go on vacations. My only vices were books, movies, golf, and tennis. Things change so rapidly. It would help if Reeves defined more concretely what "wealth," "rich." "elite" mean today. I am culturally elite (Phd). In terms of income, I am probably lower-middle class. I had no idea admission to college was so competitive and that USC was so tough to make. I remember a time when USC was labelled "tailback U" and designated a party school for rich kids who could not make Berkeley or UCLA. I was admitted to pretty much every program I applied for, and I hail from a lower-middle-class household. Household income was not a factor in acceptance to college. But that was a while ago.
Lawrence Zajac (Williamsburg)
This article and the book "The Meritocracy Trap" assume we indeed exist within a meritocracy when the truth is that we try functioning within a hybrid with the privileges of capitalism that often puts forward the worst of both. In a true meritocracy, no one would have to worry about health care availability and costs or educational opportunity because all would have access. The rich whine because they don't want that to take place.
Thomas Wieder (Ann Arbor, MI)
Another way in which the rich, and the just relatively “richer,” seek pity is over the issue of the supposedly intolerable burden of paying off their student loans after they attend those highly expensive, top universities, private and public. They want free tuition or debt forgiveness, and many Democratic candidates are all too willing to offer those programs to this important segment of the Democratic primary electorate. The reality is that a college education produces huge financial rewards, that most people don’t complete college degrees, and using tax dollars to lessen the “burden” of these graduates is just more Robin Hood in reverse, where the lesser-paid high school grad pays taxes to widen further the gap between her standard of living and the standard of living of the college grad.
Patricia (Ct)
Best decision we ever made was not to bring children into this world. That and living below our means, taking every second of our vacation time, staying home when we were sick and putting extra money toward retirement allowed us to retire early and enjoy life. As all my friends fretted about their careers and their children’s careers I watched ever happier that I didn’t join in the dance.
JW (New York)
@Patricia I never had children either but I don't think that's necessarily the issue. I wish that I had the opportunity to have children but some other things got in the way. Early retirement has its benefits but I'm sure parenting does too.
Peter (CT)
@Patricia It was the best decision for you, but a world without children wouldn’t be a very nice place. I have kids, raising them is not always easy, but I certainly don’t envy you.
Jill (MN)
@Patricia I can’t imagine what you think is the burden of parenthood? Moms and dads take all their vacation and sick time and retire early too. Living within your means is a good decision.
whaddoino (Kafka Land)
The top 20 schools could help matters here enormously. There was a proposal floated a few years ago called the principle of the flat maximum. The idea is that beyond a certain level, and a not very high level at that, the differences in grades, SAT scores, hockey vs drama, are not relevant. The maximum is flat; all these students are equally good. That being so, Yale/Cornell/Stanford have no rational basis for picking mathlete Alice over violinist Bashir. They should set and announce a minimum acceptable level of achievement, and select from all applicants above that level by lottery. If Alice doesn't win at Yale, surely she will win at Cornell or Stanford. If her odds of getting into each school are 50%, the odds that she will not be picked at any of her top seven schools (or at all of them) are less than 1 in 100. Any of these schools offers a first-rate education across the board: arts, sciences, humanities, social sciences, engineering, pre-med, you name it. The principle of the flat max applies here too. The idea that U Chicago is better than U Penn or the other way around is silly. Furthermore, this proposal is inherently fair vis a vis admitting poorer or legacy students, left/right coast vs heartland, conservative vs liberal. I am certain these schools could make the idea work. Financial aid and other logistics could all be managed with minor tinkering. All it needs is the will power.
R Rhett (San Diego)
I agree with the sentiment, but this article conflates the top servants of the rich with the rich. CEOs, hedge fund managers, and the rest of the truly rich aren’t stressed. They can afford to send a dozen children to any school in the world, where they can flunk out and go to another one. It’s all good. In the end their kids will serve on the board of directors or manage a hedge fund. It’s all good. The next tier down is VERY stresses. There is a big difference between a CEO making $17Million a year and a general counsel making $300k. They believe (correctly) that gap between them and the retail worker worried about rent can close at a whim. That the CEOs and business tycoons they serve have an army of talented people waiting to take their place. If they or their children fall off the high beam they will have no chance to get back on. It isn’t a matter of ZIP code or prestige. It is knowing that if you aren’t in the club you are out. And out is a scary place.
Scott (NY)
@R Rhett Everything you say is true, but that wasn't the point of the article. The author is suggesting what is lacking among many people who populate the high income (working rich) category is perspective. Life is stressful for most, no doubt, but money is a great insulator and an individual making 300K a year has more cushion than the average retail worker by far who might get evicted because they had to spend rent money on a car repair or medical expense. I would also add that I don't think a general counsel's role is as tenuous as you make it out to be if that person has a quality education to fall back upon. And they likely do. It is true that they might not secure another 300K a year role, but I doubt they would end up a greeter at Wal-Mart either. One thing the general counsel might do to help himself, is support government policies that benefit all people over corporations, curb the role of money in politics, and help fight age discrimination and other pernicious corporate practices that could end his career more quickly than he'd like. Oh, and that general counsel, and thousands of others like him might also throw their weight behind increasing funding for public education, infrastructure and mass transit, and universal healthcare, so if he actually did fall off that high beam, it wouldn't be such a long distance to the ground.
JW (New York)
@R Rhett Sort of. But those that are well educated and dwell in the land of the "professional" worker don't have to serve the super rich to survive. The point was that they have options others don't have. Take if from someone that knows, out is only scary at first. After a while, it can become the best thing that ever happened to you.
Flaneur (Blvd)
@R Rhett CEOs and hedge fund managers have performance objectives and are the first to be fired if they do not measure up. Deputies and vice-presidents can survive vettings and restructurings. You have to worry if you start earning too much money. At competitive universities, the football and basketball coach earn far more than the president. But they, too, can be sent packing if they lose too many games.
Stephanie Wood (Montclair NJ)
I've said it before, I'll say it again: if there was a real meritocracy, caregivers would make six-figure incomes and twits at Google who can't even design a search engine would make minimum wage. I have about as much pity for the "meritocracy" as Robespierre had for the aristocracy. They stress the rest of us out with their refusal to pay taxes and their invasion into our neighborhoods and lives. I don't care if people are rich or privileged, but they should pay the same percentage of their income in taxes that I do (or more) and when they start harassing and stealing from the rest of us, I feel like fighting them in self-defense. Now if they feel stressed, imagine how stressed the poor feel having to work several jobs, use lousy public transit to get there, pay their rent, feed their kids and keep the electricity on. Even my middle class neighbor has to work two jobs, and I'd work another job if I wasn't chronically ill. Thanks to the greed of the rich, I can't pay my bills, either. I know how I'd like to put the rich out of their misery, but they won't print my solution in the NY Times or any other paper.
AnotherCitizen (St. Paul)
The "meritocracy" is not a meritocracy at all; there is no "meritocracy" in the sense that Reeves uses it, even in his attempts to criticize it. If you want to support and promote equality, base your social commentary on reality, you need to stop supporting the propaganda of "meritocracy" and its use as a concept and word for what is the class stratification, mostly financially-defined, that exists in the US. There is no merit in the mislabeled "meritocracy" that defines different social and economic classes in the US and globally.
sdavidc9 (Cornwall Bridge, Connecticut)
The system defends itself by structuring itself so that those who are in positions to compete and do not do so find themselves slipping and sliding back, losing their friends, and risking sliding down too far and too fast. The system recognizes working hard, having success, and using the success to fund doing something else -- brewing beer, making wine, becoming some sort of master craftsman.
Mark (Manchester)
You can work hard and never be rich. Plenty of people born into rich families never work for what they have and millions of people living below the poverty line work themselves to the bone for a pittance. There is no justice built into the system and it doesn't 'recognise' anything universally. What it does do is shield past winners, but that's actually once again the inefficiency of the model shining through, not a feature we should celebrate.
raph101 (sierra madre, california)
@sdavidc9 One tweak I'd make to the way we organize human societies now would be to, instead of competitive systems that devolve to ruthless winners and losers (irrespective of talent and effort), instead direct all of our labor towards ensuring everyone's basic needs for shelter, food, time for children and parents to spend together, health, education, etc., are met. There would be no finance sector, and a bunch of attorneys wouldn't be needed. We'd need farmers, research and applied scientists, designers and builders, artists, artisans, educators, cooks, baby- and child-minders, planners, adventurers, seers, people to treat physical, emotional, and mental health, drivers, administrative staff. . . . Competitive impulses could be challenged into games and various achievements, but not elevated to anything like primacy. I don't know if humans at this point in our evolution are capable of cooperative societies. Surely there are examples in our history of civilizations organized around stable, functional settlements, not focused on "growth" but on maintaining a high and satisfying quality of life, where the idea that some -- or even most! -- people live in abject misery so a tiny, random, antisocial minority can hoard more resources than can be spent in many lifetimes . . . can we do it? Stop considering so many of us fungible, not worth looking after, but instead making room for each one to happily, healthfully pitch in? I'd like to see that in action.
JustJeff (Maryland)
@sdavidc9 Any system must have clearly defined paths (and rationale for failure) for the following edge scenarios: 1) a completely incompetent idiot who is born at the top and slips to the poorest quintile, 2) a highly intelligent, creative, and motivated person who starts out at the bottom and makes it to the highest quintile. Given the current 'meritocracy' can't explain either (unless it injects a considerable degree of luck), it's not a meritocracy. Indeed, the fact that it relies on luck to explain outliers renders the entire model moot.
Pragmatic (San Francisco)
When we first moved to California, we lived in a city near Stanford University. My daughter was in kindergarten in a public school and my son was two. I was looking for a good nursery school for him so met with a colleague of my husband’s to get some suggestions. Now mind you this was 30 years ago. The first thing she told me was that it was too bad that he couldn’t get into Bing, the nursery school associated with Stanford because he was “too old”. Apparently one had to apply at birth to secure a spot! And why? It was a beginning of the path to Stanford! I could not believe what I was hearing! Clearly the pressure has just gotten worse. And my son? He went to a cooperative nursery school that had one of the best early childhood directors (IMHO) that my son and I could have had. And guess what? He is a delightful, kind, smart, caring adult man who is doing just fine thank you. He will probably never be a millionaire but he is successful.Oh and I met two of my best friends there who helped me raise my kids.
JustJeff (Maryland)
@Pragmatic Wealth isn't defined by just how much money one has. Too bad the wealthy have insufficient skills to figure that out.
PCHess (San Luis Obispo,Ca.)
The article discusses the symptoms of the malaise not the cause. When did getting a college degree become the gateway to a career? Something to apply to a resume to increase your marketability? When did gaining knowledge to create a more rounded and balanced human being become unproductive? When did education become a commodity to feed a system that feeds on it's self?Knowledge for knowledge sake to be used in building a more just and peaceful social order is viewed as a quaint relic of the past and that mindset is the disease in which we must find the cure.
Stephanie Wood (Montclair NJ)
I wish I'd become a plumber or electrician instead of going to college.
Annie Gramson Hill (Mount Kisco, NY)
Great column. There’s another very important reason to end the “meritocracy” myth: climate change. Addressing climate change will require a mobilization of resources and commitment to pull together that America hasn’t seen since WWII. However, the rich really identify with their own class, and therefore, rich Americans have more in common with their counterparts in Argentina, Germany, South Africa, etc... then they do with poor folk in places like West Virginia and New Mexico. The affluent have no intention of curbing their lifestyles that include flying their private planes from Aspen to Martha’s Vineyard and Davos and their decadent yachts in the south of France. So the real problem then, is that there are just too many people on the planet, all wanting to keep warm in the winter and aspire to a middle class existence. Wealthy people imagine that they can protect themselves from any war, pandemic, or other catastrophe that will wipe out large numbers of our species by removing themselves to places like New Zealand or someplace remote. Once enough of the population is removed, then the affluent can enjoy their wealth more than ever. It is an absolute failure of imagination to suppose that the rich would be willing to sacrifice their unprecedented lifestyles in order to pursue some nebulous concept like ‘we’re all in this together.’ We’re not in this together. As always, the rich are very different from you and me.
Cold Eye (Kenwood CA)
If “free public college” becomes a reality, getting into one will be far more competitive than it is now. Meritocracy will prevail.
Sarah (Oregon)
@Cold Eye Agree. Free college will be far more regulated. When govt pays the bill they will regulate. It will be a little like scholarships where -if the student receipient lets their grades drop below a B-average -they lose the funding. (Or the army.) When the govt foots the bill taxpayers will make demands. They won't tolerate students who slack or party. In fact, free college may be the fortunate cure for grade inflation. Those students who only spend 10 hours per week in the libraries will soon be out. College ed will change. Taxpayers will make demands.
raph101 (sierra madre, california)
@Cold Eye Imagine if higher / specialized ed was available to anyone with the ability and desire. We could capture and nurture ALL the excellence and unique talents that reside in our society, and not just those who selfishly hoard the most.
Su Ling Saul (Cartersville, Ga.)
@Sarah you are right. The Georgia Hope Scholarship stops the minute a student drops below required grade point average in Georgia State Schools from Georgia Tech, UG on down the line.
KW (Oxford, UK)
Not surprised someone from Brookings makes this out to be a series of personal choices rather than what it is: a systemic issue. If wealth was more evenly distributed people would not have to work themselves to death or fear missing out.
Donna (Mishawaka, IN)
@KW I agree. If democracy is to work the rising tide has to lift all boats. Unfortunately we have become a winner take all society.
Mark (Manchester)
It is a lot more rooted in individual choices than the life of someone born at the other end of the scale.
MTDougC (Missoula, Montana)
Good column, but it missed one essential point, the political corruption that comes part and parcel with today's wealth gap. Much of that wealth is kept or achieved from the start by virtue of "campaign contributions" that are little more than bribery. Many of the comments posted here talk about taxing the wealthy. That won't happen when they own local, state and federal politicians. Real reform starts by rebuilding our broken electoral and political system.
Leslie Monteath (La Costa California)
I worked in a high stress, highly remunerative vocation. I choose it to make more money. Worried, like most, to earn enough for my kids college , my retirement. Ultimately, the stress was untenable. I retired early much to the chagrin of my company. My coworkers were shocked I would leave and just give up. Walk away. I did not give up. I bought a suburban farm, and get up every morning and grow our own food. And spend the rest of my time volunteering. There are always choices.
Kurt (Spokane)
I received my Ph. D. from a so-called "public Ivy." Roughly half of my grad cohort came from "real" Ivy League Schools and the other half (my half) came from everywhere else. During my grad days I was chosen twice to be the student rep on the grad admissions committee. This meant that I took 300-400 applications and "short stacked" them into the 40-50 that the professors would actually look at. Then, I sat in on the meeting where 10 people were chosen as the first tier. I then had to do this again during my internship year at another institution. My conclusions? (1) Going to an Ivy league school does help--no doubt about it. (2) It doesn't matter all that much where you go if you don't go Ivy. Do professor's care if you went to Notre Dame or Minn State? Actually, my experience says no. If the person from Minn. State writes even a slightly better admissions letter or presents a slight bit better during an interview they are in and the person from the fancier college is out. (3) You can get admitted for what seems like random reasons that have nothing to do with your preschool, HS, or college. Being on the admissions committee made me wonder why I was admitted (and indeed told I was one of the two unanimous choices). On paper I didn't really seem all that impressive. So finally I asked one of the profs. His answer? "Well, admission interviews are really dull but you seemed jovial and just kind of lightened things up...that's all I remember about it."
Anti-Marx (manhattan)
@Kurt But at Notre Dame, you'll make more useful professional contacts that at Minn State. I see college as a place one makes contacts. A person with contacts stands a better chance of getting a job. Therefore, it helps to attend a college that has a high proportion of high achievers.
Kurt (Spokane)
@Anti-Marx I can totally see how you would think that. Maybe in some fields (e.g., business) its even true. My experience in academia is different but than my experience is just my experience and certainly not universal. My opinions are also just my opinions. So with those caveats I would say that in general I disagree. I think it would be really easy to go to ND and do nothing but drink and party. I also think you could go to Minn State and work hard every day, meet plenty of high achievers in class and in the library, and do well for yourself. I think people believe there are multiple gradiations of colleges ("tiers") that are related to meaningful outcomes. I think its mostly just a myth...I just don't think it really matters that much where you get your bachelors degree. I know for sure its not worth worrying your life away about it...
Sarah (Oregon)
@Kurt Yes, where they go as an undergrad matters far less than the effort the student puts into it once you're there. You can make any college work for you. You can get into to Havard Law School - from ND or Minn State if you work hard from the moment you arrive and do well on the LSAT's.
Woodson Dart (Connecticut)
I keep telling my semi-disgruntled stressed out college grad millennial kids and their mother...there’s always welding school and diesel engine maintenance. 6 figure income, steady hours, no office to check into. No one is taking me seriously...and there is the upper middle class “issue” of what I’ll just call “status liability “.
Richard Cohen (Madrid, Spain)
I have an almost irrepressible desire to post a laughing emoticon here. The wealthy -- and even most members of the upper-middle class -- have no idea how working class and poor people live in this country. To compare the "stress" of getting your kids into Harvard or Stanford to the stress of not being able to pay your rent on time, feed your family at the end of the month or go to the doctor is specious. Good students with adequate resources will almost always have successful careers. The same cannot be said for kids forced to drink lead-contaminated water in Flint, Michigan, because some [insert expletive] bureaucrat thought that the alternative was too expensive.
Stephanie Wood (Montclair NJ)
Thanks, best post on this string.
raph101 (sierra madre, california)
@Richard Cohen I hate that we just accept as normal the fact that a decent percentage of our neighbors will be miserable. It doesn't need to be that way, we somehow just decided to organize ourselves as a pyramid in which the bottom tiers are weary, deprived, and unfulfilled so those at the top can strip away more than their share of whatever they want. This is the design made by a collective personality disorder with antisocial, narcissistic, selfish features, rather than a healthy body politic.
MEM (Los Angeles)
Inequality is increasing and affecting all strata of society. It isn't necessary to feel sympathy for some wealthy people to acknowledge they, too, are affected by a system that is squeezing all but the elite of the elite.
David (Henan)
It's a fundamentally warped sense of values - these people must feel that the self-worth must be attained at being in ever higher social circles. They have to have their kids go to the best schools, have the best stuff, the best vacations, and on and on. Not, because these things give them much happiness in and of themselves; the happiness comes for the sense of superiority they feel and cultivate however the rest of the society. Now, we all feel this way to some extent (no one likes being called a "loser"), but you'd think the rich would have enough self-awareness that to complain being rich makes them look like a modern day Marie Antoinette.
Stephanie Wood (Montclair NJ)
My "aristocratic" great grandmother eloped with my working class great grandfather in 1882, was disowned by her family, but had a happy life and a bunch of kids. Her brother adored her, hired a servant for her, and brought her gifts from his travels all over the world. Her daughter "married" another woman and settled down in New Jersey. They bought a house together and were very happy. No one disowned them for being gay in the 1930s, it was perfectly accepted and she was my favorite aunt. No one was rich, but they had really posh Southern accents. In the end, in some odd poetic justice, back in the old country the baroness gave the castle away. The laird, like my travelling great great uncle, lives in California. O how the mighty have fallen.
Mark (Munich)
Both are right. The author and the critics in many of these postings. "Stop the world, I wanna get off"...could be the answer to the rat race that many of us have found ourselves in. Most of the time we are trapped. But sooner or later most of us middle class types will come across a chance to slow down and smell the flowers. The trick is to recognize that chance and to act.
Stephanie Wood (Montclair NJ)
If things go on like this, the middle class will be smelling the flowers soon when we are all homeless. That's how much supporting the rich has cost us in this country. I don't know why people aren't more angry. I've been fed up with the rich for a long time now. I wish they'd just pay their taxes and shut up, and stay in their own neighborhoods and leave us alone.
LM (Maryland)
I agree with much of this except the statement, "The problems of the affluent are not systemic, they are self inflicted". You can be currently affluent without having had an overabundance of generational wealth to have propelled you right? Lingering student loan debt, for one strikes me as a systemic issue. But maybe he categorizes the affluent as having no debt, I'm not sure.
Joe Miksis (San Francisco)
Reading through the article, I found no data to define what Mr. Reeves refers to as "affluent", "elite" or "money-rich". I am by nature a whiny person. But now I am vexed as to whether my complaints with life are caused by my relatively good financial situation, or whether its just because I'm an old guy who has become ever more cynical, in the process of aging.
Stephen Beard (Troy, OH)
I'm not in the upper ten percent. I've got plenty I could whine about, if I just put my mind to it. But at 75, I don't have the time for much whining. Between keeping myself and my health together, working for the last three years at a gig job where my pay has dropped by a substantial amount since I began, watching my country's political become an mean-spirited bickering contest, enduring weather like I've never seen before, and hoping that someday I'll be able to replace the broken couch I'm presently sitting on (it doesn't have to be new, although that would be nice), the time for complaining just wafts away on the increasingly hot days I'm sweating through and washes down the street in the most intense rain storms I've ever experienced. Or maybe I'm just whining here because I'm sick (and tired) of all the rich whiners who just don't seem to realize how good their lives are.
Stephanie Wood (Montclair NJ)
I would be so happy with my present income, but the government takes half of it, so that knocks me from bourgeois comfort way down into one rung over the poverty line.
Jack (Northern California)
When many of my brothers and sisters here in the U.S. are willing to let me and others of their fellow Americans die unless we have enough money to pay for all of our material needs, including medical care, it is hard to advise my children that being affluent is unimportant. I support tax rates at levels making it possible to fund free education and medical care for everyone in the U.S. However, I seem to be in the minority, so my spouse and I decided we needed to make enough to give our children absurd amounts of subsidies. I sometimes wonder if it would have been wiser to have been born in Oslo or Copenhagen, but apparently that is not an option at this point.
Jennifer (France)
@Jack .....Yes, the Scandinavian models are much more just, more distributive... taxation is proportional...5 week + holidays are a right....educational opportunities then for granted (particularly in Finland...pregnant women (single or otherwise) and children are not regarded as some kind of "burden" (quite the opposite :)) and...production (if a measure) pretty high......people work hard, and are allowed leeway when they cannot....and share values related to solidarity and commonality of purpose nationally and globally. Such social attitudes have nothing to do with "charity": they are common sensical and in many ways self-interested, with an acute awareness that none of us lives Just by "doing it My Way"....We all need support at times.... In addition, an open, educated, "forgiving" society is less likely to be riven by conflict......each of us lives more safely. Of course, no human society is perfect ...and democracies are by their nature (should be) dynamic and participative. The extreme right wing parties also exist in these countries.....and are part of our regressive and destructive Zeigeist at the moment, unfortunately. Let us hope that those countries are only moving temporarily backwards to some nationalistic, fearful, narcissistic, grabwhatyoucanget "wonderland" in order to leap forward again with a renewed grasp of democratic and humanist and environmental principles .
V.B. Zarr (Erewhon)
I agree with much of what's written here, especially the "Just stop" advice towards the end. I've worked in private schools that included students from families who were well off, rich and even super-rich. Not all parents, but many, were driven by unnecessary levels of fear about their children's future prospects that often rose to the level of neurotic. That said, the admissions "process" at such schools is often constructed to create a culture of such neurosis in order to market the schools, which are locked in their own neurotically hyper-competitive battle with each other over intake and rankings. But one thing I would like to challenge in this article--and which seems to be becoming an intellectual trend these days--is the use of the word "meritocracy" to describe this gilded lab-rat maze of the miseducation system herein described. What's going on here is the undermining of meritocracy through inherited privilege, including short cuts, end runs, back channels, along with straight-up bribery and cheating. (The author even provides examples of those very problems.) I "just stopped" working in such schools for these very reasons, also choosing to send my child to a public school that worked out just fine. Such schools are a business, so their first loyalty is never to your family or your child. The real "benefit" of these exclusive schools is a kind of country club networking--again, designed to undermine meritocracy, not to support it--but it's "fool's gold."
RyeRye (Los Angeles)
We are LUCKY enough to be in the upper 2-3% of earners but live a deliberately frugal lifestyle so our stress is minimal, compared to most, including our high-earning peers. This frugality cascades down to choices regarding our kid. While we can afford fancy schools and suburbs, we live in a working class gentrifying neighborhood and they attend an urban school with low test scores, part of district where 80% of the student population is low-income and 90% of students are non-white. Some of our peers would be horrified, but we 1. think it's possible to get a decent education, 2. believe public schools need to have rich parents with skin in the game, and 3. like not being slaves to our jobs. It is a choice. By not succumbing to the peer pressure, we have the freedom to spend time on our kid, our school, and our community.
raph101 (sierra madre, california)
@RyeRye I'm sure to a visitor from outer space, our focus on money and mercantilism as almost the only signifier of success would appear bizarre. What about the people who have found truly satisfying work, or those who've organized their lives around a meaningful avocation? Surely they're rich in the ways that matter. I remember, during the child-rearing years, my idea of having it made was being able to occasionally read the New Yorker cover to cover. That would mean I'd developed my care network well enough that having a few hours to myself wasn't unusual or costly. These days I'm captivated by the political scene and I consider it a luxury to have the time and concentration to follow developments as closely as I want. Not all of us desire piles of money, nor do we associate success with material wealth. Being able to do as we please while also being able to meet our needs is the sweet spot.
gratis (Colorado)
Socialism. Or Democratic Socialism. I lived and worked in Sweden and Norway. In each country workers get 4 weeks paid vacation by law, and workers are encouraged to take it. Furthermore, since income inequality is lessened, the fight for the marginal dollar means less. Grubbing for that very last dollar is not such a priority. That kind of legislation might help account for their contention in the "Happiest Country in the World" title, along with the healthcare, education, 6 month paid parental leave, retirement they get with their 50% tax rate. They cannot be too upset, as they vote at an over 80% participation rate. On, and instead of these socialists running out of other peoples' money, the countries have balanced budgets and often surpluses.
Sarah (Sweden by way of Washington)
@gratis For the reasons you state and a few others, I am glad to be raising three children in Sweden. Democracy in the US is dying in part due to this tiered educational system. The "super rich" can spend endlessly on their children's education while the private institutions gladly increase both fees and acceptance criteria in order to compete with each other. It pushes the merely well-off and others out (to second-tiered/public institutions), ensuring the heirs of the current .01% can keep their money and power by way of Ivy League networking. I get why the merely well-off are stressing. They fear their kids are being priced out of a "good life."
John Bacher (Not of This Earth)
@gratis Perhaps "Happiest Region in the World", insofar as 4 neighboring countries (Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland) are worthy of the title. That Mr. Reeves's article should appear immediately after the Finnish president's visit to the CABINET of DR. CALIGARY is most apposite. A Finnish reporter asked Trump what he could learn from "the happiest country in the world". Naturally, the stable genius with the biggest, best, perfect and most beautiful brain has nothing left to learn, so he responded with a non sequitur claiming that the Finns got rid of Nancy Pelosi, without bothering to ask how. I imagine that he has his own method, so why bother ? I'd like to suggest one Finnish policy which would benefit all Americans, and therefore, will never be implemented here. It is part of the social democratic contract Finland has with its citizens, already described by @gratis that exists in that part of the world. All public schools are federally funded, and no expense is spared to educate the population. Teachers are highly trained, well paid professionals, not unlike doctors and lawyers. There is a long tradition of hostility toward education for the masses in America. Public schools were created to impart sufficient rudimentary skills for the great unwashed to be able to work in the service of their betters. When schools are funded by property taxes, separation and inequality are inevitable. The pursuit of happiness is all uphill for many Americans.
M.A.A (Colorado)
Well, I'm a doom and gloomer by nature, and I tend to be right in being so, so I can only wonder what stress the super rich will feel in our not too distant future. The days when these people will have access to genetic engineering is 'soon'. It won't be competition to get their children into Trinity and Yale, it will be competition over access to the design of the very genes of those children and the level of privilege that will be required to access such an advantage. We're nearing the dystopia now, folks. This here... this whining over the stress of having children while rich, to me is just a conversation these people are having about their own particular perspective and should not really be thought much of by the rest of us. It really means nothing. They're whining. Whatever. It does bring to mind the larger, impending societal upheaval that is coming that most certainly *will* affect us all. Of course, this is just the crazy paranoid rantings of a perfectly sane person that happens to be absolutely 100% correct.
counsel9 (Island)
@M.A.A I’m with you, I think. I’m a boomer and we were the golden generation in many ways, living in relatively peaceful times. It’s all down hill from here and I feel terribly sorry for the “ selfie generation” . Survival of the fittest and all that.
richard (the west)
First of all, it's far from clear that the 'best' make it to the top of the economic heap. A good deal of brash self-promotion, occasionally involving fraud and mendacity, seems often to be involved. But I guess, perhaps, the ability to lie with a straight face is a 'talent' of some kind, too. (Ask Lori what's-her-name for tips and pointers). In any case, if being obscenely wealthy is too stressful there are obvious soultions to the problem. A modest start would be paying what one legitimately owes in taxes.
Joshua Schwartz (Ramat-Gan, Israel)
"If they choose to throw that away in the pursuit of some ideal of perfection, well, that’s on them. Their stress is entirely the result of their own decisions. The very least they could do is refrain from asking for sympathy from everyone else." Often, and not just in the case of the rich, pursuit of some ideal etc. becomes ingrained in the personalities and character. They become junkies, as it were. It is impossible to stop. As for sympathy, if they get it, then apparently they are talented in more ways than one.
Robert Goldschmidt (Sarasota, FL)
There is absolutely nothing wrong with meritocracy. The problem is destruction of competition which results in price gouging by monopolies and and the resulting annual upward redistribution of wealth of $20,000 per year from every working family — the difference between dignity and no dignity for tens of millions. Ensure competition and the level playing field of a free market and you will once again achieve an economy where families thrive and businesses grow. How do I know this? — because this is exactly how it worked so successfully for a quarter century from 1948-1973.
Daniel B (Granger, IN)
I live a very confortable lifestyle. I consider myself rich, not wealthy. I’ve studied hard and worked hard. My wife and I count our blessings every day. Our kids went to public schools and in state college. They know they are privileged but are also socially conscious. If used wisely, money can allow one to not worry about certain things. For the people depicted in the article, money has only made their lives more miserable.
Patricia (Pasadena)
"Your kids will be just fine attending a good public university." Not if they want to pursue a field like physics at the level of preparing for a career in research. Public universities don't tend to have the top faculty in the more advanced fields.
Elizabeth Anheier (WA state)
@Patricia My husband attended public university for undergrad and grad school. He is a successful, well published, respected physicist in R&D.
@Patricia Not necessarily true. See, e.g., UC Berkeley/UT Austin, etc.
Jeff Sher (San Francisco)
I recognized the choice the author is talking about at a pretty young age. So when I started making a lot of money, I made the choice not to rachet up my lifestyle but to bank the money so I would know freedom from the fear of not having enough. Now I don't have much stuff (I don't own my apartment, my car is 20 years old and I hope to own it until I drive it into the ground because that's not only economically smart but the most environmentally conscious thing I can do). But I don't have to worry about paying my monthly bills - ever - and I can go wherever i want and do just about whatever I want. I chose freedom from that stress over the stuff. I am not "rich" in the high roller, gazillionaire sense of that term. But I'm certainly rich compared to the vast majority of people on the planet. And I don't have to keep making $400,000 a year to support a $400,000 a year life style. It's a matter of priorities, and somehow I resisted the most extreme pressures of our materialistic culture. I tell all my young friends about my strategy, but most of them seem to keep following the siren song of capitalist, materialist culture. These pressures are hard to resist, but the rewards of doing so are great. And consuming less is far better for the planet. Everyone is more likely to be doing it soon. That's the good news.
Janet Savage (Los Angeles)
It is easy to live well on a low percentage of a lot of money. If you live at the $250k level you are still in a safe neighborhood. If you make $90k, living on half your salary is a whole different thing. You have the ease of living “cheaply”.
Jeff Sher (San Francisco)
@Janet Savage You're absolutely right Janet. I've been very fortunate. I only mention my situation to illustrate the author's point. I made different choices, so I don't have to whine about those problems now. And by the way, I'm all for radically altering the income distribution in this country to everyone can have a better life, not just the elite.
Hal Cherry (Hilton Head SC)
@Jeff Sher Driving the car into the ground is not necessarily the "right" thing, as fuel economies and levels of pollution output have improved significantly in newer models...resisting the new car every 3-4 years , I agree, but having gotten rid of a 1997 Odyssey with 215,000 on it this year, I feel reasonably certain the replacement 3 year old CR-V pollutes less and gets 10 mph+ better fuel economy. It's all relative. I believe the real problem, here, is the human tendency to support change so long as it doesn't affect themselves...
asagar00 (Houston, TX)
With all due respect, the author refers to a very tiny minority of rich people. Most rich people (with a few notable exceptions) are smart, decent, exceptionally hard working, well educated, live a good clean life, support their community, give to charitable causes, and remain anonymous.
raph101 (sierra madre, california)
@asagar00 This . . . has not been my experience. With the exception of "well-educated," every one of your adjectives can be applied to any slice of income scale. Rich people aren't better, smarter, kinder. They just have more money. And poor people aren't dumber, lazier, dirtier or stingier. They just have less money, and suffer more as a result.
@asagar00 Just curious, but who's keeping accurate statistics on those metrics you speak of?
Stephanie Wood (Montclair NJ)
Don't kid yourself. Even the bourgeois people moving in here who don't consider themselves rich are actively destroying life for the rest of us. The burden of supporting them is killing us.
Ian Maitland (Minneapolis)
Has anyone else noticed how Richard Reeves is arguing with himself? Which is it? Reeves mocks the sacrifices that many upper middle class parents make to give their kids a head start in life by attending elite colleges. "Your kids will be just fine attending a good public university," he tells them. But, only one paragraph or so later, he tells us that the winners in America's meritocracy reap enormous dividends from their success. He says that "[b]y any objective measure, the rich are doing just fine. They are wealthier and healthier than ever." (That is hardly news. It is at least as old as the Whitehall Study of 1978 showing a strong association between grade levels of UK civil servants and their mortality rates: the lower the grade, the higher the mortality rate). So, if they love their kids, the parents' sacrifices may be perfectly rational. Btw, how many graduates of "good public universities" (like the one I teach at) sit on the US Supreme Court?
Leonard (Chicago)
@Ian Maitland, but that's the loop we've created. We think the people in the elite schools are the best candidates for the job just because of the piece of paper they have, but that isn't always the case. What if we focused on making our country better instead of fighting each other to "win"?
Annnabelle (Arizona)
To Ian Maitland, So, the example of the Supreme Court is the only measure of success and some ultimate dis on state universities? How absurd! Obtaining a position on the highest court in the land is a one in a gazillion chance for even the most brilliant. Maybe we should set our sights a little lower. How about Hon. Donald W. Molloy Chambers who went to the University of Montana for both Law school and as an undergraduate? He now serves on the ninth circuit court. Some other examples are: The current governor of Arizona and one of Arizona’s Senators graduated from various departments at Arizona State University. In fact, ASU law graduate Kyrsten Sinema beat Harvard and Air Force graduate Martha McSally in the 2018 Senate race. The governor before him, Jan Brewer, didn’t even graduate from a four year college. The Governor before her, Janet Napolitano, attended law school at the University of Virginia. She went on to become the Secretary of Homeland Security and she’s now the president of the prestigious University of California system. My district’s congresswoman attended the University of Arizona as well. I could name of other very successful state educated individuals who have risen to high office and who are in positions of power and prestige. And, very likely, without any burdensome debt from outrageous school loans.
kingfieldsk (Minneapolis)
Thank you for this. I completely agree. I think people who are stuck in this mindset miss so much in life. While they spend all their time striving to be at the top they miss time spent with friends, pursuing hobbies, sleeping, etc. just stop.
As-I-Seeit (Albuquerque)
Warren Buffett still lives in the first house he ever bought. The rich should remember that "enough is as good as a feast." They choose the stress and deserve no sympathy. There REALLY ARE disadvantaged people who need and should receive help. That is why a basic social safety net is imperative for our country. As a young person, some of the best times I ever had were when all the possessions I owned could fit in my car. I try to teach this appreciation for what you've got to my kids. They go to public schools and universities and make the most of their opportunities, including affordable study abroad/ exchange programs. When the essentials are secure, people can focus on the pursuit of true happiness:the BEST things in life are free.
@As-I-Seeit Warren Buffet's first house is far nice than most though. Your point is taken, and he is very frugal for being so wealthy, but the whole line about 'lives in his first house ever purchased' is distorted.
NatureBatsLast (Seattle, WA)
Here's the kernel of truth I appreciate in the article: "At one point, Mr. McGlashan lamented, 'The way the world works these days is unbelievable.' But that is not the way the world works: It is the way he was working the world." Let's use whatever agency we've got as individuals, communities, nations, and global networks to "work the world" so that we survive and thrive. The hour is late and opportunities great for breakthroughs in learning, thinking, understanding, innovation, leadership, and vision. Everyone's abilities, capacities, and energy are needed.
Farina (Puget Sound)
If it isn’t elite, it’s probably getting its funding yanked. If it isn’t a great neighborhood, the schools probably suffer from underfunding the parents can’t make up for. When we let our educational systems get cut to the bone we should expect a cutthroat fight for access to “the best.” The solution is to make all neighborhoods have adequate funding, all public colleges and trade trainings easy to afford and with professors and staff who are well paid. Our economy is feast or famine, but the mega wealthy are taking more of the pie and leaving the rest of us to struggle for the scraps. It’s not fair and it needs to change.
Grace (Bronx)
@Farina It's not about funding. It's about high expectations and no tolerance for destructive behavior. As it is now, special needs kids often absorb hundreds of thousands of dollars that could greatly benefit the other students.
William LeGro (Oregon)
money, wealth, power and opportunity Why are the rich so clueless? They think that money, wealth, power and opportunity are the most important goals in life. They can't see they have their life priorities all skewed? They're doing this all for their children? Please - give me a break. They're doing it for themselves. They want more and more shiny trophies they display to impress everybody. And that's how they see their kids, too - not as individual souls who need love and nuturing more than anything, who can turn that love and nurturing into anything they want in life. No, they see their kids as mere reflections of themselves - another shiny McMansion or Mercedes, another impressive name to drop at their cocktail parties and fundraisers. Anything it takes to win. Win what? More and evermore money, wealth, power and opportunity - and shiny kids who turn out just like themselves. The rich see themselves as rich because they're good, and good because they're rich. Circular logic much? Another crucial point they're missing - besides having their life priorities totally upside-down - is that they're rich not because they're good but because the rich have always waged class war against anybody who isn't rich - like about 90-95% of the rest of the people in the world. And when those people rebel against the injustice, the rich whine about how the non-rich are waging class warfare against THEM. Poor babies. Like I said - clueless, which doesn't say much for their intelligence.
@William LeGro Right... but if you've been watching the same 'rich' that I have, you'll notice that they smile a lot more than those standing in soup lines do. Sure, it might hurt many around them, but they die happy. It's selfish but let's not ignore most of the truly wealthy people in the world can have whatever they want, and they enjoy that. A lot.
Freedom (America)
@William LeGro Look how plastic and soulless Trump's kids are. They're a reflection of Trump. Unfortunately too many Americans think that those kids represent success, but instead they're cardboard cutouts covered in fake gold glitter, which may be shiny but just fall off when the glue dries. Bet the Trump grandkids will be just as useless as fallen glitter.
Stephanie Wood (Montclair NJ)
In the old days, we admired you and applauded you from the side lines. Good for you! Now that we are paying your bills and your taxes for you, we are tired of supporting you.
Andrew (Colorado Springs, CO)
The song, "Richard Cory" by Simon and Garfunkel comes to mind. I don't work in his factory, but I know people who do. I'm having some difficulty locating my sympathy button.
Sue (Nyc)
Um... I’m a young working professional and I can’t “just stop” and work less hours, because the vast majority of the jobs in my field are like this, and I don’t have any other skill set. What job exactly is out there that pays a living wage and is not stressful anyway? Employers in the US are all just trying to squeeze more work out of you during the daytime, you have to stay at work late, and even after hours they expect you to answer work emails, etc. Also, I have $165k in student loans, so no, I can’t just work part time unfortunately!!
Freedom (America)
@Sue It's sad that you fell into the trap that you had to go to a college or university that required you to amass $165k in student loans. This is a cautionary tale to look at the debt load before committing to an education at an institution that won't result in career options that would have allowed you to pay off those loans in a reasonable amount of time.
@Freedom I was born in 1980. I cannot tell you how many times I was told that I MUST go to college. MUST. Life would be miserable if I didn't! Turns out it wasn't right for me. Tons of time, money, and missed opportunity though. I wanted to drop out at 2 months; it was a massive mistake not to, but I listened to advice from those who meant well but hadn't bothered to really listen to me at all. 20 years later I am trying to get back to where I was at 18, so that I can do what I was born to do and what I love doing, and the only thing I've ever really wanted to do in life. And I am STILL fighting the 'wise ones' who STILL think they know better. I didn't 'fall into a trap'; it was impossible to escape it.
AnnaT (Los Angeles)
Thanks, “Freedom,” so in addition to her crushing debt, Sue apparently has to carry the burden of other people’s sanctimony and opprobrium.
Paul Sutton (Morrison Co)
How exactly is it a meritocracy when the buy the top spots at universities?
Grace (Bronx)
@Paul Sutton Yes, we need standardized testing to provide a level playing field.
Leonard (Chicago)
@Paul Sutton, the meritocracy is a sham. My bet is it's at least in part a response to civil rights legislation, even if subconsciously. Once public institutions really became public we started underfunding them. Can't have a meritocracy if you need money to get the merit.
Sophie K (NYC)
You can't "just stop". There's no such thing as a stable middle. May be it existed before my time, but as an older millennial I can honestly say that I have not seen it in my lifetime. The competition from below is such, that if you begin to cruise you will be crushed and thrown into lower middle class and even poverty. This is especially true for those of us who are self-made and don't have troves of social capital and family money. We have to keep fighting every day. The competitive behavior of the upper middle class, in other words, is not driven by some collective mental condition that makes us enjoy staring at computer screens more than sitting on a beach. No, it's the sense of economic insecurity, the realization that no, you CAN'T have this worry-free comfortable middle class existence. It's a myth. There's no way to downshift. The only option is to keep going.
Nicholas Rush (Colorado Springs)
@Sophie K , Finally. Finally, someone has accurately described the situation. Ms. K, your comment is spot on. My spouse and I are boomers, went to state universities for college and grad schools, and were able to stay in the middle class. We both came from from working class families, and paid our own way through college. We have one child who went to elite schools (PhD from Harvard) and she is doing well. She wasn't a legacy student or an athlete, and had extremely high test scores and grades. Had she gone to state schools, she would have scraped to live anything approaching a middle class life. Anecdotes that kids who go to state schools will be "fine" are just that. In the stem fields, maybe. But otherwise, the data don't support these claims. We wanted to give our child every opportunity we didn't have, understanding that the middle class as we knew it has disappeared. She has no student debt, a good career, and a bright future. And I won't apologize to anyone for what we were able to provide her.
Andrew (Colorado Springs, CO)
@Sophie K Just think - in 10, 20 years, even more of those mid-level jobs will have been automated. The obvious solution would seem to be to cut back the work week so everyone has a job. Sounds iffy. Fun times.
Jules (Mpls)
What are you talking about? I know many, many millennials who went to big 10 schools who are excelling in competitive fields.
Cara (NYC)
Isn’t this the same income level and higher that have buying their way to the top because America loves money more than anything else. Now, with the college admissions scandal they brought it on themselves, so deal with it.
David G. (Princeton)
My dad grew up poor in rural Wisconsin. I grew up solidly middle class in suburbia. My kids grew up well schooled and upper class. To my eye, upward mobility is still attainable. The problem with our modern culture is no punitive tax on absurd incomes. how about a 90% tax rate for incomes over $2million. We used to have that. We had greater upward mobility then.
KitKat (NYC)
I’ll repeat myself. Wealth should be redistributed to lower income earners not from higher income earners (which is just taxing success - not sure that’s so smart if you want to have a successful country) but from the owners of capital. All this anger toward the professional class is completely misdirected. The wealth has been syphoned off from the middle class not by the professional class but by the OWNERS OF THE PRODUCTIVE ASSETS. That’s where government should be focusing legislative, regulatory and tax policy - on the corporations who have offshored your jobs, taken away your benefits and busted up your unions. The fact that a lawyer makes $500k a year is irrelevant. That’s not the root cause of your problem and it’s not where to look for solutions.
AnnaT (Los Angeles)
KitKat, I agree in large part: tax capital, not income.
@David G. Exactly. Our top federal bracket ends around roughly 400k/year. There's a fair number of people earning north of 40m/year, and they often pay a lower effective tax rate than those making 1% of that. It's almost like the rich bought out politicians so that the laws would benefit them, or something like that...
Syliva (Pacific Northwest)
My Dad was the son of an immigrant and came up from nothing. Through his devotion to education (and of course his whiteness and maleness), ended up able to give us what was, in the 1970s, a solid middle class upbringing, so we were "rescued" from the kind of rural poverty he grew up in. His sister did not choose education. Really interesting to see the differences between our family and hers. I think my Dad would be very, very sad to see me throw that all away when it comes to his granddaughter. But times are different than they were in 1970s. The game is played differently. I do have to act pretty entitled sometimes just to prevent us slipping.
JS (Seattle)
My family has been on both sides of the divide. I was raised in a lower middle class family, but my kids went to a private school that two of Bill Gates' kids went to. My wife wanted it that way and I more or less went along, but it was my introduction to the class you talk about in this piece. I can attest to the realities of what you write. But then she died while the kids were still in middle school, after which they went to public high school because I could no longer afford private school. It was a difficult transition for them, and they developed a very different set of friends as a result, kids on the other side of the divide. I think it's rare that kids get to experience both sides, and I think they are still unpacking what it all means. I can say that my daughter's wealthier friends kind of abandoned her after her mom died, while the poorer kids stayed good friends with her. I'm still unpacking that one!
Grove (California)
Maybe we should have an economic system that has a goal of making the country better, the society more stable and secure as well as more vibrant. We are constantly sacrificing the country to try to make the rich happier.
Stephanie Wood (Montclair NJ)
and it seems like no matter how much we give them, they are never happy anyway, and it is never enough. They keep asking me for more, and keep whining about it.
David Gold (New York, NY)
Certainly he’s right about the misplaced self-pity, but how can you describe a situation in which essentially everyone in a large group of people feels driven to behave in essentially the same self-destructive way and then say that their problems “are not systemic”? What kind of evidence would satisfy him that there’s a system behind this (or more than one). Perhaps he doesn’t believe in systems, or simply doesn’t know what a system is. Bizarre.
Robert (NYC)
This piece fails to distinguish “upper middle class” and rich. Upper middle class salaried professionals can afford a decent apartment or home in a nice urban area with good schools. However, if this type of person suddenly loses their ability to earn the required salary, foreclosure and bankruptcy can arrive on the doorstep pretty quickly. Whereas a truly rich person can earn no salary at all, with large medical bills, and their family will be fine, just with possibly a lower living standard than they were accustomed to (or not).
miles (the beach)
Seems like wealth bashing to me. A lot of biased statements about morality and wealth. Its not immoral to be successful guys.
Grove (California)
@miles Too much of that “success” comes from exploiting working people. Corporations control our government on many levels. Decisions are made by the rich to benefit the rich. Amazon and 60 other large companies paid zero taxes last year. If they don’t want to participate, why are they here?
Sail2DeepBlue (OKC, OK)
@miles RE: Its [sic] not immoral to be successful guys. Mr. Reeves never said it was (viz: "they have most of the money, wealth, power and opportunity+--and he never said it was wrong for them to have it; "There is nothing wrong with parents spending a lot of money on their children" So no moral indictment there either in having wealth.) Distinct from your strawman argument, he was saying, however, that it is really hypocritical to be successful in life, even fomenting the meritocracy hypocrisy, and then complain you are really struggling too just like the lower economic orders that suffer much harder and really real economic hardships. Note this, the central point of Mr. Reeves argument: "But there is no moral equivalence between the stress of a senior executive staying up late to polish a presentation for a client and the stress of a retail worker unsure if she will get the shift she needs to make rent." This is hardly wealth-bashing. it is a bashing of wealthy people who want to complain about the pain of being wealthy. Extremely different things. And more power to Mr. Reeves for doing the latter.
Corbin (Minneapolis)
@miles If you have a billion dollars and can’t find anything better to do with that billion than keep it, yeah, that’s immoral.
jwhalley (Minneapolis)
I think the underlying cause of the 'angst' described was analysed decades ago by Barbara Ehrenreich in 'Fear of Falling'. It is the perceived (and real) steepness of the curve describing the income distribution. If the society were arranged so that various positions on the middle class distribution were not so drastically different in life style and wealth, then the pressures to work oneself to death (and cheat and vote for repulsive rightists) would diminish. So I agree that the best cures are of the Warren/Sanders type. Giving the anxious status seekers good advice, as the piece attempts to do, is unlikely to have much effect. But I certainly agree that they don't merit our pity.
Rachel (SC)
It’s positively Victorian, status and identification with the right group are existential necessities. For everyone else, the story is trending Dickens.
Allright (New york)
I think the stress and work on kids is perfectly reasonable especially considering what we all know and you even you say in your article about the extreme stress and even shorter life expectancy of the poor.
James Jacobs (Washington, DC)
If you have money and a good job in a good neighborhood and a secure nest egg, your kids don’t need to go to college. Unless they have specific ambitions only attainable with a degree such as being a doctor or a lawyer or a scientist, let college be for those who need it to attain social mobility. If you’re already at or near the top, let your kids use your money to fuel their crazy millennial businesses that will actually make good on your investment, whether it’s localized solar power plants or vegan taco trucks or ethical hedge funds. If they want to go into the arts, give them the means to take classes and lessons from specific teachers in their discipline and let them produce their own shows and learn about managing a nonprofit business; subsidizing those things for a couple of years while they work part-time and live at home would be money much better spent than college tuition. And if they’re lacking ambition or any particular interest do NOT send them to some fancy college; let them take random online and local classes while working part time and living at home while they figure it out. A university education is wasted both on those with no interest in academics and those who already have a passion they want to pursue. A degree is no longer a magic ticket. The best way of making sure your kids are benefiting most from the comfortable upbringing you worked hard to provide for them is to let them use their advantages to create the best version of themselves.
Ken (Bronx)
@James Jacobs How many 17 or 18 year olds know what they’re passionate about? Some but lots don’t.
High School Prof. (Brooklyn)
"Random online classes" What could possibly go wrong in pursuing them?
Meg Conway (Asheville NC)
I think Elizabeth Warren would be in agreement here. Growing up in a working class family in Oklahoma, Warren had the experience of having the family car repossessed. Early circumstances didn't result in a less than full life. I think it did, however, give Ms Warren a complete understanding of fairness and dignity for all, not just for those who can pay. A caregiver, whose baby was hospitalized for an extended time, had her car repossessed while it was in the hospital's visitor parking lot. She hadn't been able to work as much, the medical bills were outstanding, and she had to drop out of nursing school. She lost her child, her apartment, her car. Her school loans became due because she wasn't in school. You get the picture. She was my caregiver. She wasn't complaining. She wants to go back to school. Ms Warren would understand that, and I believe she wants to make sure this young woman will soon be living in a country that has health insurance for everyone, student loan forgiveness, affordable housing... Perspective is also effective when looking at your own life.
From Where I Sit (Gotham)
I am 60 years old. That means I’ve been an adult for more than 42 years. During that time I have purposely kept my life free of drama, legal entitlements and anything that might give the appearance of irresponsible behavior. I’ve been loyally with the same employer since the day after my Honorable Discharge. I have never been late for work and have taken neither a sick or vacation day in that time. I don’t have the complication/distraction/expense of a family or hobbies leaving me available to my employer and our clients 24/7/365. When I read an article that calls for absolving someone of all or most of the responsibility for their actions, I just shake my head. It really has not been difficult to do my job and follow the rules.
PeteNorCal. (California)
@From Where I Sit Same employee for what sounds like decades? That makes your experience quite unusual these days. Millions of hard-working, responsible folks have had their jobs cut out from under them in the past 40 years...thank your stars as well as your exemplary work habits! Not everyone has been as fortunate.
James Pingeon (Lincoln, Massachusetts)
@From Where I Sit I hope you have a deep and profound love for your job. Otherwise, your life sounds terribly sad. You have done more than follow the rules; you have given up literally everything for your employer. I agree with Mr. Reeves that it is possible to have a balanced life even in a high pressure profession, although it may sometimes be more difficult than he makes out, and the difficulties are definitely not worthy of anyone's pity. But you have chosen a life devoted exclusively to work. Why?
I've always loved this saying: "Live simply, so other can simply live".
Mary K (North Carolina)
@SW I agree! Another saying that more people should perhaps think about is: "There are no pockets in a shroud"
Mike (NY)
The wealthiest person I know is my best friend from childhood. We’re both from small-town, pizza and football middle-class families. He paid his way through college on his own, tending bar. He often calls me Sunday mornings from his office, it’s usually the only time he has to talk. He has worked his fingers to the bone for 25 years to secure a very good life for his family. He’s also the most decent human being I know. He’s the largest contributor to a number of charities in our hometown. He once asked me stop my car to give an old lady a ride up a hill. It baffles me to no end that people absolutely despise him because of his success. Welcome to the new Democratic Party I guess.
John Bergstrom (Boston)
@Mike You might be interested in reading the article you are responding to. It isn't about despising anybody, you'll have to find that somewhere else. It's about people superficially like your friend, except from what you say about him, he would never complain about his life. As you describe him, he sounds like he is doing what he wants, and is probably happy with his choices. But, if you read the article, you will find out that there are people who work that hard, but they don't feel it's by choice, and they aren't happy, and sometimes they do creepy things like cheating to get their kids into the best schools, which they think are the only acceptable ones. The point of the article is, if you enjoy being a compulsive hard worker and saint, by all means, knock yourself out. But if you feel trapped and driven by forces beyond your control, then step back and take a breath. You aren't trapped. Your kid will be OK going to a different school. Or maybe getting through school working as a bartender...
Tracy (Oakland)
@Mike So the good your prosperous friend does makes it unfair to note that many people live in desperate insecurity because our economic system is stacked against them? If your friend shares your callous attitude, perhaps he should be despised.
Jody (Philadelphia)
@Mike what?? The people who dislike your friend are Democrats? What? The people who dislike your friend are plainly jealous. I am sure the political views of these people have little if anything to do with this. Maybe your successful friend isn't as decent to everyone as you assume. Again this article is about the uber wealthy. Success is not measured by money alone, and financial envy is not the sole domain of the Democrats or anyone else.
Doug Terry (Maryland, Washington DC metro)
Someone needs to say this is a form of socially induced insanity: "The first 18 years in the lives of the children of these parents have become an expensive, extended college preparation course." Robbing children of their childhood? Okay if the kids gets into Princeton. Destroying the fun of learning making it all but certain that the child will turn away from serioius reading and thought the minute she graduates from Brown? No problem. A few years ago, a story in the Times quoted women at Penn (an Ivy school) saying they didn't have time for relationships, they were just interested in brief hook-ups to meet their basic physical needs. They reported they were too busy building their resumes and getting top grades. Kinda pathetic? What's the point? What race are we going to win by intimidating and cajoling children to be the very best? Good grades are an analog for life, not real life. Why should we assume that the total abilities, and talents, of students can be measured by grades alone? One can safely assume that most of this pressure is about prestige, social and otherwise, rather than actual beneficial learning. The elite schools will do nothing to cool down this heated game because they benefit from it: they get to choose from the top 5 % of students and their success and continued prestige, is assured. As long as we have "elite" education and, what? third rate alternatives (in the public mind) this destructive game will go on.
Doug Terry (Maryland, Washington DC metro)
As part of the college prep madness, a lot of teenagers refuse to take summer jobs or other part time employment these days. They say it will do nothing to help them get into "the right college" and, as a result, they are missing out on one of the vital learning opportunities available. They don't get the experience of working with other people and under supervision and miss out on taking on resposibilities other than homework. (Many summer lifeguards are now "imported" from eastern Europe, Russia, even as far away as Australia.) We have a friend who sent her son to an exclusive prep school. The school took him a trip to Outer Mongolia as part of the resume building process. I asked our friend: do these kids even know where Kansas is? She agreed that these kinds of extreme trips miss important matters. Her son got into Georgetown, his first choice. No doubt he worked hard in school, too, but, as the op-ed indicates, people are smart enough to realize that childhood is not about childhood any more, it is a resume building opportunity to impress the admissions committees.
Elizabeth (Philly)
This is why the wealthy need to be taxed more. A lot more. .
ultimateliberal (new orleans)
@Elizabeth Tax the wealthy 80% and we can have better schools and roads for everyone, as well as better and more abundant water, smaller, affordable houses for everyone, and a disincentive to amass real estate rented at despicable, avaricious rates. And maybe we can even have free TV, internet, and phone know, the essentials for being informed citizens. Communication systems should be the new government infrastructure items, along with water, sewerage, roads, police, fire, and courts. etc.
Patrick (Michigan)
I want to push back against this argument in one particular way. The rich and the poor alike are victims of a system of hyper competition, hyper financialization, and a discourse centered on personal investment and returns on those investments. It's called neoliberalism, and we, as humans and as a society, we are all victims of it in a systemic way. Do the rich suffer from the totalizing and toxic consequences of the mindset of neoliberalism? Yes. HOWEVER, the rich also have the unusual luxury of being able to step outside of the system. A millionaire may not ever need to work again. They may extoll the virtues of leisure, travel, and erudition in in their wealth. And what do they do with the luxury? This ability to forgo the rules of society? They double down. They work harder, "hustle" harder. Not only that, but they evangelize the virtues of this "hustle culture" on social media and convince everyone else to by into the societal myth that tireless hustle is a virtue in and of itself, even for those who no longer need to work 70 hours a week. I hate the rich because they drive the discourse of society towards a toxic busy culture when they do not have to. To complain about it is to fundamentally misunderstand the power that all of that capital they have accrued actually affords them.
Kj (Seattle)
@Patrick This is on point. My husband and I are financially comfortable and have the ability to be so for a long time. We like our jobs, but have plans for if that changes, we will take a job that is less stressful and pays less. We can afford to work less and stress less. We don't work ourselves to death. We are trying to balance it all. Our biggest concern for pulling back is health care. Even for the upper middle class, if you don't have good insurance, a serious illness or injury can bankrupt you.
V.B. Zarr (Erewhon)
@Patrick I agree with much of what you write, including how the hyper-monetization of neo-liberalism makes even the "winners" miserable (though they do tend to live a decade or so longer, a difference in life expectancy that has been increasing over the recent years of "austerity" economic policies, etc.) However, if one believes there can be "agency" in terms of free will to make personal choices, then the big difference is that the rich have way more of that agency in the scenario this article describes, even if they are unaware of that agency, or ignore or deny it for whatever reasons.
India (Midwest)
I'm not "rich" - I'm barely upper middle class and would not be that if I were not a widow with no one but me to have to live on my income. Yet, I'm sure I'd be reviled by most commenting here. My husband had an Ivy League education. So did my daughter and SIL and now their son. My son went to a top tier university. And they all work very, very hard. They work hard to give their own children the kind of education they had. My privately educated children could not afford private school for their children AND save for college. And save for their retirement. And save to have money for a medical emergency. Are they stressed? No, I think the more appropriate word is "exhausted" due to their very long work hours and lots of work-related travel. But they do NOT complain - they feel very lucky to have good jobs and to be able to save some money. I'm the one that is stressed as I see this country on a fast course toward not just socialism but Marxism. I'm stressed that my children are reviled for working hard and trying to do the best they can for their children, values we ALL used to share. But I'm really stressed the most for my grandchildren. I fully picture them being put in the fields to work like top scientists and other educated workers were in Mao's China. I fear they may be murdered in their beds and everything they've worked for being taken by others. All this stresses me a LOT!
sanderling1 (Maryland)
@India , I will share some of my family 's story: My siblings and I were the first generation in our family to attend and graduate from college. Our parents made it clear to all of us that they could afford to pay for our state university . In the past ten years two of my siblings, after years of hard work, were laid off from their jobs. After period of unemployment they found new jobs, but only after having to dip into modest savings, savings that they have not been able to replenish. They are frugal; they have no other choice. It is quite probable that my younger siblings will not be able to retire. Hopefully they will not be cast aside again so that some rapacious CEO can squeeze yet another vacation home out of the companies they work for. My criticism of capitalism is that our society has become infatuated with wealth for its own sake, and that we assign virtue to the wealthy merely because they are wealthy.
Sophia (chicago)
@India For pete's sake please get a grip. Nobody wants to murder you in your bed. What we need, though, is to address the fact that MOST Americans work very hard and only SOME have any money or wealth to speak of. Progressive taxation addresses that issue. Better social safety nets address that issue. Affordable housing and universal health care address that issue. Right now there is a terrible imbalance. Only a few benefit while ALL contribute. It's important, also, for people to see that what is "theirs" was actually created by an entire community of people. They didn't get "theirs" in a vacuum. So what is riches to one person is actually another person's blood sweat and tears. The money I give my landlord, month after month, year after year, is making him rich simply for owning a building. He is rich and I am poor. He is rich, actually, from my labor and that of my several neighbors. So what he considers "his" actually came from our hard work, the work of a whole community of people. What we want in exchange is affordable rent, healthcare and freedom from panic attacks because we might wind up on the street. I hope this makes some sense to you.
DitchmitchDumptrump (Berkeley, CA)
@India First, turn off Fox News. If Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren's health care plans are introduced, there will be no concern about saving for a medical emergency. 16 years of quality public education would be available to anyone qualified, without taking on crushing debt. Paying higher taxes and not being able to afford a second Lexus is a far cry from being forced to work 12 hours a day in the rice paddies or sent to a reeducation center in Northern Manchuria. What stresses are the families of the 60,000 who are killed every year by gun violence or suicide, the 70,000 who OD, or the similar number who die needlessly because they didn't have adequate health care coverage under?
mike (Los Angeles)
It is a little difficult to know just whom Reeves is talking about when he describes the "Rich." Is it a measure of wealth, income, a combination or something else. Do professionals like doctors or lawyers, often earning large incomes, but accumulating modest assets fit his definition? Do you have to be a tech billionaire or simply a successful businessperson who owns a multi unit fast food franchise. In reality the distinctions don't really matter to Reeves. Really the author feels much resentment and envy to those wealthier than himself. He not only doesn't "pity" the group, but rather basks in what he hopes is their discomfort. He is not a happy person.
Sophia (chicago)
@mike With respect, stop. The author is pointing out a fact, which is that rich people's woes are often of their own making and compared to the struggles of the poor are meaningless. There is a huge difference between "suffering" because you can't live in $2 million house as opposed to a $1.5 million house (I know it's terrible) and the suffering of a person who can't afford rent at all despite having worked hard for a lifetime. We need to stop with "oh you must be unhappy" nonsense and address the issue of wealth head on. Most Americans don't have any. And there's NO comparison between a high-income doctor and a hard working caregiver for example - none. If you don't know what rich means, try living on the minimum wage. Then you'll know.
LM (Maryland)
@Sophia I think his question was a reasonable one, the author, at least in this article, does not clearly define the group he is challenging. Not all physicians are uber high earning and not all live in million plus homes. Several commentators have noted his lack of clarity in defining his terms.
gmh (East Lansing, MI)
@mike Nonsense. There is no evidence here that Reeves "feels much resentment and envy to those wealthier than himself". Where do you get this idea? Not in Reeves' words, so where?
Horseshoe Crab (South Orleans, MA)
If you are so fortunate to be on the treadmill described here try being poor and see what real stress is like.
Nick Metrowsky (Longmont CO)
A vast majority of the US population is struggling to make ends meet. They have endured meager salary increases, while the wealthy have amassed more wealth, with their expanse. Many people work multiple jobs. The minimum wage is well below where it should be; when inflation is factored in. The highest salary, in regards to inflation, was in 1979. Some CEOs make 2000 times more than their lowest level employee. Forgive me for not having any sympathy for them not having time, having unappreciative brats, are too busy to enjoy life, and any other of their problems. They reaped what they sowed. The living example of this privileged class, that expects to get everything they want, is sitting in the White House. One of those wealthy rich brats that never grew up.
yulia (MO)
Like they say in Russia, everybody has problems. One complains that his pearls are too small, other complains that his bread is too bitter. Many people could better sympathize with bread, rather than with pearls that many don't even have. Is size of pearls stressful? Could be, but because we live without them, such stress doesn't seems real to us.
SNK (Mountain View, CA)
In California, anyway, it is really tough getting into a good public university. The UC system is overwhelmed. So, parents who are hoping for just what the author espouses are still pushing their children/paying for test prep/searching for every speck of advantage they can. As for the rest of us, we are planning to send our kids out of state.
albeaumont (British Columbia, Canada)
So the rich, the middle class, and the poor are unhappy in America. What does this mean for the pursuit of happiness in America? Can anyone in America be happy? I thought I knew many happy Americans.
HappySad (NJ)
The author misses a crucial point. He criticizes wealthy parents for going the extra mile to help their kids: staying late at work, taking on a big mortgage to live in a town with "better" schools, etc. This is somehow seen as excessive and not admirable. But if a parent at the economic bottom gives 110% to carve out a better life for their kids it's a marvel, a success story. Is there some elusive line where one should decide "I've done enough, I'll just coast now"? As a parent, I can't imagine being content not doing my all to benefit my kids (legally of course). Perception of enough is relative, and people at all levels will feel pressure to improve their lot in life. Do I feel sorry for the wealthy? Not really. Do I understand that somebody who has an Audi still wants to give their kids something more? Of course. Ask any parent, regardless of income.
Mary K (North Carolina)
@HappySad A lot depends on what you consider benefits kids. As a parent, I had the responsibility to feed, clothe, house and educate my children to the best of my ability. It was not my responsibility to hand them expensive new everything just for the sake of it or because they saw it on TV or because their friends had it or because I didn't have it when I was their age. I was not going to put the whole family in debt and stress just to afford a "better"address or loans for a fancy school, despite the considerable pressure out there to do just that.
HappySad (NJ)
@Mary K I don't disagree with you. But there is a difference between striving to provide your children a better future (educational opportunities, safer and cleaner town, etc) and keeping up with the Joneses (TV, fancy phone, expensive gifts). There is a similarity in that both involve more money and probably working more to attain, but the former is done with an eye towards their future and the latter is simply appeasement. The difference is important and continues to be one of the struggles of parenting. Working extra hours to get them through college with fewer loans can be a life-altering achievement. A new Xbox, not so much.
Jorge (Minneapolis)
Tax the wealthy at higher rates and I think we just solved their superficial problems along with a boat load of others.
How about taxing us all at the same rate but doing away with the loopholes that allow the rich to legally pay less?
Sophia (chicago)
@NYCSANDI Because it's fundamentally unfair to tax a poor person at the same rate as a rich one. By all means, close loopholes AND introduce a more progressive system.
John Bergstrom (Boston)
@NYCSANDI: Well, figure it out. If you tax the super-rich at a rate that still leaves them extremely rich, that rate might be, say, 85%. Obviously, a middle class person taxed at that rate won't have enough left to get through the year. But the rate that a middle class person could afford would just be a rounding error to the super-rich person's accountants. The inequality is pretty extreme. And loop-holes... well, they're there, but a lot of them actually benefit the middle class in ways we consider worth while... it's complicated...
Larry Roth (Ravena, NY)
I have some real problems with Mr. Reeves thesis about the upper middle class somehow being the problem. Talking about the upper middle class is meaningless if you don't define exactly what that means. It blurs distinctions, and those are critical. It's the .1% who are reaping the gains and setting up the playing rules for the rest of us. It should be a warning sign that even people in the upper middle class are scrambling like mad in a Red Queen's Race to keep their status. Inequality continues to increase. And, as it happens, there is a link between the bottom, the top, and everyone in between. Inequality makes things worse for everyone in a developed economy the higher it gets. As the gap grows, so do all the ills of society - and it affects everyone. It manifests in higher levels of drug abuse, teen pregnancy, decreasing life expectancy, decreasing social mobility, mental health issues, poorer educational outcomes, decreasing life expectancy, more crime, and so on. This has been spelled out in "The Spirit Level" by Wilkinson and Pickett. They analyzed massive amounts of data and looked around the world to document this. If more people would read it, we might not be so oblivious to the corrosive effects of the concentration of wealth to society.
GM (The North)
@Larry Roth, To be fair, Reeves has been quite explicit in his writing and research about who he thinks is upper-middle class. However, many people, including you have advanced the argument that the upper-middle is not the actual problem. Fair enough.
Vesuviano (Altadena, California)
As a public school teacher whose very profession is under attack by both major political parties and a very deep-pocketed charter school industry, I have absolutely no sympathy for the uber-rich. My union in Los Angeles had to go out on strike for six days just to get a full-time nurse put into every school campus and a full-time librarian put into ever campus library. Cry me a river, rich folks.
The Owl (Massachusetts)
I notice that Mr. Reeves is foregoing his substantial salary and book royalties to live the way he suggests others should live... Sorry. I'm not buying what he's trying to sell.
As others have pointed out, conflating the rich with those falling into the upper middle class, especially those loving in urban centers with high cost of living is just insulting. Making 100k in the Boston area and struggling financially is a typical situation. Further, the arguments made in this commentary are applicable in both directions, but the author seems to ignore this. "There is no law that says you have to live in the most expensive ZIP code you can afford." Yes. There is also housing available 10x cheaper outside of major urban centers, the "poor" are not entitled to have affordable housing available in highly priced neighborhoods. That argument seems a lot less popular however.
yulia (MO)
but doesn't zip code tie to quality of school? For rich it is not a problem, they can send their children in private school, poor could not.
Bosox rule (Canada)
And now the masters if the universe on Wall Street are moaning about the possibility of a Warren presidency and the threat it poses to redistribute some elite wealth. Such problems for the one percent. How do they cope?
Blue in Green (Atlanta)
@Bosox rule Such problems for the one percent. How do they cope? They buy politicians.
Richard Marcley (albany)
@Bosox rule "How do they cope?" They game the political system like the Koch and Mercer families!
Rill (Boston)
The author exhorts rich parents to stop working so hard to get their kids into the absolutely best colleges they can. But forget education - it’s a fact right or wrong that certain colleges’ names open doors and ease paths to power for the rest of one’s life. The middle class are getting crushed (stagnant wages versus rising healthcare, college and retirement costs). We feel one diagnosis or layoff away from bankruptcy ourselves. So why would rich people NOT think the college games are necessary insurance against their kids sliding into the struggling middle class? While I don’t pity the rich, in this broken system they are playing the odds for their kids as hard as the rest of us.
yulia (MO)
Don't the rich already have all connections that could help their children?
Larry (St. Paul, MN)
The treatment for this affliction is to resign your current position, take a less prestigious job for less money, and surrender your position in the social hierarchy. Move to a smaller home in a less affluent community, one where making more money and being better than everyone else is not the principal driving force of everyone's existence. And spend more time with your family. Lots more time.
Richard (St. Louis)
what could be more democratizing than the notion that we are all victims of, well, us?
bess (Minneapolis)
This is backwards. It will be difficult, if not impossible, to effect any significant long term change without the buy-in of at least some of the rich--just as the civil rights movement ultimately needed to persuade some white people, just as feminist women need allies among men. In that light, it's obviously good if the rich recognize that our hypercompetitive economic system and destructive consumerism isn't good for them or for their children, either.
DPS (Denver, CO)
I was looking to references to support the thesis of this article, that the rich are complaining.... But also have to take exception to conflating ‘rich’ with ‘upper middle class’. Upper middle class income, while a few times more than median income, should hardly be considered ‘rich’. There is a slim percentage of truly elite rich in this country, if not the world. And they are in possession of a disproportionate amount of the wealth. So consider these very meaningful differences when throwing class categories around.
GM (The North)
@DPS, Reeves doesn't explain this but Markovits' book began as a commencement speech to a Yale Law School class. Markovits' meritocratic rich, which he dubs "superordinate workers" as opposed to subordinate workers, are not really upper middle class, but the elite of the elite professions. For example, Yale Law grads who are partners in a firm and take home $1M+ annually in profit per partner. He is not talking about everyday lawyers. Similarly he is talking about specialists in medicine making north of $500k and not general practitioners. To your point about the rich, even many in this "superordinate" group would point to tech, retail, high-finance billionaires as actually rich.
Stephanie Wood (Montclair NJ)
To the rest of us nowadays, the upper middle class are rich. This is how divided the country has become, mostly because of an exploitive wage system and an unfair tax system.
Kim (New England)
@DPS I agree. I'm not aware of the whining and so forth the writer and many of the commenters here are referring to. It comes across as just an unsubstantiated smear on all "rich" people. We all know an obnoxious wealthy person, an obnoxious high earner, an obnoxious true funder. But without contributions of many wealthy people in this country, things would be a lot different. I am talking about foundations and organizations such as museums, public television, public radio, parks, health and poverty initiatives, public/private efforts to revitalize downtrodden cities and so forth.
dtm (alaska)
I thought the article was going to remind us of the editorial piece in WSJ a few years back, moping about how much better off the poor are than the rich because they don't have to spend so much time worrying about taxes.
Stephanie Wood (Montclair NJ)
But the middle class spends the largest portion of its income on taxes, so I guess now we are the real elite until we become poor from paying taxes.
JJ (Lancaster, PA)
When "just stop making decisions that decrease your quality of life" is given as advice to poor people, we progressives are outraged at the failure to understand how stress and environment lead on a neurological level to unwholesome decisions. I am uncomfortable with the authors presumption that just because a person has resources and agency that they are not bound by the same psychological and neurological tendencies that encourage really bad decision making. It is true that wealthy people on average make better decisions about things like health. However, wealthy people are still people, and as such, will struggle with the afflictions imminent in their environment. I would appreciate it if the author would make a list of all the types of people whose behavior warrants a "just stop doing that." If not compulsive wealth and status seeking, then what forms of addiction and compulsion do you have compassion for? If I had to guess, the author's list of those who deserve to be told "just stop it" would include people who are on the dominant end of oppressive relationships but not those who are victims of oppression. The unexamined false belief that those who cause harm operate and function differently from those who are harmed might be the primary impediment to actually confronting oppression. Many are afraid to confront this fact, but those who cause harm and those who are harmed are working with the same operating system and both require compassion to heal.
Hector (St. Paul, MN)
@JJ If only the poor would have the resources to avail themselves of professional help to heal, as do the wealthy, or the wealthy would provide the resources for the poor to afford that "same operating system," those who have the resources and the power to change the operating system would get my compassion. As things are, let them eat cake.
The Owl (Massachusetts)
Keeping up with the Jones is tough, no matter what economic strata on falls into... But Mr. Reeves thinks all should sink to the lowest common denominators as the solution. Actually, the solution is to be comfortable with that which you have chosen for your life, be it at the bottom or at the top.
yulia (MO)
It is not the common denominator, it is pyramid of sympathies. We can understand more basic problems, because we all experience them, we could not understand problems that we don't have because they are out of our reach. Yes, I do sympathize with homeless, because I can imagine how uncomfortable is to live on the streets, and no, I can not sympathize with children are not going to the best college, because I don't even think that my kids could do that. If the rich want sympathy, we all should live like they are, otherwise they seems like just whiners that could not appreciate what they have.
Doro Wynant (USA)
"The broader political danger is that the affluent will become even more resistant to paying the higher taxes that are necessary for redistribution ... " To everyone -- including the AU -- who uses the word "redistribution" in this context: Just stop. America needs an UN-redistribution, because the rich have seized a disproportionately ginormous share of everything over the past 35 years. THAT was the redistribution. Every society with the kind of income inequality that we've developed falls apart, and that could happen here. One way to fight it is to stop using inaccurate language that serves to bolster those who have looted the store. Again: They ALREADY redistributed wealth, to themselves, with tax cuts and anti-labor-union activity. Now it needs to be UN-redistributed; now we need the kind of significant marginal tax rate that existed in mid-20th-century, when the nation was truly prosperous.
dwalker (San Francisco)
@Doro Wynant Excellent point. Unfortunately, "redistribution" is a neutral term that accurately applies to any tax "reform" (another jiggy neutral word), whether an increase or cut. I know a one-tenth-of-one-percenter who contemptuously uses the phrase "redistributing wealth" to apply to any tax whatever, given that the income taxes he pays goes to benefit taxpayers in lower tax brackets -- the essence of a "progressive" tax system. Needless to say, he can't abide the idea that tax cuts represent a "redistribution of wealth" upward, to him.
pauliev (Soviet Canuckistan)
@Doro Wynant The wealthy have, as a group, gamed the system by changing the tax laws to their advantage and hiding income in off-shore accounts. Because so many of the super rich are really just money hoarders, they will never feel like it is enough. Do not expect them to voluntarily agree to tax and other changes that make them pay their fair share. It’s much cheaper to just buy a Congressman
V.B. Zarr (Erewhon)
@Doro Wynant Exactly. Same goes for the rich accusing others of "class warfare" when they're the ones looting and pillaging the economy in ways that impoverish so man others.
David (California)
Well, if one is sympathetic to the Republican form of politics it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that rich folks are needier than any other demographic, hence the extra care and attention. Don't get me wrong, there are many reasons to pity some folks born into rich families (like Trump and his ilk), folks that forgot to learn to be decent, functional and give back to the society that has enriched them (like Trump and his ilk), but we shouldn't pity them for having what many of us lack (i.e., the security and access that comes with wealth). If they can't find a way to make it work from their privileged position, they have only themselves to pity.
RCH (New York)
We have become much more stratified over time, and essentially live in social silos that barely overlap. The zip codes, life styles, concerns and interests of each silo are fairly unique. Whenever I encounter people outside of my silo, usually at an airport or a ball game, I feel like I've traveled to a foreign country.
JS (Maryland)
Read Thomas Picketty on this topic. The U.S. has the most income inequality of the Western countries due to a few "superstar managers" in the top 1% who we're all told to emulate - especially the upper middle class. It's essentially the same racket as the lottery.
Paul (Lincoln, MA)
The elites have more access to top universities. 43% of the incoming Harvard class is made up of legacies or children of faculty and staff. I think if we allow universities to continue legacy admissions, then they should lose their tax free status. A very simple and direct way to open up more opportunities for all.
The Owl (Massachusetts)
Of course, that means that 57% of Harvard's incoming class got there on the basis of merit... That's still a pretty good percentage for any private university.
Forest (OR)
@Paul And while we are at it, why don’t we actually create enough medical school slots in this country to fill all residency slots, thus increasing opportunities for our own young people, rather than importing so many doctors from other countries.
CB (Pittsburgh)
@The Owl Ah, yes, "merit", as in parents paying for club sports and outside tutors, and SAT prep classes, and music lessons, and the student not working in high school, and having connections for summer research activities and internships. A smaller percentage of that 57% actually got in on any unpurchased merit.
Uncle Donald (California)
The rise of a faux-aristocracy in America over the past 40 years is probably the key to our current malaise, where the culture of self-absorption collides with an energy vortex that embodies the worst excesses of Social Darwinism. Too much wealth creates decadence and a kind of intellectual hemophilia that transmogrified social discourse into a raging mantra of hollowed-our neediness and self-pity. We have to bust up the wealthy in the way that we deconstructed the trusts at the end of the robber baron age. The problem is that we also need to find a way to make such an action linger over several generations in order to break the cycle that returns us to selfishness and toxic inequality. A tall order, but it needs to occur in response to the sordid events we’ve been living through since 2017. We need to own up to what brought us to this crisis and take all steps necessary to correct it.
The Owl (Massachusetts)
@Uncle Donald ... It is a mistake to conflate "wealth" with "aristocracy". The "aristocracy" are far more comfortable with who they are and what they have accomplished.
lee4713 (Midwest)
@The Owl Except that they were born to it; it has nothing to do with what they have accomplished.
PB (northern UT)
If the rich didn't have all that discretionary money they feel obligated to spend on their special children to buy their children's way to the top, they wouldn't be so distressed, self-absorbed, feeling sorry for themselves, and stressed out. Too much self-imposed stress can affect their physical and mental health in negative ways. I remember when wealthy people bragged about having ulcers, because it signified they were working harder than people without ulcers and were, therefore, superior. That is, until we found out that ulcers are likely to be caused by bacteria or by taking too much aspirin. Also, it appears they are not doing their entitled children any favors by obsessing about getting into the "right" colleges and spending a fortune to get them there--sometimes by doing what Trump does to get what he wants. So let's help out rich parents and their children by relieving them of this excess money that is making them so competitive, cut-throat, and unhappy. Tax them at the 70% bracket (where Reagan had it), and close all those tax loopholes. So we can finally pave our roads, repair bridges, & fix what the GOP broke in society I graduated from and am a big fan of large state universities. Here rich kids can meet other young people from all walks of life, many of whom are not impressed by having lots of money and who know they will have to learn well in order to compete. If they don't, they fail out. Like the real world. A big win for society too.
C Wolfe (Bloomington IN)
In other words, when a society that once prized democratic equality becomes unbalanced by severe inequality, it's bad for everyone. I can believe that. I'm still not going to lie awake at night worrying about whether those who have more than I can ever dream of will be able to enhance their good fortune even more.
roy brander (vancouver)
It's been observed that the income inequality distribution is actually cruelest in terms of societal shaming to keep-up-with-the-Joneses, at the top, because the curve is steepest at the right end. Those of us in the middle of the distribution, say making $60K per year, tend to have a circle of friends that range from $50K to $90K, perhaps, based on our neighbourhood and our job position. A successful lawyer or doctor might be making $300K, and have friends ranging from $100K to ... millions. Several times their income. Mingling with them creates an automatic feeling of needing to keep up. Particularly since their patronage, getting their business, might lead to climbing that steep part of the ladder. Adam Smith wrote that there was some standard of dress below which the humblest bum in Edinburgh would not be seen on the streets; and it was a higher standard than would be the norm in some impoverished village overseas. We have to be part of our society to hold our heads up. So, I do actually sympathize with these people, a little. But the main message of the column, "Just stop" is still true; they can understand their current "right crowd" is already beyond lucky and simply drop out of that game. So can others further down! My wife and I lived at bit beneath our possible lifestyle and saved for earlier retirement. Now there's a stress-reducer for you.
Kathryn A. (Arlington, VA)
@roy brander - Cheers! We chose to remain child-free, eliminating many current and future expenditures, while remaining in a fairly modest house while many of our friends and colleagues were digging deeper into debt to get the McMansion and the lake house to entertain their kids. Now we’re retired at 55 and are more involved in community, volunteering, and being happy about our 27th wedding anniversary.
Austin Ouellette (Denver, CO)
The wealthy are stressed because they’re worried that they’ll be judged by strangers while walking on the public sidewalk between the valet and the entrance to the 5 star trendy cafe. The poor family is stressed because they cannot afford to pay for their father’s insulin so it’s only a matter of time before he slips into a diabetic coma and dies. The wealthy are very, very lucky that we haven’t arrived at literal revolution yet.
DJS (New York)
@Austin Ouellette " The wealthy are stressed because they’re worried that they’ll be judged by strangers while walking on the public sidewalk between the valet and the entrance to the 5 star trendy cafe." Obviously, you don't know the first thing about wealthy people. My grandparents were wealthy people who buried a four year old child . My father was a wealthy man who went to work one day and dropped dead, leaving behind a 49 year old widow and five children. I've never been to a 5 star cafe and have no interest in going to one. I'm not worried about people judging me. I've watched the ocean climb my stairs. "The wealthy are very, very lucky that we haven’t arrived at literal revolution yet." They are ?What did you have in mind ? Something like the "Cultural Revolution" in China , that made the world a. better place ? Get back to me after you have survived a natural disaster.
Detkar (Brooklyn)
@DJS I know a great deal about wealthy people. My net worth is over seven figures and I retired in my early 40's, and I have known multimillionaires with net worths well over $100M. While I have had my share of devastating tragedies, like the ones you described, your grandparents did not lose a 4 year old because medication was unaffordable, your father did not drop dead because he worked a heavy labor job for 80 hours a week, just to keep his health insurance and food on the table, and your family had the option of a valet and 5 star cafe' meal. A revolution of sorts means building a society. The poor kid in a rural school can become a doctor and help the other poor residents. The poor teenager can become an architect and build facilities to survive tornadoes and floods. It is helping the most vulnerable in our society to achieve when money is not the main obstacle. I will happily pay 50% more in taxes to build housing in Brooklyn, so I am not stepping over homeless people, so it will pay for child care of the woman who cleans the hotel rooms or is my supermarket cashier, to find cures for the mental ailments you clearly suffer from, as it appears affluenza and narcissism are a plague on our society.
Lisa (Charlottesville)
@Detkar Thank you for this. I was losing faith.
Momo (Berkeley)
Rich people have no idea how out of touch they are from reality. I experienced it first hand while my kid was attending a high school (on a generous financial aid package ) where some of the accused parents in the college admissions scandal sent their kids. When asked about their wealth, their standard line was, “we work very hard.” As if, the rest of us don’t work hard? I have no sympathy for them. Thanks for the piece!
Sean (California)
@Momo Meritocracy is the stories we tell ourselves to morally justify wealth inequality. It's no different than looking at the stars and coming up with the Greek pantheon of gods, and is rooted in as much reality. You can't tell me that Trump Jr is 15,000 times better or smarter at "working" than the average person in this country. Bezos is not 15 million times a better human than my neighbors.
George (Cambodia)
@Momo Work hard at what - producing junk bonds, generating scam accounts ala Wells Fargo, tanking the national economy for their profit. I wish that they worked less hard.
Tim Lynch (Philadelphia, PA)
Several years ago, I read about parents in Manhatten "red shirting" their pre-school kids,and kindergarteners. in the hopes that they would be slightly more mature and advanced than their schoolmates,and have a competitive advantage. Can we be any more self serving and obnoxious?
KJ (Tennessee)
I grew up in Canada. The public school system provided a fine education to everyone, and people were far less concerned with appearances and the 'stuff' Americans like to acquire to prove their value. I was in my teens before I discovered that two of my close friends had wealthy parents. Sure, their families vacationed in Europe and we went camping, but it had never occurred to me that it was a budgeting issue rather than a preference. The point being, do these affluent people really think having more money makes them better people? Or happier? Maybe they should try reaching out beyond the financially elite. They might form relationships that are based on common interests rather than status.
Tim Lynch (Philadelphia, PA)
@KJ Yes,they do think that. Now Betsy DeVos wants to give dollar for dollar tax breaks to people who fund individual "scholarships" to those who attend private schools. (And ,no doubt,religious schools.)
Paco (Santa Barbara)
I’ve said it here before and I’ll say it again. I attended both the University of California and Yale (the same law school where Professor Markovitz teaches). You’re not going to like hearing this, but overall the two universities are academically equivalent. The only difference in my experience was social. Now that Yale claims that it admits more underprivileged minority students (it might not be true), the social difference may diminish.
Ess bee (Los Angeles)
@Paco I respectfully disagree. I’m a Yale Law grad and went to an excellent undergrad (but non Ivy) and I think there were substantial differences between the two universities. An elite university (or Ivy Plus, as economist Raj Chetty has termed it) is just in a different world than the vast majority of other schools, including good public schools. The quality of my education at Yale was unparalleled. To my some extent, I’m a believer.
Steel Magnolia (Atlanta)
@Paco. Of course, thanks to the value California places on education, the University of California schools rate as some of the best in the country, and from what I read UC Berkeley ranks right up there with the ivy league. You could hardly say the same of most public universities. One of our kids got an undergraduate degree from a public university in Alabama (and is now in grad school), while the other got undergraduate and law degrees from Yale. Their choices suited them, but there are light years of difference between their educations—and the doors now open to them.
Kingfish52 (Rocky Mountains)
Of course, anyone can get stressed out - stress is relative. But I, and others, would listen more seriously to their complaints if they focused a little less on themselves, and looked to help others who have been left behind. No, they don't have to give hand outs, but they could give support to ideas that would undo "trickle down", and vote for politicians who would implement these ideas. People like Sanders, Warren, and others who want to reduce the influence of big money, Wall St. and Corporate America, and level the playing field. Instead of voting for Hilary and Joe, vote for the REAL game changers. Otherwise, continue to remain on the rodent wheel to nowhere.
The author wants the rich to stop spending money and stop working long hours. That reduces tax revenue. Seems to me everyone might be better off if the rich spent and earned more so they pay more in taxes, which might go fund social programs.
Doro Wynant (USA)
@TW : If the rich actually paid their taxes, you'd have a point. But between the myriad loopholes in our intricate tax code and the GOP's slavering insistence on cutting taxes for the rich, that ain't the way it works. When Dems try to push the tax rate back up just a little, they face shrieking opposition from the GOP. When Obama wanted to raise taxes -- that is, undo the tax cuts -- on households earning $250K or more (which is a very comfortable sum for a family in all but a few ZIP codes), he couldn't. Check out Fox's Tracy Byrnes angrily insisting that $250K is "close to poverty": www dot youtube dot com/watch?v=h0UXtLv8c0w
Lifelong New Yorker (NYC)
@TW Of course you also mean that the cap on Social Security withholding is removed, right? Right now that's set at a whopping $132.900.
Frank O (texas)
@TW : Except that they invest that money in politics, to get lower taxes for themselves and cut services to the poor. Then they tell us it's the best of all possible worlds. It's conservative dogma 101.
Bitter Mouse (Oakland)
The elite see how the middle class is crumbling and how hopeless the lives of the poor are and they are scared that their children won’t make the cut. If opportunity so scarce and the alternative to being wealthy is pretty awful then of course you want only the best opportunities for your children. Everything is actually getting harder even for the wealthy. They can live in gated communities but they still have to drive on public roads and breath public air.
Doro Wynant (USA)
@Bitter Mouse : All the more reason for them to stop resisting fair taxation, which would fund infrastructure repair. If the rich really gave a hoot about their kids' lives, they'd stop voting for the climate-crisis-denying, EPA-eviscerating GOP. What we're really seeing is sociopathic rich people who are overly concerned with how their kids reflect on them -- their kids' CVs and bank statements matter more than their kids' psyches.
Neal (Arizona)
Zak Tebbel's illustration for this piece is absolutely superb. Mr. Reeves' advice to the uberwealthy parent, Just Stop It, is fantastic. Well done the Times.
RamS (New York)
I agree with this - this stress is due to the worship of money. Money is not important. Focus on doing good and being the best at what you love and the rewards will follow has been my motto. I've deliberately made choices in life that have led to less money/fame/power but greater happiness and I'm incredibly satisfied with my life. It's true I could've made it easier (perhaps) or become richer (perhaps) if I had taken other more conventional roads (say turning down an Ivy for grad school and faculty positions) but I definitely wouldn't have had the relationships I have now. I repeat: money is not important. Don't worship it. It (and worship/desire for material goods) is indeed the root of all evil/suffering. Transcend the need for money.
Patrice Ayme (Berkeley)
For millions of years, our primate ancestors have battled, far from the trees, detecting and fighting off predators, facilitating the demise of delicious but resisting prey, etc. Yes, it was stressing, but it couldn't be avoided. Stress was nothing new in a prey species, which primates are. But now advancing human evolution had imposed still another stress to the evolving humans: the stress of a predator and scavenger whose life style requires meat and delicious marrow. So stress may have become an integral part of human ethology. We inherit the need for stress as we do inherit the need to run. So stress is probably like anything else: we need a proper balance: too much, we stress out, to little, we degenerate into self-misery, and wallop in undeserved self-pity. So maybe the rich needs more, no less, stress. This is how to help them. Let's impose on them a hefty wealth tax: they should squirm, sweat, worry, for real, and then achieve the higher levels of stress needed for a proper human life style, the old fashion way, society as a jungle, a place the IRS could predate upon them, far from all loopholes... a suffering, an anxiety, a stress, something they are presently deprived of, in a world made all too comfy for them to achieve the proper anxiety they inflict, and more, on the low lives who constitute most of We The People.
William Romp (Vermont)
Well said, Mr. Reeves. I might add that the phenomenon afflicts not only the rich, but the wanna-be rich. In other words, most of the middle class. So many parents reach retirement broke and in debt, not because they were poor earners, but because they "selflessly" financed their children's cushy campus experience (in my opinion one of the worst things a parent can do to their children is pay for their college). They made the poor choices Mr. Reeves mentions, living in the largest and most expensive swimming-pool mansion they can possibly afford, driving new vehicles, vacationing in exotic locales, dressing like country club birds, eating at the foodie places, drinking nothing but the finest coffee, beer and liquor. For decades of their life they are convinced that they are not prosperous, because every month is a self-inflicted financial struggle and debt grows. They complain, "We're barely getting by, even with two of us working long hours!" Kudos to those families who work one job, practice moderation, enjoy time with their family, and encourage their children to work their way through college--or skip college altogether.
Andy Makar (Hoodsport WA)
The reason people pay for the kids college is that the system is designed that way. You cannot go to college and tell admissions that you, and not your parents, are fully responsible. The system is rigged. It is designed to get people into debt to transfer wealth to the investor class.
Rufus (Planet Earth)
@William Romp ... hey, I'm lower than lower middle class, but I like the finest coffee also. nothing wrong with that. Everybody's got to have something.
Doro Wynant (USA)
@William Romp : You lost me with "kudos to the one-income families." I guess you've ignored the zillion or so articles about wage stagnation over the past 35 years, which is why both parents in middle-class (and below) households have to work. I guess you've also missed the second wave of feminism, in which women fought to have the right to use, and be paid for using, their talents and skills. Raising children and cleaning the house are tedious; that's why they're paid so poorly -- almost no one wants to do those jobs FT.
Ed Marth (St Charles)
I admit it. I gave the rich too much money in tax breaks. Now they feel bad. Only thing to do is reverse that gift and all will be well.
George (Cambodia)
@Ed Marth Yes. Changes in the tax code can be for increases as well as decreases.
Lifelong New Yorker (NYC)
@Ed Marth You did? I didn't give them anything. It was stolen from me.
Mark (Western US)
I had the privilege of being born "poor" in a small, rural Ozark community. My parents worked hard and struggled, and treated others with kindness and compassion. They were both educated. They made sure we valued hard work and other people. They taught us to work, save, contribute, and think. Now in my retirement I think that one of the most valuable gifts that they gave me is the idea that I could be poor and OK at the same time, and that there was a lot to be enjoyed that did not require money. I feel for anybody that did not get to experience that lesson. I never did get rich. But we're debt free, live modestly, and have a substantial retirement plan to fall back on. If we're lucky enough to die quickly our kids will have a good chunk to add to their retirement. I always had someone I could call, somewhere I could go, if things got rough. I wish more people had that.
mike (Los Angeles)
@Mark Being raised with good values is more important than being an heir to great wealth. You are fortunate to have had great parents!
Traisea (Sebastian)
If you have a substantial retirement plan, it means you worked hard and made good choices. There are millions who did the same and have no retirement. This age is is significantly more difficult than the prior. Low wages relative to housing costs and no pensions leaves those coming into retirement age with little to nothing. Significant portions of income are going to healthcare. For a bigger and bigger chunk of Americans, who are running as fast as they can, they can’t save... one lay-off and they are doomed. Retirement isn’t an option until age bias kicks in and they are booted out. On the other side are young people saddled with college debt, housing costs outside of normal balance with income and incredibly expensive day care. Truly, the current model is unsustainable... I expect to see continued increases in homelessness, especially with the next recession about to hit. The irony is that we elect leaders who don’t work to ease these issues. Instead, they tell us to hate each other and blame “the other side”. The anger today is off the charts, imagine it when we hit bad times. The most important thing we can do is refuse to hate.
LS (Maine)
@Mark I like your life; similar to my own now. At a certain point you have to ask yourself what is enough. Realistically enough, not emotionally fearful. People have forgotten the concept of enough. It doesn't mean you stop striving, it doesn't mean you stop learning. It's just that there is a realistic livable goal, not a crazy one. Balance.
Critical Thinking Please (Vancouver, BC)
I am concerned that this piece is a further contribution to demonizing "the wealthy". My hope for this newspaper (and author) is that they reconsider throwing an entire group of people into a category, and finding it OK to make sweeping generalizations about the individuals in that category. Enough with categorizing people. Believe it or not, rich folk are folk too.
O (MD)
@Critical Thinking Please I agree that deriding wealthy individuals is of no value, and it plays into their paranoia and fear that the rest of us envy what they have and want to take it from them. The focus should instead be on the political and social architecture that fosters runaway inequality. If changes in our political system result in capital flowing from those organizations that have it in excess back into the economic system, where it can be used for the benefit or the vast majority as opposed to the security of the very, very few, this is not the reviling of wealthy individuals, and has nothing to do with envy. It is simply structural, proper, and (please don't be scared folks) ... inevitable.
Harry (Olympia Wa)
In my work life, I had a fair number of colleagues over the years with Ivy degrees. They were smart and capable but no more or less so than everybody else. It might help one get hired, but after that one has only a dated piece of paper. When did parents start believing in magic? Instead, they might consider believing in their children. The lives described in this article really do describe a trap. Here’s a way out: think of wealth as possessions like good friends, love of learning, comfortable shelter, nourishing food, decent health. That’s enough. So many have none of these.
tew (Los Angeles)
@Harry That is a good perspective and one I would share. Yes, many graduates from top universities still must work hard and compete to advance, particularly those from families without substantial wealth or, particularly, connections. However, the motivation for parents to place children in these elite institutions requires one to see the other side of the coin. First, attending one of these institutions substantially increases one's chances of landing a job (and making connections) that will ease the way forward for life. Also, there are many plum jobs at top employers that simply are not offered to those outside the top institutions. In other words, attendance at a top institution buys the opportunity, but not a full guarantee.
LS (NoVa)
@Harry “It might help one get hired”. Don’t gloss over that. It’s hard to get your foot in the door. If Ivy League credentials get you over that threshol, they’ve done enough.
Kerry Girl (US)
As a long-time gardener, I've found great peace and contentment in knowing how to grow my own food. I also keep a few chickens and have in the past kept a couple hives of honeybees. I don't make much at my job running an elementary school library but I eat well. I say this because I doubt many of the Americans who are wealthy know how to grow their own food. They might have multiple degrees but do they know how to identify edible weeds and medicinal herbs? I do. Since time immemorial, all our ancestors knew how to grow or gather food. They knew how to hunt or tend animals. Many of us - especially in the West - have lost that knowledge in the last hundred years, none so more than those with lots of money. My advice to anxious people. Join a community garden. Read a few books on gardening. Put your hands in the earth. Compost. Find the wealth that comes from the knowledge of our ancestors. Plant some food for the pollinators and the birds. Do it without the use of poison. And then pass what you learn on to your children and grandchildren. It's much less expensive than therapy.
Michael Edward Zeidler (Milwaukee)
@Kerry Girl Your apropos comment is so fitting to this topic. In the old days (1950s) we taught children home economics, sewing, woodwork, metal work, and tool use and safety. Today the young people are taught that every want must be obtained only through a smart phone that is in their possess 24 hours every day. A big part of the stress of life comes from the many interactions with other stressed people in this age of electronic messaging. Both the rich and the poor have these crazy devices. A much less stressful life is to grow some of your food, make some of the objects you want like clothes and furniture, reduce your connection to the world of money, and be critical of everything that is acquired using money. Remember that money is a human invention that is used to control human behavior.
O (MD)
@Kerry Girl Amen. If just 10% of the folks out there, even in suburbia, took up your advice, especially about planting for the pollinators and songbirds, it would have a profound and positive effect on our future when we will need it the most.
Michael Barr (Athens, Ohio)
Most of the super rich don't EARN their money; they acquire it. It's family money handed down for many, and for others it's financial gamesmanship where payoffs are huge. Yes, there's brilliant entrepreneurs, but they're the exceptions not the rule. A young hedge fund trader told me recently that his colleagues toil really hard, putting in 50-60 hour work weeks (in comfy office chairs with a computer and phone). I told him here in southeast Ohio I too know people who work 50-60 hrs/week, patching together 3 part-time physical jobs at near minimum pay. They struggle to meet basic needs. The disparity in wealth is larger now in the U.S. than at any time in almost all of our lifetimes. And it's getting worse. Decent super rich people support higher taxes on the wealthy. Indecent super rich people delude themselves by believing they deserve their inordinate wealth. They don't. It was acquired, not earned.
KitKat (NYC)
Are you saying that employees of financial service companies (such as “hedge funds”) don’t earn their income? How do you arrive at that conclusion? Yes, they might make more than a gardener for example but the market sets the price for labor. It’s still labor and it earns a wage. Also, I propose that wealth should be redistributed to lower income earners not from higher income earners (which is just taxing success - not sure that’s so smart if you want to have a successful country) but from the owners of capital. All this anger toward the professional class is completely misdirected. The wealth has been syphoned off from the middle class not by the professional class but by the OWNERS OF THE PRODUCTIVE ASSETS. That’s where government should be focusing legislative, regulatory and tax policy - on the corporations who have offshored your jobs, taken away your benefits and busted up your unions. The fact that a lawyer makes $500k a year is irrelevant. That’s not the root cause of your problem and it’s not where to look for solutions.
O (MD)
@KitKat I agree with most of this point, but an exception to that argument should be made for the managers of certain hedge funds. In 2017, according to Forbes, the lowest hedge fund manager in the top 25 made $200 million. It went up from there. If someone makes $200 million+ for providing financial services to shareholders of a fund I'm not sure that this is a market-driven wage, and not part of the professional class. It's something else entirely, and it seems a little out of whack -- and quite a bit more than a gardener. Maybe you would agree that some hedge fund managers, and some CEO's with very, very high salaries belong to the class of "asset owners" you are referring to? In any case, again I agree - the fundamental objective is to reverse the flow of capital as it was described by Piketty. Both Warren and Sanders have plans that take tiny steps in that direction, but it will take a lot more change at some very fundamental levels for us to reach a reasonable level.
Michael Barr (Athens, Ohio)
@KitKat Yes, I AM saying that financial service employees who annually receive many hundreds of thousands (and more!) of compensation do not EARN that much. It's lopsided returns for basically just moving money around. Their value to society is highly overrated by themselves. And, "the market" does not necessarily produce fair and productive outcomes.
jng54 (Rochester ny)
And if you want to pay less tax, make less money.
Lifelong New Yorker (NYC)
@jng54 Then they didn't need all that help from Trump after all.
O (MD)
@jng54 Or ... make a huge amount of money and then write it all off as Research and Development ... a la Amazon.
Annnabelle (Arizona)
I stopped hanging out with a spendthrift friend who whined constantly about her family’s mounting debt as the result of living in a large home, buying expensive cars and going on lavish vacations. The last straw was when her daughter received a full scholarship to attend an honors college at one of our in-state universities declaring that it wasn’t “good enough”. Instead the parents went into yet even more debt to send their child to an non-Ivy, out-of-state private university to pursue an expensive degree in creative writing. I thought she was out of her mind as well as a typical example of the status-obsessed, stressed-out affluenza alluded to in this article.
Mac (San Francisco)
Aside with being infuriating as I write this from my work on a Saturday, your article is riddled with errors and poor logic. First, you are conflating income and wealth. The two are not the same. Income is earning money; wealth is having money. The two are vastly different. The psychology toward money of the two groups is incredibly different. Second, you are assuming that I have the luxury to 'just stop'. Have you ever run a business? The repercussions of 'just stopping' would be bankruptcy for my family and unemployment for my staff. (sorry folks, Richard told me to 'just stop') Finally, did you consider the level of uncertainty in the current economic climate? I'm a high earner today, but who knows what that will be tomorrow. How much will health care cost in ten years? Will Social Security or Medicare even exist by the time I retire? Don't worry little ant - winter will never come. Love, Grasshopper
Jason (Wickham)
@Mac Okay, fair enough. But if the system in place is making life miserable for the both those at the top of the ladder, and those at the bottom of the ladder (as Markovits book reportedly suggests), then wouldn't you agree that it's time to try something new?
Scott (NY)
@Mac I think the point of the article is that high income individuals and the wealthy have choices that are not available to lower income groups and the poor. And high income individuals can become wealthy if they make the right ones. A probability that is likely impossible for the rest. Most of the problems you describe are the same for everyone. The poor however have added ones from which you are immune. You have more power than most over your own life's trajectory. So get some perspective.
Mendel (Georgia)
@Mac Good for you - if you run a business you have the power to work on decreasing the exponentially growing income gap in the US. I'm sure you probably have diversified assets and not much to worry about if the economy tanks. Simplify your life and you'll have more than enough for your entire life. Nobody needs to be making millions per year.
Veda (U.S.)
The well-off need to give away their money and get jobs that require one to take on a second job just to pay the basic bills. No savings, no healthcare, no nothin'. You know, like most of the 99% have to live. Then they'd learn what real stress is.
ultimateliberal (new orleans)
Hilarious! Loved every word. I am a well educated professional who never became wealthy because service to others is at the very top of all the values which shaped my life and my personality. Money is probably at the bottom of my needs-values, although it helps to have just enough so that I don't rely on the public safety net. But I don't contribute to it, either, because I rarely pay more that $150 in taxes, even though I collect rent for a separate unit. Yes, I'm "that poor!" Attending a prestigious school is just that--- one can apply intelligence, focus on career, and personal motivation to be successful anywhere. And some of us chose low-paying professions because we perceived then as being more honorable due to the focus on service to others. Money buys my little house and my food. I live well. Why do you need so much more?
Rufus (Planet Earth)
@ultimateliberal ... True that. The best thing you can have in this country is nothing. At least on paper.
ultimateliberal (new orleans)
@Rufus The best thing you can have in this country is a modest house purchased before 2000....or even before 2008, in some regions. The last thing you want to get caught in is renting forever.........You lose your money (cannot put it into your own property) while enriching others who may be greedy landlords. Builders need to start providing $50-65,000 houses for sale to the 99% who want to stop paying $2000/mo rent to the 1%ers.
Ruby Tuesday (New Jersey)
Thank you. It is tiring to hear the wealthy complain when the world is melting, and people are going bankrupt due to medical and student loan bills. Tax them and only then will they understand that they can just STOP.
M. G. (Brooklyn)
This article does make me feel better about my relaxed paced life and my kids are happier for it.
DKM (NE Ohio)
I have not a shred of compassion for anyone who claims to be Poor-Me Rich. But I will gladly take the individual's money and show him/her/them how to live well and happily, largely by giving much of it away.
Aaron (USA)
The underpinning of the argument is life expectancy. The author’s one statement is that rich are demonstrably better because they live longer. Ok —- but if we accept that, then we also have to accept that the entire argument of women being disadvantaged or persecuted in our society is specious. After all, women live longer than men, right?
Andy Makar (Hoodsport WA)
What do you expect in a crass materialist society whose only measure of prosperity is how much money you have. Of course it’s stressful because it is never enough. Americans live to work. We don’t work to live. We are so focused on own rice bowl that we have forgotten to be a society. And as long as we are on this track, it will never be enough.
John M (Oakland, CA)
"As one remedy, Mr. Markovits suggests that highly selective schools should 'modestly increase the number of rich students' admitted, in order to 'relax competition among rich applicants.' " Mr. Markovits' solution seems to be to set up a "quota system" benefitting the upper class. (The ultra-rich simply donate several million dollars to their college of choice.) One wonders how he feels about affirmative action. Growing up in a resource-rich environment has significant advantages, and this will never change. However, I'd suggest that although going to an ultra-elite school gives one the contacts needed for success, restoring our public colleges and universities to their former well-funded status would lessen the gap. It's that gap which is causing the problem. Remove the vast chasm between the top schools and other schools, and the pressure to get into the "right" school is much reduced. NOTE: Isn't it interesting that merit is judged, not on one's ability, but on what schools that person attended? Sounds more elitist than merit-based.
Ted (NY)
It’s a lot more complicated than your run-of-the-mill meritocratic universe. There are the meritocrats and then there are the really ethically challenged meritocrats of the meritocrats. The country’s challenge are the latter.
Badger (TX)
This has taken demonizing the wealthy one step to far. Most know how lucky they are and only a few are not humble about it.
Andy Makar (Hoodsport WA)
If you think the article and comments are harsh, I have an even harsher option. Perhaps I should give the rich exactly the same regard as they give the poor.
DJS (New York)
@Andy Makar "If you think the article and comments are harsh, I have an even harsher option. Perhaps I should give the rich exactly the same regard as they give the poor." What regard would that be, exactly ?!
Rufus (Planet Earth)
@Andy Makar .. Not so fasts there. When the poor have no more food, they will eat the rich. It''s happening already. Million dollar homes in Berkeley with rampant crime, house and car break-ins, etc. Only to get worse across the country in the next 50 to 100 years.
tew (Los Angeles)
This paints such a broad brushstroke that it becomes absurd. As if there is a strict homogeneity among the upper middle class. Also, there is a false comparison here by noting the obvious fact that those who are barely getting by (nearly always) have it (much) worse than those with high disposable income. Of course everyone knows that... WHICH IS A GREAT MOTIVATION NOT TO FALL SO FAR. Which can be stressful, particularly for those not born into wealth and privilege. Few people "deserve" to be poor. Few people who work exceptionally hard for decades don't deserve the material rewards it brings. But, sure, they ought not whine so much.
O (MD)
@tew Well, I think maybe the issue, perhaps not the focus of the article, but addressing your comment "Few people who work exceptionally hard for decades don't deserve the material rewards it brings ..." is that we have created a society in which the majority of those who work exceptionally hard for decades will no longer receive the "material reward" you allude to. Maybe they did over the last decades, but not much in the ones coming up. Just zoom forward in time, for instance, and ask the person who has worked in the Amazon distribution center for 20 years (well, don't ask the robots...) and I don't think you will a person who was materially rewarded. We are just at the beginning of this Brave New World and I'm not sure that 20th century work-ethic values and nostalgia are going to apply.
ml (usa)
The Poor little rich indeed! A certain member of my family, who finally became a millionnaire through hard work (there is no wealth to inherit in our family) experienced short-lived happiness and did not find that to be enough, even with no children to worry about, no late hours, so a relatively stress-free life compared to the ones in this article. When asked whether his company had gone public yet, the lament was: oh no, otherwise why would I still be working instead of living in California (where the dream home presumably costs millions). As it is the brand new million-dollar condo has marble kitchen tops, recesses lighting, separate walk-in closets, among all the trappings of a luxurious life. No public transportation when you can Uber; all the cable channels at the fingertips; the very best restaurants delivered. Of course a million dollars ain’t what it used to be in NYC, but I know I could live well and happily on that, tho I wouldn’t stay in NY. Most of all, it was sad to realize that this family relation will probably never be a happy person.
Rufus (Planet Earth)
@ml ... tell him to pack it in and retire so he can more time with his money.
DA (St. Louis, MO)
Perhaps if income inequality weren’t so stark, people wouldn’t feel like so much rides on that infinitesimal difference between College A and College B. Paradoxically, the way to relieve stress on the rich may just be to tax them more.
Josh (NYC)
The underlying assumption is that the poor are not responsible for their choices, and that they don't make choices that contribute to their stress. The second part is false, and the first part is not a helpful moral perspective.
DavidWiles (Minneapolis)
@Josh "The underlying assumption is that the poor are not responsible for their choices..." Wrong. Their is no such underlying assumption. The poor, or in this particular case the non-rich, are responsible for their choices. They know that and there is nothing here to suggest that the author doesn't. But the choices available to us "not rich" are constrained by our finances. Our son will get a fine education. We'll see to that. Will he get a highly expensive one? It's unlikely given our income, an income that leaves us comfortable (barring medical disaster) but not rich. And is an expensive education synonymous with a good education? Of course not. Certain colleges look better on one's resume as do certain secondary, elementary and pre-schools. But intellectual and character development are strictly a personal and family affairs. Success after college beyond the doors certain diplomas will open for you is the same.
Mark (San Diego)
Research has shown again and again that the constant stresses of being poor contributes to bad choices. And being born poor means that your more likely to remain poor just like those who are rich are more likely to have been born rich. It’s weird that conservatives came up with the whole “snowflake” insult but completely ignore empirically proven systemic forces that have far more sway over who’s poor than some self-righteous nonsense about morality.
CF (Massachusetts)
@Josh People with below average IQs choose to do what they are able to do. What they are able to do pays a slave wage in this country. Making a slave wage is stressful. Making a slave wage is not a choice. Once we figure out, as a nation, that punishing people for having no particular talent is obscene, maybe we will gain a better moral perspective about the dignity of all work.
Robin (New Zealand)
Hear, hear!! If being rich is so stressful, choose to be poorer. As the author rightly points out, if you are rich you have choices, unlike the poor, who cannot just 'choose' to be wealthier. Any feeling that you don't have a choice (to live in the 'right' place, give your children more advantages than they can handle. etc.) is illusory. Choosing to not make the foundational adjustments to lead a poorer life (if you feel your wealth is so stressful) will not get you any sympathy from those who don't have this very basic choice.
jrd (ny)
It's simply untrue that attending a state university will ensure a decent life today High paying jobs depend on exploiting rentier advantages, of one sort or another; if you can't get into that racket, there's no knowing how you'll end up. Blame these parents for the world they're creating, but forgive them their solicitude for their kids. Unlike this author, they know how the world works and what opens doors.
Lori (Overland Park, Kansas)
@jrd An Ivy League education doesn’t ensure a decent life either. Nothing does. If you attend a reputable public university and wisely choose a major, you can have a nice life. Millions of people have done it. Not living in New York City or San Francisco helps too. Many, if not most of us, live better than people in expensive cities. Pick a decent sized city and you won’t even have to live by Trump supporters.
Susan in NH (NH)
@jrd I know young people who are graduates of state universities and making high enough salaries to have bought multimillion dollar homes in San Francisco and Boston and I know several graduates of Harvard and MIT who have experienced bankruptcy. Anyway, how many bankruptcies has Wharton School graduate Trump experienced?
Cat Lover (North Of 40)
@jrd: I strongly disagree. It is possible to do undergraduate work at a public university, work hard and excel. From there it is possible to go to grad school at one of the “elite” (How I hate that term!) universities. I know. My son did it. Public high school in a mid-sized Canadian town, public provincial university, med school at Columbia’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, graduating with a massive student debt, but fulfilling a dream that began when he was a child putting bandaids on his Kermit stuffie. Don’t belittle the doors opened by an education at a good public university.
Dr. Conde (Medford, MA.)
I think a Henry Ford approach might help their ennui. Everyone is anxious that not only will the economy tank, but that the world itself might dissolve in climate disaster. If we provide more tax relief to the class that buys the most, the middle class, and infuse tax dollars into public institutions of higher/education, child/ health, elder care,infrastructure, green energy and jobs of the future, hopefulness will rise, and despair diminish. I think we also need to replace and secure the online/cyber systems that are easily corrupted rather than wasting on our money on border walls
Doro Wynant (USA)
@Dr. Conde -- One caveat: People have to stop buying so much. Consumerism is driving the climate crisis and creating a massive amount of pollution. Job-creation could focus on all things green, including small businesses that sell gently used items (like consigned clothing and furniture) or businesses that repair items and reclaim all usable materials from stuff that most people unthinkingly throw out. I'm not an econom
The Revionista (NYC)
@Dr. Conde Henry Ford’s strategy was for the factory working class. General Motors passed Ford like it was going in reverse to become the preeminent manufacturer of automobiles in the world. To top it off be was one of the all time anti-semites. Perhaps we shouldn’t rely on Henry Ford for ideas at this point.
Thomas Zaslavsky (Binghamton, N.Y.)
@Dr. Conde Too radical. Maybe "socialist".
Darkler (L.I.)
90 percent tax rate on the USA rich as in President Eisenhower days. Kept the USA in good shape. That's the way to make America great again.
The Revionista (NYC)
@Darkler No one ever paid that tax rate. Reagan’s tax “cuts” didn’t change the government tax take because he plugged the Eisenhower era loopholes at the same time.
Bruce Crabtree (Los Angeles)
Here’s a crazy idea: tax the uber wealthy at 1950s rates, invest in public universities like we used to, watch rich and poor alike enjoy stress-free access to affordable, world-class higher education.
Valerie (California)
@Bruce Crabtree, you’re right, of course, but people who grind down themselves and their kids over getting into IVY LEAGUE SCHOOLS! aren’t interested in a world-class education. They’re interested in status. It’s what drives them, and for some, the idea that so-and-so’s kid got into Yale or that an old classmate has a bigger house or a nicer Ferrari is crushing. You and the author are correct, but the article misses an important point, which is that a lot of this is driven by a ruthless hyper-competitive society that also glorifies money and status symbols. Schools themselves, the media, movies, music, books, TV, and our lack of a social safety net are all driving it. Yes, people are drinking the Kool-Aid, but their decisions aren’t made in a vacuum.
john boeger (st. louis)
@Bruce Crabtree some states like Missouri made it illegal for its state university to charge tuition. all kids could go free. more recent politicians changed that!
V.B. Zarr (Erewhon)
@Bruce Crabtree Mr. Reeves is naive. The purpose of exclusive schools is not an excellent education; it's exclusivity--ie, access to an insiders' club network for the few, to the exclusion of everyone else. So, contrary to what Mr. Reeves says, this isn't a dysfunction of meritocracy; it's an undermining of it. This is the educational equivalent of eroding the free market through insider trading. Sure, some of these students work hard, but plenty don't and get admitted, graduated and matriculated to the next stage of the process anyway--due to money, connections, etc. I say all this having worked in a couple of such schools, and been around quite a few more, while now being more than happy to have moved on from any involvement in such "schooling."
nursejacki (Ct.usa)
In 1970 I wanted simple things .... To jump financially and socially from my lower middle class nucular family with one auto ( used), a 5 Room ranch w one bathroom and an exhausted night shift mom as a nurse assistant and an inebriated shiftless dad hopping job to job. One high school diploma between them. Both from well to do middle class entrepreneurial working class and other service type professions. I wanted my cousins’ lives.Not the one I had been dealt. So I looked for the helpers and mentors and used them to clarify what it means to be able to buy anything you desire , be debt free, and leave your kids and family a comfortable bonus upon the great permanent goodbye and pension cessation .
Temp attorney (NYC)
Because the rich are special, they get a 20% tax rate instead of the higher tax rate on labor. Of course they want to be special in other ways too.
john boeger (st. louis)
@Temp attorney no one can seriously doubt that the rich control the politicians. that is a fact and gets worse as we go along our merry way.
tew (Los Angeles)
@Temp attorney Please tell me where to sign up for that 20% tax rate. I'll get rich providing this magical information to *high income* people. The article was focused on the upper middle class and particularly on those who work long hours. They are paid as labor. And taxed as labor. A 15-20% federal tax rate applies to long-term capital gains and dividends for higher income people. Plus state taxes, if applicable (north of 10% in California) and less the tax on "phantom" gains from inflation. But most upper middle class people get nearly all of their income from LABOR, not capital gains. Hedge fund managers get the carried interest tax break. Neither party has fought it seriously. Nearly nobody in the upper middle class gains from this treatment. The REAL BENEFICIARIES of the tax system are those truly wealthy families with inter-generational wealth. This is the .1%. They often avoid taxation completely on large chunks of their assets. But facts. "Speak your truth."
Nancy (midwest)
@tew Easy get all your money from capital gains and qualified dividend income. Invest in oil and gas partnerships with fat depreciation that lets you shelter other sources of gain for starters. If you have the right kind of job you can claim carried interest rather than income and enjoy those benefits too.
Jimmy Gillman (Wisconsin)
Outstanding column! Spot on and well written, it’s an all too true reminder that the wealthy rarely deserve our praise or admiration, and rarer still our sympathy.
Ethan (Virginia)
@Jimmy Gillman not sure if sarcastic. if so well done.
CW (Left Coast)
Thank you for this reality check. As a woman born in 1950 in the Midwest, I'm thankful that my parents expected all their children to go to college. Any college. The four of us went to the local community college where we had excellent teachers and then transferred to a Big Ten state university where we had access to a choice of classes that filled a catalog the size of a major city phone book. I studied what I loved, worked hard and loved every minute of it. My parents weren't wealthy and all of us worked and saved and got scholarships to get us through college pretty much debt free. I've had a successful and satisfying career as the founder of a non-profit organization. My siblings and I are all well-adjusted, financially secure adults with great kids. Isn't that what it's all about?
PurnaPhD (CT)
@CW This is absolutely what it's all about. Unfortunately, those state schools cost MUCH more, adjusted for inflation, than they did the 1960s and 70s. We have to do a better job of funding them or helping kids find funding to attend.
CW (Left Coast)
@PurnaPhD I totally agree. I don't think it's possible for kids now to do what we were able to do in the 60s and 70s.
NCJ (New York)
@CW Baby boomers, sigh. "We got through college with work-study and scholarships, so why can't today's young people do the same?" The same generation that destroyed the economy and the environment for future generations hasn't bothered to check the change in the price tag of college from 1968 to 2019, I see.
jon (boston)
Think the bigger issue is we're in a winner-take-most system, the competition everywhete is rising, and AI is only going to make it more so. Software kinda is eating the world. So the professional class peddles harder to stay ahead and give their kids a shot at a decent life. Its called survival instinct. The owners of capital who are primary beneficiaries from this will need to accept a wealth tax, legecy preferences need to go, zoning for affordable housing in affluent communities needs to expand, and we need to spend a boatload more on preK to 12 education with states reversing the cuts to state colleges. And to make any of this reality we have to get money out of politics cuz thats how capitalists are rigging the system. One man's opinion....
Grove (California)
@jon Unfortunately, the capitalists have pretty much bought the system. Money in politics made that possible. And, our corporate owned Supreme Court is there to protect the rich from the American People. It would take an educated and engaged citizenry to fix this. Republicans are counting on that not happening.
mike (mi)
@jon Some sort of mandatory public service is also necessary, be it military or civilian. We are all victims of all our old myths of "rugged individualism" and "self determination". We still act as if we had frontiers to conquer and unlimited resources to exploit. In reality we are a nation with fixed borders operating under a global economy. Too much "me" and not enough "us".
SteveRR (CA)
@jon That sounds like Marx's basic precepts. Guess what - the world took a vote - we voted Marx off of the world. More people have been lifted out of poverty in Africa over the past two decades than the 100 years prior by two simple ideas: free markets and free trading [not simple wealth transfer] - we should learn the same lesson yet again.
See also