Friday, May 06, 2005

Movin' On Up

Running into articles this week where "conservatives" (particularly Walter E. over at Townhall) are singing "economic mobility" is everywhere in our society. But I've a bitch with the stats Walter E. uses to back up his hearty belief in the rags to riches for everyone. Walter's first paragraph thumps Richard Gephardt and Michael Moore on the head. Must have been the two liberals on this week's post-it note.

He begins citing "… 80 percent of today's American millionaires are first-generation rich" from the book "The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America's Wealthy." The authors claim in their study of millionaires that " Fewer than 25 percent received "an act of kindness" from a relative greater than $10,000, and 91 percent never received, as a gift, as much as $1 from the ownership of a family business."

Okay. So GWB is self-made? If one's daddy is the president does that constitute "an act of kindness?" Does that study exclude or include Forbes billionaires? Are we talking folks with a net wealth of $1,000,000 or are we including everyone with multimillions up to billions? Must be excluding Forbes 400 because the 91 percent sure doesn't qualify there. Many of those wealthy had a hand or two hands up or inherited. Does that study include the millionaire Enron employee who was worth 3 million in stock just before the shit hit the fan and now he's worth 33,000? "…and 91 percent never received, as a gift, as much as $1 from the ownership of a family business." So that excludes monies loaned from family? That would exclude that briefcase full we received from my in-laws business as it was a "loan" not a gift. We did repay it.

The book also states that "Fewer than 20 percent inherited 10 percent or more of their wealth." Hmm. So approximately 1.6 million of these millionaires inherited 10 percent or LESS of their wealth. So if I'm worth 200,000,000 and inherited under 10 percent of that, that means my uncle left me a measly 19,000,000 or so? Or if I'm worth 2,000,000 that means my daddy willed me just under 200,000 in a starter kit with some networking, and I'd fall into that category? Not exactly bootstraps and rags.

Walter cites a study from 1892 of the 4,047 American millionaires, which reports that 84 percent were nouveau riche. Wasn't that the "Gilded Age" of America? When fortunes were made by the mining bonanza kings, railroad barons, merchant princes, bankers, organizers of the great trusts, the utility tycoons, and the politicians in their pockets?

He states: "According to IRS tax data, 85.8 percent of tax filers in the bottom fifth in 1979 had moved on to a higher quintile, and often to the top quintile, by 1988." Gee, where did poverty go? How come the Gini index has been the same for decades? Laffer-ing all the way to the bank again? It must be all those Siliconaires in the Valley that sprung up between 1979-88, the young upwardly mobile Reaganites who were suddenly rich. There were so many of them suffering that psychology books were written to explain the drawbacks of being afflicted with the "sudden wealth syndome."

Or maybe the study includes Medicaid Millionaires . You know those doctors, hospitals, clinics (founded by men like Thomas Frist in TN) who became rich defrauding government healthcare in the '80s. Are we excluding/including new millionaires of the foreign wealthy who prefer California and Florida sunshine? Russian nouveau business tycoons, Columbian…ahem…pharmaceutical distributors, the rightwing Generals absconding with fortunes from Central America who now live in the US? How many of these first generation rich are first generation American?

Walter E. also doesn't tell us much about Farrah Gray, other than he's a Black youth from the ghetto who became a Reallionaire at age 17. Farrah Gray began traveling the world at age 6 with an older brother, his mentor. He's published a book telling us how to get rich too in 9 steps. But even with Mr. Gray's story I find conflicting information. In early blurbs Farrah credits his loving parents, grandparents, and brothers for his unique abilities and outlook on life. Later reports state he grew up on public assistance in the Chicago ghetto, with his mother, a single parent, etc. He may deserve all he's obtained but he didn't get there alone. And the more I read about Gray the more I see the infomercial man in the weird suit, or Tom Bosely telling folks they can make a fortune selling ceramics at flea markets.

Walter E. concludes his "Only In America" article asking : "What are we to make of people who preach pessimism and doom to people -- telling them that they're poor because others are rich…What are we to make of politicians, media pundits and college professors who preach the politics of envy -- telling people lies that the rich became rich off the backs of the poor?"

Walter seems to have his post-it note always near with "lawyers, politicians, media people, leftist organizations, college professors and others who often contribute little or nothing to human progress" see below. The rightwing invented the meme "politics of envy." It's their way of preaching anyone who criticizes the status quo must be an envious lying leftist noncontributing good for nothing. The same guys would tell you, if you complained about the insertion of that cattle prod, that it's only painful because you envy electricity.

Millions of non-wealthy Americans know or have contact with someone who is wealthy, or at least affluent, through work, family, or acquaintances. In hometowns across the heartland the poor and middle class understand how the pecking order operates and don't waste a lot of time on envy. Many still believe in rags to riches, and most hold no malice. Most would be content with just a good wage, nice little house, a new bedroom set, even college for the kids without debt. A steak dinner when they want one or a car that starts every morning in the winter. But we also have phrases like "It's not who you know but who you blow" or "It's who you meet and eat." And honestly, they don't believe the rich get rich off the backs of the poor. It's another part of their anatomy they feel is getting reamed.


JOS said...

I just discovered your blog on Mickey Z's site and I am enjoying it emmensely. I am looking forward to reading more, thanks.

Kate-A said...

You're only encouraging me. :)

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