Richard Reeves wrote an excellent post today on the travails of the very rich. He points out that they are travails that are unnecessary and in fact limit severly the lives of people working and working and working and driving their children to do the same.
The idea of meritocracy has long been used by the rich for self-justification. Now it is becoming fuel for their self-pity.
The raw competition for success, so the argument goes, hurts the winners as much as the losers: It is “mutually destructive.” But this is not true. By any objective measure, the rich are doing just fine. They are wealthier and healthier than ever. Economists at the Brookings Institution found that the top 10 percent of male earners born in 1940 can now expect to live to the ripe old age of 88, 12 years longer than male earners born the same year in the bottom 10 percent.
This is not to say that successful people are immune to life’s difficulties and strains. 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.
The problems of the affluent are not systemic. They are self-inflicted. Well-heeled Americans have persuaded themselves that the stakes are high in every race in life. Especially when it comes to their children, the good is never good enough. Their children must have the best: the best preschools, the best high schools and the best colleges.
Reeves points out that thre are much better alternatives. if the super rich pushing themselves and their kids in the super rat race followed Reeves's suggestions, they might find it necessary to advocate for decent public schools which would benefit far more than their kids. They might have time to talk to people different from themselves, learn about lives different from their own. Learn not only about the difficulties of the poor and middle class,but also about who they are. For me, a graduate of a very fine high school and an Ivy League college, the best education I had was my two years in the Peace Corps in Uganda living in a semi-rural community teaching boys whose main shoes were flip flops. It wasn't learning that they were poor that mattered, though, it was learning that their lives mattered and that there was not a single (American) way to live your life.