Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft, where we are hard, cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand.” F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Rich Boy.
The American Dream, despite the claims and protests of many, has always been about the opportunity to achieve wealth and success. Not everyone pursued the dream in the same way. Each of us has our own concept of wealth. This can encompass a wide spectrum. Yet, every American born here or those who came here sought the opportunity to achieve the dream.
The promise of the American once was an equal opportunity phenomenon. While the streets of America may not be made of gold, they offered a path to it. The promise of America was once the promise of the world.
The history of this country is replete with rags to riches stories. Men through ingenuity and perseverance took an idea; a light bulb, a car, trains among others and turned them into success stories.
Something changed the dream. While the path still exists, it is narrower and guarded. The values system in this country has been compromised. Somewhere along the way a dam was built on the river of wealth. Most of us are below the dam struggling for the trickle of water escaping from the large lake.
We pay $500 for a family of four to enjoy one baseball game. We sit and watch athletes who earn more money each time they stand at the plate then that same family earns in a year. We pay $250 for a pair of sneakers endorsed by the same athletes.
At the same time, the politicians in this country castigate unions as too powerful and demanding. Unions whose purpose is to seek fair wages and working conditions for their members. How is it that a CEO of a company can make 700 times the amount of money as the average worker, drive the company into the ground, export jobs overseas, and then be rewarded with millions in stock options.
Unions once were the mechanism to level the playing field in this country, perhaps it is their time again.
We passively sit by while the government pays out billions of dollars to banks that were too big to fail and have now have become bigger.
We all know one of the necessities for success is education. Yet, the price of a college education grows further out of reach of most people. Many of the top schools charge over $50,000 in tuition per year. Add in other fees, books, and cost of living and a graduating senior walks out of school more than a quarter million dollars in debt. Head off to graduate school and you can double that.
It’s like taking out a mortgage, then trying to find a house to live in that hasn’t been built yet.
For me, the issue is not about is there such a thing as too much wealth. For me the issue is what are the values we admire and support and are those values reflected by those who through effort or chance have enormous wealth.
Money does not buy happiness. But as Sophie Tucker once said, “I’ve been poor and I’ve been rich. Rich is better.”
I do not begrudge anyone who, through effort or inheritance, has enormous wealth. I do not think it in the best interest of America to set a limit on how much money one can have. I do think we need to focus on returning to a level playing field.
I do think we need to take a moment to examine the things we value in this country. Do we really need to pay $700 every time some fruit company releases a new cell phone?
Do we really need to spend $250 on sneakers? Does the price really make them that much better? The irony is, many of the athletes endorsing these high-priced shoes came from poor environments where they couldn’t afford such sneakers. They succeeded through their talent and hard work. It is a bit disingenuous of them to sell a promise more gorgeous than its realization.
I’d be more comfortable paying them to talk to kids about staying in school rather than finding a way to pay for sneakers that ultimately make no difference if you’re not willing to work hard.
Is there such a thing as too much wealth? No. As long as the opportunity exists for those willing to work hard for it to enjoy a fair return on their labors.
Until we fix the system that favors the wealthy, the politics of money fueled campaigns of professional politicians, and the concentration of power in the hands of a few, access to the American dream will remain out of reach for most.