Relax—You’re Already Rich

As a student you may not be rich in the conventional sense, but it’s certain you’ve got an opinion on the following question: Do I want to get rich, and, if so, what am I willing to do to get there?

The short answer? Don’t sweat it, because you’re already rich.

Let me explain.

Who are the rich?

If you were to ask anyone on the street who the rich people are you’d get a range of answers that probably includes the following:

  1. The rich are those who don’t have to work for their money because their money works for them.
  2. The rich don’t have to worry about losing their jobs, as they have enough to support themselves during unemployment. They don’t have to fret about failing in business for the same reason, and also because their extra dough increases the likelihood that their businesses will eventually succeed.  They can take a bunch of risks in the hopes that one success will cover all the failures
  3. The rich don’t have to look at price tags. If they want something, they simply buy it.
  4. The rich are trendsetters because everyone wants to be like them.
  5. The rich are different from you and me.
  6. The rich are big givers, rewarding those who are nice to them.
  7. The rich own and control most of the world’s resources.
It’s all poppycock

All of these beliefs are poppycock (as honest rich folks will attest), generated by people who have no idea how the other half (or the upper one percent) lives.  It’s time for a little reality check.

People with a lot of money are able to live off the interest that their money accumulates by virtue of there being so much of that money and the fact that it’s just sitting around.  But the same can be said for farmers; they plant the seeds, they put the bulls and cows together in the same meadow, they make comfy houses for their chickens, and they live off of what grows under their care.  Farmers have to work hard to make sure their capital produces enough resources to live on, while the rich have the option to spend their days yachting.  But there are farmers who’ve mastered the art of working just enough to enjoy the fruits of their labour, and there are rich people who dash around like headless chickens from one new deal, venture, or broker to another.

Sure, if the farmer fails there’s no bread on the table, but if the rich entrepreneur fails the money they lose is just gravy anyway.  However, labour history and recent events show that rich people will fight twice as hard for their gravy as the poor will fight for their bread.

To assume that the rich reject “petty price-taggery” as Mr. Burns from The Simpsons put it, is another popular misconception.  The rich people we see conspicuously throwing around money are, you can be sure, on the declining end of the wealth curve.  They’ve lost their heads, and it’s only a matter of time before they end up like the Addams family.  Those who stay rich count every penny and live so as to attract as little attention as possible.  Their money is safer that way.

The belief that the rich are trendsetters ignores the fact that the rich have always found inspiration for their style from bohemians, artists, designers, and yes, from the poor, for whom necessity has always been the mother of invention.  Sophia Loren began her career by winning a beauty contest wearing a dress made from a curtain.  It’s the poor who come up with the ideas and the rich who bring them to the public eye.

As for the idea that the “the rich are different from you and me,” a statement falsely attributed to F. Scott Fitzgerald, there really is no better answer than that falsely attributed to Ernest Hemingway: “Yes — they have more money.”

True, there’s something to be said for the distinctions in style, accent, and comportment that old money provides, and the respect given to old money usually stems from such accoutrements.  Gaining wealth changes things, and losing wealth changes things again.  But in the end money doesn’t dictate degrees of virtue, intelligence, creativity, or beauty.  Take a look at the world’s richest folks and you’ll see what I mean.

Speaking of virtue, let’s pick up the question of charity.  We look to the rich to give big chunks of money to reduce the terrible suffering in the world.  Bill and Melinda Gates and their ilk are to be highly commended for their charitable work and for encouraging other rich folks to give more.  But considering that the poor give a higher percentage of their incomes away than do the rich, and considering that there are far more poor than rich on this planet, and considering that the poor are more conscious of the needs and suffering of others by virtue of their station in life, we have to ask: How much do the rich really give?

Do the one percent really control it all?

Now let’s consider the most important misconception — that the rich control nearly everything because they can afford to pay for it.  Considering, for example, that money is being used in some cases to grant salaries and employment benefits to employees, which item of exchange has the greater value, the money or the labour? Any economist will tell you that in a capitalist society the labour has the greater value, and that if that weren’t the case capitalism wouldn’t work.  Since the employee manifests the commodity of higher value, doesn’t that prove that the employee is intrinsically richer than the boss? And that the whole system hinges on how willing workers are to sell their labour?

Now let’s extend that same idea to things like creative work.  The writer is richer than the publisher, being the repository of talent and ideas.  The artist is richer than the art buyer, being the source of the images.  The at-home social assistance recipient parent is richer than the government because they’re the source of knowledge and services no government could afford to provide to their children.  And finally, the student is richer than the university because it’s the student who blesses the world with the knowledge the university provides and who hence justifies the university’s existence.

You have nothing to strive for.  Whether you’re a worker, a member of the creative class, an entrepreneur, or a struggling student, you’re already rich.  You possess in your very being and among your creations the very thing that someone with too much money is willing to pay for.

If you also happen to have a lot of money, you have my sympathy.