My fella grew up with very, very little in the way of material resources or goods. I grew up with 3 siblings and a blue collar, self-employed dad and a stay-at-home mom; six mouths to feed and very little extra to go around. Luckier than many, yes, but not remotely wealthy.
My fella put himself through college and worked full-time. Then he went into the Navy for the steady paycheck and the insurance. I earned a master’s degree in Spanish and moved with him when he got re-assigned to new stations. He’s out of the Navy now and using the GI Bill to return to school for additional practical skills. I’m working for a non-profit, using my Spanish language skills on occasion and my English language skills every waking moment.
We didn’t come from money. And it’s clear we’re not going toward money, either.
My fella’s professional pursuits involve conservation and land/habitat health. My professional work is in building community and youth development. If we wanted to be filthy rich, we’ve chosen poorly.
We don’t pursue filthy riches. But we would like to do okay. We would like to worry less about healthcare costs. We would like to have a greater cushion between our livelihood and a potential accident. We would like to build our wealth responsibly and carefully, so that seventy years from now, when we’re both 103, we aren’t wasting away in a low-budget assisted living facility. We wonder what it would be like to have been born to millionaires. How many fellow millionaires would we know? How many high-paying, high-powered jobs would be available to us by virtue of moneyed nepotism? How many CEOs of Fortune 500 companies would we have summered with? How many lawyers and accountants would we have on our payroll, protecting our family wealth and lobbying for influence?
Struggle is part of life; we know that. Nothing is handed to us; we know that. But why is so much handed to the rich? Why do the poor bear so much more of the struggle? Why does the middle class slide ever closer to poor? Why do the filthy rich get filthier rich?
It is not because the poor and the middle class aren’t working hard. It is not because the poor and the middle class are lazy. (Watch any episode of “Shameless” to see the ingenuity and coordination and rock-hard work of the working poor.)
If I were rich, I would tell myself that I’d earned my wealth, and I would tell myself that people who weren’t rich didn’t deserve to be rich, and I would tell myself that poor people deserved their poverty. And I would tell myself these things to sweep away any discomfort I felt at inequality, and I would band together with other rich humans and build on the mythology of the earned wealth. I would deny the existence of systemic benefits that helped me build and maintain and increase and exploit my wealth. I would deny that capitalism relies on the uncompensated labor of someone (usually minorities and/or women). I would insist that I had earned my wealth of my own merit.
Or would I? God help me, I hope I would recognize my privilege.
I’m not interested in a handout, but holy Wall Street, a level playing field sure would make a difference.