by David Wong
All of a sudden, it’s like you can’t make huge amounts of money without people getting all pissed off about it. And it’s only going to get worse — with the election coming up and the weather getting warmer, this whole “Occupy” movement is probably going to come back strong. The 1 percent will feel even more besieged than before.
“What the hell?” you’re probably thinking, if you’re somehow both rich and reading an article with this title, “I didn’t crash the economy!” You might even be tempted to take to a microphone, to defend yourself and your wealthy friends. But before you do, I want you to stop and ask yourself, “Will this make me sound like an out-of-touch douchebag?”
#6. “Well, $500,000 a Year Might Sound Like a Lot, but I’m Hardly Rich.”
“The amount that I have to reinvest in my business and feed my family is more like $600,000 … and so by the time I feed my family, I have maybe $400,000 left over …”
“It is hard to ask more of households making $250,000 or $300,000 a year. In large parts of the country, that kind of income does not get you a big home or lots of vacations or anything else that is associated with wealth.”
What They Think They’re Saying:
“Come on, we’re all in this together! It’s not like I have infinite money.”
What We Hear:
“When my family’s Aruba vacation went over budget, that was exactly like you being unable to afford medication for your child’s excruciating chronic illness!”
“Look at how tiny my yacht is!”
I’m going to try to only quote politicians and pundits and other public figures for this article, but don’t take that to mean they’re the only people saying this stupid shit. Regular rich folk aren’t exactly reluctant to offer this as a defense (here’s an article on why it’s hard to get by on $500,000 a year in New York, and here’s one on why $200,000 a year isn’t rich in Toronto), and you can go to the comment section of any article that mentions taxes or welfare or income inequality (including this one!) and hear this same bullshit.
“It’s gotten to where I can barely afford my daily cigar rolled in the tanned flesh of a forsaken child.”
Hell, you’ve probably heard it in real life, from a boss or some guy sitting nearby at Starbucks. “I guess I’m considered rich now! Well, if I’m so ‘rich,’ why am I broke at the end of the month?!?” Uh, I think it’s because your mortgage is $3,000 a month, since you live in a fucking palace. And because you took your family on that Disney cruise last summer. And because you pay for your kids’ college, so that, unlike us, they won’t be crushed under six figures of student loan debt at age 22. And because you eat all the best foods and drink the finest liquids.
Or, as Hamilton Nolan at Gawker put it, “‘Sure, it’s an objectively large sum of money,’ they say. ‘But it is far smaller after I spend it.'”
“Once I pay for the helicopter, the helicopter fuel, the townhouse and the Lexus, I barely have more spending money than your entire yearly salary.”
For people who are grinding through overtime just to keep up with their bank’s late fees, this induces an urge to storm a gated community with pitchforks and torches and make those people go spend a year in a trailer park or in a city apartment so small that when you flush the toilet, little droplets of piss splatter onto the bed.
But don’t get too mad at the rich for saying this — we shouldn’t, as a rule, get as angry at people for being oblivious as we should when they’re being intentionally evil. Besides, they can’t help it — that obliviousness is hard-wired, a product of evolution that, really, kind of explains all class tension in the world. The rich, along with all of us, are biologically programmed to not notice their advantages.
“This stuff? I guess I could use it to prop up the table.”
This came up a while back in a previous Cracked article. Basically, your brain drains the pleasure from the current things you own and do in order to motivate you to keep hunting and gathering. And I don’t care where you are on the economic ladder, you’ve experienced this yourself.
You remember that scene from Big, where the boy-in-an-adult-body Tom Hanks gets his first paycheck at his shitty data entry job and screams in celebration, “A HUNDRED AND EIGHTY-SEVEN DOLLARS!” When you’re a kid begging mom for 10 bucks at a time so you can buy some stickers for your Trapper Keeper (this is still 1984, right?), $200 seems like the kind of money that should come on a huge novelty lottery check. But then just a few years later, you get that first fast food job and watch your paycheck evaporate on just one car payment (the insurance takes the next one).
That leaves just enough extra money for a Netflix subscription and a bowl to cry into.
It is apparently entirely possible to stay in that mindset, ignoring each new asset, right up until you’re sleeping on a platinum bed under covers made of fur from a cloned woolly mammoth. If someone tries to offer you a little perspective and remind you of the tremendous advantages you no longer even notice, you’ll reply with something like …
#5. “Hey, I Worked Hard to Get What I Have!”
“I became a self-made millionaire by the age of 30 by working grueling hours, being relentless and risking my own money. My success was earned with blood, sweat and tears.”
“I used the tears as hair gel.”
“Why, oh why, does the media bolster President Obama’s rhetoric by using his term: ‘the rich’? Would it not be more appropriate to say ‘the successful,’ or ‘those who work harder?”
What They Think They’re Saying:
“I’m not Paris Hilton! I work 70-hour weeks to make this salary!”
What We Hear:
“The only reason I have a hundred times more money than you is because I work a hundred times as hard!”
This will be the entry that prompts many a reader to skip right to the comment section after only reading the entry header (“I’m tired of these hippies saying the rich just got lucky and don’t work hard!”). So let’s get this out off the way right now, and make them look like assholes for not reading far enough:
Most high-income earners do put in a ton of hours. Bill Gates seemed to never sleep (an employee once said that putting in 81 hours in four days still couldn’t keep up with Gates’ schedule). So yes, it’s unfair that we tend to think that “being rich” means “lounging by the pool while an albino tiger massages our feet with his tongue.” So, “Hey, I work hard for what I have!” is perfectly true. It’s also insulting.
“You guys just need to work hard in a lucrative field.”
It’s insulting for the exact same reason “Hey, I love my country!” is insulting: It implies that the listener doesn’t. Otherwise there’d be no reason to say it.
It implies a bizarre alternate reality where society rewards you purely based on how much effort you exert, rather than according to how well your specific talents fit in with the needs of the marketplace in the particular era and part of the world in which you were born. It implies that the great investment banker makes 10 times more than a great nurse only because the banker works 10 times as hard.
And he gets pooped on less than half as often.
And even stranger, it implies that money earned is a perfect indicator of a person’s value to society — if you’re broke, it must mean you’re a loser who contributes nothing to anyone’s life. And that’s downright bizarre when it comes from the same people who also go on and on about the importance of parenting and family values. Surely they’ve noticed that being a great stay-at-home parent makes you exactly zero dollars a year.
And volunteering to work at a shelter for battered women? Doesn’t pay shit! Diving into a creek to save a toddler from drowning? It pays infinitely less than throwing a touchdown pass during the Super Bowl.
I mean, babies are important, but c’mon …
So, mister rich person who clearly is not reading this, when we say you’re “lucky,” we’re not saying you’re lucky in the way that a lottery winner is lucky. We’re saying that you’re lucky if you were born in a time and place where the hard work you’re good at (say, stock speculation) is valued over the hard work that other people are good at (say, landscaping, or poetry).
You can reply that if some other field paid more, you’d have just simply switched to it and been equally successful, due to your smarts and determination. You know, like how the smart and determined Michael Jordan was equally successful as a basketball player (six titles, $70 million a year) and baseball player (batted .202 in the minors) and team owner (his Charlotte Bobcats are currently 4-28).
Hmm … wait a second. Man, it’s almost like Michael’s hard work and determination wouldn’t have made him rich if he hadn’t happened to have been born in the one place and one time in human history where a man could get rich throwing a rubber ball through a small metal hoop.
On the other hand, that sweater vest makes us think he has potential as the next face of Jell-O.
Now I’m starting to wonder if I would have ever heard of Shaquille O’Neal if he’d skipped basketball to go right into rap. If you think I’m just being mean to athletes, hell, let me use myself as an example. I failed at three different careers before I struck gold with list articles and dong horror. I suck at everything else — take away the Internet and I’m a 37-year-old man doing data entry in a cubicle instead of promoting a brand new sequel about boner monsters. Or, if you don’t believe me, let billionaire investor Warren Buffett tell you: “If you stick me down in the middle of Bangladesh or Peru or someplace, you find out how much this talent is going to produce in the wrong kind of soil … I work in a market system that happens to reward what I do very well — disproportionately well.”
“And yet I do all my shopping at Goodwill.”
So to sum it up: If you make good money, but have to work 80-hour weeks to get it, you’re still lucky. Just swallow your pride and fucking acknowledge it.
#4. “If I Can Do It, So Can You!”
“We do not accept that ours will ever be a nation of haves and have-nots; we must always be a nation of haves and soon-to-haves.”
— Mitch Daniels, Governor of Indiana
“The road to wealth is paved with self-delusion.”
What They Think They’re Saying:
“This is the land of opportunity, where anyone can make it! Instead of complaining, just go out there and get rich!”
What We Hear:
“If everyone at my country club makes good money, it can’t be that hard!”
This is such an impossibly strange idea that I’m not sure if the people saying it actually believe it.
At the best parties, the words “social mobility” are the only punchline you need.
But … I guess our entire philosophy about money kind of revolves around this premise — that there is no poor or working class, but only people who have chosen to not buckle down to the task of getting rich (and thus deserve whatever salary, insecurity or poor work conditions they get). So there should be no talk about improving the lives of the non-rich, since any of them can simply choose to elevate themselves out of that group, right?
Seriously, now. How much time do you really have to spend off your goddamned yacht to see that this isn’t true? You don’t even need to leave the dock — there’s a guy standing right there who you pay to fix your boat’s engine. You know that 1) you absolutely need guys like him and 2) he will never get rich doing what he does. He could be great at his job, he might be the Michael Jordan of mechanics, he might work 100 hours a week — it doesn’t matter. Sure, if that one guy somehow also has the head for management and finance and the networking skills, he could maybe open his own chain of yacht repair shops. But they can’t all do that.
This dress could have fed starving interns.
So “anyone can get rich” isn’t just untrue, it’s insultingly untrue. You can’t have a society where everyone is an investment banker. And you can’t have a society where you pay six figures to every good policeman, nurse, firefighter, schoolteacher, carpenter, electrician and all of the other ten thousand professions that civilization needs to survive (and that rich people need in order to stay rich).
It’s like setting a jar of moonshine on the floor of a boxcar full of 10 hobos and saying, “Now fight for it!” Sure, in the bloody aftermath you can say to each of the losers, “Hey, you could have had it if you’d fought harder!” and that’s true on an individual level. But not collectively — you knew goddamned well that nine hobos weren’t getting any hooch that night. So why are you acting like it’s their fault that only one of them is drunk?
You’re intentionally conflating “anyone can have the moonshine” with “everyone can have it.” And you are doing it because you’re hoping that we will all be too busy fighting each other to ask why there was only one jar.
But if we do ask, the response will probably be something like …
#3. “You’re Just Jealous Because I Made It and You Didn’t!”
“I think it’s about envy. I think it’s about class warfare. When you have a president encouraging the idea of dividing America based on the 99 percent versus one percent — and those people who have been most successful will be in the one percent — [it] is entirely inconsistent with the concept of one nation under God.”
Cracked Exclusive: Mitt Romney’s hair isn’t as nice as he thinks it is.
“Part of it is jealousy. I stand by that. And here’s why I don’t have a lot of patience for that. My parents, they never played the victim card. My parents never said that we hope the rich people lose something so that we can get something.”
What They Think They’re Saying:
“It’s wrong to tear down others instead of improving your own life!”
What We Hear:
“All complaints about unfairness in the system are the equivalent of 12-year-old girls spreading mean rumors about the popular ones!”
Look, I get it. You worked your nuts off to start a business (or get your MBA or become a lawyer or whatever) so that you can finally have what you dreamed about when you were in high school: a huge swimming pool in the shape of the Van Halen logo. You obey the law, you pay your taxes. Then suddenly, this Occupy Wall Street freak show declares you to be the “one percent,” and therefore the enemy. Obviously you’ve done nothing wrong, so their hatred must be irrational. They only hate you because you’re rich!
To that, as the senior editor of a site that should goddamned well know, I can only offer one word:
Fucking Batman. Pop culture’s greatest hero. Search Cracked.com for “Batman” and 70 percent of the site comes up. Our culture loves him, and he 1) is rich as hell and 2) can only do what he does because he’s rich.
Hell, let’s look at the annual poll of the most admired people in America for 2011. There are 20 people on that list, and all 20 are rich enough to be in the “hated” 1 percent. I count four billionaires on that list, and another person who is a member of a billionaire family.
Now go into the bedroom of any child in America. Even before the parents have the chance to call the cops, you’ll see posters of pro athletes and Disney pop stars and famous actors dressed as action heroes. Millionaires, all.
That’s because all of our fucking heroes are millionaires.
Hell, every Christmas we celebrate the tale of the wealthy Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol. We hate him in the first part of the story, and then we love him by the end. Not because he gave away all of his wealth and became poor (he didn’t), but because he stopped acting like a shithead. Do you get the incredibly subtle and nuanced message of that story?
A few million donated to the right dinosaur-cloning company would totally change this man’s legacy.
You might be tempted to say, “What business is it of yours what I do with my money! Whether I use my cash to give to the poor or for gold paint to spread on naked women like goddamned Goldfinger, it’s none of your business!”
Oh, dude, wouldn’t life be easier if that were true? If we didn’t have to answer to anybody, or feel social pressure based on the choices we make?
But, sadly, all civilization and morality rests on the fact that we have to answer to each other — the only reason I haven’t murdered a dozen people in traffic is because society will bring consequences if I do. And when you’re powerful (due to being a politician, or a rich man, or having a position of authority like a priest or police officer), we turn up the heat even more. See, your power eliminates many of society’s checks on your shitheadery (i.e., you can afford better lawyers), and so we have to make up for it in other ways. It’s how we keep you in line. The fact that you don’t like it only proves that you need it.
“Not allowing the wealthy to hunt man for sport removes all motivation to succeed.”
And when we hate people, it’s always for the same reason: They refuse to acknowledge that their power brings with it any responsibility. It’s why we hate bullies and dictators and supervillains. It’s why we hate people who benefit hugely from society and then pretend like they’re living on an island with a population of only them.
Which leads us nicely to …
#2. “You Shouldn’t Be Punishing the Very People Who Make This Country Work!”
“There is a deeply disturbing message coming out of the Occupy Wall Street movement … Simply put, it boils down to this: We must punish success …”
— John E. Kramer, Washington Times
He must speak really fluent Hippie.
“There’ll always be those who earn more than I do, and I say, God bless them. I’m sure they work hard, did what was necessary to get ahead and should not be penalized for or feel ashamed of their accomplishments.”
“The top 1 percent of wage earners in the United States pays 40 percent of the income taxes and the top 10 percent of wage earners pay 90 percent of the income taxes … the very people that we expect to reinvest in our economy and to create jobs in our country.”
“I never got a job from a poor person.”
“I also can’t lick my elbow and hop at the same time. Life’s funny, huh?”
What They Think They’re Saying:
“If you punish success, society will collapse into communism!”
What We Hear:
“I have to pay higher taxes than my gardener! Waaaah!”
“I’m pretty sure he’s either smoking pot or shooting up insulin back there. I forget which is which.”
There are two elements to this, and I don’t want to get too much into the first one because it gets into a tedious debate about tax policy and shit that nobody comes to Cracked.com to read. But, very briefly, it’s the concept of “You have your job because of a rich person.”
This is true, I suppose, if that rich person inherited their money and you are personally working for them as a gardener. But if you are working at a Toyota factory, your paycheck doesn’t come from under the mattress of the owner of the company. That money came from lots and lots of regular Joes who bought Toyota cars. The guys in suits are just middlemen between the supply and the demand.
So as for the popular talk radio joke, “I’ve never gotten a job from a poor person”? Well, Sean, a lot of your listeners are poor, and your advertisers are paying you with money they made by selling goods to those poor people. So, yeah, the cash you make does in fact bear the smelly fingerprints of the lower classes. It’s the same for somebody working at Walmart, or a grocery store, or a liquor store. You didn’t get your job from a poor person, but collectively their money made it happen. Which is just a long way to say the obvious: That rich people don’t make the world go around. It takes everybody.
But the second part is this idea that asking the rich to pitch in is “punishing” them.
So, Rich Guy, let me explain this as calmly and logically as I can:
Are you fucking 6 years old? Do you still think mom made you clean up your room because she was mean? In the adult world, we get asked to do things because shit needs to get done. It has nothing to do with fairness, it has nothing to do with judging you. It has nothing to do with you at all. There’s a whole world out there, with people who need helping and projects that need accomplishing.
You’re only being asked to pitch in because you have the resources. You’re not a tall person who us dwarfs are jealously trying to cut down to size. You’re a tall person being asked to get something down from a very tall shelf because nobody else can fucking reach it.
Really … I’m not trying to be condescending. We’re all adults here.
Just … here, how about this: Remember when Yoda told Luke he had to confront Darth Vader if he wanted to be a true Jedi? Do you think that was because Yoda hated Luke and assigned him that awful task to punish him? Was it because Yoda was jealous? Of Luke’s … height, or whatever?
Or was it because it needed to be done and Luke was the only one who could do it? Because he had the Force?
See, in our society, money is the Force.
Yes, I know you think you already give more than your fair share. So did Luke. So does everyone. Welcome to the human race — we all think we’re getting the shit end of the deal.
#1. “Stop Asking for Handouts! I Never Got Help from Anybody!”
“I’ve been on food stamps and welfare. Did anybody help me out? No.”
“I expect nothing to be handed to me, and will continue to work my @$$ off for everything I have. I am NOT the 99 percent, and whether or not you are is YOUR decision.”
“Unless you were born in Haiti. Then the deck is kinda stacked against you.”
What They Think They’re Saying:
“I pulled myself up by my bootstraps!”
What We Hear:
“Because I didn’t inherit millions of dollars, impoverished children don’t need food stamps!”
You “never got help from anybody.”
Nothing was “handed to you.”
Let’s say you scratched and you clawed and climbed the ladder of success. You never took a welfare check or charity, you worked three jobs to get through college. And at the end of it you look back on your labors and feel justified in saying, “I never got help from anybody.”
“Wow. When you put it like that, the vast majority of my life sounds terrible.”
So … you were never a child? From birth, you were hunting and gathering your own food? You never had a mother to “hand” you milk?
You’re completely self-educated? At age 4, you sought out your own knowledge, and paid teachers out of your own pocket?
I don’t think you did. I’d have seen something about it on the news.
I think your parents poured untold resources into your hungry mouth. I think you had a roof over your head that was paid for by other people, I think you went to schools that were built and staffed and paid for by other people, I think you felt safe because the streets were patrolled by other people, I think you drove to your three jobs on roads paved by other people, in a car built by other people and burning oil that was drilled by other people in a nation whose borders were defended by other people.
“Don’t mention it.”
Look, I understand why “I ain’t asking for help from nobody!” individualism works as an attitude, or a philosophy. No, you shouldn’t wait for help to come along. I’ll even agree that we don’t impress that message hard enough on kids when they’re growing up. Kids, if you’re reading this, and you fucking shouldn’t be, but if you are, let me tell you now:
The world doesn’t give a shit about you, and you’ll have to wrestle it for every good thing you get. Hell, I’ve written an entire article about how grown-ups don’t tell us how freaking hard everything is, and how the shock of unexpected effort trips us up.
But, for the rich, this somehow gets extended to the absolutely delusional idea that they exist on a purely self-sufficient island, in an ocean full of shiftless layabouts always asking to borrow their stuff.
“More soup? Next you’ll be asking to borrow one of my 12 golden Xboxes.”
And you literally hear people express it this way — in libertarian circles they refer to it as “Going Galt” (as in John Galt, the hero of Atlas Shrugged) — fed up rich people just disconnecting from this annoying “society” thing that’s bleeding them dry. If you live in my part of the country, you’ll hear hard-working, rural farmer types say, “I got my own piece of land, I grow my own food, all I want is to be left alone.” All right, well tell me this, cowboy:
Let’s say some mean, even richer guy, like a wealthy gangsta rapper, hired a bunch of armed thugs to come take your farm. What would you do? Your shotgun won’t fend them off — they have a hundred bigger shotguns. What will you do, call the cops? That is, other people, who will risk their lives while being paid with still other people’s tax money, who will try these bad guys in a court funded by yet other people’s tax money, under laws passed by legislators paid with other people’s tax money? Whoa, slow down there, welfare queen!
Now fight off these Nazis with your bootstraps.
But if none of that stuff existed, there would be nothing stopping Jay-Z from taking your farm. In other words, you don’t “own” shit. The entire concept of owning anything, be it a hunk of land or a house or a fucking sandwich, exists purely because other people pay other armed men to protect it. Without society, all of your brave, individual talents and efforts won’t buy you a bucket of farts.
So when I say “We’re all in this together,” I’m not stating a philosophy. I’m stating a fact about the way human life works. No, you never asked for anything to be handed to you. You didn’t have to, because billions of humans who lived and died before you had already created a lavish support system where the streets are all but paved with gold. Everyone reading this — all of us living in a society advanced enough to have Internet access — was born one inch away from the finish line, plopped here at birth, by other people.
“On your mark, get set — hey! Anybody else want to watch The Office?”
So when somebody else asks for your help, in the form of charity or taxes, or because they need you to help them move a refrigerator, you can cite all sorts of reasons for not helping (“I think you’re lying about needing help” or “I don’t care” or “I’m too tied up with my own problems”), but the one thing you can’t say is, “Why should you need help? I’ve never gotten help!” Not unless you’re either shamefully oblivious, or a lying asshole.
Hell, if anybody could play the “I did this myself!” card, it’s me. I mentioned earlier that I’ve made an unfair amount of money due to writing a novel about a zombie detective who only solves crimes of paranormal romance and then selling the film rights to said novel. If anything is a one-man show, it’s writing a book. Nobody helped me with that. Well, I mean other than the friend who created the title character. And the publisher who spent the money to print up the copies and publicize it. And all of the previous novelists who established the medium and genre. And the public school system that taught me how to read and write, and that taught all of my readers how to read. And the people who built and maintain the Internet so that I would have a place to promote it, and the people who maintain the roads so that the books could be shipped from Amazon …
You get the idea.
David Wong is the Senior Editor of Cracked.com and the author of the New York Times bestseller This Book is Full of Spiders: Seriously Dude, Don’t Touch It, available wherever books like that are sold.