Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Rich are only Rich because of Luck

In 1999 the executive chairman of Google (then the CEO of Novell) said in an interview for Forbes:

"Lots of people who are smart and work hard and play by the rules don’t have a fraction of what I have." Schmidt acknowledged that the scale of inequality generated by the new wealth “makes me uncomfortable.” The reason: "I realize I don’t have my wealth because I’m so brilliant. Luck has a lot to do with it."

USA Today: "If we assume that wealth comes from working hard, taking great personal risk and coming up with great ideas, then the wealthy don't necessarily "owe" society for their success. But if the rich are simply lucky, or if they get wealthy on the back of America's publicly funded infrastructure, they owe more of a debt in the form of taxes or philanthropy."

Since the Great Recession, we've heard the phrase "upward mobility" tossed around a lot. After I read that USA Today article, I immediately thought of 13 ways of how the rich got to be sooooo rich in the first place --- just plain dumb luck.

Some people still make money the old fashioned way...they earn it.
Breaking Bad

From the Economic Populist: "Breaking Bad was a metaphor for American society today and when one sees the way to win the game is to become a heartless, manipulative, power hungry sociopath."

Most people, on several occasions throughout their lifetime, have wondered what they'd do if suddenly one day they were real lucky and hit a lottery mega-jackpot --- or maybe found a big sack of cash by the side of the road in unmarked $100-bills. How would they spend their easy money?

Would they buy an uber-expensive and flashy sports car, or rub someone else's nose in their new found wealth? Or would they pay off their mom's house or open a homeless shelter? Or would some of these once nice and polite rags-to-riches people suddenly become stingy, greedy and mean?

I'm paraphrasing here but, I heard somewhere that, "Money doesn't change people, it only enhances their character." That says a lot, because if that's true, that means there's a whole lot of very rich but very nasty people out there, who would otherwise be a lot less mean and nasty if they only had a lot less money.

I can remember before I was laid off from work in 2008, even if I were struggling to pay my own bills, I might sometimes give a panhandler outside of a 7-11 store a couple of dollars. Or if they were holding a sign by the side of the road saying, "Why lie? Need beer", and if they didn't appear too disheveled and unkempt (or mentally deranged), I might give them a couple of dollars too.

And as a middle-class and tax-paying income earner, I certainly wasn't opposed to someone being on food stamps or welfare if they were down on their luck --- although, I would frown on outright fraud in they were using multiple alias to defraud the government only to enrich themselves.

So it greatly puzzles me as to why we have some ultra-wealthy billionaires (those who have so much) who are so vehemently opposed to others who have so much less than themselves (almost in a mean and spiteful way); and sometimes they even spend millions of dollars in lobbying and campaign efforts to cut government programs like food stamps for poor people. To me, that's just plain evil --- denying others, when it has absolutely no affect at all on their own livelihoods or standard-of-living.

For the past 5 years since the job creators crashed the economy and left millions of workers without jobs, and then tried to prevent them from receiving jobless benefits, I wondered, "Why? How would it hurt them? Are they really that fearful of losing just a little bit of their great wealth (that they had amassed and hoarded) to help out those who had made them so rich in the first place?"

But it wasn't just their apparent selfishness, but their cold and callused cruelty as well. Calling the unemployed names like "lazy" and "takers" --- adding insult to injury. Just who do they think they are --- "entitled"?

Another phrase comes to mind: "There for but the grace of God go I." Bad luck is just like good luck, it can happen to anyone (or they could have no luck at all). Anybody can become seriously ill or injured, then suffer and die. So why do some of the super-rich accuse the far less fortunate of being lazy if they loose their means of making a living for themselves --- and then try to deny them help when they are forced to use food stamps or unemployment benefits? Don't they realize that, if it weren't for just good luck, that they too could have been walking is that poor person's shoes?

No! Just because they are rich, they assume some superior quality that allows them to believe they have earned every penny of their vast wealth, and that the less fortunate deserve all the pain, misery and suffering they experience, because somehow (irresponsible behavior, etc), the poor has brought it all upon themselves --- and not that they were just unlucky in life, because then, they (the rich) would also have to admit to their own good luck.

Talk about pompous, vain and big-headed! Can these people truly get into Heaven? Do they really believe that the extraordinary good luck they've experienced here on Earth will save their ass in the after life? I've come do believe that they must not really believe in a superior entity or an after-life at all --- and that they truly believe that "luck" had absolutely NOTHING at all to do with their own financial success (they did it all on their own) --- and that their greed could never land them in Hell.

Of course, there are also many good people with enormous wealth that don't feel this way at all --- and they are humble and greatly appreciate their good luck in life, and recognize it for what it really is --- just luck. And they don't just appreciate their good fortune in life, but they also feel more empathy for those with far less.

After everything I've learned over these past 5 years since losing my lob (because before that, I was too busy working to think about it), I've come to the conclusion that rich people are only rich just because they are lucky. Here are just a few of the ways someone can acquire great wealth --- and why they would also require great luck. This is just a little reminder to the evil ones among the very rich:

  1. Their parents were rich (pure luck.)
  2. They won a lottery (astronomical luck.)
  3. They started out poor, but with hard work, they became rich (but also very lucky, because most people who work just as hard don't get rich.)
  4. They had a fantastic idea (but also very lucky, because not everyone can cash-in on a good idea, say, if someone else also has the same idea and beats them to the patent office --- or an unscrupulous business associate steals their idea and gets all the credit.)
  5. They were very talented, such as an artist, musician or athlete (but also very lucky, as not everyone is "discovered" or recognized during their lifetimes for their capabilities and/or can financially benefit from their God-given talent and/or hard-won skills.)
  6. They went to higher schools of learning, grew up in a conducive environment, and had the God-given intelligence to exceed in higher learning (also very lucky, because many don't have the same opportunities from birth.)
  7. They took an enormous risk or gambled on something (again, lucky for winning the bet -- although some people believe gambling is immoral --- and some people have even risked their lives --- and that's just plain crazy.)
  8. They worked hard (found a good job in a good labor market), wisely saved their money, lived frugally, and incrementally invested in something, such as stocks or real estate (again, lucky, especially after we saw what happened to the stock market and the housing market a few years ago.)
  9. Just luck itself --- They had a chance meeting, or they just happened to be in the right place at the right time when an opportunity presented itself (and yes, we'll also give them credit for being "prepared" when the opportunity came along.)
  10. They were born a genius -- the luck of the gene pool.
  11. Related to #1 on the list --- connections --- it's who you know, not what you know (that's lucky.)
  12. They married into money (finding love is a stroke of luck, and luckier still if the other is wealthy.)
  13. They lied, cheated, robbed, stole, fleeced, defrauded and/or took a bribe and/or murdered someone else (it takes some luck to get away with breaking the law too.)

So the very rich (those who berate and hurt the poor) should thank their lucky stars. They aren't rich just because they are smarter or work harder than everybody else --- or because they are in anyway morally, intellectually, ethically or morally superior to anybody else --- it's just their dumb luck.

If you can think of other lucky ways to get rich that aren't on my list, let me know. Maybe I'll learn something and become rich myself --- and maybe I won't rant on the rich anymore, but I certainly wouldn't waste my time ranting about the poor!

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