Rich Man, Poor Man

wealth inequality, rich eat poor, luxury goods industry recession proof, Root Down

Why should the obscenely rich scale back so they’re just extremely rich?

There are people on this small planet in possession of more money than is probably good for them. It’s a small, yet impressive club. Some of these men and women have so much money, in fact, that they have trouble finding items with price tags high enough to dent their finances. These are the folks who buy supersized luxury yachts, which can cost hundreds of millions of dollars, or more.

While it has been pointed out to me that these tremendously wealthy yacht owners create plenty of jobs for boat builders and designers alike, the outlandishly overlarge yacht building industry—which is rarely affected by an economic crisis—is somewhat indicative of how much money a single human being can now accumulate in a lifetime. Some of these private yachts are so large they require smaller maintenance and storage yachts to accompany the main ship, just for upkeep.

Carl Pettit, The Good Life, Root Down, The Good Men Project, Ethics, Values, current events, politics, justiceAt the other end of the economic spectrum, you have workers, skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled, working hard (some harder than others) every single day. If they’re lucky, they make enough money to support themselves, their families, and still have a little cash left over to save. The problem is that these days, workers of all types, blue collar and white, are finding it extremely difficult to get by—assuming they can even find a job in the first place. Part-time, temporary contracts, under-the-table, telecommuting and below minimum wage jobs are increasingly crowding out traditional, full-time jobs. People work to survive, but in many cases, still can’t make enough money to meet their basic needs.

Human beings, with very few exceptions (the martyrs among us, perhaps), look to their own advantage. Business owners and captains of industry will seek out ways to cut costs and increase profits. If this means eliminating worker pension plans, health care programs, sending jobs overseas and employing part-time or undocumented workers… then so be it. Workers look to their advantages as well, irrespective of their personal investment in the company, or lack thereof. When offered longer lunch hours, better pay, free childcare or shorter workdays, they would be fools to not hold on to these advantages, or desire them in their absence.

The gulf between the rich and the poor has existed in free societies, dictatorships, and centralized economies for ages—yet it seems that this gulf, in America especially, and industrialized countries in general, is turning into a destructive chasm. Depending on the figures you go by, the middle class and lower middle class have taken a massive hit over the last few decades. Since the late 1970s, CEO salaries in the United States have increased about 725 percent, rising from just under 27 times the rate of the average worker, to a whopping 206 times the rate of average worker, creating a wealth inequality rivaling some of the most notorious and oppressive regimes, past and present, on the planet. Even if you doubt these figures, and choose to cut them in half, a cavernous disparity between worker and high-level manager is clear to see.

While the men and women at the top should reap the rewards of their endeavors and creative work, the sheer magnitude of their disproportionate accumulation of wealth needs to be be examined in proportion to the productivity and “work value” of everyday personnel, from people laboring in the food service industry to factory and warehouse employees.

When these numbers come up in media debates, pundits often talk about personal responsibility, life choices, and the rewards and penalties a capitalist society offers to entrepreneurs, investors and basic workers, respectively. While the men and women at the top should reap the rewards of their endeavors and creative work, the sheer magnitude of their disproportionate accumulation of wealth needs to be be examined in proportion to the productivity and “work value” of everyday personnel, from people laboring in the food service industry to factory and warehouse employees.

Rather than owning several super yachts, and a fleet of Ferraris, perhaps the ultra rich should make do with just a single, fairly massive yacht, and one or two Ferraris. I know this might be hard for them to stomach at first, yet by merely being tremendously rich, rather than obscenely rich, and diminishing their income levels (and bonuses) just a tad, they could reduce some of the financial strains hoisted onto the shoulders of average workers, who helped create the rich through their labor, or by digging into their diminishing salaries (of said workers) and purchasing the goods and services that built the wealthiest class in the first place.

This might seem like an act of unnecessary kindness on the part of well off, but it’s not. Reasonable income for work, no matter what that work happens to be, will help build a larger middle class (part of the erosion problem is technological, as well), which in turn will help keep the wealthy in the green, while diminishing the fears of the super rich that an angry populace—underpaid and overworked (or desperate for jobs)—might stir up social mischief for the princes and princesses living at the top of the economic ladder. Of course, if society descends into chaos, the super rich can always live out the remainder of their days on one of their super yachts, or maybe in Saint Barthélemy or Switzerland.

Every society has a breaking point when it comes to the clashing desires and necessities of the various classes. If the wealthy are as smart as they keep saying they are, they might want to leave a little extra for people down below, so the common folk can at least meet their basic survival needs. By doing so, the rich just might be saving their own, overpriced skins (down the line) at the same time.

Read more of Carl Pettit’s weekly column, Root Down, on The Good Life.

Image credit:  ToGa Wanderings/Flickr

About Carl Pettit

Carl Pettit is a writer, illustrator and musician whose education and travels have taken him all over the world. When not out exploring, or pondering the universe, he finds time to produce fiction for both adults and children. You can catch up with him on his blog, or twitter.


  1. There’s always the force option. If they take too much without sharing, then kick them out of society or steal their stuff. No one owes them safety if their actions are directly harming the safety of others by taking needed resources away from others via dishonest means.

  2. WillBest says:

    You can’t choose your parents but you can do things to dramatically improve your situation in life. And they are relatively simple things. Sure you might not ever make it to be rich, you might not even make it to the top 20% but you can still pull yourself out of the gutter, if that is where you are born. Half the battle is just believing you can do it.

    Both my wife and I deal with all kinds of people from every socioeconomic status pretty regularly and the one thing I can say based on what I have seen and what I hear from my wife is that a comfortable majority of the people that are poor are that way by some choice. Either they overspend, underwork, or just don’t take the time to manage life properly. That being said there are still a good chunk of poor that are mentally ill/disabled or just plain unlucky (ie. medical bankruptcy) that really are deserving of charity and support. But for the most part if you give a lot of people an extra $10,000 a year they will end up in the same financial straight jacket they are in now, just with nicer things.

    The thing is this isn’t confined to low wage earners, though they are more likely to have hardships. I know families with 100-300k in income that have less than 50k net worth and are carrying credit card debt because they can’t afford the $600 mechanics bill or to buy a new refrigerator when it breaks. So being bad with money is equal opportunity the high earners are just able to hide their financial stupidity easier.

    It seems like your understanding of worth is somewhat limited. You seem to be under the impression that the billionaires could have just taken a pay cut and given more to their low wage employees. This is not how billions are made. They are made by founders of companies that own and control the loin’s share of the stock. Stock which they acquired when the company was worth nothing. Outside the occasional JK Rowlings or Oprah, most billionaires aren’t handed straight cash and their net worth is the result of the organic growth of the company. Sure they could give it away (along with control of their company), but who would they give it to? Most the billionaires are in areas where the entry level employees get paid pretty well. The engineers in silicon valley aren’t exactly hurting.

  3. The difference between rich and poor is remarkable everywhere in this world. Life is not fair. It depends on your good or bad luck. We cannot choose our parents, we cannot choose how we are born.

    So far I have rarely seen rich people considering the poor by restricting themselves, not in rich countries and not in poor countries.

    On the other side – the side of the poor – there are clearly people who are innocent poor with no chance to change their life to the better, but to be honest, there are also many poor people, who are simply said nothing but lazy and totally unwilling to work hard and to change their life-style.

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