The Disadvantages of Growing up Wealthy

Now that I have your attention, I think it is fair to state up front that there really are few disadvantages to growing up wealthy. You never have to worry about finding a job or joining the military to pay for college. Your dad’s friend helps you get your first cushy summer internship at his law firm. Your dad’s other friend helps you secure a prestigious position at a major technology company after college where every employee but you has a 3.9 GPA in engineering from MIT or Stanford. You never get laid off because the firm at which you work could lose your father’s business. You get to take cool vacations like hobnobbing with your daddy’s economist friends in Davos, and then taking a detour to ski the Alps.

Despite these advantages, there is one disadvantage that will always follow those who have had wealthy childhoods, no matter where they go:

They never had to worry about money.

Many of them started life on third base, but are convinced they hit a triple. They rarely had to worry about paying their bills or a mortgage, because daddy always stood in the wings ready to bail them out. Because of the reality distortion field they have always inhabited, many of those with wealthy childhoods have had few interactions as equals with the poor, or even the middle class. Sure, they did their obligatory community service project at some $50,000-dollar a year boarding school to fatten their applications to the Ivy League. Some may even have spent a year abroad doing community service. For instance, Mitt Romney spent a full two years completing a mission as part of his Mormon faith. However, even that experience was likely less arduous than the average Mormon mission. After all, Romney served his time in France.

It seems that this lack of any real financial struggle has made Romney tone-deaf in what he says about people and money. This fault is Romney’s veritable Achilles heel. He just cannot help himself. At a time when the country has suffered through multiple years of severe unemployment and economic malaise, he “challenged Texas Gov. Rick Perry to a $10,000 bet” on live television. Yesterday, he told CNN: “I’m not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there.” Now, while it is true there are plenty of programs that help keep the poor afloat, to declare that he’s not very concerned about the poor reveals a layer of obliviousness that only Don Quixote could admire.

The real shame is that Mitt Romney’s experience turning around companies and the Salt Lake City Olympics, and running Massachusetts, is exactly what the country needs to rise out of its economic doldrums. I am willing to look past his glaring tone-deafness to the plight of the average American, because I know he will focus on growing the entire economic pie rather than redistributing a shrinking pie like the current community organizer-in-chief.

Come on, Mitt, you should know better by now. You may never be able to empathize with “regular” folks, but at least hire a better public relations professional who does.

Where’s Karen Hughes when you need her?

About Sean Patrick Hazlett

Finance executive, engineer, former military officer, and science fiction and horror writer. Editor of the Weird World War III anthology.
This entry was posted in Business, Finance and Economics, Leadership, Politics and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to The Disadvantages of Growing up Wealthy

  1. Scott Erb says:

    Excellent post. Regardless of the politics, I think you’re right – not having to worry about money and not having to work to succeed is a major disadvantage for anyone. I recall a line in the movie Syriana (which I assume you know since it’s about your fields of specialty) where the big time oil boss is talking about his family “my grandpa was a wildcatter, my daddy was a wildcatter…” then he talks about how he made it big and says “…and I’ll probably ruin my children.” Too much money too early with no comprehension about the value of work (and facing the risk of failure) is a huge disadvantage.

    • That said, I would gladly take that disadvantage over others. After all, Mr. Romney is running for President, and I am not. 😉

    • I think one has to be careful when painting a picture of the children of the rich as lacking respect for and empathy with those less fortunate. I grew up in an affluent community back east, was in upper-level management of a Fortune 500 company, my brother and I went to Boarding School and College (I attended an Ivy League school, and in my late 30’s went to law school), I was a member of the Junior League, etc. We were brought up that service to those less fortunate was our responsibility as we were more fortunate than most. My parents gave generously to charities that provided services to the poor wherever we lived, and my mother volunteered a great deal of her time to such organizations. My brother and I take our commitment to helping others less fortunate very seriously.

      No one worked harder than my father. He instilled in us a strong work ethic. Both my brother and I (before I retired) had to put in our dues in the workplace. Nothing was handed to either of us on a silver platter. We knew that we had to work hard for anything we wanted.

      That being said, I think that Mitt Romney was brought up with similar values to the ones our parents taught us. He may not articulate that clearly, and, yes, taken out of context, he has said some sentences that I am sure he regrets. But there was even more to the “I don’t care about the poor” statement. At least you added the sentence that came after. But I believe there were some statements that preceded what you quoted that don’t make his statement look so callous.

      The email that circulated this week about what Romney did when one of his fellow Bain Capital employees’ daughter went missing says more about his character than he would ever own up to. What he did was done for the most part out of the spotlight, and is really moving. People should pay attention to that, not the few slips of the tongue taken out of context, or his ill-advised wager in a debate.

      I will probably vote for him in the primary and will certainly do so in the general election if he is the candidate. I think that Newt Gingrich is the one who has effective and comprehensive ideas on how to get the country back on track, but he has much more baggage than Mitt does, so I think that Mitt would make the best candidate to oppose Obama. I do hope there is a high-level cabinet post (not Speaker of the House) waiting for Newt in the Romney White House.

      • Bee,

        I cannot speak for your background, but I can speak from my own personal experience. I spent a lot of time in college, graduate school, and my professional life among many friends and colleagues who have had wealthy childhoods. I don’t doubt that many (if not most) of them feel a great deal of sympathy for those less fortunate and devote a great deal of time, energy, and financial resources towards giving back to the community. However, as these individuals have never personally experienced poverty, it is impossible for them to be truly empathetic to the plight of the poor.

        As an analogy, I have never served in combat. I can sympathize with those who have, but will never be able to truly empathize with them because I have never been in their shoes. I can vividly imagine what it would be like to put my life on the line for my country in combat, but at the end of the day, I was never there to see what it was really like.

        Furthermore, many wealthy children I’ve met seem to have a blind spot for just how advantaged they are relative to others. Not because they were deliberately callous, but because it honestly did not occur to them that their experiences were atypical. I remember many of them simply not understanding why I couldn’t just go on ski weekends at Stanford, or why I worked in 36-hour / 15-hour work / sleep cycles to balance a rigorous engineering program, ROTC, and a part-time job. One friend couldn’t figure out how to use a vacuum cleaner in his dorm room, because someone always did the work for him. It also infuriates me when friends and colleagues ask me to look at sub-standard resumes from the children of CEOs (I’ve actually had two such requests in the last two months).

        I don’t doubt their sympathy for the less fortunate nor their commitment to community service, nor do I doubt yours or Mitt Romney’s. However, I do think that the children of the wealthy have decisive advantages in this life that others don’t, and that they do not always appreciate exactly how good they had it relative to others. As such, they sometimes say and do things that highlight this lack of experiential context. It isn’t their fault. It just reflects their atypical background.

        I think this particular blindspot is Romney’s Achilles heel. Aside from this weakness, I think he is an extremely solid candidate and a decent individuals with strong values. I will also likely vote for him in the primary.

        No candidate is perfect, and Romney is no exception to that rule.

        • I think the difference in our viewpoints may be generational. I grew up in the 40’s and 50’s and graduated from college in mid-60’s. People with money were well aware that they were privileged and felt a responsibility to help those less fortunate. I have a daughter who is 40, and I have seen many people in her age group (yours too?) who have money and are more concerned with themselves, and less concerned about helping others who are in need. This is, thankfully, not true of my daughter, nor does it appear to be true of you. So I think my generation was less self-absorbed, and thus more altruistic, than the younger generations today. Romney is probably somewhere in between these two generations.

          • Bee,

            That’s fair. I think another key difference is that your generation experienced a higher level of military service among the elite in a large part due to conscription, which forced the classes to mix and interact. My generation did not.

            In the most recent Economist, there was an interesting Lexington column on class drift. It talks about a book published by Charles Murray (the same Murray who co-authored the Bell Curve in the 90s). Here is an interesting excerpt from the column:

            “Mr Murray starts by lamenting the isolation of a new upper class, which he defines as the most successful 5% of adults (plus their spouses) working in managerial positions, the professions or the senior media. These people are not only rich but also exceptionally clever, because America has become expert at sending its brightest to the same elite universities, where they intermarry and confer on their offspring not just wealth but also a cognitive advantage that gives this class terrific staying power.

            This new elite is not just a breed apart. It lives apart, in bubbles such as Manhattan south of 96th Street (where the proportion of adults with college degrees rose from 16% in 1960 to 60% in 2000) and a small number of “SuperZips”, neighbourhoods where wealth and educational attainment are highly concentrated. These neighbourhoods are whiter and more Asian than the rest of America. They have less crime and more stable families. They are not, pace Mr Gingrich, necessarily “liberal”: plenty of SuperZips voted Republican in 2004. But they are indeed out of touch.”

            It then takes an intriguing turn:

            “A lot of American commentary about the elite is suffused with a creepy resentment (Mr Gingrich), or exercised by inequality (Occupy Wall Street) or “fairness” (Barack Obama). In contrast, Mr Murray has nothing against this class of good parents and good neighbours. He just wants it to know and care more about the rest of America. And instead of handing over more of its money, he would like it to teach the rest of America its values.”

            I don’t know how much I agree with Murray’s arguments, but it seems like it will be a fascinating book.

  2. samuelprime says:

    I’m a little confused. If you say that you “know he [Romney] will focus on growing the entire economic pie” then I would hardly call that glaring tone-deafness on Romney’s part to the plight of the average American. In fact, it’s a sign of being quite mindful of the average American — most notably the middle class (which he was more emphatic on). Maybe I misunderstood? (One thing he did say — probably not in advisable language — is that he wasn’t concerned with the very poor.)

    • His comments were definitely more geared toward the poor than the average American for sure. But I still don’t think he “gets” the average American either as evidenced by his $10,000 comment. Just because he has a better sense of what to do to drive economic growth, does not imply that he understands the middle class. Either way, I will vote for him regardless. I just think it continues to be his Achilles heels and where the left will mercilessly attack him.

      • samuelprime says:

        Just so I’m clear, are you alluding to Romney’s $10,000 bet to Perry (during a debate) – in which Perry claims that Romney advocated for an individual health care mandate?

        In any case, the surge of support Romney received lately suggests that it wasn’t their biggest concern. The he-said-he-said black hole probably just filtered out of their minds, as it did in mine.

        • That’s right. Romney also had a few other tone-deaf statements that I forgot to mention such as that he likes to be able to fire people. He just needs to tighten his message and be a lot more sensitive about what he says.

        • samuelprime says:

          Oh the media half quotes! Didn’t his comment refer to people who aren’t giving good service? That’s what I remember from what he said (if memory isn’t failing me). I think this sort of thing (‘tone-deaf’) happens naturally when people just talk spontaneously on their feet. For me, his record, in general, and his outlook are what matter; as well as how successful he’s been. But I agree he should be more careful.

          • It did. As you said, he should have been a bit more mindful about the context under which he is operating. Openly saying that you “like firing people” in this economic environment isn’t going to get you elected.

            On an unrelated note, did you see Panetta’s comments on Israel and Iran today? Very interesting…

        • samuelprime says:

          Yes, I have read about Panetta’s yesterday on the Jerusalem Post. Coming from him it is indeed interesting — but probably we would have both predicted it given Israel’s urgency on the Iran crisis: Barak’s notion of “immunity zone.” Between now and then, developments could evolve to have the US + Israel team up on dealing with a very dangerous enemy. Soldiers aren’t in the habit of letting the enemy gain advantage in fighting them.

  3. Pingback: Mitt Romney: Vulture Capitalist | Tarheel Red

  4. Vern R. Kaine says:

    “Many of them started life on third base, but are convinced they hit a triple.”
    Love that line. Gonna steal it. 😉

    On a similar note to the Romney comment, i heard someone on TV the other day talking about payday loans. They were (rightfully) complaining that the interest rates worked out to 400%, however they insinuated that 400% of a payday loan is due out of someone’s next paycheck. It isn’t, and this was never clarified. Then they asked this expert what someone should do instead of taking a payday loan. Their first bit of advice was to “use a low-interest rate credit card.” Their second was to “borrow from friends/family.” The anchor acknowledged that this was good advice, and the “expert” smiled proudly.

    I got the feeling hearing Romney’s comments yesterday that he’d probably offer the same advice to the struggling poor or middle class. (News flash: if someone had access to a low-interest rate credit card, or room on their credit card at all, they wouldn’t be taking out a payday loan). Here we had an anchor and an “expert” on TV likely making at least $250k a year or more, and they were out of touch, too. I find a lot of people who say they understand the poor (especially “fair share” liberals) really don’t know what they’re talking about. Just as rich Republican candidates may have a hard time understanding how the poor get there or stay there in the first place, “fair share” liberals seem to have zero clue on how to really help the poor get out of where they are.

    Regardless of the D vs. R politics, I agree with Sean that I think Romney (or any Republican candidate, for that matter) will do more to focus on growing the entire pie which will resonate with Republicans and conservatives, but if he’s going to try and appeal to the general vote he’s got to be choosing his words far more carefully. Either listen to the coaching you’re getting, or get a better coach.

    Anyways, enough talking about the peasants and serfs. Sean: I bet you $10,000 there’s at least 1 more “I’m a Rich Guy” gaffe from Romney before the primaries are done. 😉

  5. Alan Scott says:

    Has anyone really looked at the context of what Romney said ? ” I’m not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there, If it needs repair, I’ll fix it.” I believe he was laying out his priorities of action in how he would improve the economy . He is saying that with the safety net in place for the very poor, he would take action to help the middle class move forward .

    Of course it is a Democrat’s dream , the way Gov. Romney worded it, to be taken out of context .

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