Pedaling Downhill with the Wind II

Reasonable people can and do disagree about class privilege and the degree to which we are an equal opportunity-based meritocracy.  I clearly stated my opinion in the previous post, but I want to remain open to differing perspectives that might deepen my thinking. 

The following examples of how the wealthy enjoy relative advantage range from lower-level subtle privileges to more dramatic obvious ones.  In and of themselves, the first handful of lower-level examples don’t provide much of an advantage, but they probably do in combination.

• Wealthy people can buy consumer goods in the “off season” on sale.

• Wealthy people can pay more to purchase higher quality goods that last longer even when adjusting for the higher original price.

• Wealthy people can buy consumer goods in bulk when they are on sale.

• Wealthy people can select higher health and auto insurance deductibles and thereby pay lower insurance premiums.

• Wealthy people can pay more in the short-term for “star-related” energy efficient appliances in order to save money in the long-run.

• Similarly, wealthy people can pay more in the short-term for a hybrid vehicle to save money in the long-run.

• Convenience credit card users, often receive money back on their purchases, thereby reducing their expenses (As a convenience credit card user, I receive 1.4% back on every purchase and therefore pay 98.6% of what most people do).

• Convenience credit card users avoid paying exorbitant interest fees.

• When purchasing a home, wealthy people can pay at least 20% of the total cost, and thereby avoid mortgage loan insurance.

• Wealthy people can afford the best accountants and thereby pay less in taxes.

• As noted in a previous comment by CK, wealthy parents can enroll their children in college admission test preparation courses.  Also, they can hire academic tutors, athletic coaches, and music instructors to help their children excel and get into the most selective colleges.

• Wealthy people sometimes receive annual financial gifts from other wealthy family or friends.

• People with wealthy parents don’t need to help out their elderly parents financially in their final years. 

• Wealthy people tend to benefit more from networks of other wealthy people.  Put differently, they have greater social capital.

• People with wealthy parents often receive large inheritances upon the death of their parents.

• The wealthy sometimes pay for their homes entirely and avoid mortgage interest altogether.

• The superwealthy, with substantial assets, earn considerable investment income, which they refer to as “multiple revenue streams”.

What’s my point of detailing these advantages all my multimillionaire readers want to know.  Am I simply fueling the flames of class envy?  Not at all.  Maybe ignorance is bliss, but I don’t think so.  I also don’t think guilt is particularly productive.  As someone who enjoys considerable class privilege, I think about it because it reminds me that “to whom much is given, much is required.”

Others, more radical than me, would call on privileged people like me to work towards greater equality in society by consciously giving up my privilege. 

They’d see my position—that’s it’s sufficient to be socially aware of the added responsibilities that come with privilege—as woefully inadequate.  I’m cool with that.

Another idea, and maybe the most important, is that privilege tends to reproduce itself from generation to generation.  Put differently, every family has momentum, either positive or negative.  There’s no standing still. 

Some people live alone, but no one is a complete island unto himself or herself. Most of us are part of family networks.  Individual members of family networks make daily decisions—whether or not to learn, work, save, invest, take care of themselves—that when taken together, lead overtime to relative advantage or disadvantage.

I’ve benefited from positive family momentum throughout my life.  And to extend the cycling metaphor, my daughters are beginning the bike rides of their young adult lives in the considerable draft created by the positive momentum of their grandparents, their mother, and possibly even their father.

The question is, how conscious of that are they?  Will each avoid the pitfall of privilege—a sense of entitlement—and instead develop a social conscience?  And as adults, will they act on their added responsibilities by contributing to a better world by doing socially redeeming work in some small corner of it?  

3 thoughts on “Pedaling Downhill with the Wind II

  1. You say that it is sufficient for you to just be aware of your responsibilities. It sounds like you’re saying that you don’t need or want to act on your responsibilities as long as you are aware of your privelage. I don’t think that’s what you meant, but that’s how it sounds. Do you want to clarify?

  2. You’re right, that’s not what I meant. I do think it is important for those of us riding downhill with the wind to talk about, and act upon, our added responsibilities. But that phrase “our added responsibilities” is probably problematic in that not all privileged people will agree what exactly those added responsibilities are. For example, you may want to contribute 10% of your income to helping the relatively disadvantaged, but someone else may not. That doesn’t make them irresponsible especially since they may make meaningful contributions to others’ lives in other ways. If I were to extend the discussion, to ask what are the specific responsibilities, I’d probably start with a hypocratic oath type of principle, do no harm. Sounds weak, but probably involves a lot more than we would at first think. But beyond that, I’m interested in what you and anyone else riding downhill with the wind would suggest.

  3. Based on my comment to the previous article and you entry above I am interested in what you think of extremely high estate taxes and individual choice and effort. It is interesting to consider that individuals like Warren Buffett and Bill Gates have decided to become very philanthropic with their ultra wealth as they became aware of the amount of money that would surely pass on to the federal government upon their death. They appear to believe that they can have a greater impact with that money than the government can and we are seeing that type of behavior at our current low rates of estate and income tax.

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