So I’m parking at the Gold’s Gym parking lot, prior to an hour of toning and beating back the decades, when a guy pulls in, driving a long, black, shiny Bentley, and the first thought that crosses my mind is,
“What did he do?”
Translation: “How come that guy has a Bentley and I don’t?”
(Full Disclosure: I drive a Lexus, but it’s twenty-two years old. Broken down relative to its original purchase price, this works out to an expenditure of less than twenty-five hundred dollars a year. Not much more than if I took the bus.
I am aware that my knee-jerk “envy response” is inappropriate in a capitalist society, having witnessed countless television interviews where people of circumscribed means insisted that they in no way begrudge the wealthy their money.
The understanding is that that is simply the way it works. Some people have more, and other people have less. And who knows, goes the accompanying assumption, in a free and equal society, the person who has less has every opportunity to someday have more. Possibly a lot more. Possibly even “Bentley-money” more.
That’s what keeps the less than financially fortunate in line. They are simply waiting their turn. Their unspoken mantra concerning the wealthiest:
“That could just as easily be me.”
I, apparently, am different. I am skeptical that that could just as easily be me, and I feel a simmering resentment towards those who it already is. It’s not like I obsess about it. What happens is, I’m shuffling along, my mind on matters other than my relative financial status, and then, suddenly, some passing symbol of opulence sets me off, and I’m, like, “Man, that guy’s got a lot more than me.”
Floor seats season’s tickets for the Lakers games. I’m never getting those. A private jet, so I don’t have to take my belt off at the airport. Not gonna happen. Especially now that I’m writing for free. The only possibility is, I win some kind of blog-writing contest, and “First Prize” is a private jet. Pretty unlikely, don’t you think? The prize, or me winning it.
Considerably more significantly, if I get really sick, I will not be flying in any world-class specialists to minister to my medical requirements. The mega-wealthy can do that. They may even know them.
“We met at a casino in Monte Carlo. Amusing story: I dropped a million dollar chip on the floor, and Dr. Sharnouer accidentally picked it up, thinking it was his. It’s a funny world, isn’t it? The only man who can transplant a brain. And that’s exactly what I need.”
No Dr. Sharnouers for me. It’s strictly local talent. And not even the top practitioners in their fields. They’re flying off to treat somebody who can afford them. The best I can hope for is I’ll get a doctor with a “B” or slightly higher in the thing that’s trying to kill me.
Let’s go back to “That could just as easily be me.” – the soothing palliative for the capitalistic “have not’s”. The encouraging hope that keeps them from feeling like losers, because, though losers at the moment, the game itself is still being played.
(Considering that “loser” label, things used to be even worse. I recall reading that the Puritans, or some similar outfit, believed that the accumulation of wealth was a tangible sign of being anointed by God. How sad is that? The poor back then were burdened with not only being failures in a system in which others had succeeded, but also with the awareness that the Lord On High hated them.)
For educational purposes – interspersed with possible moments of pleasure – let’s take the guy driving the Bentley and see if that could just as easily be us.
Perhaps the guy was born into a wealthy family, making getting a Bentley as easy as,
“Dad! I want a Bentley!”
If we ourselves were not born into a wealthy family, then, in the “getting a Bentley” context, that could not just as easily be us. We’d have had to change parents at birth. Unfortunately, since we are unable to communicate our desires at birth, our wailing would inevitably be interpreted as needing to be fed or changed, when what we’re really crying for is richer parents.
Another “fast track to the to the big bucks” he might have taken is working in a field like real estate, or sports and entertainment, or brokering corporate mergers, jobs in arenas where the size of the pie is so gigantic that, even with your share being a sliver, you can still end up with a Bentley.
And then, of course, there’s crime. The white collar-er the better. Not just because you’re less likely to be gunned down, or wind up in a prison where bad things happen with a broom handle, but because “White Collar” crime is most reliably where the “Bentley money” is.
There are, to be sure, legitimate avenues for accumulating great wealth, ones that involve actual work. Well, not manual labor – that’s, like, forget about it – but manufacture and innovation. Participating in enterprises of that nature, then yes, given the “smarts”, and the effort, that could just as easily be us.
But those types of activities involve preparatory groundwork, involving, more often than not, post-High School education.
Got fifty grand and rising for a single year of college? No? Well then, perhaps it’s less than likely to be us.
I hate saying this – because you can find studies establishing anything – but there are studies indicating that, because of, among other factors, the financial inaccessibility of college, the possibility of upward mobility in America is demonstrably less certain than it used to be.
Translation: Once again, it’s less likely to be us.
(One offsetting bright spot: There is a diminished stigma against “marrying up.”)
The “Betting Line” prediction: It’s not going to be us.
Though there is nothing stopping a dish washer from becoming a billionaire, the majority of them don’t even come close. Ditto for hotel bed makers. Unless somebody really likes their “hospital corners” and leaves a billion dollar tip.
Question: Does all this sound like “Commie” talk? I’m aware people yell “Socialist!” pretty fast in this country, even at its most benign level of utterance. It’s like you light a match, and somebody immediately yells, “Fire!”
Being aware of the expanding disparity between the super-rich and the rest of us, and the conditions making it increasingly harder for the rest of us to ascend to that level, I don’t know, maybe I am a Commie.
Not for advocating anything.
Just for noticing.