The Rich Live in a World Divorced from Reality


Today I stumbled across a provocative article in the Guardian. Apparently an assistant professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania asked her students how much the average American makes. Yes, the students at Wharton are almost all from the elite rich of our society, so you are expecting that their guess is going to be off quite a bit. After all, according to the article, "19% of [Penn's] students come from the top 1% of earners."

But there's no way you are guessing how off their estimate was. Their guess was over $100,000 per year. That's right--our future business elite believes the average American makes over $100,000 per year. The real figure was almost less than half that--the average American makes about $53,000 per year.

There's another priceless paragraph in the article, as well, that I must share with you:

"Last year, the New York Times asked the eight New York mayoral candidates how much they thought the median sales price for a home in Brooklyn was. Raymond J McGuire, an investment banker, reckoned “it’s got to be somewhere in the $80,000 to $90,000 range, if not higher”. Shaun Donovan, housing secretary under Barack Obama and housing commissioner under the former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, guessed it “at around $100,000”. The real answer? $900,000."

This is devastating in its implications. As the Guardian puts it, "These people aren’t out-of-touch anomalies: the vast majority of the people running the world don’t live like the people they represent, and seem to have absolutely no idea of the issues regular people face." Furthermore, psychological research shows that powerful, rich people are also the lowest in empathy and the least likely to listen to others. Great, so the people ruling us are not only out of touch with the real world most people live in, but they also don't care and aren't interesting in learning.

I think the Guardian sums up the problem fairly well: “It’s hard to imagine these men solving a problem they don’t know exists,” said Monica Klein, a political consultant, to the New York Times, in reference to the mayoral candidates views on the Brooklyn housing market. And this, really, sums up the issue. Far too many politicians have no idea what it’s like to be unable to afford a house or to be swamped by student loans or bankrupted by medical bills. They have no idea about the problems the vast majority of Americans are facing – which is why none of these problems get fixed. Instead they spend their time on things that matter to people like them, AKA giving the rich bigger tax cuts. And this is a bipartisan issue, by the way: the second-most expensive component of the Democrats’ Build Back Better bill is a $275bn tax cut for people who pay large amounts of property tax that primarily benefits the top 10%. This tax cut is more costly than establishing a paid family and medical leave program."

I think we've all wondered why the heck the biggest problems in our country never get solved--like paid maternity leave. This article really suggests that we will not solve these types of problems until and unless we get people other than the super-rich into positions of power in our country. But more than half of the US Congress are millionaires. This does not bode well for our nation's future.

When I was younger, there were camps for lawmakers that were a few weeks long in duration that tried to get these folks to live like their poorest constituents, to see what the barriers to managing a normal life under those circumstances were. I can't even find any historical articles talking about those experiments. But surely we can't continue to elect lawmakers who have no idea what the real problems in their constituencies are? And I don't mean just an intellectual idea of those problems--I mean an experiential one.

I feel one day those who had power and money and authority, but who did not listen or learn what was really going on in the world around them, will stand shamefaced before the bar of judgment.