The rich share many self-serving conceits. One is that they are rich because they are more clever and work harder than those who are not. They dismiss any idea that luck had anything to do with it, especially the luck that resulted in them being born into a family that, even if not overly wealthy, yet belong to a race, ethnicity, and nationality that automatically put them into the top brackets of income and wealth in the world.
But there is another conceit that is less frequently articulated and that is that poor people are actually better off than the rich because they have less stress in their lives. I suspect that many rich people who have this view wisely keep it to themselves or only articulate it amongst themselves but one Democratic New York City Council member decided that he needed to publicly share this deep insight.
In a video posted on Twitter by Paste Magazine journalist Walker Bragman, NYC Council Member Fernando Cabrera this week was shown telling a crowd of people that rich people have much more difficult lives than poor people because they have so many more responsibilities.
“Millionaire people, they have a lot of stuff to worry about,” he said. “More stuff to manage… they really got there because of their ability to handle more pressure.”
Cabrera then went on to tell constituents that their own paychecks were a direct reflection of their own capabilities and limitations.
“Do you know why your boss pays you what he pays you?” he asked them rhetorically. “Because of your capacity.”
People have this idea that lack of money means less worries about money and that more money means more stress. They think that the poor live carefree lives, freed from worrying about their possessions because they don’t have any. They seem to have taken as literally and universally true the sentiments expressed in the song “I got plenty of nothing” from Porgy and Bess where Porgy sings of the joys of not owning anything tangible.
But of course, this is absurd. Poor people live lives of constant stress because of the fear that one bad event can result in disastrous consequences. They constantly have to juggle the duties of jobs, family, and home, and manage on the basis of an intricate but delicate structure that one wrong move can cause to collapse. I have written before about how losing one’s drivers license or simply being unable to pay the fines and court costs for minor offenses can lead to a rapid collapse of that structure, starting with the loss of job and home.
For me the definition of being rich is that you have sufficient resources that one or even two major unexpected calamities, such as an accident or serious illness, losing a job, car breaking down, or your home requiring major repair, can be dealt with without much difficulty. To take your car to the repair shop and be told that the brakes need repair but not being able to pay for that job – that is real stress, more so than whether your company will meet stockholder expectations or how to reduce the taxes on your stock options.
If you are wealthy you can, if you don’t like the stress, liquidate all your assets and investments and simply live the rest of your life off the interest and capital. If the rich choose not to do that, then they shouldn’t go around crying that it is so difficult to manage their complicated lives because poor people have no such stress-reducing options. I get furious when rich people complain about how much people like sanitation workers and bus drivers get paid, because they consider those jobs to not require much skills. If people make such a statement in my presence, I immediately ask them if they would be willing to switch places with those people and do their jobs and live on their income. Of course, they never are willing to make the switch and usually try to bluff their way out of answering the question..
In his fictionalized, semi-autobiographical book Down and Out in Paris and London, George Orwell said that the lives of poor people are enormously complicated because each day they have to carefully figure out how they are going to meet even the ordinary needs that the rest of us do not even think of as problems.