Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Was Hemingway right about the rich?

Fitzgerald: The rich are different than you and me | Hemingway: Yes, they have more money.

Alas, this conversation never actually happened, although Fitzgerald did write, in "The Rich Boy" (1926), "Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft, where we are hard, cynical where we are trustful...."

While there is some recent research to support the idea of the greater insensitivity of the rich, I don't know of any psychologist who has shown that they're soft or cynical relative to the 99%--99% being the fashionable term for people who aren't in the top 1%. One reason that the 1% may balk at paying extra taxes, though, is that both we and they are on the same hedonic treadmill, a plight that makes the rich not different from you and me. After adapting to their rich lifestyle, it's likely they find themselves, on average, moderately happy but not excessively happy. Thus taxes may seem just as burdensome to them, because they don't see themselves as significantly happier than the 99%, and accurately so. Thus they don't consider themselves particularly fortunate. In fact, there's recent research on what affects the pace of the hedonic treadmill, and wealth level is not a factor that affects the treadmill's pace.

This similarity between the rich and me may help explain a couple of recent instances in the WSJ and on TV, where someone making over 500 thousand dollars a year has complained about not really having that much pocket money after all the bills are paid. Certainly, the hedonic treadmill is not the only factor here, but it may explain some part of this trend.


Blogger -Survivor or something like it said...

Very interesting post. Can't imagine making half a million a year and crying poor mouth but we all have our own problems I suppose.

6:57 PM  

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