Affluence and the perception thereof

DSGamer wrote:

I'm not sure what my tone was. I've been defensive after the initial responses to my post. I admit that isn't helpful. But otherwise I've simply been trying to give one perspective on why someone who makes more money might not perceive themselves to be as wealthy as they are. I thought I was contributing to the OP by explaining that there are things that happen to some people as they move up the ladder that chip away at that perception.

That was pretty much the jist of my posts. Feeling rich is a function of your net cash after the bills are paid(mortgage/rent, cars, utilities, etc.). Having a great house and cars is great, and is indicative of your financial state, but the personal perception of wealth is tied more to the feeling that you can do/buy more on a whim. It isn't an accurate measure of reality, but that isn't what we are talking about.

Part of it is tied to the fact that income tends to rise as you age, which leads to other concerns. My first "professional" job was in 1995, and I got a job for $25k/year. I had no idea what to do with the money; a year prior, I was just leaving grad school, and was utterly broke all the time. I bought some toys, paid off my student loans, and relaxed. Now? I make much more than that, but I'm now worried about my retirement. I have two kids, and, with the rising costs of tuition, I'm socking away loads of money for their education. My mother-in-law is an epic, world-spanning idiot when it comes to finances, and I'm undoubtedly going to have to support her at some point. None of these things mattered to me when I was 25 and making $25k/year. So, really, part of the idea of income has to be balanced with the level of responsibilities you currently have in your life. When you're young, you have very few. Get married, have some kids, get older and start obsessing about the future, and your "relative day-to-day wealth" changes considerably. That, and I've always hated the idea of "raw dollars" as indicative of anything; if you make $100k/year and live in a small town in Iowa, you're wealthy. If you make that and try to live in Manhattan, you're far from wealthy. The simple fact is cost of living in a huge factor in the quality of your life, and the idea of $X being "middle class" is meaningless without the context that cost of living implies.

DSGamer:You are, and I'm realizing I'm coming off like an insensitive jackass again. It happens when I start to get cerebral about arguments. It's a learning process. Apologies all around.

As far as your tone, I think it's just a language/linguistics issue. The number of words it takes to get across your point about your perceived wealth is way more than the number of words it takes when you say, "We're blessed and I know we're in good shape," so it gets a bit lost in there through no fault of your own.

[Edit] KingGorilla: Of course not. We can not allow there to be a Iphone Gap! *fist on table*

Regarding perception, my brother the investment manager makes a lot of money. I don't know exactly how much, but I'd estimate at least $500k in base salary and at least a couple of hundred more in bonus money.

My brother, along with many people in fairfield county and manhattan, complains that he doesn't feel wealthy. This is probably because 1) he works with a lot of people who make even more money, and 2) he lives a very nice lifestyle that now seems normal to him. He lives in a 3,500 sq. foot house with a beautiful pool and garden. If he wants to take a trip to Tahiti, he takes one. His retirement plan is fully funded, and he gets matching funds to give it a kick. Drives a Mercedes SUV. To the people he works with, and those living in his neighborhood, this is not extraordinary.

So he doesn't feel wealthy, even though he lives in conditions that are far better than the other 99% of Americans.

DSGamer wrote:
Hypatian wrote:

Not at all trying to demonize. Just trying to point out that no matter how you feel, there are tons of places you could cut corners if you really had to.

We don't need to cut corners, though. Who is talking about being under economic duress? I feel like you're using someone else's situation to argue against me. I've said over and over that we're fine. We're good. We save, we pay our bills and we have money left over. That's all fine. It's just not 4x better than we were earlier in our lives. That's all. Literally.

I don't know--being able to say "I don't have to cut corners" sounds at least 4x better than having to cut corners. It's not about raw dollars, it's about the psychological impact of those dollars. How much is having money left over after paying bills and not cutting corners worth? You might not have 4x the number of absolute dollars, but it might be MORE than 4x as enjoyable to spend money when you don't need to cut corners than when you do. You said earlier in the thread you had to live in a nice place and eat out and buy tech stuff to maintain that income, but isn't it better when your 'necessities' in life are enjoyable in and of themselves? Hiring someone to clean your house still means you don't have to clean your house. I agree it's not a matter of simple math, but I also think it works against what you're saying, not for it. In terms of things being better, 4x the money might actually be 5x the enjoyment, or more.

And this is fairly recent for us. We're professionals in our mid-30s. We've moved up slowly and both remember vividly being poor. Especially me.

This is another issue: when you're young, it's a lot easier to have fun with less money. You can drunkenly sleep all night on a smelly futon and cure the damage with some greasy diner food and some stretching. Try that in middle age, and you'll be out of commission for a week. The cost of 'fun' or even 'not being miserable' goes up as we age. That extra money might not be making us exponentially happier than we were when we were young with less money, but it's sure making us exponentially happier than the person of our age who doesn't have the extra money to buy the mattress with real support.

KingGorilla wrote:
Jolly Bill wrote:

KingGorilla had a great point earlier, that I've noticed for a long time.

No love for the iPhone crack?

It reminded me that there's always one thing even the poor in a society can afford: wine, olive oil, cocaine, vodka--every culture has that one thing even the down-and-out seem to be able to get their hands on.

DSGamer wrote:

Perhaps I should just bow out. I'm trying to give my perspective on life at a certain level. Apparently that's not what this thread is for. It's to piss all over people who make more money.

Wow, I go to lunch and a meeting and the thread derails and explodes in spectacular fashion.

I was actually just about to respond to your original post in this thread and thank you for giving a perspective from a distinctly affluent individual (yes, that's not an insult, just an observation!).

In particular, you made a point that I wanted to clarify from my OP in the thread: you noted that you may be affluent, but that doesn't mean that you make a flat multiple over what I do, or that you're complaining about money being tight. And that's what I meant when I said I can't feel sympathy for people complaining about money when their household makes $200k+ annually (meaning they're in a very tiny percentile of US households): if you can't make ends meet at that income level, it's entirely your own fault.

That is far, far from where you and your wife are at. You live comfortably, and are grateful for it, and don't carry the attitude that you're unduly stressed financially. You may not perceive yourselves to be as wealthy as the majority of the populace does, but now I better understand why.

Which leads to a shift in the conversation and my real purpose in starting this thread:

What, exactly, defines affluence? Is it based upon a living standard above a certain portion of the populace? If so, then why do those who have that standard not recognize it as such? Or is it based upon total asset value, in which case someone who's earned more money over their life might end up less affluent than another who earned less but invested it in better assets (home, property, etc)?

What else?

I don't think it's a simple discussion, and I appreciate input from ALL portions of the wealth spectrum.

I don't think this thread has exploded. Talking about personal incomes is always touchy, but we're to the second page and everything has been pretty civil.

I'll write up a personal post after this work day, but I find that when I start by thinking "this is GWJ, we all like video games," it centers me. Finding that the enjoyment of video games transcends incomes is actually pretty awesome for me. I know statistically it shouldn't surprise me, but it does, and makes me feel good about stuff.

Funkenpants wrote:

Regarding perception, my brother the investment manager makes a lot of money. I don't know exactly how much, but I'd estimate at least $500k in base salary and at least a couple of hundred more in bonus money.

My brother, along with many people in fairfield county and manhattan, complains that he doesn't feel wealthy. This is probably because 1) he works with a lot of people who make even more money, and 2) he lives a very nice lifestyle that now seems normal to him. He lives in a 3,500 sq. foot house with a beautiful pool and garden. If he wants to take a trip to Tahiti, he takes one. His retirement plan is fully funded, and he gets matching funds to give it a kick. Drives a Mercedes SUV. To the people he works with, and those living in his neighborhood, this is not extraordinary.

So he doesn't feel wealthy, even though he lives in conditions that are far better than the other 99% of Americans.

That's because he's comparing his life and lifestyle with people who make way more than he does. I'm sure in his mind he's middle class because he knows he's making more than some Americans (though he likely doesn't understand just how much more), but he also knows that other people are much more wealthy than him. Ergo, he's middle class.

Hell, surveys have found that people don't start to consider themselves wealthy until they have $1.75 million in investable assets and that 40% of millionaires think they won't be actually rich until they're sitting on at least $7.5 million.

Trying to keep up with the Jones' is a sure way to feel financially insecure. I've seen colleagues worry themselves in to heart attacks because they need ten grand just to make their monthly nut.

The best financial advice I ever got was to always live a little below my means. My neighbors might have better stuff, but mine is paid for...

DSGamer wrote:

We don't need to cut corners, though. Who is talking about being under economic duress? I feel like you're using someone else's situation to argue against me. I've said over and over that we're fine. We're good. We save, we pay our bills and we have money left over. That's all fine. It's just not 4x better than we were earlier in our lives. That's all. Literally.

I'm talking about being under economic duress!

And the reason I am is that I think that's what truly defines wealth: how well you can weather it when unexpected things happen. If you need a car to work, and can't afford to have regular maintenance done on it, and needing to replace any part in the car will require you to empty your savings/borrow money from a friend/take on debt/not eat, then you're poor. Similar for emergency home repairs, emergency medical bills, etc.

I guess I feel like you're minimizing the kind of strain that creates. You mentioned not feeling secure after losing your job, and having to be out of work for a long time. But I don't think you felt as insecure as my sister and brother-in-law did when he lost his job and with only my sister's income to support them they had to move in with my parents.

I think there's a really major difference between those two sorts of situations.

On the other side, you're right that the way things "feel" is different. It has nothing to do with numbers. It has more to do with feeling stable in your situation, etc.

But I guess the question I want to ask is this: Which is more important? The feeling of security, or the security itself? The sense that if you take a job that you're overqualified for you'll "commit career suicide", or the sense that if you don't find a job—any job—as soon as possible you're going to have trouble feeding your kids?

I would argue that the sensation of "just doing okay" may be just a symptom of taṇhā—an illusion of lack of well-being driven by our desire to better ourselves. And that sensation can blind us to the greater needs of those who are in worse states. I mean, I'm sure my sister doesn't think she's all [em]that[/em] much better off than the desperately poor in Bangladesh, say, but... she really is, probably even more than you're better off than she is.

On my side, I guess my stake in this argument is that I worry whenever I hear "X really isn't that great once you have it". I [em]do[/em] feel it minimizes the situation of people who don't have X to say things like that. It feels condescending, even if that's not the intent. Perhaps part of the problem is when it's stated that way, rather than "X really doesn't [em]feel[/em] that great once you have it."

It seems to me that this second thing is what you've been trying to express, but in words that suggest the first thing instead.

OG_slinger wrote:

The best financial advice I ever got was to always live a little below my means. My neighbors might have better stuff, but mine is paid for...

This is important too, and part of our culture's problems as others have noted. We as a nation seem to think you have to live at your income, rather than being happy to maintain your living standard and treat additional income as more safety net.

My income has risen $10k over the last five years, but I've maintained the same living standard for the most part. I splurged on a bigger tv, and keep my computer upgraded, but beyond that, I can't really point to anything that I've done to increase my standard of living.

And $10k may not sound substantial if you're in the $100-200k/yr range, but when you consider that's a 25% increase in my gross income over that timeframe, it actually IS substantial.

Yeah, that about covers his attitude. Incidentally, I usually only envy the trips overseas he's able to take. The rest of the waspy lifestyle isn't my bag.

ZaneRockfist wrote:
DSGamer wrote:

Jobs that pay you well are also often stressful.

I disagree with that. Low wage jobs often involve just as much stress and at the same time, you make far less money so you have even more stress. There is no security in low wage jobs. You are often someone's bitch in low wage jobs. And you are treated like you are garbage.

Probably circumstantial though... I used to make right at 100k a year, but i was stressed to the hilt. I had 0 time for a vacation. Was 5 years before i finally took a full week off. My health got so bad that i almost died to stomach bug. Was a complete wreck. I left and start to consult. Depending on the year i stayed close to what i was making before, but slightly less and just cut back on the extra nights outs and made do. Cut to 2008 when the world went to sh*t. First people cut were contractors and consultants. In the next 3 years i only worked for 1.5 of them. If it wasnt for my wife's income probably would've lost everything. Now i'm rehired at a place that has AMAZING benefits and i'm only at a little over half of what i was making before. I cant tell you how relieved and less stress i have compared before. If i knew back then making almost double how i feel now... I'd definitely would swapped in heart beat. I'm much happier now making less.

That decision comes easy though after some years. Back then in my early 20s and 30s i was all about getting as much as i could. I thought i HAD to have a 6 figure job. Over the years i've discovered i dont HAVE to. No house yet, but that's soon on the horizon. I still buy pretty much what i want toy wise. Sometimes i have to save for an extra month or so, but that's not a bad lesson to learn either.

Hypatian wrote:

I'm talking about being under economic duress!

And the reason I am is that I think that's what truly defines wealth: how well you can weather it when unexpected things happen. If you need a car to work, and can't afford to have regular maintenance done on it, and needing to replace any part in the car will require you to empty your savings/borrow money from a friend/take on debt/not eat, then you're poor. Similar for emergency home repairs, emergency medical bills, etc.

...

I think there's a really major difference between those two sorts of situations.

I wasn't intending for this thread to talk about that, because, well... it's self-evident, IMO. All low-income households are living at an economic level where they are one unexpected expense away from complete disaster. Lower-middle income households face the same issue for the most part.

But Upper-middle and beyond should not be facing that issue unless they are being irresponsible with their finances.

So yeah; the level of stress for someone working at low income for 60-80 hours per week just to literally keep their life together is facing stress that no one in the upper-middle income tiers (or higher) have any excuse to face.

But beyond that, we all have reasonable stressors in our lives, whether middle class or wealthy or anywhere in between.

To use DSGamer as an example, yeah, he and his wife have a lot of luxuries I don't. I work as hard as they do (judging from what he's written, which is an assumption on my part!). I'd say that from the sound of it, they have roughly the same level of life stress as I do. We are (again, assumedly) equally grateful for how well off we are. I don't resent them for their luxuries, and I don't get the impression that DSG assumes my life is any less stressful than his.

The point is: he may be higher on the affluence scale than me, but we're both affluent. We both live below our means. We both are safe from the stress that my parents faced when I was a kid (ignoring the parental stress and just focusing on their financial struggles during the 80's). We don't have to worry about one unexpected expense wiping us out financially (yes, it's possible, but incredibly unlikely that something that extreme would happen).

So what would lead someone else at either my income level or theirs to feel less affluent than DSG and I feel? Or vice versa, more affluent?

It makes me curious.

I'm specifically talking about the US. Because yeah, if we're going to talk globally here, then we all need to shut the hell up and be grateful (with rare exceptions due to our screwed up healthcare system).

Hypatian wrote:

Perhaps part of the problem is when it's stated that way, rather than "X really doesn't [em]feel[/em] that great once you have it."

It seems to me that this second thing is what you've been trying to express, but in words that suggest the first thing instead.

Yes. This is pretty much the situation. I was trying to answer Farscry's question and was willing to put forward my own personal experience. I thought I was answer it technically and maybe didn't say it as artfully as I could have.

farscry wrote:

What, exactly, defines affluence? Is it based upon a living standard above a certain portion of the populace? If so, then why do those who have that standard not recognize it as such? Or is it based upon total asset value, in which case someone who's earned more money over their life might end up less affluent than another who earned less but invested it in better assets (home, property, etc)?

Are we talking about just the US or the whole world? I think the rest of the world would largely consider all Americans to be affluent. As someone who's traveled to Bosnia, Central America, etc. I can attest to seeing people who have really good lives and live on far far less money than the poorest American.

When my wife and I were in Panama we hired someone to take us around the marshlands off Bocas Del Toro for swimming / snorkeling. He was super nice and talked to us the whole time. Talked about his job, his family, his wife. He had typical concerns about his personal spending and reigning that in now that he's a father, etc. He joked about how his wife would throw him out if he ever started partying again. In other words he was a guy.

Later in the trip we saw him in town when we were going out to dinner. He introduced us to his wife and said he was going on a date with her. We chatted a bit and said goodbye. He probably made less money than I did when I was working jobs in high school. I know we didn't pay him much and I'm familiar with incomes in Panama from a bit of reading. But here he was, out on a date with his wife just like us. He seemed content, he was happy and friendly and seemed comfortable.

Not saying that angst over your wealth is a purely American thing, but it's a bit relative depending on where you live and your life circumstances.

I hate this question. I hate it because it puts the focus in the wrong place. Because it fosters discord and envy and a whole host of other things. (No offense, Farscry.) Because it makes us all sound like whiny little entitled brats that have no clue what goes on around us, fulfilling every negative stereotype of Americans. Because, really, we should be asking the exact opposite question: why are we so incredibly blessed?

We live in a society where certain people get paid a lot of money to make you unhappy with what you have. To make you envious of those more fortunate and desirous of their possessions. If we did not have the "Keeping up with the Jones'" mentality, an astonishing number of thriving companies would quickly go out of business. We have lost all ability to understand our relative position to anyone below us; we can only look up.

A mere 60 years ago the average family lived in a 983 square-foot home. Today it's almost 2,500. Dishwashers were a modern marvel. Air conditioning? Fuhgeddaboudit. We have managed to take things that were formerly free (like television) and nearly free (like telephones) and make them cost hundreds of dollars a month. The vast majority of America lives in conditions so great as to be completely unfathomable to almost any American 100 years ago, and still to much of the world even today.

Ever traveled to a poor country? To Haiti, or interior South America? Ever stepped outside the tourist zone in Cancun? It's great for head-clearing perspective. We've completely lost sight of our actual needs. What do we need? Really? Food. Shelter (preferably heated). Clothing. That's about it. Have those covered? Then guess what: by historical standards you're doing pretty damn well. A visit to any one of the aforementioned areas quickly sorts out what's truly valuable from what is grotesque envy on our part. If you ever hear a Haitian complaining that they only have a one-car garage, you let me know.

My wife and I spent our first couple years of marriage below the poverty line, and didn't take the government up on any offers of assistance (like, say, SNAP). And you know what? We did okay. We now live in what is, adjusted for cost of living, the richest county in America. Sure, we're in probably the ugliest house in the county, but we're still there. And I still can't clear $50k salary. She stays at home. We haven't taken a vacation since the first kid was born, four years ago. I drive a 13-year-old corolla. And you know what? We do okay. I enjoy my life. I love the time I have with my family. And I realize that I am still far, far, far better off than most people in the world.

I bike to work most days it's above 40º. Many people cruise by the scenery at 60mph on the way to work, but I don't. I have time to soak it all in. I bike through neighborhoods where the starting price of the house is $1.5 million. I get passed by teenagers on their way to the local high school in $100,000 Land Rovers. And you know what? It's okay. I don't envy them. I don't even wonder where they got their money. And that's okay.

Does it seem rather silly to me when I hear people making orders of magnitude more money than me complain about money? Sure. But I don't envy them, or get angry at them. To be honest, I feel sad for them. I feel sad that they can't recognize the incredible bounty they have, or can't prioritize. I mostly feel sad that we, as a country, have collectively forgotten how to live within our means. I recently had a discussion (I do a bit of counseling) with a man who was extremely stressed because his wife just lost her job. He makes $200k/yr. She made $120k. They were stressed about this. Do you remember earlier in this post when I bemoaned our inability to look down? How our heads are constantly pointed up, envious and worried about those ahead of us? The same principle applies here. Obviously it's easy to provide for your basic needs with $200k. But we can't look down. We can't see how easy it is to sell our brand-new 750Li and go back down to a used toyota, to cook at home instead of eating out five nights a week, to shop at Target or even (gasp!) Wal-Mart instead of Neiman Marcus.

So when I read things like "Quite frankly, any household earning $200k+ annually gets absolutely no sympathy from me for money problems barring major medical issues, because at that income, you have the power to live well within your means and eliminate any money problems." I tend to get rather irritated. …Perhaps you've noticed. We are so caught up with trying to leapfrog over the person next to us in line that we forget that the vast majority of the world — the vast majority — would do any number of uncouth things to be in our position. There will always be people better off than you. There will always be people worse off than you. But we can only look up. It is unfathomable for us to think that a family could be happy sharing an 800-square-foot dwelling with two other families. But people everywhere do it, and (I daresay) may be happier than the average American.

It seems that a huge majority of political talk nowadays revolves around income inequality and wealth in general. We can't seem to appreciate what we have. We don't understand that never in the history of the world has any society lived as well as we do. We don't understand that people are risking their lives to illegally enter this country because, in their words, "I want to live in a place where the poor people are fat." This constant bickering, pitting each other against each other, is horrifying to me. It shows a lack of empathy, brotherhood, respect toward our fellow man, and perhaps most of all is truly insulting to those who really are poor, both in America and (more often) abroad. Those who really can't meet their basic needs of food, shelter, and clothing. Make $30k last year? Awesome. Make $30 mil? Awesome. Hungry? Have a house? Clothes on your back? Yes? Awesome. Maybe it's time to stop whining.

Look down.

And yet we have millions of people in this country who do not get access to reasonable healthcare.

Yes, I'm derailing my own thread, I apologize.

Very good post Minarchist, you didn't offend me, but you did humble me a bit. I've already said that I feel very well off and have nothing but gratitude for where I'm at, but you're right in that I should pay less attention to the negative attitudes that are sometimes expressed by those higher than me on the income scale. I just get so angry when people aren't grateful for what they have.

Bah. Kinda wish I hadn't started the thread now.

Farscry wrote:

And yet we have millions of people in this country who do not get access to reasonable healthcare.

Yes, I'm derailing my own thread, I apologize.

Very good post Minarchist, you didn't offend me, but you did humble me a bit. I've already said that I feel very well off and have nothing but gratitude for where I'm at, but you're right in that I should pay less attention to the negative attitudes that are sometimes expressed by those higher than me on the income scale. I just get so angry when people aren't grateful for what they have.

Bah. Kinda wish I hadn't started the thread now. :(

My intent wasn't to make anyone feel bad. (Well, maybe just a little. No, not really.) I just want to provide perspective, something I think all of us lack a lot of — myself included. Something that's stuck with me for a long time is a passing comment a mentor once made: we were walking in to a restaurant and almost got run over by a woman in an SUV, who then proceeded to roll down her window and curse at us as she peeled away. He said, "Don't get upset. You only had to deal with her for ten seconds. She has to be with her every minute of every day." It's...it's maybe a bit of a difficult thing to put into words properly, but it really made quite an impression.

Even in the realm of healthcare I think it's applicable. Do some have it better off than us? Sure. Do some have it worse off? Sure. Are we in far, far, far better shape than pretty much any other time in history? Hell yes. It's not to say that we don't strive for something better; the lesson isn't to become complacent. It's more along the lines of "the perfect is the enemy of the good". It's okay to try and reach for ever greater things, but we need to realize whose shoulders we're standing on.

MilkmanDanimal wrote:

if you make $100k/year and live in a small town in Iowa, you're wealthy. If you make that and try to live in Manhattan, you're far from wealthy. The simple fact is cost of living in a huge factor in the quality of your life, and the idea of $X being "middle class" is meaningless without the context that cost of living implies.

Ain't that the truth. My wife and I make around $110k gross combined, plus student loans and a car lease on a Fit. We're comfortable, happy, have what I feel is a very comfortable savings in cash (we were saving up for a down payment, but buying a home is on hold for a few years, so now it's going to our credit cards and cushioning Mrs. Gravey's mat leave (she's the breadwinning RN)), and even with the shift a newborn and mat leave have brought, we don't have any worries.

If we lived in the suburbs, I'd feel right at home (in a 1400 sq ft townhouse ideally) (oh man, don't tell that to 17-year-old Gravey). If we lived in the interior of BC, we'd be kings (er, a king, queen and princess).

Instead, we're renting a basement suite in one of Vancouver's ridiculously expensive neighbourhoods. The surrounding houses are $1.6 million—until they get knocked down, re-built, and sold to nouveau riche Chinese for $2.8 million. The white people all look respectable and professional. There is many a Lexus SUV and Filipino nanny. That said, we would love to stay here, but that's not going to happen without winning the lottery. Maybe if we both got our Masters, and won the daily extra.

So I feel like everyone I live around is filthily affluent and I seethe with jealousy. But what can you do about? I don't know these people or their histories (or possibly their financial obligations) and it's the reality of Vancouver. It's not like I can't buy a video game when I want to; get an emergency addressed when we need it; or pay off a credit card when I say to Mrs. Gravey, "Srsly, let's pay off this credit card right now." Like KingGorilla said, we all have iPhones.

But emotionally I'm still playing the comparing game, against anybody, and the winner is always the green monster, to different degrees. I like to see awesome cars on the road, but then I can't separate the car from my perceptions about the driver—"Wow, nice GT-R—huh, young Asian guy, dad probably bought it from Hong Kong"; "Heh, sweet Gallardo—uggh, platinum blonde trophy wife". I'm good-naturedly envious—but still envious—of my best friend who just got an FR-S—even though I know his is a two-car family, and a coupe isn't going to work for us as a one-car family.

So I'm comfortable and happy, but when I see others more comfortable, I get less happy. Emotionally, I want a reckoning of how/why they deserve it, even though it's irrelevant to me and my life. And I know intellectually that's wrong, but... I'm only human?

Minarchist wrote:

I bike through neighborhoods where the starting price of the house is $1.5 million. I get passed by teenagers on their way to the local high school in $100,000 Land Rovers. And you know what? It's okay. I don't envy them. I don't even wonder where they got their money. And that's okay.

What mountain are you at the top of, and can I climb there and meditate with you? Really, I need to.

Gravey wrote:

So I'm comfortable and happy, but when I see others more comfortable, I get less happy. Emotionally, I want a reckoning of how/why they deserve it, even though it's irrelevant to me and my life. And I know intellectually that's wrong, but... I'm only human?

You have effectively just described capitalism. You have some, you want more.

Gravey wrote:

What mountain are you at the top of, and can I climb there and meditate with you? Really, I need to.

Ditto. I like your perspective Minarchist, but damn, I've got a way to go to have the same level of peace you seem to.

MilkmanDanimal wrote:
Gravey wrote:

So I'm comfortable and happy, but when I see others more comfortable, I get less happy. Emotionally, I want a reckoning of how/why they deserve it, even though it's irrelevant to me and my life. And I know intellectually that's wrong, but... I'm only human?

You have effectively just described capitalism. You have some, you want more.

The part that bothers me most, though, is not the wanting more, but wanting to know what others did to deserve the more they have; that I have to know they earned it (against I-don't-even-know what criteria), otherwise I feel they shouldn't have it. And how is that productive, or even relevant, let alone harmonious?

I think Hypatian is definitely on the right tack and especially Farscry since your original question was in part centered around perception. In the event that personal context is important I come from solid middle class (using the literal percentage numbers, Mom was a school teacher) and statistically am very fortunate even by US standards.

I know intellectually I'm statistically rich. Using the chart here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Affluen... as one source the numbers for being in the top third of wealth are in line with what almost everyone in this thread has posted.

But perception of wealth is a different thing entirely and the valid points Minarchist is making aside, I think most people's perception of their wealth comes from their perception that what they are doing is not extraordinary and their perception that the truly wealthy do things on a different plane. For example while almost no one owns a plane or plans for a car elevator, they probably would like their kids to go to a 'good' school. Those simpler day to day decisions tend to drive people into self selected circles of people who have similar means and so their perception of 'average' shifts to what they see day in and day out.

I think the other component of this is their perception of how stable this perceived reality is. Before the housing crisis, a whole lot of people thought they could buy a house. They perceived they were wealthy enough to do that. Over the last few years, even people who followed financial planning approaches know that other people just like them have found themselves out of work and have consumed their savings because even good financial planning didn't have you assume the economy would come within a few decisions of being a repeat of the great depression.

I think this means a lot of discussions of how wealth you perceive you are are really discussions of how safe you think your resources, job, etc are.

Gravey wrote:
MilkmanDanimal wrote:
Gravey wrote:

So I'm comfortable and happy, but when I see others more comfortable, I get less happy. Emotionally, I want a reckoning of how/why they deserve it, even though it's irrelevant to me and my life. And I know intellectually that's wrong, but... I'm only human?

You have effectively just described capitalism. You have some, you want more.

The part that bothers me most, though, is not the wanting more, but wanting to know what others did to deserve the more they have; that I have to know they earned it (against I-don't-even-know what criteria), otherwise I feel they shouldn't have it. And how is that productive, or even relevant, let alone harmonious?

Well, we have historically structured our tax code to make sure that wealth was earned and aristocracy prevented. So that feeling was shared by a lot of great men in the past, regardless of how productive we think it is. Personally, I think it just grates all the more to see the trust-fund/ownership-class types around when the wealth gap has grown so huge, and shows no sign of slowing.

I functionaly have the same perspective on things as Min(not super suprised there), but I just wonder why I feel so much financial pressure, when my wife and I will probably break the 150k boundary this year. We were pushing the 80k last year, and that is an enormouse amount added to the pool in 12 months. Mind you, now we pay for childcare and are not defering any loans, but still.

Gravey wrote:
Minarchist wrote:

I bike through neighborhoods where the starting price of the house is $1.5 million. I get passed by teenagers on their way to the local high school in $100,000 Land Rovers. And you know what? It's okay. I don't envy them. I don't even wonder where they got their money. And that's okay.

What mountain are you at the top of, and can I climb there and meditate with you? Really, I need to.

Ain't no special sauce, man. I'm not perfect. I'd certainly like a better car. I would like for my kids to experience the same wonder I did by going to Disney World at a young age. But I don't need them. I talk a lot with my pastor; he's a good man. I try to take things more slowly and really notice them. One thing that you will discover soon, if you really watch, is how much you can learn from your kids. Yours is a little young, obviously, but around the age of 3 or so you'll see. Does my daughter love eating out at restaurants, or to go to the fair, or the movies? Of course. But she is just as entertained by bullfrogs and fireflies. Perhaps more entertained because of their unpredictability, and that she can find them in her backyard. When she goes to her pre-school, some kids arrive in Mercedes, while some parents are scraping together every single penny to be able to send their kid one day a week. None of the kids seem to care. Does my daughter notice another girl's outfit is Ralph Lauren kids, or that that boy's outfit came from Goodwill? No. She likes it because it's pink.

If I want to keep her wide-eyed wonder and innocence intact and avoid her becoming yet another #fml teen, I damn well better know how to do so myself.

Kraint wrote:

Well, we have historically structured our tax code to make sure that wealth was earned and aristocracy prevented. So that feeling was shared by a lot of great men in the past, regardless of how productive we think it is. Personally, I think it just grates all the more to see the trust-fund/ownership-class types around when the wealth gap has grown so huge, and shows no sign of slowing.

Historically, as in the last time our tax code made sure wealth was earned and aristocracy was prevented was in the 1950s. Then you could rest assured that someone who made a lot of money had about 90% of it taken by Uncle Sam to reinvest in the rest of the country and the estate tax took a hefty chunk out of anything you would pass on.

Compare that with today where the top income earners only have to pay a few percentage points more than the middle class on their income, pay barely 15% if it's income from investments, and we recently had a year where there was no estate tax whatsoever.

Now our tax code is structured to keep the wealthy wealthy and to further concentrate their wealth. It's why every income group except the top have seen their wages either fall or remain largely stagnate over the past couple of decades. All the wage and income growth is going to a tiny fraction of our population and, as you can tell from our sluggish economy, this is an unsustainable trend.

SallyNasty wrote:

I functionaly have the same perspective on things as Min(not super suprised there), but I just wonder why I feel so much financial pressure, when my wife and I will probably break the 150k boundary this year. We were pushing the 80k last year, and that is an enormouse amount added to the pool in 12 months. Mind you, now we pay for childcare and are not defering any loans, but still.

Probably because your game library is nowhere near as big as m0nk3yboy's, I'd imagine.

Minarchist with deference to your post, I think you are riled about a different idea. I think every American here can agree we live in one of the richest countries in the world and, as video gamers, have money to spend on non essentials.

What I find interesting is that the tendency for one's living to expand to fit one's means is the norm, not the exception (there are one or two exceptions posted here). This tendency transcends income level -- I would claim the discomfort someone feels at 50k looking at 75k is the same discomfort that drive immigrants to live where even the poor people are fat.

I wonder, then, if (with notable exceptions, obviously) that is the human condition; this tendency toward discomfort with one's own surroundings.