Sunday, August 30, 2009

Born Rich

Jamie Johnson, of the Johnson & Johnson family, made a documentary in 2003 called Born Rich (which one can watch online, thanks to Google Video); it's a film in which Johnson interviews friends and family regarding the struggles and lifestyle that comes with having such extremely large amounts of money. I found it to be an interesting film, and watched it again with Chris some time later. A couple of years later, in 2006, he made another documentary called The One Percent, in which he explores the rationale and connection between the wealthiest one percent of Americans controlling half the wealth of the United States. It's not a film I've seen yet; I haven't been able to find it being shown on TV, but both DVDs are available for purchase so at some point I think I'll buy them.

A couple of things were especially interesting about Born Rich. Many of the young heirs had foregone needing to find a career to support themselves. I remember several of those interviewed professing anxiety, almost as though they were overwhelmed by choice. There had been elements of not knowing what their options were, not having enough sense of themselves to know what they wanted to do professionally, if anything. This is not an uncommon problem: Many college kids, and those who are older, also have the issue of not knowing themselves well enough, nor having enough sense of their talents or interests, to know what they want to do professionally. The difference is that the rest of us need to work in some capacity in order to fund ourselves. Either you're going to discover what you want to do career-wise, or you're not; either you're going to get a chance to do that work, or you're not; but in any case you're going to have to work. If you're not required to, you are likely less in a position of evaluating yourself.

In Googling ways that I might find, watch, and/or buy  Born Rich and The One Percent, I discovered that Jamie Johnson write regularly for Vanity Fair; he writes a weekly column called (not surprisingly)  "The One Percent." In his June 26th column, Johnson quoted Cody Franchetti (an Italian baron) as saying: “[M]ost people do not understand 'that splendor is not comfort.'" This immediately struck me as true; I think many who do not have wealth but want it very badly confuse wealth with comfort. While it's true there is a certain amount of comfort in knowing that one is not likely to ever be poor, that one can pay one's bills, and buy whatever is wanted, I remain unconvinced that this is always comfort, unless you're happy with what you have.  It's unfortunate that such a high proportion of the comments left for Johnson on Vanity Fair are negative and derogatory; many voice nasty opinions that deride the rich simply because they have a lot of money.

I have to be careful, though, too; I have to remind myself to make the distinction between those who have a lot of money and those who feel a sense of entitlement
because they have money. There might be a fine line, but I've learned to distinguish this while living on Long Island, which I tend to dislike because of the blatant entitlement that so many people here have. It's overpowering when you come in from the outside, as I have (someone who is neither native New Yorker nor even a native Long Islander). Not everyone has that attitude; I would even say that most people don't. Certainly my friends don't act that way (if they did, we wouldn't be friends), and several of my previous landlords have not had that attitude either, but it is culturally pervasive here. My friends' salaries do not impress me; they are immaterial. I want enough of a salary to be comfortable, but I find I don't really care if I never earn a six-figure salary. This is partly pragmatic; as a teacher I'm not likely to earn a six-figure salary. But I'm also very okay with that, and I'm very comfortable with whatever salary I'll earn because for me it's enough.

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