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Why America’s Attitude Towards Wealth Will Keep Us All Broke

So, this year’s United States Presidential Election is in the books.

I have my own political leanings, and while I was certainly interested in how the election was going to play out, I wasn’t really all that confident that I’d be happy with whoever won. I’ve become very disillusioned with American politics in the last 5-6 years, as I’ve seen it just run through a constant cycle that is setting this country up for failure.

One of the biggest reasons why is society’s response to politics, and how politicians pander to the current American society. It scares me to see certain attitudes prevailing in this country that would have been unheard-of even 10 years ago.

But the most dangerous issue, among all others and across all parties, is the American attitude towards money and wealth.

Here’s a quick disclaimer: I am far from rich. My wife and I work hard, but we are currently your “average American household”: lots of debt – especially student debt, not enough coming in, and trying to get by. I’m a freelance copywriter, and she’s a radiologic technologist (she takes x-rays/imaging). We don’t come from money and had fairly lower-middle-class upbringings.

There was a time in this country when a man and his son would see a wealthy guy driving down the street in a brand new car, and the man would turn to his son and say, “That’s what you want to be, son. Work hard and do your job right. Be smart with your money, and you can have that.”

Today, that same man will tell his son, “That guy must have cheated to get his money. It’s not fair, and if I had my way, we’d have some of his money. When I win the lottery, I’m going to…”, etc.

We’ve villainized the wealthy in this country, and it permeated throughout the course of last night’s election coverage (and, well, basically all politics of the last 5-6 years).

Since when did rich = bad?

I think it started with the rise of reality TV and people like Paris Hilton.

In other words, we started watching people who were exceptionally rich – and only the ones who were “interesting”. That meant watching entitled children who were given a lot of money. And it meant giving people who we deemed “interesting” and “entertaining” a lot of money to walk around living their lives and acting like spoiled brats.

Reality TV ratings grew exponentially. We created this mindset that rich people were entitled and good for nothing. But they were funny, so we watched them every week.

When the economy tanked, all of a sudden, we were Dr. Frankenstein staring down our monster. We created this culture, and now we resent it.

Never mind the fact that the rich who get the most press time are hardly a representation of the overall “upper class”. Yeah, there are plenty like them, but the vast majority are quietly living their lives – working hard to build businesses and making an honest living.

And we want to punish them for it.

Politicians pointing fingers

One local elected official gave a speech that I heard in passing last night that promised the small businesses that “the big businesses would be held accountable”. Accountable to what? Small businesses have more resources than ever to succeed in this day and age. What does it matter what the big businesses are doing?

On top of that, every small business aspires to be successful. The message we’re giving them is, “Hey, we’ll help you be successful. Oh, and when you become successful, we’re going to start taking more of your money for being too successful.” Why would anyone strive to be better in that kind of environment?

She also promised that “millionaires and billionaires would pay their share”. Last I checked, the rich pay taxes like everyone else does. Any middle class citizen who reads news blips and talking points think they know what goes on in the books of the rich. That’s why everyone was clamoring to see Mitt Romney’s tax returns.

Everybody in the country gets tax deductions at one point or another. Heck, when I fill out my tax returns, there are lots of deductions for lower-income families that I don’t even qualify for. The tax breaks aren’t just for the rich.

Everybody in the country pays a percentage of their money to the government. In fact, we have tax brackets that ensure that the rich pay more in taxes.

It’s a reality. Everybody pays a percentage. The wealthy already pay a higher percentage – and you know what? Beyond that, it’s their money. They’re allowed to spend it on whatever they want. Having the government say, “You’re not doing your fair share” is an insult to anybody with a brain and basic math skills.

Many people respond to this by saying, “Well, the wealthy can handle it. It’s not THAT much more we’re asking them to pay, etc.” But I’m not going to look into your checkbook and tell you how to spend your money. Aren’t we entitled to some level of privacy and respect? That’s a judgment call that I get to make with my money, and I can decide how much is too much.

And there is not a finite amount of success in the world. Just because Donald Trump (who was once a respected businessman) made a lot of money doesn’t mean there’s any less for you to make. He just didn’t make it sitting behind a desk working for a boss.

Just because there are people in this country making six figures a year doesn’t mean that they’re keeping you from being a crazy success. Sitting around and waiting for politicians and government to make you a success is what’s keeping you broke.

Another disturbing trend is the idea that certain politicians are rich and certain ones are not, and that the rich ones are evil.

Politicians are making good money these days.

Here’s a quick news flash: basically every politician you listen to is making good-to-ridiculous money.

Mayors of large cities like New York City make almost $200,000/year. Members of the House of Representatives and Senators are making between $174,000 and $225,000/year, as does the Vice President. The President of the United States makes $400,000/year.

Now, I’m not here to say that these politicians don’t “deserve” their income. That’s fine. I don’t begrudge all of them for it – some of them work very hard (although, like in any business or industry, some do little-to-nothing). As frustrated as I am with our current President, I do understand and respect that he has a tough job that is very time consuming.

But there is a certain level of hypocrisy for these government officials to stand up in front of people, making six figures a year, and chastising the wealthy for “not doing their part”. They’re playing the same game, aren’t they?

For a President who makes $400,000 a year, has various large expense accounts, and free housing (plus amenities) to paint himself as a “common man” and his opponent as an “elitist rich man” is insulting, and it pains me to watch our country keep falling for it.

Again, I need to reiterate: I don’t care that he’s making that much. I don’t care that he gets all those benefits. I get angry when I see the message that he – and other politicians – try to spread, when they are just as guilty as anybody else.

And where are these politicians spending money? On campaigns to get/keep their jobs.

Just looking at the two big-party candidates, both of whom openly admit that the country is deep in debt and the economy is struggling, is a real eye-opener in terms of spending.

President Obama spent $852.9 million on his campaign. Mitt Romney spent $752.3 million on his.

Guys, this is money that was just spent by these two guys in trying to get one job.

Linda McMahon set records trying to get a Senate seat in Connecticut – over $90 million in two failed bids.

These are numbers we can’t even comprehend.

Again, these politicians are free to spend their money however they choose – but to sit back and tell everyone that the rich guys are bad guys because they don’t use their money to help other people out is an insult to our intelligence.

Being rich isn’t a bad thing.

Being rich is something that people should strive to be. It’s good to have your debts paid off and a nest egg saved up. But it’s up to you. Government officials can’t balance their own checkbooks and they spend money like it’s water.

Create an opportunity for yourself and go after it. And maybe, by some long shot (though I’m not holding my breath), some candidate on either side will stand up and say, “Hey, I’ve got money, and that’s okay. But let’s find ways for you to create opportunities to take charge of your own financial situation, and we’ll stop spending so much.”

Until then, we’re going to sit back, play the blame game, turn a deaf ear to honest conversations about money and personal responsibility, and wait for an opportunity that will never come.

I’ll end with a quote I shared on Facebook last night. On NBC, Brian Williams was covering the election again, and while reporters generally try to stay “balanced” and positive, he slipped a comment in that was not remarked on by anyone else, but is the one thing I’ll remember from last night. Here’s a paraphrase:

“One million campaign ads were run for this election. I keep thinking that, if that money would have gone to medical research, I wonder what diseases we could have cured.”

money, politics