Deprivation at the Top

March 1, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

Sometimes it’s hard to remember relative deprivation. 

Most of us aren’t going to get all weepy about the financial problems of the 1%.  We might sympathize with the rich in fictional TV shows and movies – like George Clooney in “The Descendants.”  (The Socioblog take on this film is here.)  Poor guy – he has to decide what to do with 25,000 prime acres in Kauai, and his wife and daughter have been a bit of a problem.  But it’s different when the real-life rich start complaining about the decline in their fortunes.
“People who don’t have money don’t understand the stress,” said Alan Dlugash . . .  specializes in financial planning for the wealthy. “Could you imagine what it’s like to say I got three kids in private school, I have to think about pulling them out? How do you do that?”
The full article (here) has some specifics on the real-life consequences of Wall Street cutbacks.  You’ll especially like the headhunter who used to make probably close to half a million a year and is now checking the supermarket newspaper inserts for the best price on Wheat Chex. 

There’s much to be said about this and I said some of it a while ago in a post about Todd Henderson, also mentioned in the article, who complained publicly that if the Bush tax cuts expired he just didn’t see how he could get by on his $400,000 a year.  (The full post is here, but you can just scroll down to the Stevie Wonder part and get the idea.)

Yes, deprivation is relative. 
“If you’re making $50,000 and your salary gets down to $40,000 and you have to cut, it’s very severe to you,” Dlugash said. “But it’s no less severe to these other people with these big numbers.”
In the context of their current lives, a 20% reduction in a $500,000 income is a big blow for the wealthy.  But what galls us is the insularity and insensitivity they show when they complain about it in public while millions of people are trying to cope with real deprivation.* 

The headhunter who used to buy his Wheat Chex without checking the price now sees the discount prices offered at some stores.  “Wow, did I waste a lot of money,” he says.   You can’t tell for sure, but I assume he was joking.  Maybe not.

UPDATE, March 3.  This tendency of the rich to ignore the sufferings of the less wealthy while moaning about their own misfortunes is nothing new.  In 1759, Adam Smith, in  The Theory of Moral Sentiments, wrote:
A stranger to human nature, who saw the indifference of men about the misery of their inferiors, and the regret and indignation which they feel for the misfortunes and sufferings of those above them, would be apt to imagine, that pain must be more agonizing, and the convulsions of death more terrible to persons of higher rank, than to those of meaner stations..

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