The Danger of Painting with a Broad Brush

I was visiting with a friend the other day, enjoying a light lunch. A young woman entered the cafe and recognized my companion. As we were almost finished, she sat down and joined us.

She was an educated and articulate young lady, passionate about politics and well-informed. The conversation swung to current events. The young lady began to talk about the upper class–the highly reviled “one percent”–who, as a group, have been accused of an unprecedented consolidation of wealth in America and the world. She literally sneered with derision as she spoke of “rich people”.

My lunch companion nodded politely, concurring that wealth inequality and its impact on democracy was indeed a serious issue. I sat, slightly at an angle to the conversation, hoping my eyeballs wouldn’t pop out and fall into my espresso. This young woman, obviously acquainted with my lunch companion, had no idea to whom she was speaking.

The woman I was having lunch with was the third or fourth generation of a discreetly wealthy family whose generosity to charitable causes was legendary to those in philanthropic circles. True to her OMG (Old Money Gal) code of behavior, she’d obviously never discussed her family’s wealth or history to her friend. I would not even write about this encounter without her blessing, even though I am not mentioning her name. (Our friendship would be finished if I did.)

And then there sat me, author of The Old Money Book. Not exactly the demographic for a bash-the-rich session. It was, to say the least, a memorable conversation.

To be fair, there is too much income inequality in America and the world. It is destroying our democracy, and that’s not just my opinion. A recent study from Princeton University concluded that, by all relevant standards, Americans are now living in an oligarchy ruled by corporate interests rather than a democracy ruled by the people.

And that’s not good for anybody. But there is a danger in painting with too broad a brush. Not all wealthy individuals or families are evil. The majority are not. The majority are just as concerned about the social and political problems facing the world as anyone else. Why? Because they’re invested: invested in businesses, with employees who have families; invested in communities where their children live and go to school; invested in the idea of America still being the land of opportunity.

Very few of the wealthy want to hoard their riches and pull the drawbridge up behind them, leaving the masses to fend for themselves. That’s a scary scenario for everyone. It lowers the quality of life for everyone. And it’s flat out simply not what this country is all about.

So ease up on the accusations and rhetoric. Don’t paint your villains with too broad a brush. We’re all in this together. And you never know who you’re talking to.

– BGT

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Two Things OMG’s Don’t Do

Old Money Gals and Old Money Guys (OMG’s)…

Never Complain.

Never Brag.

– BGT

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Member of the Tribe – Number 5

Member of the Tribe 5 - Youngmanoldman blog photo

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Let’s Expand Capital Punishment

I consider myself a tolerant and spiritually evolved individual. I realize that not all members of society have been dealt the same hand of cards to play in life. I also realize that–regardless of the circumstances of a person’s birth, the environment in which they were raised, or the opportunities they have or have not have–at some point, personal responsibility must weigh in. If it didn’t, we would constantly make excuses for our behavior. We would never grow as individuals. We could not function as a civilized society.

While capital punishment is a hotly debated topic, and has been for a very long time, I think we have to really consider using it more often, and more effectively.  Why? Because the damage that criminals are doing to our society is too great to let their actions go without consequence.

Yes, violent crimes devastate individuals, families, and communities. Murder, rape, and robbery are horrific. The perpetrators of such actions should be arrested, tried fairly, convicted, and imprisoned. While in prison, they should have the opportunity to reflect on their behavior, learn new coping and job skills, and be released back into society when appropriate. Or remain there the rest of their lives.

But I don’t think they should be executed. Why? Well, for one reason, it’s estimated that 5 to 10% of all death row inmates have serious mental disabilities. You can’t responsibly dish out the most severe punishment there is to a person who may not have realized what they were doing when they committed a crime.

Secondly, we hear too many horror stories about half-hearted public defenders and overzealous prosecutors who’ve acted incompetently or unethically, with their actions resulting in the conviction and sentencing of a person to death. We also read, too frequently, about wrongfully convicted individuals–often black and from poor backgrounds–being released from prison after serving time for crimes they did not convict. New evidence comes to light. Witnesses recant testimony. Justice is, finally, served. Fortunately, we are able to set these people free and let them salvage what’s left of their lives. That option is not available if these people are executed.

But I still advocate the expansion of capital punishment. Just not for violent criminals. I advocate it for white collar criminals. Why? The social damage of the illegal behavior of white collar criminals is exponentially greater than that of violent criminals. Think about it: if a man or woman murders another person, the pain is felt by the family, friends, and community of the victim. This pain is very real, and I’m not minimizing it at all. But the actions of white collar criminals are felt by entire cities, states, and nations, often for decades. Suffering is widespread and enduring. The punishment, as they say, should fit the crime.

Are you old enough to remember the the savings and loan scandal of the 1980s? That little fiasco cost the American taxpayers an estimated $124 billion. That’s money that could have gone to schools, bridges, scientific research. But it didn’t. It went to clean up a mess that white collar criminals created, then walked away from. You paid for it, and you’re still paying for it.

Maybe you remember the Enron scandal and its financial fallout. Certainly you remember the financial crisis that we’ve just experienced a few years ago. We bailed big banks out and left millions of middle class homeowners holding the bag in the form of toxic mortgages and bankruptcies. Can you put a price on the pain that behavior caused an entire nation? This irony–this injustice–is not new or news to anybody. Still, no Wall Street banker or corrupt government regulator has been convicted and sent to jail for their part in this crime.

It’s time for that to change, quickly and in a big way, with capital punishment. Capital punishment is fully warranted for white collar crime for several reasons, which I shall now gleefully articulate.

First, the overreaching destruction and pain that it causes society is too great. We have too many challenges as it is. We simply can’t expose everyone to risks that benefit only a few…if they pay off, and endanger the well-being of all citizens if they don’t.

Second, the participants in the crime are not committing the crime because of any dire need: they are not starving; their life is not in danger; it is not a crime of passion. They are acting out of sheer greed and ego. They have had the advantage of education and affluence. They know what they are doing. They should be held to a higher standard of punishment.

Third, the individuals committing these crimes live in a world of risk and reward. That is the fundamental psychological paradigm of their occupations. They evaluate the risk of a particular investment choice and its corresponding potential reward. They act accordingly.  If, by making the choice to commit a crime for financial gain, they realize that they are risking their lives, it is reasonable to think that they would retreat from that choice. The risk would outweigh any possible reward because they would deduce that, all things considered, they might not be alive long enough to enjoy it.

Finally, the evidence of a white collar crime is usually obvious, and usually on paper. Documents don’t lie. Emails don’t have faulty memories. Transactions leave a paper trail. What’s more, the defendants will probably have the best legal team money can buy. So the possibility of wrongfully convicting and executing a white collar criminal is minimal, and probably non-existent. So we can execute them without losing any sleep at night, secure in the comfort that we did the right thing.

But I am not without compassion for these cowardly parasites who don’t have the honor or decency to play by the rules in a game that has already been so generous to them. I do realize that there have been recent reports of some executions involving lethal injections not going exactly according to plan. Prisoners who were executed sometimes suffered for 20 minutes or more. Autopsies showed signs of chemical burns on their skin. Witnesses noted them gasping for air and writhing in pain.

That just wouldn’t do, even for a white collar criminal who, let’s say, decimated millions of people’s life savings, or left families in the street, after the banks foreclosed on their homes. We should be more charitable. We should upgrade the service. We should use the guillotine.

The guillotine is a frighteningly efficient device, used most famously with much enthusiasm and little discretion during the French revolution a couple of hundred years ago. White collar criminals, one could argue, were a large percentage of its clientele. It was a horrific period of history, but today the French have very little white collar crime and deal with it very severely. I doubt this has anything to do with the use of the guillotine, but I wish it did.

Nevertheless, the device, an ingenious combination of a well-constructed, sharp-edged blade and ever-reliable gravity, had its advantages, which, you’ll be happy to note, the passage of time has not diminished.

First, the pain endured by the victim is probably minimal, and certainly brief. One second a person is alive with their head intact. The next, they are not and it is not. Properly constructed and used by professionals, the guillotine offers very little room for operator error. Sending one off to meet their Maker has never been quicker or more compassionate.

Second, it was (and can be) used in public. One execution, comrades, is worth a thousand warnings. Seeing a convicted bankster instantly divested of the need or ability to wear a necktie might temper the ambitions of all those aspiring Gordon Gekko’s gestating in business schools around the country. For what do you profit if you gain the whole world and lose your head?

The shallow truth is, however, that the public humiliation will be the biggest deterrent. History books recount the prolonged wailing and flailing, the involuntary emptying of bowels and bladder, and desperate prayers to a deaf God that regularly preceded the quick death of the unlucky soul who faced the blade. Knowing how Wall Street honchos prize their macho image, this humiliation alone would do more than any SEC regulation or million dollar fine.

We embraced the Statue of Liberty, another great gift from France. We should embrace the use of the guillotine and the French tradition of using it in public. Our laws are made by legislatures, elected by the public and whose proceedings can be viewed by the same public. When people violate these laws, we arrest them in public. We try them by jury in public. We convict them and sentence them in a courtroom, which is open to the public. We should be consistent in our legal and judicial proceedings and be proud to execute them in public. That is, if we think that the death penalty is a right and fair thing to practice.

After seeing the harshest of our laws carried out in the clear light of day, citizens would certainly think twice about doing something illegal. Those same citizens might also reconsider capital punishment.

But until they do, I say let’s convict some white collar criminals and give it a go. Allez!

– BGT

 

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Equality: Demand It

Equality - Demand It

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The Challenges With Advice

In The Old Money Book, I give advice on How To Live Better While Spending Less. The concepts I articulate, like the importance of financial independence, the work ethic, and family, and the fundamentals I detail, like how to dress and behave, are time-tested and straightforward. There’s no magic. There’s no instant gratification. The philosophy and culture of Old Money is a lifetime commitment. The rewards are in the long term and often intangible. And that’s a very difficult thing for some people to accept.

We live in a society where we’re constantly told that if we take this pill or buy this product, we’ll see results overnight, and with little or no effort on our part. All we have to do is make a purchase. Believing that with any important aspect of our life can be devastating. For both the goals we have and the problems we face, effort is required. As an aunt of mine once put it to me a long, long time ago: “Real silver requires polishing.”

Even the wisdom in The Old Money Book has its limits. First, it must be read, a requirement that one person who reviewed the book recently failed to grasp. In his comments, he admitted that he skimmed and skipped some chapters, and then complained that the book was “condescending.” Apparently, one of the pages he skipped was the one in which I specifically and emphatically state, in bold letters no less, that under no circumstances is anyone to behave in a condescending manner to another person, regardless of their income level or station in life.

Another complaint was that there really wasn’t anything new in The Old Money Book. The irony of this comment was not lost on me, or on my mother, who threw her hands in the air in exasperation when I relayed the criticism. There may not be anything new in a book that details how families create, preserve, and pass wealth–not to mention values–on from generation to generation, over decades and sometimes centuries. But there just might be something helpful.

And, from the vast majority of reviews and emails I’ve received, it seems that the information has been helpful. It has also been appreciated, and for that I’m truly grateful. A reader thinks the book perfectly summarizes the values they were raised with. Another tells me the book landed in their hands at the perfect time, providing a spark of inspiration and a sense of direction as they work to improve their lives.

By far, the most heart-warming comments that I receive are the ones in which parents who have read The Old Money Book tell me they’re going to buy extra copies so they can give the book to their children.

It’s one thing for someone to read and appreciate what I’ve written, but when they want to pass it on to those they care for most, I’m truly humbled. Because it’s not as much a testament to me as a writer, it’s a testament to them and their values, they way they’ve raised their families, and the dreams they have for the next generation.

“Thank you” seems inadequate. But it’s really all I can say.

– BGT

 

 

 

 

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Not If You Do It Right

Mo-Money-01

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