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.