Old Money vs. New Money: The Perspective

About a month ago, I had a long distance conversation with an acquaintance who was curious to know–among many other things–the ‘one thing’ that Old Money has that New Money doesn’t.

I had to think for a long moment. So long, in fact, that the person I was speaking to thought the phone call had been disconnected.

“No,” I said, “I’m still here. It’s just that narrowing it down to one thing isn’t easy. There are so many differences.”

“But what’s the one big thing missing with New Money?” he pressed.

“Perspective,” I blurted out, slightly fatigued. “New Money thinks they’re the first people in history to have ever made money. They’re so intoxicated with their success, they lose perspective.”

That answer seemed to satisfy everyone, and the conversation soon concluded.

After some thought, however, I wanted to amend my comment.

First, let me say that I’m delighted when other people are successful. It makes the economy–if not the world–go ’round. In one grand sense, the American Dream is confirmed, even if the newly minted are not always American. (I still like for the U.S. to get credit. Even if we didn’t invent the concept of upward mobility through hard work and self-reliance, we damn sure branded it for all eternity.)

People get rich. New homes are built or bought. Husbands and wives celebrate financial or professional success that they achieved together. Kids can get braces on their teeth and go to college. Taxes are (hopefully) paid. Money gets thrown (or at least spread) around, benefiting everybody, not just the rich.

Second, affluence puts people in a position to give to charity and consider public service. Sure, a lot of the business of charity is self-serving: tax write-offs and ego-massaging big donors at gala dinners and country club celebrity golf tournaments. But still, much of the time, the money eventually gets to people who need help.

Furthermore, it’s a lot easier to help people through elected or appointed public office if you’re financially independent or just flat-out rich. Hopefully, you’d be less susceptible to bribes (but I’m not sure.) Hopefully you’d have a little empathy for the people who are still working for a living and trying to feed their families (but I’m not sure.) And you’d probably be able to relate to the business owner who’s trying to expand without dealing with a landslide of red tape (but I’m not sure.)

Finally, I am well aware that perspective is a relative term: we all see things differently at different points in time.

Old Money has a distinct advantage in this regard. We can look in the proverbial rearview mirror (or actual portrait-lined hallway), review the accomplishments of generations past, and draw broader conclusions about our personal situation. (For our purposes, this could be a very good definition of perspective.)

These conclusions might be summarized like this: “Lots of people have made lots of money in the past. So in that sense my family is not unique. If I make lots of money on my own, I have the right to be proud of that fact, but I don’t have the right to be an arrogant ass when it happens.”

New Money might be wise to paraphrase that conclusion and say something like this: “Lots of people have made lots of money in the past. So in that sense, I am not unique. I have made lots of money on my own, and I have the right to be proud of that, but try not to be an arrogant ass now that it’s happened.”

This task will be much easier when New Money realizes how daunting the next challenge will be: making sure not only that their money is ready for the next generation, but that the next generation is ready for their money. (A nod to a recent Tatler magazine article for that lovely turn of phrase.)

Lots of New Money families out there. Much fewer Old Money families out there. Kind of helps everyone keep things in perspective.

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One thought on “Old Money vs. New Money: The Perspective

  1. Good food for thought, Byron. In Morgan Housel’s book, The Psychology of Money, he observes that making money and keeping wealth require two different skillsets. Amy alluded to the same thing in her comment on “Old Money vs New Money-The Attitude.” Making money requires grit, innovation, drive, and some luck. To keep money requires prudence, restraint, patience, and a healthy dose of paranoia (of losing money).

    Most of us don’t have a portrait-lined hallway, but we can mine the stories of our ancestors for hard-learned lessons. My great-grandfather made some money, enough to be affluent. My grandfather lost it, leaving my father to make his own way. The stories I heard growing up definitely colored the my perspective on money.

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