One of the most distasteful aspects of our politics is the extent to which it is so obviously driven by envy, which is what 99 percent of that “privilege” talk ends up being about. But I suppose I am the wrong person to complain about that, because I was born rich.
I don’t mean rich in the usual money sense, of course, as those of you who have been reading me for a while will know. I know a woman who learned to drive on a Rolls Royce Corniche—and that is a whole other thing than, say, being a 60-year-old Wall Street type who merely owns a Rolls in his high-earning years. I have some pretty rich friends, a few of them rich enough that if they moved from one locality to another it could have serious effects on the tax bases of both jurisdictions, even though their habits are in many cases more modest than you’d expect. My family wasn’t like that—my parents were, in fact, so financially and personally incompetent that my own living arrangements satisfied the technical definition of homelessness at one point in my early life. Our poverty and the dysfunction that goes along with it had long-lasting effects on my life, some of which are the sort of thing you never really leave behind. That’s part of what we talk about when we talk about class.
But let’s talk about the people with money a little bit more—it’s more fun.
One of the things very rich people often worry about is the possibility of wrecking their children’s lives with vast unearned wealth and everything that goes along with it—or that can go along with it. Every good father and every good mother is ready to do anything for a son or a daughter—in extremis, parents give their lives for their children, without regret or hesitation. If you have a child, you know you’d do anything within your power to help that child along in life. Now, take that same inclination and imagine you have the better part of a billion dollars, or several billion dollars, or even a few tens of millions, and think about how that changes the situation. You can wreck a young man by giving him too much, sapping his own native ambition and making him feel as though he will always be an appendage to his father and his father’s fortune rather than a man in his own right; you can also wreck a young man by denying him the benefit of resources that you have in abundance, causing him to feel excluded or neglected or controlled by domineering parents whose concern for the development of their son’s character might, from a different angle, look a lot like selfishness.