Category Archives: Wealthy

It’s Good to Be the Tsar!

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Vladimir Putin, according to reports, is wealthier than the next two richest people combined with a net worth of $200 billion. Pretty good for someone who grew up as Communist with enough commitment to work for the KGB.

His career with the KGB was unremarkable (his highest rank was lieutenant colonel), but once he got into politics, he found his niche. Trained as a lawyer, he adopted the Don Corleone business model (“One lawyer with a briefcase can steal more money than 100 men with guns.”–The Godfather). When the Soviet Union fell, various Russians began to acquire wealth. Putin apparently made many of them an offer they couldn’t refuse.

It might be good to keep that in mind before considering doing business with Putin.

Elites

While we often talk about elites, we tend not to use that term. Elites are the people in any society who enjoy special privileges.

For a long time, elites were entitled to such status as a birthright, the most obvious example being royalty. If your father was King, it must be God’s will, and therefore the son must be qualified as well. Personally I don’t think God gets involved in politics, but you never know.

John Adams predicted that even though our constitution prohibited titles of royalty there would still be an elite class. He figured that those with educations would prosper, ensuring that their offspring would be afforded education and any wealth that the family had amassed, although in many cases the younger elites ended up with an education and the family debt. Nevertheless, they enjoyed the status.

The American dream is that we’re a meritocracy—anyone can achieve through ability and hard work, and sometimes this works. In fact, there have been periods in our history, such as the 1950s, when this was common, Nevertheless, it is not guaranteed.

Today, many of the elites once again obtain their status by birthright. There are many young men and women as, if not more talented, than the children of Tom Hanks, Will Smith, or the Barrymore family. However, it is the children of the elites who seem to land the acting roles. Is Eddie Van Halen’s son better than the band’s original bassist? Cheap Trick sold many albums with Bun E. Carlos as their drummer, but Rick Nielsen—the guitarist now has his son filling that spot.  Julian Lennon didn’t have to work his way up from playing wedding and bar mitzvah gigs. How many Fords have been senior executives at their namesake auto company?

Do we as a society get our best value from this practice?

Continued Discussion on “The Persecuted Rich”

As I’ve mentioned before, Rick and I go way back. His comments are always thoughtful and lead to further exploration of an idea. His comment on yesterday’s post needed to be featured.

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Thanks, Steve, for a very interesting and provocative topic: The wealthy in America feeling threatened–especially by the current liberal administration and particularly now at election time. I agree with Perkins–even though I am certainly not bucks up myself. We look at this in two ways–”giving to God what is God’s and giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s.”

The bible tells us it is not in “our” power to explain either the prosperity of the wicked–or sufferings of the righteous. That we shall not render an unfair decision: do not favor the poor nor show deference to the rich; judge your kinsmen fairly (Lev 19:15).

We are told: Be not a lender nor a borrower. Owe no one anything except to love one another. Be a giver (Romans 13:8). The lender makes the borrower a servant (Prov 22:7).

God’s economy is based on blessing and giving to others, while the world’s economy is based on hoarding and accumulating. And, we are to hear and contemplate this great refrain: A poor man…shames us ALL!

Yet, unhappy poor people at least have the hope and imagination of happiness, while rich people have everything and thus have nothing else to look forward to and no hope for happiness.

Now with respect Caesar and man’s wealth disparity. America is no longer the land of “haves” and “have-nots” –everyone has two or three TVs and two cars, and multiple coats and sweaters. America’s issue
is not really about the wealthy, rather about the givers and takers.
To put the issue and the opportunity in proper perspective: Interdependence needs to replace independence! We can’t survive, let alone thrive, unless we cooperate with each other.

If we look back and examine what gave rise to the great societies or civilizations (China, Persia, Greece, Rome, Spain, Maya, Inca, Egypt, and now America), we can readily see it was creativity, interdependence and mutual support that provided the synergy where the whole was always equal to the sum of all the parts. Today, China, for example, is at the peak of its success, and “takers” are in the distinct minority, because people are committed to the necessity to be “givers.” In other words, givers always created and contributed more to society. But as each society flourished, more and more people became materially well off. The failure has always been the people to stay committed as givers…so that all might thrive and survive. When survival is no longer an issue, it is very tempting to indulge in selfish, even hedonistic pleasures. As more and more people succumb to this temptation, there become fewer and fewer givers to society, and more and more takers.

Ultimately, internal and external disaster always begins with even one person’s philosophy of doing less and wanting more. The result is what repeats itself in history: A shift from a team effort to a struggle between takers and givers. This continues until the society falls apart in moral decay and material bankruptcy, and the takers become the majority.

The Persecuted Rich

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CNN reported today that multi-billionaire venture capitalist Tom Perkins feels threatened. Previously, he had compared the poor to Nazis conducting a holocaust against the wealthy.

Wow.

I believe that Jesus said, “The worker is due his wages.”

Likewise, that St. Paul, in his letter to the Thessalonians said, “For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either.”

I also believe that someone who studies hard, prepares and invests in his or her own future and produces more than others should be rewarded.

However, I really have difficulty believing that the 1% are “threatened.”

Where?

At the supermarket? Oh, they have people for that.

At Wal-Mart?

While pumping gas at the 7-11?

Picking their kids up from public school?

In my humble opinion (and feel free to flame away) here’s what we ALL should do:

  1. Be thankful to God for what we’ve got.
  2. Be grateful for the true treasures – faith, family and, love.
  3. Realize that we came into this world with nothing and will leave the same way. Your parents’ wealth, grandma’s trust, etc. don’t count.
  4. Those to whom much is given, much will be required. We are all stewards, not masters.

I know where my heart and my treasure are. I am blessed with a family and a home where God is center. We are happy. That is our wealth.

Eat your heart out (you know who you are)!

What’s This World Coming To?

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An investment banker embezzled and lost millions of dollars defrauding over 100 investors.

He faked his own suicide.

He was then declared dead by a judge.

Today the police found and arrested him.

I’m absolutely shocked that an investment banker would stoop so low, and I’m sure that Bernie Madoff, the folks at Lehman Brothers, AIG, Bear Stearns, Countrywide, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac etc., etc. are shocked as well.

The Old House

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It was late summer, the last of the vacation time when Katie and her family were visiting the plantation. It really had once been a plantation, and generation after generation had managed somehow to keep it in the family. The house was hardly grand style, but was more of a working farm’s house that you were as likely to find in the Midwest as in the South. No grand entrance and no crystal chandelier, but it nevertheless had a charm, or at least a personality all its own.

The legend was that President John Tyler had slept here. What made that so interesting was that Tyler had never been elected president, but as vice-president, succeeded William Henry Harrison when he died. Harrison, a hero of the War of 1812, had run under the slogan of “Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too” as though Tyler were an afterthought. Tyler sided with the Confederacy and served as a Confederate Representative, making him the only U.S. president ever declared an enemy of the state.

Katie’s father had shared this history with her many times – too many, she decided, but it was now permanently affixed in her memory. If the question ever came up on a television game show, she was ready. She liked to believe that one of the Washingtons, Jeffersons or even a Lee had slept here, too. This was Virginia, after all, and the place had been crawling with those aristocratic families.

Most of the land that had once been full of cotton and tobacco was gone, of course. About 80 acres remained and most of that was leased out to a neighbor who alternated planting corn, soybeans and sorghum. His tractor did double duty keeping the “lawn” under control, although as kind of a tradition there had always been a couple of goats who tended to the grass closer to the house.

Katie’s grandparents lived in the old house, although they were getting on in years, and the common expectation was that her father’s younger brother would take over the old house when the grandparents had passed. It was just as well, she thought. She wouldn’t want her family to move into it since it had lousy cellphone coverage, and was not exactly near anything that would excite a young teenage girl.

During the week at the old house, Katie checked out the pond and wished it were spring. At least in the spring there would be tadpoles. Not so in the fall, although she did see a turtle who lazily slid off the log on which he was sunning himself, and then swam with surprising speed away from her.

Being late morning the temperature was rising, and Katie headed for the house. She vaguely understood that indoor plumbing and electricity had been added over the years. On the other hand, she was acutely aware that somehow they had added central air conditioning. Once inside she checked the refrigerator and decided on lemonade instead of sweetened ice tea, which normally was her choice. She had almost forgotten that she was alone, her parents and grandparents having headed into town together. She had declined their invitation because to a 13 year old girl, wherever they were going and whatever they were talking about would be totally boring.

As she walked around the old house, with nothing better to do, she found herself actually looking at it. Some of the window glass was very old and had ripples in it. Her grandmother had said that glass was a very thick liquid, and the ripples showed that over the years it still flowed. She had looked that up on the Internet and that source had said that sheet glass had been made by pouring the molten glass onto slate, which gave it the ripples. She didn’t care which was true, but she decided the slow flow of glass was more interesting.

How many coats of paint had been applied to those window frames over the years? How many baseballs and rocks had inadvertently passed through the windows of the old house? Then she thought of the Civil War and wondered how many bullets had damaged the house, breaking its glass and tearing into its siding.

Idly she began opening doors and looking inside. This closet was where she had been hiding when she won hide and seek against her cousins. This was the bedroom she had slept in when she w toddler, before she rated a regular bedroom.

Normally she didn’t enter her grandparents’ bedroom. There was nothing interesting in there, it smelled funny and, it just didn’t seem right. Today, however, she was so intent on examining the old house that she was already looking in her grandparents’ closet before she realized it. She had never looked into it before, so she had never noticed that it had a second door in the back. Naturally she opened it.

She hadn’t expected anything interesting, so when she saw stairs leading to the attic, it just seemed normal. It certainly was better than the fold-down stairs in the ceiling trap door of her suburban home. She started up the stairs, then turned around, retrieved a flashlight from the backpack in her room and then climbed the stairs.

It was hot and dusty. Spider webs were everywhere. The attic contained very little – boxes with Christmas decorations, empty suitcases and the usual trivia that people hang onto long after the need is gone. A window in the peak of the roof gave plenty of light, but since she had her flashlight, she played it around on the rafters. She stopped in amazement when she realized that the oldest construction was held together with wooden pegs, while sections that were slightly newer had nails that were obviously handmade. She began to examine the construction more closely to see what else she could learn from it.

That’s when she spotted the envelope. It was not an old envelope, nor was it fancy – just a nine by eleven manila with the prongs to seal it. Inside, however, was a letter and quite a bit of currency, unfortunately it was Confederate banknotes. The letter merely said, “Ask your father. He’ll explain it to you.”

Figuring that the envelope had been safe in its place for 150 years, Katie carefully put it back.

Later that night, after supper, Katie and her parents sat on the porch talking with her grandparents. While she heard them speaking, most of it was merely a pleasant drone while she thought about the old house and her afternoon in the attic. Her grandparents excused themselves to watch their favorite game show on television, and

Katie was left with her parents. Her mother got up, but Katie cleared her throat, letting her know that she needed something. Her mother at back down next to her father on the porch swing.

“I’m supposed to ask my father something,” she began, “but I’d rather talk with you both.” Her father leaned forward expectantly, but said nothing.

“I found an envelope full of money,” she began. She saw her mother’s eyes widen. Her father patted his wife’s hand, and gave her a reassuring look.

“It was Confederate money. I looked it up on the Internet, and it actually would be quite valuable to collectors. Confederate money is collected and traded like stamps or baseball cards. Don’t laugh, some baseball cards are worth quite a bit.”

“I know,” answered her father.

“The letter said I should ask you.” Her father took in a deep breath.

“Okay. Here’s the good, the bad and the ugly,” he began. “Our family, while not one of the premiere families in the South, was nevertheless prosperous. Our ancestors profited because they ran large agricultural operations without having to pay their workers – they relied on slaves. Those farms were very similar to today’s corporate agriculture, except that today farmers buy, own and sell machines rather than humans.

“Our ancestors were adamant before and during the war. When Reconstruction began, they were livid. They did things that I am not proud of, but will spare you until you’re older.

“I have no idea how many slaves our ancestors owned – the records were in one of the many government buildings that were burned. Could have been burned by Union soldiers, or by the locals – no one alive knows. I guess I’m glad I don’t know myself.

“I sometimes wonder if my great-whatever-grandfather owned the great-whatever of one of our neighbors. It’s possible – even probable, but I try to pretend it never could have happened.

“In any case, each generation wants its children to do better; to be better educated and more successful. Successful means – successful SHOULD mean doing good, not just doing well.

“So that’s most of the story. The rest is that the family tradition is that the first child of each generation that finds the envelope has first right of refusal to move into the old house under the idea that whoever cares enough to examine the house will be the best one to carry on the tradition. Oddly, so far, only one child from each generation has found the envelope.

Years later:

Katie had finally gotten her baby daughter to sleep. She picked up a few things while her husband set up the coffee pot for the next morning; she remembered one of those tasks that keeps getting put aside. She went over to where her desk was and rummaged through the drawers, collecting a bottle of ink, and old fashioned ink pen and a blotter. She took everything up to the attic and found the old envelope and opened it. Although the writing was fading, she could still read where it said, “Ask our father.” She blew the dust off the floor and carefully spread the paper. She dipped her pen in the ink. Under “Ask your father”, she added in neat cursive, “Better yet, ask your mother.”

Where’s the Class?

We used to have a concept to which people aspired. It was called “class.”

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Young boys were taught to be gentlemen and girls to be ladies. People with class were not inclined to draw attention to themselves for the sake of doing so. They might gain attention because of their ability with music or art or their ability as a leader. It was their accomplishments that garnered attention. Nevertheless, they had class.

George Washington often signed his letters as “Your Most Obedient Servant.”

These days we apparently have replaced “class” with “crass.” It seems like people will do anything, and I mean anything, to get attention.

The call today is, “Look at me! Look at me!”

I guess I could understand how someone living in a dilapidated doublewide without indoor plumbing might dream of having their own reality television show. On the other hand, what’s with the antics of celebrities who are already household names?

“Look at me! I’m in rehab!”

“Look at me! I shoplift!”

“Look at me! I made a sex tape!”

I guess that inside the wealthy celebrity dwells the soul of someone living in a dilapidated doublewide without indoor plumbing.

That would explain a lot.