by JS O’Brien
I feel sorry for rich kids.Â Seriously.Â Most of us tend to think that being born with a silver scepter in the mouth is the luckiest thing that could happen to a kid, but it’s not.Â Oh, I suppose being born rich in a society with little opportunity for anyone other than those born to wealth would be a very lucky thing, indeed, but in a rich society, the luckiest thing that can happen to a kid is to be born smart and/or talented …Â and poor.
Being wealthy from birth is a curse.
I began thinking about this because of this post on George W. Bush and his soon-to-be-built library at Southern Methodist University.Â If you’ll check the comments, you’ll find a little debate about nepotism.Â Jeff, a frequent commenter, seems to feel nepotism is a good thing.Â I don’t, and I base my opposition to it not only on its deleterious and demotivating effects on society as a whole, but because of observations I have made of those born into wealth, and the price they have to pay for it.
Now, I used to feel empathy for rich kids because I thought, “How awful it must be to move to the top of an organization not knowing if it’s because you earned it or because Daddy got you the job.”Â Having now conversed at length with people sporting surnames like “Weyerhaeuser” and “Nordstrom” (among others), I no longer worry much about that particular issue.Â I’ve found that scions of these families tend to look on their companies as birthrights.Â They don’t think about the issue of merit and the number of people working for them who are much smarter, harder-working, more creative, and more talented than they are.Â It just doesn’t occur to them.Â
This is why I don’t have much empathy for W on this issue.Â I suspect it has never once occurred to him that he doesn’t deserve a job he sucks at, or that all the failures in his life have anything to do with his personal shortcomings.Â Like others of his class, he probably sees the Presidency as his birthright the same way brother Neil probably saw being on the board of the failed Silverado Savings and Loan, and brother Jeb viewed the governorship of Florida, as being their just rewards for choosing the right daddy.Â W will be attacked, throughout his life, as the second coming of Warren G. Harding (a guy who, like W, sure looked like a president should look), and perhaps the only American president worse than Harding, but it will go right over his head.Â I suspect that, to W, being good at the job was never the issue.Â It was all about his birthright.
On other issues, though, I have a great deal of sympathy for recovering adults of wealthy parents.Â Here are some real people I know or have known (names changed, of course) who have been childhood victims of wealth.
Roberta thought it was a lot of fun to steal boyfriends and then dump them.Â As she grew older, she graduated to husbands.Â Her MO was always the same.Â Though of relatively modest looks, she had the best cosmetics and prostheses, as well as the best help and training in using them.Â She also knew how to flirt, and held out the promise of enormously interesting and kinky sex; a promise she fulfilled (I’m told).Â It was not unusual for Roberta, even while a college student, to buy her next, unsuspecting lover a sailboat, car, condo, or what have you.Â And, of course, she always bought the jilted girl or wife something expensive to make everything all right.Â
In fact, Roberta was always buying things for people, or taking them along with her on expensive, foreign travel.Â You’d think gratitude for all she gave people would have given her an enormous circle of friends, but oddly, it hasn’t worked out that way.
Gary’s family owned a great deal of land.Â Unfortunately, it was tobacco land, and tobacco isn’t the money-producer it once was.Â So, Gary had to find a job.Â Unfortunately, Daddy had died some years before and Mama was incapacitated by Alzheimer’s, so he didn’t have the contacts to find the kind of job that allowed him to meet his obligations.Â Susie, his wife of 20 years, hadn’t signed up for life just barely making ends meet, so after fucking half the county (that is to say, all the men), she divorced him, taking the kids and 50% of what little was left, including the beautiful, ancestral home.Â
Today, Gary lives in a two-bedroom ranch, two counties west of where he grew up, where no one knows him and how far he’s fallen.Â He hates his job.Â He hates his new wife and her kids.Â
Alice’s uncle made a fortune founding one of the most successful mutual funds in history.Â The fund was so successful that it has been closed to new investors since the 1970s.Â The uncle decided to endow a charitable organization in which any of his children, nieces, and nephews could work making good money and living in one of his Park Avenue apartments, rent free.Â On a lark, Alice once became a cocktail waitress and had a great deal of fun picking up bar tabs for her friends, then taking them home to her marble and Italian-tile, 16-room Park Avenue apartment to sleep it off.Â
Alice’s uncle died, then her aunt, but the endowment and the jobs remained.Â Except that the foundation was run by a board of directors, and they began to forget that the family deserved good jobs.Â Alice got fired (for good cause, it would seem).Â Her husband, the body-builder, has since moved on to a richer girl.
Then, there’s Rich, the trustafarian who married a girl whose daddy owns several retail chains.Â Rich finished his bachelor’s degree on the 10-year plan.Â Toward the end of his student career, he discovered a passion for rocks, especially rare crystal formations.Â He started selling them to collectors, and was just beginning to be successful when the father-in-law offered him the reins at one of his companies.Â Rich took the job.Â The last time I saw him, he looked utterly miserable.
I’m sure others have many stories like these (Paris Hilton comes to mind), but perhaps these examples are misleading in that they miss the really important, everyday tragedy of being born wealthy.Â My wife and I began life very poor.Â We lived in a tiny studio apartmentÂ with a view of a busy street.Â Our entertainment, more often than not, was to buy a very long book that I would proceed to read aloud until we finished.Â This is how we read Shogun, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Winds of War, and many other novels.Â Eating out, even at a fast-food joint, was a wonderful treat we could only rarely afford.Â We delighted in long walks, sunsets, well-written letters, flying homemade kites, and close friends.Â
We’re no longer poor. We have many more acquaintances and many fewer friends.Â We eat out often and take no delight in it.Â I haven’t flown a kite in years.
But at least I once had a life in which the things I could buy didn’t get between me and life’s truly enjoyable offerings.Â
Rich kids never get that kind of life.