Wealth and Poverty

I don’t read many blogs but one of the ones I do read, several times a week, is Victor Davis Hanson’s Private Papers. Hanson is a professor of classics and military history at the Hoover Institution of Stanford, and professor of Classics Emeritis at Cal State Fresno. He’s also a farmer. I’ve quoted from him before, and from Raymond Ibrahim, one of the men who occasionally contributes to his page.

Back in November I saved an excerpt from one of his essays (the save is dated 11/14/08) wherein he reflected upon wealth and poverty. I didn’t save the link to the actual essay, and I’m not sure there’d be one anyway, because tonight at least, the archives only turn up a 401 error message.

Oh well. I really liked what he had to say in this quote which is about wealth, and comparing the difference between the wealthy of this country and the not so wealthy. And the truth is, the difference isn’t all that great, and the trade-offs not all that unbalanced:

Although I do better now [economically; better than he did when he was younger], I have no envy or anger at those who make big money. Here are a couple of considerations about the current furor over the Obamatax hikes that, with income and payroll combined with state and Medicare, could put some incomes in the 65% tax bite.

First, it is their money, not mine. I long ago realized that an academic enjoys all sorts of perks, summers off, sabbaticals, free time that higher-paid CEOs or doctors and lawyers do not. Each person to some degree has some free will about the sort of work, sacrifice, and unpleasantness necessary to endure to alter his income.

This is the 21st century, not the 19th. Those who make $40,000 or $80,000 or $1,000,000 per year all pretty much have hot water for their showers. Their tap water doesn’t sicken them, and they watch about the same TV shows and mostly have cell phones. Mass consumerism, easy credit, and technology have blurred the distinctions between wealth and poverty.

That I buy a Wal-Mart sweat suit to ride a bike in the winter for $20 does not mean that I am any colder than the Manhattan exec who buys one with a designer label version for $150 at a boutique on Park Avenue. His $20 million-dollar penthouse apartment is no warmer or cooler than my Selma farmhouse. As far as the private jet, the yacht, the 5 homes, I’d prefer to fly commercial, rent a kayak, and have trouble enough keeping two toilets running and the hot water heater from silting up without worrying about either 50 of them or a staff of 5 to oversee them all.

So the advantages of wealth are more of a status thing and free choices of recreation or more leisure time than a vast difference in material conditions.

 As Americans we are incredibly blessed, and I think we take those blessings for granted. Yes, my swamp cooler is not the greatest when the heat and humidity are both high. But it’s WAY better than no cooler at all, which a lot of people on this world suffer through.

I get to eat pretty much what I want to eat, go where I want to go, do what I want to do. If I want to sleep in, I can. If I want to read a book, I can. Staying home may not give me a lot of prestige and status in the eyes of others, but my freedom is invaluable. Yes, we don’t have a cell phone, or cable, or a plasma screen TV. But we do have a phone, and we have an antenna and a TV. 

Today I went to the store to buy a new MP3 player and the first thing I thought was about the vast array of choices.  How would I decide? Well, it soon became evident that most of the choices offered features I had no interest in. I don’t want to play videos on the credit card-sized screen (I can’t imagine I would ever have wanted to do that, even back when I could see things that small!) I don’t want to send or look at photos. I don’t want 500 songs… I just want something I can download my Bible class lessons to, so I can listen while doing my chores.

And that’s what I got. But still, I have it. And I’d say, worldwide, many don’t. If you pull in all the people who’ve ever lived, I’m in like the .05% of prosperity. I think it’s good to reflect on all the blessings we have. There’s too much talk of things wrong, and things we can’t have, and all the “suffering” we have in this country when really that’s just ridiculous. All the things people must do without, when really, most of us live better than kings of old.

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