The Message from the Financial Media: It’s Your Fault You’re Not Rich

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Last week MarketWatch published the following article: Opinion: Social Security benefits too low? It’s mostly your own fault. Now I don’t want to be too critical of this article – it makes the valid point that Social Security benefits are reduced by early retirement. I don’t agree with their premise in all circumstances, but it’s mainly the title I want to focus on. (Though the criticism I will level is that in typical financial media fashion, the article completely ignores the fact that a lot of people who collect benefits before 66 or 67 do so because they’ve been effectively expelled from the workforce.)

The Message from the Financial Media: It’s Your Fault You’re Not Rich
The Message from the Financial Media: It’s Your Fault You’re Not Rich

But to the main point, the collective thinking of the financial media is commonly it’s your fault you’re not rich. The MarketWatch article is just one example.

They’ll cite the boilerplate list of reasons why this is “self-evident”:

You…

  • Didn’t try to make more money.
  • Chose the wrong career.
  • Changed jobs too frequently.
  • Didn’t save enough money.
  • Didn’t invest enough or invest the right way.
  • Spent too much (a claim that’s often true).
  • Made bad life choices.

And on and on. It’s similar to when we hear that someone comes down with cancer, and the first question we ask is did he/she smoke? What we’re really trying to determine is that we won’t face a similar fate because we don’t smoke. We’re trying to assure ourselves that we’re thinking/living right, and the other person isn’t. It’s a comforting assumption, even if it’s mostly wrong.

The Tyranny of the “Just World Hypothesis”

The above are examples of the just world hypothesis. The hypothesis holds that the world is basically a good and just place, where people “get what’s coming to them”. If you’re smart, you’ll be rewarded. If you’re not, you’ll be punished.

It’s a neat theory, usually practiced unconsciously, that enables the successful to reward themselves for their brilliance, while blaming others for their own stupidity. This is why it’s so easy to either say or imply it’s your fault you’re not rich.

Now I don’t want to paint with too broad a brush, and say this is never true. The reality is that some do lead destructive lives. We all know people who do. Reader/commentor Tim Keefe described communities that have fallen into a death spiral. I’ve expanded that to include individuals. People can go into an economic death spiral. Many do bear much of the blame for that condition, but many also have been forced into it by circumstances. In fact, anyone can fall into that spiral given the right mix of bad events.

While it’s true enough that in life we can overcome many traumas, it’s certainly not the case every time around.

A person displaced from a career late in life may be forced to deplete savings just to survive. Unless you’ve been in the position of being unemployed after 50, you may not be able to conceive of the Catch-22 that person is trapped in.

Others have done the right things in life, but life got in the way. It may have been the onset of a serious illness, either to the person or a close family member. In either case, both life and finances are materially disrupted.

And sometimes a crisis can be so traumatic that full recovery isn’t possible.

Words of Wisdom from The Greatest Showman

There was an excellent line by Jenny Lind (played by Rebecca Ferguson) in the movie The Greatest Showman. (If you haven’t seen this movie, I strongly recommend it. Not just for the music and entertainment value, but also to get a sense of what a brilliant entrepreneur PT Barnum really was).

She said, It’s hard to understand wealth and privilege when you’re born into it.

What she seemed to be saying is that wealth and privilege don’t understand their own wealth and privilege because they’ve never known any other life. I’ll offer a paraphrase, by saying it’s hard for wealth and privilege to understand the middle and working classes because they weren’t born into them.

F. Scott Fitzgerald said something very similar: “Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them…unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand. They think, deep in their hearts, that they are better than we are because we had to discover the compensations and refuges of life for ourselves…”

Now it’s true that there are some people who have worked themselves from the lower classes up to upper middle class and even serious wealth. PT Barnum himself was a prime example.

But by and large, the cherished American idea of upward mobility is mostly a myth, and always was. The saying ”money goes to money” is much closer to the truth. In fact, an article in the Washington Post even suggests downward mobility may be the new reality.

The point is, when you’ve achieved a high degree of success in life, you often develop biases that make you unsympathetic to people who haven’t.

The Financial View From the Top 10%

In America’s Nine Classes: The New Class Hierarchy, Charles Hugh Smith describes the two wealthiest classes as the Oligarchs and New Nobility, who represent the wealthiest 1% of households, and have the lion’s share of the nation’s assets.

Just below the top two classes are the Upper Caste and the State Nomenklatura. These groups represent about 9% of households, and largely constitute what is commonly understood to be the upper middle class.

He described the Upper Caste as ”…the technocrat/professional class that manages the Status Quo for the upper classes.” These are the people who work in corporate America and various government agencies, and earn incomes well above the national average. They’re usually college educated, often with advanced degrees, and hold positions in the most respected occupations, such as engineering, IT, medicine, law, and mid- to upper-management.

The State Nomenklatura are well paid government administrators, functioning as something akin to mid- to upper-management in the public sector.

Together, these four classes comprise about 10% of US households.

Let’s put some income numbers on the group.

According to the US Census Bureau, the median household income in the US was $60,336 for 2017.

The median household income for the top 10% of households was $178,793.

In other words, if you’re a top 10% household, your income is roughly three times the median for the nation at large.

The Unacknowledged Advantages of the Top 10%

I think it’s safe to say your view of life will be considerably different if your income is three times the national average. But I’m not sure people who are in the top 10% can appreciate the full value of that advantage.

Many in this group don’t consider themselves to be rich, particularly those outside the top 1%. But if you’re in the top 10% you’re rich by virtue of being at or near the top tier. After all, everything is relative, no matter what your perception of your circumstances may be.

But membership has its privileges, and many nonetheless enjoy the perks of being in the top 10%. These can include:

  • Stable employment.
  • Generous health insurance coverage.
  • Employer sponsored retirement plan participation – complete with a very generous employer matching contribution.
  • Often a reliable forward career track.

This is in stark contrast to the bottom 90%, many of whom are forced to change jobs every couple of years, just to remain employed. Many don’t have employer sponsored health insurance, and are forced to rely on the overpriced government health insurance exchanges. Still others have employer sponsored health insurance, but pay a large share of the monthly premium, and have deductibles of many thousands of dollars.

Many also work without the benefit of an employer sponsored retirement plan, if they can even remain employed with the same employer long enough to get the full benefit. And not nearly everyone gets an employer matching contribution. Even if you do, if you don’t stay with the employer long enough to be vested, it’ll be forfeited.

And finally, perhaps for the majority of people in the bottom 90%, there is no career track. You’re hired to do a certain job, and that’s as far as you’ll ever go.

Why Most in the Bottom 90% Can’t Become the Top 10%

It may be assumed by those in the top 10% that those in the bottom 90% can and should become part of their club. But there are several reasons why that’s not possible.

The first is a mathematical limitation. If 100% of the population becomes the top 10%, then there’s no top 10%. There’s only the 100%, and we’d all be roughly equal. Human nature and the physical limits of the world make that impossible.

More particularly, in any human endeavor, some people will sit at the top, but the majority won’t. That’s precisely why the top is the top – by definition it doesn’t include the majority of people. 100 people may work in a company, each trying to attain one of 10 managers jobs. But in the end, only 10 will achieve it, and the other 90 won’t.

But apart from statistical limitations, there are also factors that have to do with financial considerations.

For example, if you’re born into a prosperous family, you have an inside chance of becoming prosperous by the time you’re an adult. Your family’s financial status may enable you to attend a top college, and even to do so without the burden of student loan debts weighing you down clean through middle age. There may also be family connections that enable you to land one or even a series of important positions.

These advantages are not unsubstantial. If they cause you to earn in excess of $100,000 by the time you’re 30, you have a built-in advantage over the person who’s making $50,000 at the same age. If you’re even reasonably careful in managing your money, it will be much easier to build a large financial nest egg than for the person with a more limited income.

The Direct Financial Aid Factor

When I was in the mortgage business it was common for parents to front down payment money. Among the more prosperous families, the gift might’ve been 20% of a $400,000 house ($80,000). Among families of more limited means, it might have been 5% toward the purchase of a $200,000 house ($10,000).

There are two factors at work in this imbalance:

  • If property values double in 10 years, the higher priced house will rise to $800,000. The poorer buyer’s house will rise to $400,000. The wealthier buyers will benefit from twice the capital gain, creating far greater long-term wealth.
  • Relative to the value of the houses being purchased, the buyers from the wealthier family will have a lower house payment.

Not everyone who is in the top 10% has enjoyed these advantages. But the majority certainly have. The combination of a top education, an absence of crippling student loan debt, a higher initial income and a more predictable career path, plus the capital accumulation that results from a higher income and the purchase of a more expensive home, make the ability to remain in the top 10% much more likely.

There’s also what we might refer to as soft factors. Chief among them are the general attitudes toward life and wealth. If you were raised in a prosperous household, you adopt the mindset of the prosperous. But if you’ve been raised in a household that’s barely been able to survive, your mind may be set primarily on simply getting by.

The difference between the two thought processes is subtle, but incredibly powerful. One comes up believing she can conquer the world – because she grew up surrounded by people who did – and the other hopes mainly to survive – because that’s what the people in her world did.

Who the Financial Media are Speaking To

The basic problem for those in the bottom 90%, is that the financial media is specifically targeting the top 10%. This isn’t some sort of conspiracy theory either. It makes sense for them to target the upper tier because that’s where the money is.

But the Get Rich Gospel also appeals to those who are not rich. After all, who doesn’t want to be rich? That’s the whole reason people buy lottery tickets. So the bottom 90% follow programs and advice aimed squarely at the top 10%, understandably hoping to glean some inside information.

But still another factor is that many who are in the financial media are themselves in the top 10%. In their world, all things financial are possible. And if you’re not reaping the harvest that’s out there, it’s your fault.

In fact, much of the financial media deals with issues that don’t apply to the survival class. They talk about which way the financial markets are headed, specific investments to buy, how to diversify your portfolio, and how to minimize income taxes, among related topics.

The problem is, while much of this information does have value for the entire population, it’s primarily the language of the rich. After all, managing a large investment portfolio is a rich person’s problem.

To use a TV analogy, it’s like Dallas vs. Rosanne.

The Early Retirement Movement

Being a blogger, one of my pet peeves is the early retirement movement. Financial blogs are awash in this concept, and for some it’s the primary reason for their existence.

My own feeling is that everyone of us should do all we can to move towards financial independence. For some, that may mean building a seven-figure investment portfolio. But for others the goal can be much closer to the ground.

There are some who will say everyone should shoot for early retirement. A few years back, I even got a comment from another financial blogger on this website asking the question if you don’t have $1 million saved up by the time you’re 50, what have you been doing with your life?

Really?

Now I realize that in such a person’s mind, money is the measure of all things. That’s a concept I categorically reject, but I realize it’s fairly normal in our culture.

But aside from that, it’s actually fairly easy for people in high income situations to accumulate that kind of money, and to retire early. My issue is that it’s not relevant to the average person.

The Numbers Don’t Work Out for the Average Person

In the typical early retirement scenario, the person advancing the strategy is straight out of the top 10%. It’s usually somebody making something like $150,000 per year – in their 20s or early 30s.

Now I certainly congratulate people who manage their money successfully. But it’s one thing to save 20% or 30% of your income when you’re making $150,000 a year, and quite another when you’re making $50,000.

For example, if you make $150,000, and pay $30,000 in taxes, you have $120,000 left over. You can save 30% – $45,000 per year – and still have $75,000 left over for living expenses.

For such a person, saving at that level isn’t a true sacrifice. It’s still very possible to live on $75,000 per year, and to do so quite comfortably. And if you’re saving 30% of your income each year, you will have about $1 million in 10 to 15 years.

Let’s contrast that with someone who’s making $50,000. With about $10,000 taken out in taxes, you’ve got $40,000 left over. If you save 30% of your gross income, that’s $15,000. That will leave you just $25,000 to live on.

Now we’re talking serious sacrifice. To live on that kind of money, you’d have to share a house or apartment with at least three other people, live close enough to work that you could ride your bike, and probably go without health insurance. In 15 years maybe you’d have $300,000. Just don’t have a family in tow.

It may be easy to build a seven-figure investment portfolio when you’re earning $150,000 per year. Not only is the goal doable, but you can still live a fairly comfortable life in the meantime. For the masses, who aren’t earning anywhere near that kind of money, it’s an impossible dream.

That’s why it’s not your fault you’re not rich.

None of this Should be Taken as an Excuse to Give Up Trying

The whole idea of getting rich, no matter how desirable it may seem on the surface, as well as the implication that it’s your fault you’re not rich, isn’t without negative consequences.

First, if you have no realistic chance of being rich – and most people don’t – you may give up on the more achievable goal of better managing your finances (under the “all or nothing” doctrine). Second, it can cause you to expend a lot of energy on a project that can take a lifetime, and still never be achieved.

And third, perhaps most significantly, it can result in mental anguish. Most people have financial problems of one sort or another. But if you believe the solution to eliminating them is to become rich – and you never accomplish it – you may internalize what are essentially external problems. That can lead to all kinds of negative consequences, like depression and substance abuse.

Getting rich should never be the goal. But financial independence should always be on your radar.

For most, financial independence can be reached by an ongoing process of a series of financial behavior modifications, like:

You don’t need to come from a prosperous family background to do any of that. You don’t even need to earn a high income. But you do need to modify your financial behavior, and that’s a worthy priority.

In time, you’ll achieve a measure of financial independence, and that might be just what you need to live the life you’ve always wanted.

( Photo by Ron Cogswell )

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27 Responses to The Message from the Financial Media: It’s Your Fault You’re Not Rich

  1. Very thought-provoking. I’ve read articles about, and met, happy fulfilled retirees at all ages and income levels.

  2. I enjoyed this article very much and believe it is right on target. Most people would be far better off if they would listen to information like this instead internalizing the propaganda being fed to them by the powers that manipulate them. So many are brainwashed to support the very people and system that works diligently against their own self interest, minds full of fairy tales about joining the power elite if they only work hard enough. They support the policies of the rich, still expecting that “trickle down” that never comes. It is literally the chickens promoting Colonel Sanders.

  3. That’s so true Daniel. On the title I zeroed in on being blamed for not being rich. The truth is according to the financial media, we’re to blame for any and all financial mistakes. To infer otherwise would call into question the economic and financial construct that makes it fairly easy for the prosperous to become more so, and the masses to be left out. I used to think of this kind of thinking as “left wing wining”. But over the years, and on deep investigation, the evidence is becoming clearer. It’s important to work, save, invest, and stay out of debt. But America is not the meritocracy it once was, and it gets tiring hearing that the average person is responsible for his own failures. Often that’s true. But the job market and compensation isn’t as competitive as it used to be, and people are getting squeezed. It’s hard to survive in that environment, let alone to save money and avoid debt. When you consider the average house is about $260,000 and the average new car is $35,000, how is a household earning $60,000 supposed to stay out of debt and survive at the same time.

  4. Here’s some of the things I’ve heard:
    1. Very tired of being a physically taxing job, so getting out at 62. Job was low paying so not much pension or savings.
    2. Based on health and family health history, think they will pass before being able to take advantage of getting SS.
    3. Age out of a physically demanding job, are laid off and can’t get anything else.
    4. Don’t really understand SS and the rules surrounding it.

  5. All true Jackie. With the work I do, holding off SS to 67 or even 70 makes sense. My work isn’t physically demanding. But if you’re in a job that’s tough on the body, it’s a different story. That’s the main reason SS was implemented. Well, that and to maintain social order during the Depression.

  6. Oh my gosh Kevin, this is so true!

    It’s such a huge subject and there so many facets to it including the fact that bad luck and mistakes (and everyone makes mistakes) are so much more potentially financially devastating and difficult to recover from when a person is scrambling around at the middle and lower levels (and even more so if that person lacks family or spousal support.)

    And, yet, as you say, if such people can’t bounce back, they are treated as the most particular kind of stupid even though the very people judging and shaming them couldn’t have done any better in the same position (no matter how much they tell themselves differently!)

  7. Absolutely true Suzy. Our former pastor referred to it as “margin” – the extra financial cushion you have available in life. I like the concept of margin because it covers so much ground. If you come from a well-to-do family, and they’re willing to help you in life, you have built-in margin coming out of the starting gate. I don’t know if most people in that situation can even appreciate the magnitude of that advantage. Compare that with a young person who comes from a poor background, where his family has no financial ability to help, and may even be dysfunctional (I mean to a greater than average degree).

    Then there’s the margin provided by a a high paying, secure career. That pays dividends over decades, in the form of extra money to save and invest, and even to avoid debt. Compare that with a young couple struggling in low paying jobs, with student loan debt, and trying to afford living in a decent, but expensive neighborhood. Is it their fault they don’t become millionaires, or can’t ever afford to retire? The financial media will make the standard argument that “Americans aren’t saving enough money to retire” without examining how difficult it is to save with an average salary in a high cost world. I really think most people who report these things don’t have a clue.

    Culturally, we need to be more aware of these imbalances. And individually we need to tune out the financial media chatter and advice that isn’t meant for most of us in the first place. It can often seem as if being in the bottom 90% today is like being in steerage on the Titanic (that was the windowless lower decks for travelers of very limited means, sometimes referred to as “3rd class”). We’re kind of being grouped like that today.

  8. You are right that the financial media is geared toward the top 10 percent. The issue is that everybody listens to it and tries to apply principals that only work for the top 10 percent.

    Let’s face it. It is not the same country anymore. We used to be a nation of people running there own businesses. It’s not the case anymore. 70,000 is basically poverty level. You might be able to live on it but you will never build a decent nest egg for retirement. Not with the prices of homes, cars and god forbid if you want to have kids. Most people I know living on that kind of income live paycheck to paycheck. No extra for retirement let alone just saving an emergency fund.

    70,000 is basically 45,000 in actual cash. Which is 3750 per month. If you have a mortgage of a 1,000 and two car payments adding to 500 then your already down to 2250 for food, and utilities. That without doing anything extra and nothing going wrong.

    The issue is most people haven’t excepted the reality of that and adjusted. Yes, we can’t control inflation, zero interest rates which are all government policies that we’re forced upon us by a fiscally stupid government that has no clue how to run it’s finances.

    We have suffered the consequences of this.

    This isn’t the 50’s or 60’s anymore. My father made 25,000 per year in 1972. We had a very nice life on that. Now his salary is a full time supermarket worker.

    The financial advice is not for anybody under the top ten percent. CNN money or any of these other shows will lead the 70,000 dollar guy right to the poorhouse.

  9. I was being generous. Most people have one car payment that more than that and a mortgage that double that. Then your really done.

    Save for retirement ?

  10. All true Tim. When you hear $70k per year, you’re thinking “they ought to be able to save money on that”. But as you say, one disruption, and that theory goes right out the window. I don’t know how the financial media can say or imply that Americans aren’t saving (enough) for retirement with a median household income of $60. Right there 50% of the population just doesn’t have the money, and neither does a big slice of the other half. My own thinking is that anyone who’s hooked on the financial media is watching a fantasy show. It might feel good until you realize their advice doesn’t work on a tight budget.

    But what I really get frosted about is the implication that it’s “your fault” for financial troubles. Once we assume blame – which is fundamentally different from responsibility – we turn into beaten dogs. But we can suppose that’s mission accomplished, because what the status quo really wants is our compliance while they bleed us on high living costs and various desirable services.

  11. Kevin, thank you for referencing my work. I’d like to add to your points about the difference between families with some wealth to pass on and people who have to save the down payment for a house from scratch. A young married couple whose parents paid for their college and who inherit a home (or a large down payment) and who earn $150,000/year are better off than a couple earning $250,000/year with large student loans and zero inheritance/ help with the down payment. So income isn’t the only factor.

    I’d also like to emphasize the “social capital” that families pass on–entrepreneurial skills, a habit of working toward excellence / mastery, a network of successful people who can provide mentoring and entry level jobs — these are just as valuable (if not more so) than a cash down payment.

    Thank you for raising these critical issues.

  12. Thanks for weighing in Charles, you’re one of the true experts on this topic, which is one completely ignored by the financial media. Agreed on all points. People raised into privilege often carry insurmountable advantages into adult life. And to your point, I’ve known children of the affluent who don’t earn high incomes but still have an elite worldview. This is often because they anticipate a substantial inheritance, and are neither 100% income dependent, nor fearful of the future.

    Taking it a step further, children of the affluent often live lives that are out of all proportion to the income they themselves earn. They have access to money that the bottom 90% don’t. As a result, they don’t know the survival stresses that the lower classes do, because they’re never that close to serious trouble. There’s an entire class of people living that privileged life, and it’s likely they don’t even realize what they have.

  13. Do you think financial education starting in middle school/high school would help. Perhaps talking about choices, decisions, consequences. And not gearing it just around going to college after high school? I personally think that would help a lot. I didn’t even know what a pension was or that I had one, for years after I started my first corporate job.

  14. It’s a brilliant point Jackie, given that there’s virtually zero personal finance education in the school system. Middle school would be perfect, because kids that age are open to new ideas. It could spark their interest going forward.

    That said, it would never be allowed by the education establishment. For starters, no one in education is going to warn kids of the evils of student loan debt, a topic that would have to come up in any discussion about credit and debt. Second, I think there’s a collective attitude among the top echelons of the education establishment that considers teaching personal finance to be beneath their dignity – this despite the fact that sex education is taught (go figure!).

    But perhaps most important, if personal finance was ever going to be taught in the schools, it would already be happening. I’ve learned in my life that if something is either happening or not happening – no matter how much sense it makes to remove it or add it – the reason is intentional. A group of very influential somebodies doesn’t want personal finance education in the schools.

    My guess is it’s because they want young people to grow up to be dumbed-down consumers. That’s an educated guess, by the way, based on the evidence we see all around us. Think about it – would anyone take six figures in student loans if they were fully aware of the consequences? Better to let them grow up to be willing consumers and borrowers, and increasingly dependent on the state for survival.

    I know that sounds like the stuff of conspiracy theories, but when you merge power, politics and propaganda, conspiracy is a common outcome. It’s just that the public hasn’t come around to accepting that reality. Once again, it’s the just world hypothesis overriding good sense.

  15. “And, yet, as you say, if such people can’t bounce back, they are treated as the most particular kind of stupid even though the very people judging and shaming them couldn’t have done any better in the same position (no matter how much they tell themselves differently!)”

    I really liked this comment from Suzy. It reminds me of “But for the grace of God, there go I.” We all come from different backgrounds, experiences, education, privilege or poverty, decisions or mistakes. How can anyone ever criticize someone else because they’re not as wealthy as they are themselves. All any of us can do is to learn from our mistakes (we all make them), be open-minded enough to learn from others’ mistakes, and try to do better for ourselves and our families. If you have a good job with benefits, be grateful for it and try to give back in some small way.

    And I agree that much of the media hype and money-talk out there is not geared toward the average Joe and Jane. This amazing blog being the exception. Kevin writes for the rest of us with sound logic and compassion, sharing his own personal struggles in an effort to try and help others, as do many of the commenters here. As I’ve said before, we’re all here to help and learn. The examples Kevin gave on his last paragraphs are excellent examples of good sound advice for the rest of us who are not wealthy.

    And anyone who wants to fault me for not being rich by my age, well, I have a good argument for you. That frosts me, too, Kevin.

  16. “This amazing blog being the exception.” – I’m humbled by your comment Bev. But there are other blogs that talk about similar topics but they’re largely ignored or marginalized by the mainstream media. For example, Charles Hugh Smith’s blog was listed as a Russian-controlled propaganda site by the Washington Post in 2016. That’s a true story, and indicates the sanctions we can face for being at odds with the mainstream.

    My thinking is if you’re at odds with the mainstream, you’re on the right path in life. That’s kind of the basis of this blog in real way.

  17. Your right Bev, we are all one disaster away from humility.

    The issue is that most people listen to these so called experts on TV or these financial guys that have all the advice in the world.
    I can always use my business as an example. I started with nothing. In the basement of my home. My rule was no debt. If I had to borrow then I would close first. I have been pressured over the last six years to borrow, expand, etc etc. These are well meaning people but this notion that you have to borrow to grow to me is stupid.
    I have grown very much over the last six years and am at a crossroads of where I need to go.
    However, If I hear it in the media or from politicians then I do the opposite. My gut has always told me to grow slowly, without debt or investors or banks. I don’t want the pressure or want to answer to anybody else.
    It flies in the face of all the advice or business wisdom that is told to me. I have to defend my position it seems all the time.
    However, I feel in my heart it is the way to go. I trust myself.

    My point is that most of us have feelings or instincts about things but we ignore them and let the chatter of the day rule.
    If the media is telling you it is your fault your not rich then you know it’s the opposite. It’s just a way of pushing things off on to the masses. More often then not we buy into it and believe it.

    God gave us these things to help us. More often than not we ignore them and listen to others.

  18. That “one disaster away from humility” observation gets to the heart of this entire discussion. But it’s overwhelmed by the just world hypothesis. I really do believe there are people who live life as if they’re on a magic carpet ride. Life really isn’t equal. If you have a lot of money behind you, you can make mistakes without threatening your comfort and security. But when you don’t, you feel every bump, bruise and crisis intensely. In the end the two individuals live radically different lives, and the one with money can’t relate to the “underfunded” one, nor can he empathize with a life of slim resources.

    For my own part, I’ve taken great pride in overcoming adversity, and often think the well-to-do are almost cheated for not knowing what it is. Sure, they experience ups and downs, but crisis related to survival is that life-and-death struggle. Overcoming that is empowering in a way that picking a winning investment isn’t. It becomes part of the tapestry that becomes our life (Carol King reference there).

    “My point is that most of us have feelings or instincts about things but we ignore them and let the chatter of the day rule.” This is an excellent point Tim, and it demonstrates how groupthink rules the age. I’ve watched over the years as the public have move toward mindless complicity. It’s as if individual thought must be subjugated to the thinking and behavior of the day, which of course is always subject to change for reasons that are “beyond our understanding”. That constant shifting by the mainstream should alone convince us that it’s at least suspect.

  19. I recommend the book Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance – moving from Appalachia to Yale Law. A very thought provoking perspective on poverty and making it out. Also, while I realize there are true renaissance people in our society, maybe are an attorney and professor, who can build a house, change a tire and kill and dress a deer, for example. I also know people who would head for their parents place in the apocalypse because the parents know how to shoot a gun, grow and hunt food, and make do without money. Most of use are sort of one-trick ponies, who don’t know many of the physical or mental basic survival skills.

  20. I’ve heard of that book Jackie, and I think I read an article he wrote about it in the Atlantic. Knowing both sides of the privilege world, he’s able to present as both a overcomer, yet at the same time being knowledgeable and empathetic with those living in true poverty. What most don’t understand is that poverty isn’t just a financial state. It’s more like a spider’s web you’re caught in, and it affects and represses every aspect of your being. To rise up out of it is miraculous. My own middle class struggles don’t compare.

    And I get what you’re saying about people today not having broad survival skills. I don’t myself. And not to make excuses, but we’re so busy getting by that there isn’t time to learn what we need to know for basic survival. But I pat myself on the back when I find new ways to make money and cut expenses, as well as my inactive ability to grow food. But no, I don’t know how to dress a deer or build a house, and hope that won’t come back to haunt me one day.

  21. The most successful people in life have always ignored group think.
    But for everyone of this people there are thousands who go with the flow of what they are told.

    People born into money will never know. How would they. The two don’t mesh. They never will.
    Reminds me of guys I worked with. We always had healthcare. Never gave it a thought to what people actually paid for this. Wasn’t are fault. We always had it. We didn’t know another way.

  22. That’s very true Tim. Robert Ringer referred to that as the “zig zag theory”. To be successful, you have to learn to zig when everyone else is zagging. That’s part of the reason everything seems so dysfunctional today. Everyone is being taught to fall into line. The 1% at the top work within the zig zag theory and attain unbelievable success. The rest pretend it’s most important to “behave”, and suffer the consequences.

    I’ve found that whenever I follow my gut instincts, it leads me to the right place. Sometimes when all the research has been done, that’s what it comes down to. And you can’t be afraid to act on it, as too many are. We all have that gut instinct, that “little voice inside”, that we ignore because it isn’t scientific. But there’s more that operates outside science than we know (or at least science can’t yet explain it). That’s what we need to be paying closer attention to. But we first need to give ourselves permission to do it. Society says we shouldn’t, which is exactly why we should.

    Something else I’ve discovered…sometimes we think of something that seems radical, and we’re afraid to utter it in public. But when we do, we find others who have thought the same thing, and we realize we’re not alone. Rest assured if several people have independently come to the same conclusion, it’s totally legitimate. Even if the mainstream shoots it down or puts negative labels on it. The mainstrem’s primary purpose is to defend the status quo by deflecting change. After all, if YOU’RE sitting comfortably, the last thing you want is change – even if it will benefit the majority of people.

  23. “Hillbilly Elegy” is an excellent book along with “Educated” by Tara Westover. Both are true stories of a rise out of poverty and how they did it, and are easy, but very interesting, reads. I highly recommend both of them.

  24. Those are the kinds of books that need to be required reading in high school and college. My sense is they’re not, right up there with not teaching personal finance, as Jackie has pointed out.

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