I have a mild resentment toward rich people. Every society has rich people. That’s just the natural order and every human society has had an elite that enjoys a better material existence than the rest. It’s not always obvious why. I look at the wealthy elites of today and I don’t see a collection of geniuses. CEO’s are smart guys and they work hard, but they are not that smart and they don’t work that hard.
The number of rich people who invented some product or service that made human existence much better is tiny. In most cases, the guy inventing stuff is getting hosed by the rich guy who owns the company where he works. In other cases the guy with the great new idea has it stolen by someone how gets rich off it. Facebook stole the idea from MySpace, for example.
That said, getting rich in business is no easy task. You have to be ruthless and you have to take a lot of abuse on the way up. There’s a fair amount of dumb luck involved as well as chicanery. It’s why CEO’s, partners in white shoe law firms and entrepreneurs are often horrible people. They are very good at getting ahead and climbing the greasy pole, but they suck at most everything else.
Even so, dumb luck and serendipity play a defining role. Mitt Romney won the lucky sperm contest. Bill Gates was handed the golden ticket by IBM. Mark Cuban hit the lottery when Yahoo threw a billion at his worthless company. If you have the choice between being a ruthless and crafty businessman or being a lucky businessman, take the latter. This is the lesson of The Rocking Horse Winner.
When I look at the list of the super rich, I can live with the fact they are mostly assholes and they got lucky. If we started from scratch, all of them would do better than most and some would get rich all over again. Maybe not top-400 rich, but they would do OK. Like I said at the start, mine is a mild resentment.
That said, I look at this story from the Telegraph and I wonder if we have not lost our minds. The first guy on the list, Richard Branson, did not exactly come from the gutter, but he made his money in a real tough business and he made the business better. But, look at the rest of the list. Six of the ten are clowns. These are people who entertain us by pretending to be people they are not. Every society has entertainers, but we have made them into our ruling elite! Johnny Depp? David Copperfield?
Troll though Manhattan or LA and you can find a thousand people with the acting ability of Johnny Depp. He got rich on pure dumb luck. He showed up at the right casting call on the right day with the right look. His show had some success and a few lucky turns later he is a star. Nothing wrong with it, but what does it say about a society where this guy is super rich? My goodness. He’s not friggin’ Shakespeare. No one will remember him once his time is done. His footprints will wash away in a few years after his death, maybe sooner.
That’s not to say there’s not some talent involved with being a good actor. It’s just not that hard. Lots of people can do it well enough to be believable on stage or on screen. I was at a fall festival no long ago where some local college kids were doing Shakespeare. It was as good as anywhere else, by anyone else. I once stayed at an inn where they had a small theater. Local kids and adults put on plays for the locals. It was as good, in terms of acting, as anything I’ve seen on Broadway. All over America, people are entertained by community theater. There’s a threshold level ability that is pretty low. Once you cross it, you can be a credible actor. In this case and this case, you can be horrible and still make a living.
I think that’s where my resentment rears its ugly green head. I look at a Johnny Depp and his island and wonder how that makes any sense. I see a Mark Cuban and think crime actually pays. In isolation it is not a big deal, but we have a lot of this, too much of this. A healthy society is one that produces a healthy, restrained elite. Our cultural and financial elites are corrupt, brutish and stupid. We’ve turned the culture over to pimps who made their whores millionaires. The financial affairs of the nation are ruled by con-men and bank robbers, skimming from the economy without every adding grain of sand to the wealth of humanity.
We have a rich people problem.