On “the Wealthy”

By: Stephen Marsh
May 25, 2013

Recently, a review of a Hugh Nibley book led to a discussion about “the wealthy” or “the rich.” The discussion completely failed to discuss the various types of the relatively rich in our society.

wealthyFirst is the group referred to in class/social strata studies as “the hidden” (or, the group I would refer to as “the caretakers”). They have inherited wealth and what they basically do is continue to be wealthy. They are what Fussel would refer to as the “out of sight” though Payne’s work is less snarky and more accurate when she calls them “the hidden.”

A member of the caretaker class will have favorite advisers, at least two staffed homes and is on the board of at least two charities. The key aspect is that they have inherited wealth and know how to preserve that status and pass it along.

Second are those who have captured the work of others, in ways that can be quite benign (such as a law partner with many reporting associates) or not (such as one group that has managed to capture another professional group and strip most of the income from them). I’ve met a number of those making six to nine million dollars a year.

Third are those who have, through luck and skill, become very successful professionals without capture. I meet orthopedic surgeons making two to three million dollars a year because of their skill and their relationship to specific hospitals (the same surgeon in England makes about 110,000 euros a year, which I know from dealing with a recruiter). I’ve known a number of attorneys, architects, etc. who have done this. People make up to eight figures a year this way. Sometimes more.

Fourth are business types, the heroes of the book “The Millionaire Next Door” — people who put in long hours and build something — a McDonald’s Franchise, a cleaning company. They basically do not spend much and roll over everything into their business.

Fifth are the classic robber baron and the heroes of Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations (and yes, Adam Smith said amazingly harsh things about this group compared to Marx who seemed to dote on them). Find a seam and exploit it. The justice department fights with them all the time. Promoters fit in this group as well.

Now, these groups are different. A caretaker will know the hidden rules of Jr. League. Someone who is engaged in capture is more likely to want people to bill for 2400 hours of work a year knowing that the ABA studies established rather clearly that after 2000 hours net productivity drops off (so that 2400 hours billed means about the same work as 1800 hours billed). A professional who has become successful without capture will often be working for the fun of it. The millionaire next door is probably going to be perceived as somewhat of a grind.

The exploiters (some of whom do very positive things) are constant in their focus.

But to talk about “the wealthy” is to really talk about five different groups that are often extremely different in approach, attitudes and goals.

That doesn’t even get us into a discussion of the professional class (where it does not cross the borderline into “the rich”) and others.

What do you think of when you think of “the rich?” How do you feel knowing that regardless of your circumstances, 95% of the world’s population would probably gladly change places with you? How would you change if you suddenly became a member of one of those groups?

Where do you think each group fits in when you think of approaching Zion?

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10 Responses to On “the Wealthy”

  1. katie88 on May 25, 2013 at 12:29 PM

    We have gone from being poor (according to US standards) to rich over the years. Although we have always worked hard and had good health, we have lost jobs and had times when we could not afford to buy clothes for our children. Now, through years of hard work and some lucky breaks, we are rich. We have over a million dollars of assets and earn a salary that puts us in the top 3% of Americans. I have great compassion for those who are destitute. I have spent many years serving them, advocating for them, and ministering to them. I know and serve the elderly poor, the mentally ill, the homeless, and refugee. I know how they feel. I know them.

    I am still frugal because I believe everything I have is a gift from God. I believe I am a steward of all that I have and will be accountable to God for how I use my resources. I am carefully generous. I do not give away my money unless I know that the organization or person will spend my money responsibly.

    I am grateful for the experiences and lessons I learned during the years I was poor. I gained a close relationship with the Lord and learned to rely on Him and trust comletely in Him. They taught me not the judge others and to study and work hard. I am humbled that the Lord has opened both material and spiritual windows of heaven for our family and pray that I am a wise steward of His gifts. I feel concerned that our nation seems to belittle and ignore those in need, saying that they are all lazy, free-loaders, and do not deserve compassion. Although some take advantage of the system, others are sick, seriously disabled, mentally ill, or unable to find a job that supports a family. I see us becoming like the people in Nephi 4 who were divided into classes and became proud, self-rightoues and unequal, living in iniquity. I pray that our Church members and leaders do not adhere to this attitude–an attitude that the rich are better, smarter, wiser, more capable, more deserving, more loved by God than the poor. This is not true. It is dangerous doctrine.

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  2. Stephen M (Ethesis) on May 25, 2013 at 1:45 PM

    Well said.

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  3. OAK on May 25, 2013 at 2:09 PM

    I grew up in a Ward where we lived on the other side of the tracks. The correct side of the tracks was filled with each of the groups you mentioned. I was aware of the status differences from an early age.It was subtle and the wealthy families were not given to ostentious displays of wealth, it was the 60′s and 70′s. The church parking lot was filled with expensive cars and our station wagon. they went to wonderful places for vacations, we drove to Utah. I must say that without exception these brothers and sisters were wonderful and good people from my perspective. Quick to give a helping hand, sensitive to the needs of others, many of them empowered and helped those with less of the right connections make their way into a better world. Yes, the lunch was free but they all worked at something.

    Today there are wards of the church filled with those who look to other gods and are quick to show off their wealth. How different from the example I observed and learned from.

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  4. Howard on May 25, 2013 at 3:37 PM

    I know a number of truly wealthy people through charity work and they are some of the nicest, most caring and giving people I know and a few are the quirkiest people I know! There are only a couple of jerks in the bunch. I also know a few people who were born into money and as adults became accustomed to it, it was a long and frightening fall when they lost it but ultimately it turned out to be a healthy experience for them. I think a problem arises when money reinforces a narcissistic tenancy toward infallibility or greatness, I’ve met a few of those. The healthiest attitude I find among them is that they see their wealth as a stewardship and they feel a responsibility to put it efficiently to work making the world a better place. Greed is a much bigger issue than wealth.

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  5. Stephen R. Marsh on May 25, 2013 at 4:24 PM

    Oak and Howard — thanks for chiming in on the topic of your personal experience and the variety of experiences.

    Everyone, how do you feel about being “rich” as most in the world would see it?

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  6. allquieton on May 26, 2013 at 8:53 AM

    “And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”

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  7. Douglas on May 26, 2013 at 5:44 PM

    Mosiah 4:17-18 instructs us not to be overly judgemental about WHY someone is poor; just help him. Of course, we have an ready means to not have to broach this issue one-on-one: give generously in Fast Offerings, let the local bishop (judge in Zion) make the decision with the aid of the Spirit that’s he’s entitled to in the discharge of his duties.
    Wealth is a subjective quality. The average middle-class American lives like a king compared to billions worldwide. Of course, there are those who are not only “set for life”, they’re set unto the twentieth generation. Is there a greater need for these to be generous? I’d say so, but the overall effect will be felt greatest by those “Joe and Jane Averages” who put off the weekly movie tickets (try doing a first-run movie for two with popcorn and drinks for under $30 nowadays) or other luxuries to bolster the ward’s fast offerings.
    Wealth itself is NOT evil, not unlike any form of technology. It’s the use that is good or evil. Were it not for “wealth”, where would the means to construct and maintain meetinghouses for some 3000 stakes of Zion, let alone all the mission areas, or the 170 temples in operation, under construction, or planned? Where would the means exist to transport (mostly by air) some 30,000 missionaries a year? We can delude ourselves into thinking our Lord just pulls these things out of His blessed backside, but, as always, it comes from the generosity and faithfulness of the members worldwide. Where, in turn, do THEY get it from? As the late John Houseman would say, “they Urrnnned it!”

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  8. Hedgehog on May 27, 2013 at 4:38 AM

    I was impressed listening to an interview with JK Rowling, who went from poverty to wealth with success of Harry Potter. With that success came an abundance of ‘begging’ letters. Where it would have been easy to throw the lot away as being too much to deal with, she employed someone to go through it all for her, with guidelines on the kind of things she’d be happy to support, as she certainly didn’t have the time to read through them all herself. Now she has set up a trust to manage that.

    My family and I don’t begin to approach that kind of wealth. On the the other hand we are in many ways better off than many in our current society in that I can be an sahm, and very aware of how much better our situation is than in much of the world, and try to raise our children with that perspective.

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  9. Stephen R. Marsh on May 27, 2013 at 3:24 PM

    I will be. My own comment ended up in moderation somehow. I’ll need to check that.

    But, thank you, everyone.

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  10. Stephen Marsh on May 27, 2013 at 3:35 PM

    Well, I can’t find my comment in the filter, who knows what happened to it.

    allquieton — it is important to realize that the Apostles responded with “who then can be saved?” — if not the wealthy, then who? — and that Christ responds not with another group, but with “with man it is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

    Douglas — well said.

    Hedgehog — a good example.

    And, of course, by world standards, we are all very rich, very wealthy. Which makes for some interesting thoughts and reflections.

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