I love the lists that so-called experts compile for mass media publications because they are always so full of hidden ideology and propaganda. The lists always seem harmless, be it of the top 10 cities for retirees or of the top 15 places for singles. Yet behind each list are a set of assumptions and criteria that are ideologically driven. Sometimes they tell you what the criteria are and sometimes they don’t. In either case, if you postulate that low taxes are more important than mass transit, you’ll get a different answer to the question from the one you’ll get if you favor mass transit.
Then there are lists put together for personal advice: “10 things not to do on the first date;” “5 mistakes to avoid in retirement,” “5 ways to tell he’s not that into you” and “10 things to consider before you do your taxes this year.” These lists combine common sense with economic or behavioral research but behind virtually all of these articles is a product or service for sale. For example, many of the retirement lists mention immediate annuities, stocks or financial planners. The “how-to-attract-a-man/woman” lists always shill products and behind “fix-the-relationship” lists are often the great curative services provided by various and sundry therapies. (We aren’t considering when lists are merely rhetorical ways to unify articles, like “5 things to watch at the Democratic Convention” or “4 New Teen Hotties.”)
Lately I’ve been seeing more and more lists with a moral message hidden within. I wrote recently of the science reporter who was able to have published two lists of homilies about getting along with others, each of which was unified by the same underlying scorn and distrust of intellectual achievement.
That brings us to the smarmy and self-congratulatory article “21 Ways Rich People Think Differently” tooling around the Internet this week. The article by a Mandi Woodruff for Business Insider, basically rehashes the ideas of a corporate management consultant named Steve Siebold, based on his book, How Rich People Think.
The list comprises an odd assortment of wishful thinking, old wives tales, tautologies which when unraveled show no disagreement in thought, outright falsehoods and the self-evident such as rich folk spend more on health care (because they can!).
Let’s start with the self-evident, because in noting these differences, Siebold claims that the ability that money gives someone reduces to a certain moral position that makes what the rich do a preferred way of doing things, and not merely what people do when they can afford it. My comments are in italics:
- “Average people earn money doing things they don’t love. Rich people follow their passion.” That’s because rich people have the money—and the time that money brings– to pursue their passions.
- “Average people live beyond their means. Rich people live below theirs.” That’s because average people have to spend all or most of what they make getting by. It’s also true that many rich people live beyond their means, but for the most part, it is only the wealthy who have the opportunity to live significantly below their means.
- Average people believe you need money to make money. Rich people use other people’s money.” After mummy and daddy have made a few calls.
Then there are the contradictions such as “Rich people believe you have to BE something to get rich” (which opposed the average who think you have to “do’) and “Rich people have an action mentality.” (as opposed to the average who have a “lottery” mentality.) Hey, Steve, is it “to be” or is it “to do” that makes the rich person rich?
One thing that you’ll notice that makes Siebold’s list different from most others one sees in the mass media is that there is no citation of research, except for the bits and pieces that Siebold has picked up interviewing the wealthy about their attitudes over the past 30 years. He cites no studies comparing the attitudes of wealthy and others. Even the silliest list related to relationship breakups will cite an attitudinal study or an experiment, but nothing from Siebold.
In other words, though Siebold probably knows a lot about the attitudes of the wealthy, he has no idea or presents no evidence that average people feel differently. This lack of research enables Siebold to tell some out-and-out lies, such as:
- “Average people long for the good old days. Rich people dream of the future.” It seems as if a lot rich folk like the Koch brothers are longing for the days before global warming.
- “Average people teach their children how to survive. Rich people teach their children how to get rich.” This lie is particularly obnoxious given the way that childhood has been commoditized into enrichment camps, SAT prep courses, summers in Europe, private tutors, contributions to universities and calls to friends with businesses, all of which the wealthy can afford to do and most people can’t.
- Average people would rather be entertained than educated. Rich people would rather be educated than entertained.” Prove it.
- “Average people focus on saving. Rich people focus on earning.” Prove it.
Note that in each of these mendacious contrasts, it is the rich who possess the more admirable trait.
Perhaps the most obnoxious of the 21 differences that Siebold finds between the wealthy and the average is “Average people think rich people are snobs. Rich people just want to surround themselves with like-minded people.” But isn’t that exactly what the definition of a snob is, quoting Merriam-Webster, “one inclined to social exclusiveness.”
Behind this assortment of assertions lurks two not-so-hidden ideological messages:
- That the wealthy are better than others and deserving of their wealth.
- The only thing stopping you from being wealthy is yourself.
I reject both of these statements.
But let’s imagine someone who didn’t reject these ideological premises. Imagine someone who thought that having wealth made you inherently better and that your hard work and beliefs matter more in attaining riches than inherent talent (over which no one has control), connections, education, the specific skills you have (golf versus plumbing), your epoch (Think Willie Mays in Alabama in 1830) and plain old luck. Imagine someone who believed that one can truly control how much money one has and that if you’re poor, it’s because you need an attitude adjustment. Would these hypothetical believers want to tax rich people more or less? Would they be more or less sympathetic to the plight of the poor and therefore want to improve or dismantle food stamps or social welfare programs?
The answer is, of course, that if you believe rich people have their money because they are different and better than others you are probably less inclined to call for economic equity than if you believe luck, prior wealth, talent at birth and other factors, including social and governmental factors, enter into how a person does financially.
Thus the article helps to brainwash the “average” person while it enables those self-deluding wealthy to believe that they deserve their wealth and that the poor deserve their hardships.
Until someone tells me differently, I’ll stick with the idea that the only difference between the rich and everyone else is that the rich have more money.