Sunday, January 8, 2017

America Hates Winners - Part II

Americans might hate losers, but they despise people who show them up.

Note:  This is a draft article I started writing a few months ago but just now completed.

In response to an earlier posting about credit cards, a reader writes that they always pay their card off on time and have never bounced a check since age 14.   This means one of two things:  Either they just haven't had a financial disaster yet (e.g., medical bankruptcy, upside-down on a house, or whatever) or they are one of the few people in the USA (I would say, well, about 1% - an interesting number!) that actually "get it" and "got it" from the get-go.

And the rest of us hate you.   Just kidding.  I don't.  But most people do.   You see, we all have choices in life, and most of us, myself included, have little or no self-control.   We all want eye-candy and real candy.  We all want to indulge.  And when younger, the urge is even stronger.   So most of us spend like drunken sailors and then want to blame the "1%'ers" for "taking all our money away."

I noted this in an earlier article.   A fellow starts his own business, working long hours and doing without a lot of amenities, in order to become successful.  He discusses his experiences online.  People mock him for "not having a social life" and living without cable television.   Another fellow gets three jobs and pays off his mortgage in a few years.   Again, the rest of us drones mock him for "not having a social life" and whatnot.   "Sure, you have no mortgage, but at what sacrifice?"

I dunno.  Swapping three years of "social life" for 30 years of mortgage payments? Sounds like a fair deal to me.

But the rest of us, well, we make the other choice.  We chose to "hang out" with friends and squander money in bars or other ill-conceived pursuits.   We then mock people who are more successful than us.  Worse, we accuse them of being "greedy" and say that we should tax them more because they were "lucky" and "got rich".

We hung out and did bong hits.  He worked three jobs and did without.   I guess you're right.  It was all just plain dumb luck.

Bernie Sanders is preaching this sort of shit, and yea, back when I was a pot-smoking 20-year-old I thought it was a swell idea, too.   But a funny thing, as you get older, you tend to become more conservative.   You realize that the amount you earn has more to do with the amount you work and how you save than with "luck".   Well, most do, but many still remain in the infant stage.

And a recent article in the Washington Post correlates this.   Millennials who are unemployed or underemployed and struggling with student loan debt and high rents, all wanted to vote for Sanders - in huge numbers.   But as they get older, get jobs, and buy into the system - and realize that their student loan debt is less than their car loan and a mere fraction of their mortgage balance - they tend to change their mind.

Uh, socialism and higher taxes?  Not now, I'm busy making money!

As I get older, I realize that I squandered a lot of opportunities and money in life.   You can't have regrets about these kind of things - it is a pointless game to play.  The best you can do is hope these expensive lessons taught you something and you learn from it.  The lesson I learned about credit cards is that you have to treat them as seriously as a heart attack - because they could give you one if you are not careful.   

And if you lack self-control, then you have to avoid situations where you are relying on self-control to avoid trouble.   If you are trying to lose weight, the all-you-can-eat buffet is a poor place to start.   If you are trying to get your finances in order, the latest "sale" at the mall is a similarly bad choice.

Norman Mailer, in The Naked and the Dead, mentions in passing that it is a common thing for most people to fantasize about "what if" later in life.  If they only made different choices!  If they hadn't done dumb things!  And for some of us, these are heart-wrenching introspective ventures.  The man in jail for manslaughter might be wishing he hadn't gotten behind the wheel of a car, drunk.   Most of us just regret squandering money.

I wish I could say I never bounced a check since age 14 or never ran up credit card debt and paid it off with a home equity loan.  But like most Americans, I did bonehead things.   It is only later in life that I learned that I made a lot of mistakes, owned up to them, and vowed never to do them again.  

And when I came to this realization, I no longer hated people who did have self-control.  I envied them, but not hated them.

Sadly, most folks are the opposite.  They spend and borrow and then blame those who have self-control.  The mythology of the Sanders set is that anyone who has any amount of money "must have inherited it" or "had a trust fund" because in Capitalist America, no one ever gets ahead.  Successful people had everything handed to them.   That is the narrative they want to sell.  Schools even teach this.

This video posits that white people get "money batons" from their parents.  I never got mine!

The video above was recently pulled from a Virginia school curriculum.  While it is true that black people faced horrific treatment in the past and still face discrimination today, the idea that white folks get "money batons" and head-starts is sort of flawed.   Flawed because there are more poor white people in the US than poor blacks.   Of course, according to Sanders, no white person has ever known what it is like to be poor.   (Talk about out of touch!)

The idea behind this video, as well as these other social theories is basically class and race warfare.   It is part of this trend to demonize anyone who has even a modicum of wealth, and to chastise Caucasians for having "white privilege".

Not only is it factually wrong (or at least greatly exaggerated) it is unhelpful.   Looking back 100 years into the past as some sort of excuse for behaviors today isn't helpful.   Trying to hold people accountable today for actions of people who may even have not been their ancestors is just ridiculous.   Not every white person had slave-holding ancestors.  Not every black person has ancestors born a slave.   President Obama is a good example - being half-white and half-black.   His ancestors were neither slaves or slave-owners.   Is he supposed to check his half-white privilege?   Or has he been "held back" by the white privilege of others?

This is not to say that everyone who is rich or successful came to it through hard work and equal opportunity.   Some people did have money batons handed to them - but they still had to run the race.   Trump started out ahead, to be sure.  But his "success" (which is somewhat debatable as to its extent) is not merely the sum of money he got from his Father, but something more.

The scary narrative behind all of this is that someone, such as the government, should make us all equal.   And of course that sounds like a laudable goal.  After all, shouldn't everyone have an equal opportunity in life?   Opportunity yes, outcomes, no.   Because even if you are not handed a money baton, you can still lap the track and increase your lot in life.

Or you can chose not to race and just protest the race instead.  That might work.   Or not.