Wednesday, August 1, 2012

'Let Me Tell You About The Very Rich.
They Are Different From You And Me.'

With that quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald, Paul Krugman begins a column in which he explores the differences, and which among the rich are most different. His first insight is based on Fitzgerald's observation:
... he didn’t just mean that they have more money. What he meant instead, at least in part, was that many of the very rich expect a level of deference that the rest of us never experience and are deeply distressed when they don’t get the special treatment they consider their birthright; their wealth “makes them soft where we are hard.”

Read the rest. Unless you are rich, it won't help you to imagine the experience of being rich, but it may give you some notion of the depth of the sense of privilege that leads them to be offensive in ways that only they can. Ann Rmoney's "you people" comes to mind. George W. Bush's "Who cares what you think" also comes to mind. In America at least, wealth entails an arrogance that cannot possibly be reconciled to the larger concept of the American spirit. And that, in turn, makes me wish the very rich could miss a few meals at least once in their sorry self-obsessed superior lives.

Bill Bates,
Editor of College Newspaper

ADDENDUM: let me tell you a bit about my father, William Bates, who died on this day in 1995. Born in 1920, Dad was never wealthy; indeed, he went to work at age 13 because the family needed the added income to be able to eat regularly... and even then, things sometimes ran short. Dad did not complain; he saw it as his obligation. He went to college knowing he had to win an athletic scholarship, and he did that. When sports got in the way of his academics, he quit the sports, starved for a semester and made the best grades of his college career. He trained as a schoolteacher. The war and subsequent circumstances led him to a series of blue-collar jobs in which he managed, barely, to support his small family. But he wanted to teach. As a family, we decided Dad should teach, never mind the 30% cut in income... none of us had ever developed expensive tastes. And so he began, teaching middle school general science. Over the years, he found that kids consulted him about important decisions; that led him to go back to school... nights... to complete a counselor's certificate and a Master's degree. He finished his career at the top, as a guidance counselor in one of the city's premiere public high schools. Dad never asked favors, and he always did his duty... he went to war when it was time, but he did not love telling war stories. He loved his family, and his work. In some ways, Bill Bates was the wealthiest man alive, however impecunious he may have been... and he never, ever claimed privilege. R.I.P., Bill Bates; those who knew and loved you still miss you.


  1. Steve,

    A loss remains a loss for ever.. and as the years go by, this loss becomes denser, heavier, so that you can cut with a knife.. time does not heal..

    Very tender and true narrative.
    How proud you seem of this very wealthy man, your father!

  2. Beautiful, plain speaking and moving tribute!

  3. The difference between lucre and love. Well said, Steve.

  4. Thank you, everyone. Bill Bates was an admirable man; I just had the good fortune to be his offspring.



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