U.S. News & World Report is fronting another article that purports to tell us how rich people think. As with other articles of this ilk, “7 Things Rich People Believe” reduces to a series of ideological beliefs presented as facts. In the article, the writer doesn’t even attempt to justify his assertions about the minds of rich folks. No studies, not even an anecdote—just a series of wishes, assumptions and stale advice, all tinged with the ideology of greed and consumerism.
As it turns out, the writer is Tom Sightings, who I have chided before for his ideologically tinged and accuracy challenged articles that advocate that big cities are not good for retirement and that people should move to avoid paying school taxes once their kids are out of school. Sightings seems to specialize in advocating the politics of selfishness in cute, homey articles that render general advice that always seems to be the same pabulum extolling greed, consumerism and the belief that the rich are better people.
The article opens by asserting that most people both love and hate money—like it but believe it’s evil to be greedy. Sightings then exhorts us to “get beyond your mixed feelings about money and start thinking like a rich person.”
And what does Sightings say a rich person think about money? That it’s not evil. That there’s nothing wrong with wanting more of it. And that you (the rich person) deserve to have it. Those three thoughts proffered by Sightings are all permissions to be greedy. For example, he never considers that it might be wrong for a billionaire to want more money or that people should feel ashamed to display enormous wealth when others are starving or struggling. Consider this statement: “The wealthy are not inherently dishonest; they do not feel ashamed of their first-class lifestyle or their bulging portfolios. In fact, most rich people take pride in their accomplishments and enjoy the fruits of their labors.” What these two sentences are really saying is that 1) the only sign of success is making money; 2) the only way to take pride in your accomplishments is to spend money; and 3) all rich people earn their wealth (meaning they deserve it). These are all basics principles of the American consumer ideology, hammered into us daily by the news media, our civic leaders and mass entertainment. But nowhere does Sightings prove that any of these statements are true.
To these general ideological beliefs, Sighting adds an out and out lie: that the way to achieve real wealth is to earn more, not save more. Tell that to all the trust fund babies; the inexperienced kids who go to the front of the line for jobs because of their rich parents’ connections; or those born millionaires like Bill Gates, Michael Dell and Mitt Romney who leveraged their parents’ wealth into multi-millions or billions. All studies suggest that the best way to achieve wealth is to be born into wealth. Now maybe Sightings is right that rich people believe the lie that the road to riches runs through your job—but I don’t think Sightings ever asked, and it’s convenient that it’s what rich folk who don’t want to pay a lot of taxes would want us to believe.
Sightings completes his list of what rich folk think with some of the more common business success tips that we’ve heard since the days of Dale Carnegie and before: Rely on brainwork. Live below your means. Spend more on education and less on entertainment. Like all writers on business success, though, when Sightings says “education,” he really means vocational training. “Yet these people typically do not put a lot of faith in formal education or fancy degrees. They focus on useful, practical skills that are relevant to their career.” In Sightings world, you won’t catch a rich person reading Plato or Proust, studying environmental science or contemplating the lessons of Chinese history.
Articles claiming or inferring that rich people think differently and those giving tips on how to think like a rich person pop up in the mass business media about every six weeks. All build their case on assumptions and anecdotes. All happily support the status quo.
These lists of what the rich think or how they differ from others always communicate three hidden messages:
1. There is one route to success, which, of course, is to buy into the American ideology of selfishness and consumerism.
2. Rich people deserve to be rich, and that their wealth does not depend on luck, connections, prior wealth or the accidents of birth.
3. Everyone can become rich. All you have to do is think and act like a rich person.
The flip side of the third message is that when you don’t become rich, it’s your fault. You didn’t work as hard as that investment banker (even if you worked as many hours in your job as a janitor). You didn’t get enough training, or the wrong kind of training (I guess that associates degree was a mistake—too bad you didn’t have the bucks for Harvard!). You didn’t have the right attitude or the right thought process. Maybe you stayed poor because in your heart you didn’t like yourself enough to get rich. Whatever, it’s all your own fault.
These articles purporting to analyze the wealthy thus serve to enforce the American ideology—to make us like the wealthy and not resent them, to make us want to be like them and to accept their version of what’s best for society.
Just the kind of stuff that rich people—those who own the media and advertise on it want—want us to believe.