Wealthy people have problems too: Reacting to “Born Rich”

Photo courtesy of Google Images.

Yesterday we watched “Born Rich” in my Wealth & Poverty class.  You can watch the trailer to get a sense of the film.

The documentary is made by Jamie Johnson, an heir to the Johnson & Johnson investments.  The film focuses on the children of extremely wealthy parents.

  • Ivanka Trump, real-estate heiress
  • Georgina Bloomberg, media heiress
  • SI Newhouse IV, publishing heir
  • Luke Weil, gaming industry heir
  • Cody Franchetti, textile heir
  • Stephanie Ercklentz, finance heiress
  • Josiah Hornblower, Vanderbilt/Whitney heir
  • Carlo von Zeitschel, European Royalty
  • Christina Floyd, professional sports heiress
  • Juliet Hartford, A&P supermarket heiress

They were talking about their problems and issues, issues only the wealthy would have to deal with.  And I was expecting really difficult issues and problems.  But the issues they were dealing with, that especially Jamie Johnson was facing, why he wanted to make the film, was one of identity, an existential crisis of sorts (something people of all socio-economic backgrounds can face).  Johnson was wondering what he should do in the world, as a career.  He would never have to work a day in his life, but throughout the movie he was grappling with if he wanted to do that or actually pursue education and a career.  Even with this identity crisis, I didn’t feel bad for any of them.  How can I?  They are very privileged.  They can go to any university they want, they have extensive contacts so they can probably get into any job they want.  It’s not that I’m being jealous — it was more of how can they be whining about people not understanding them or not giving them a chance because none of them were thinking about donating money to homeless and needy people.  One of them even joked, “What would I do with $1 million?  Give it to the homeless.  Hahaha, no.  I’m kidding.”  Like that’s a completely preposterous idea.  Instead, she went shopping and pondered over $900 shoes or a purse.  There’s more to life than clothes, than fashion, than looking good.  There’s survival, as a first, for some.

It’s for those instances that people get angry with wealthy people.  They are spending so much on lavish things they don’t need, but want.  Then one heiress during the film called people ignorant when they say wealthy people don’t have problems, because they do.  Yes, everyone has problems and as Plato said “Treat everyone with kindness because everyone you meet is in the midst of a great struggle.”  Everyone suffers, everyone has bad days, everyone has something they must struggle through.  But still, some of us have struggles that far eclipse the rest (poor struggles and suffering greatly surpass the suffering of the wealthy).

The entire time I was watching the movie, I was wondering: Where did this sense of entitlement come from?  I don’t deserve any more than another kid living anywhere else in the world.  What did I do differently?  Nothing.  It was just circumstantial that I was born into a middle class family in America.  That shouldn’t be the difference between me living and a kid in a poorer country dying.

I’m not arguing that when you work for your money you shouldn’t keep any of it.  I think people need to work to contribute to the good of society.  But they shouldn’t be allowed to keep all of it, especially when the amount surpasses a number that is so much more than necessary to survive.  That’s the point where it becomes wasteful and just plain ridiculous amounts of money that one person (or family) can possibly spend and so they start spending it carelessly.  And sometimes in order to help all of society, to make sure no one dies of lack of resources, to make sure people survive, we need to be contributing our money back into a pot for everyone.  Then, once people crawl out of severe poverty they can gain skills to work and then keep some money and then put some back into the communal pot for everyone’s good.  But we have to help them get there first.  We don’t live in a level playing field.

Photo courtesy of Google Images.

A friend posted this diagram on her blog.  I think the diagram illustrates a great message and call to “Change something,” if, in fact, you’re not happy with your life or yourself at the present moment.  People often forget that sometimes they do have some say in things, that sometimes they can change things to make themselves happier.

However, after I took my Sociology through Film class and now with the lens of my Wealth & Poverty class, I’m seeing clearer how not everyone can change their lives.  Some people are not as fortunate to be able to have any influence in their lives — they may be extremely poor and thus even if they are unhappy, won’t be able to change much because they have such limited resources.  Maybe this is saying something else — that those of us who are fortunate enough to be able to change some aspects about our lives if we are unhappy should help others who cannot change their lives.  Everyone deserves happiness.  It is not an exclusively wealth-related privilege.

Sometimes, and at this point and time in the world it is now, people need extra help to become happy (and survive).


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