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June 05, 2005


My desk is clean. I have opened all of the envelopes and sent as much money as I felt like. In one of the envelopes was the documented evidence that I have come a long way. It was my Social Security document.

So I broke out the Excel and plotted my income over the decades. Althought there are some deviations, and off-book income, my chart looks like Horatio Alger's hockey stick. The late seventies and early eighties hardly register on the same scale as the late 90s and now. Simply stated, I did good. It took me three years in the 90s to make as much money as I did in all of the 80s, and I graduated from highschool in '78. I'm on track to double my 90s income this decade.

My daughter's favorite episode of Star Wars is Episode One, especially the part where Quai Gon says "There's always a bigger fish." There's always a better job. There's always a bigger corporation. There's always more money somewhere else. I keep this in mind, look at what I have and chill.

This morning I read the latest installment of the NYT's series on class. The Rich vs the Hyper-Rich. There's a poor old money dude babbling at his cocktail party about his twin engine prop. Little does he know he's talking to somebody with a Gulfstream IV. End of conversation. My bling is bigger than your bling. Not even people with $15 million mansions can be secure in America. You just don't know how big and ugly it gets.

I'm not convinced that the money game is the only game in town, but you have to admit that it's pretty easy to keep score. Knowing that you can get to the answers in a few short sentences gives a certain element of finality to our social exchanges. You don't have to believe that you can be rich to win, you just have to score better than the guy next to you.

When I used to hang out with Lisa B., I was the first mad with a BMW she dated. We were an interesting couple, to say the least. She was a radical feminist academic, I was me. When it comes to black success we represented, or so we thought, the two dimensions of our generation. Some of us used our brains to train other brains and did the school thing. Some of us used our brains to do the business thing. Interestingly we agreed that part of our job was to demystify for the next generation. So we agreed that we should 'break the silence' about what kind of money we made. It was cool for me, because I had passed what my buddy Ted and I facetiously spoke of as the Southern California Poverty Line of $38,000 a year. It was cool for her because she didn't care about money.

People will not tell you how much money they make. They take their income too seriously. Why? Because we all play the game. There is an element of insecurity we have about it, and it's all reduced down to a number. Is it a good number? You know people are judging you and there's no way to escape it. Net Worth. SAT Score. FICO Score. Frequent Flyer Class. All closely held secrets. Sure I say that I live in Redondo and I don't immediately say that I rent, but I know people are sizing me up and saying hmm, he must got money. In many ways I'm oblivious to that as I am the Large Black Man Effect Field I radiate, but I know it's in play at some level. But there's always a bigger fish, and what you are isn't what you *be*. It's just the mark of the moment.

These days, I have started to shut my mouth about my money. I use as a counter-example a fellow consultant with whom I worked several months ago. See he's a big fat brainy guy with a Porsche. Not just a Porsche, a fairly new 911 Turbo. This means that he spent at least 120k on his car. So we're sitting in the wide open area and he's Mr. Loudmouth on the cellphone talking with his mechanic. The guy is sitting right next to full-time employees who make 30k maybe 40k and he's talking about what his mechanic better do right. Declasse. Rude. Wrong. There's a joke that used to go around about why Arthur Andersen is like a flock of seagulls. On the one hand, they remind you of the beach and nice things. On the other hand, they swoop down, make a bunch of noise, eat up all the resources, shit all over everyone and leave the place messier than when they came. Nobody misses Arthur Andersen or Enron. Businesses move on, people move on. People say that money doesn't matter, but everybody likes when rich people take a bullet to the head.

I actually felt that feeling this morning. Wouldn't it be cool to show some of these rich fools what hate feels like? How about planting some claymores around the Great Harbor Yacht Club? I mean it's not like they're hiding their big boats. They're showing them off. The Hyper-Rich are all about out-blinging Old Money. And having had some relatives who prided themselves on their services to some Connecticut Old Money, I have to say my sentiments are with the merely rich; the ones with class.

There's a good WaPo article today about the differences between the .. It begins:

The unmasking of former FBI official W. Mark Felt as "Deep Throat" has given the country a rare glimpse into the two separate spheres that coexist uneasily within the U.S. government. Let's call one of them Hidden World and the other Talk Show World.

The guys on talk shows make more money than those in government service. David Brooks documents this well.

So here's what I'm seeing. There's a pocket full of rich and extra rich, and they're playing pissing games with each other. Actually, I should correct these terms. They are the Wealthy and the MegaWealthy, because when we're slicing the demographic that thin, the difference between Rich and Wealthy is that Wealthy people can make other people rich. Rich means you basically don't have to work another day in your life and still buy everything you want. Affluent means you still need income but you can basically splurge - you have plenty disposable income. And there are larger pockets of affluents and not-so affluents playing the same games, and so on and so forth on down the line. It really takes some gumption to remain self-satisfied. But down here in the mosh pit below Rich, there's a lot of mobility; you can go up or down. You definitely need to be self-satisfied more than most because you feel the tides of the economy more than most. I mean the poor folks don't care if durable goods orders are up or down. But when you're the CFO of a company that makes durable goods, that's the difference between you retiring next week or ten years from now. Wealthy folks only care to the extent that they win a bet against Mortimer, but so what?

From where I stand, it's difficult to see how much of what we call America is run by Old Money or New Mega Money and what difference it makes. Just like with Deep Throat, those who know don't say, those who say don't know. I'm hoping, just like most folks, that my boss isn't an asshat, and that there's another million or two out there that I don't have to kill or die for. But today is a good day to look over the size of your kingdom and decide to be happy, because wherever you go there's always a bigger fish.

Posted by mbowen at June 5, 2005 01:27 PM

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i saw Cornell West on TV recently and he was saying that Bush was only benefitting the rich and leaving middle class and lower class people behind. In reality, most people have more money than they ever had before and can do anything they want if they're willing to commit themselves. I know because I have "lower class" people in my family, I mean people who were on welfare for fifteen years or more before welfare reform. They're working and their kids are going to college or getting some of kind of training. I have relatives who are the kind you see on Jerry Springer. They're not starving. They've got the latest sneakers, go to all the new movies, and whatever else within their grasp, which because this is America is alot of stuff. This is one reason liberals are losing voters. No one believes what they say. Instead of concentrating on one issue in a truthful way, for instance health care, and saying well, this is out plan for funding this, they try to pretend that people are dying in the streets.

Posted by: Anita at June 6, 2005 07:19 AM

I will look it up, but there was a recent survey that showed that it was that it is now harder to move from "lower class" to middle class. I can also present example of people having made it, but if you drive through some of the most poverty struck areas in New York, Chicago, Miami or DC, I find it hard to believe that the only thing they need to do is pull themselves up by the bootstrap.

The fact is the middle class is being left behind. The salaries paid and the type of jobs that are being created today are not keeping up with the population or the cost of living. My fiance and I do ok and we still can't come close to home ownership - at least not in Southern California.

At my last job - after a raise an increase in my healthcare benefits, I'm actually was making less.

Regular folks are being taxed to death. I know Bush lowered federal income tax but you have to consider what the Alternative Minimum Tax, increase in state and property taxes and increase in state fees are doing to folks wallets. That doesn't even include the cost of gas, food and home ownership.

I do think at some point you have to be happy with your lot in life. I'm just hoping housing cost don't shoot up to the point where I'm paying $2000 a month to live in a box.

Posted by: James Manning at June 6, 2005 01:13 PM

California is wierd. Look at the cost of living in Texas; that's the benchmark.

Posted by: Cobb [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 6, 2005 01:16 PM