The lives of very rich people

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The lives of very rich people

Some people have so much money they don’t know what to do with it – but most of us find it difficult to pay for everything we need. Mark Engler writes about people who have too much money.


In the 1930s, in the time of the Great Depression, Huey Long, a politician in Louisiana, asked the crowds some questions. The people in the crowds were manual labourers and the unemployed, and he asked how many men had at least four suits of clothes.

No-one put up their hand. Then he asked how many had three suits. Again, no one.

Two suits? Still no hands.

Then, very dramatically, he told them about a rich American banker: ‘I want you to know,’ Long said, ‘that J P Morgan has more than a hundred suits!’

Long became very popular and he put pressure on President Franklin D Roosevelt to introduce more work programmes and tax rich people more and poor people less.

Today the gap between people at the top and everybody else is so big that it’s difficult to understand.

There is a website called Refinery 29 that shows how people spend their money. For almost two years, people have said exactly how they spend their money in one week, in ‘Money Diaries’. One of these diaries was by a 34-year-old finance executive. Her family (her and her husband) earns $1,250,000 per year for them and their young daughter.

These people are only millionaires, not the richest people. But the diary shows they spend amazing amounts of money. They have regular costs: mortgage, cars, school loans, bills, a gardener, pool cleaner, laundry service, wine. But also, in one week, she spent another $6,200 on handbags and online shopping, tickets for a holiday in Hawaii and a trip to Disneyland, $175 for a sushi dinner and $185 for a birthday cake.

Many people on the internet were angry about the Refinery29 Money Diaries. An editor, Nathan Robinson said that if rich people paid more tax, they would not suffer.

One interesting idea, said Robinson, was that, even if the couple spent the same amount of money every week, they would only spend about half a million dollars per year.

After you have enough money, you have to be creative to think of other things to spend money on. Rich people have: a nice house in a good area; expensive schools and tennis lessons for the kids; money to eat in restaurants; housekeepers to do the housework; and many holidays to exotic places. You can buy all this for a small part of what the super-rich earn.

Sometimes they have hundreds or thousands of times as much money as the woman in the Money Diaries.

The Institute for Policy Studies reported in November 2017 that the 400 richest people in the US own more than the bottom 64 per cent of the US – more than all the GDP of the UK.

And now, Donald Trump wants to end the estate tax – this would be very good for people who inherit more than $5 million when their parents die. But many other Americans are afraid they will lose their health care.

There are so many statistics about the very big differences between rich and poor that no-one is shocked now at this. The Money Diaries are good to remind us.

The injustice of having too much money and increasing inequality are becoming more important in US politics, and politics in the whole world. We should not forget how immoral it is.

Mark Engler has recently written the book: ‘This Is An Uprising: How Nonviolent Revolt Is Shaping the Twenty-first Century (Nation Books)’. This is his website

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