To have and have not: thoughts on the human condition as it pertains to money.
November 7, 2011
I grew up under modest circumstances, living with my mother and brother on the first floor of a two-flat in the not yet gentrified Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago. The Latin Kings and the Latin Eagles still called it their “hood.” We attended public schools, walking or taking the CTA to get there. I was mugged countless times for my lunch money, though by some miracle never had my ass kicked. I did, however, lose my first payday ever to a lanky gang-banger with a huge knife. Blade to my throat, he made me remove my pants so I couldn’t run for help. I was twelve.
My grandmother and mother emigrated here from France, requiring sponsorship to do so. I cannot know the hardship they experienced in Europe and was blissfully unaware of how tight our situation really was. My single mother worked in a scruffy boutique on Broadway selling trendy clothes to bohemians and drag queens. My father was becoming successful in advertising but hadn’t yet made his financial bones. I saw him on Saturdays. Eventually, my parents and even grandmother all improved their circumstances and we became upwardly mobile, even borderline rich.
And so while this nation (and the world) struggles through grave economic turmoil, political pettiness and financial fraud, relentless debate over the greedy rich and the mistreated poor, I can legitimately say I’ve experienced both ends of the spectrum. And from this perspective I tell you that demonizing the rich is just as dopey as victimizing the poor. For the most part, neither is either.
I didn’t understand the bailing out of failed corporations any more than I get further taxing the wealthy to give their “fair share.” Both notions seem the same to me and equally wrong. It’s all so reactionary: the need for villains to explain hardship, the need for heroes to fix things. Pitting government against corporations is like fighting fire with fire. We all get burned.
There will always be the “haves” and “have-nots.” That’s the human condition. As the population relentlessly grows (7 billion now) that condition will continuously be stressed. It is human nature to want what we do not have and to resent those who have it, a defect of our species and a powerful one. Trying to mitigate that resentment by force never works. Not in the long run.
Fortunately, humanity is capable of altruism. Helping those in need is within our nature. And the rich are capable of it, without a gun to their head. Ask a Rockefeller. Or Bill Gates. Philanthropy is alive and well.
No, it’s never going to be enough but again that’s the human condition. This is our truth: for better and for worse poor people would behave just like rich people if put in their shoes and rich people would behave just like poor people if put in theirs. I think about that every time I see a broken man buying lottery tickets.
For a marketing perspective: Advertising Age