Sunday, May 07, 2006

Friends With (and Without) Money

The Sunday Times is always full of inspiration for thoughts about money. It's full of ads for expensive things, photos of rich people at benefit events, wedding announcements of highly accomplished couples, real estate porn, and light-hearted features honing in on the financial condition and various status anxieties of New Yorkers and Americans in general, especially in the SundayStyles section. This week's cover story:"Money Changes Everything."
There were a lot of great points made in this article, about how differences in financial status can cause problems in friendships-- I found myself highlighting something in almost every paragraph, and I recommend reading the article in its entirety, but here's a few notable quotes:

"In New York City we're on the front lines of the rise in inequality in income because it's happening at the top half of the income distribution ladder," [said Dalton Conley, a professor of sociology at New York University]. "The difference between the middle and the top has grown incredibly."
"We are allegedly a classless society and that's obviously completely untrue, but people don't want to acknowledge that those differences exist," said Jamie Johnson, a 26-year-old heir to the Johnson & Johnson fortune [and maker of the documentary films "Born Rich" and "The One Percent"].

Johnson also mentions that he has rich friends who try to downplay their wealth by "making a show of taking the subway and saying they can't afford a cab...'to avoid that awkwardness of seeing the distinction of social class.'"
The article points out that financial inequality can be especially distressing to young adults, such as a Syracuse University student's roommate, who "cried because she couldn't afford the same Issey Miyake perfume." Suze Orman is quoted with a great point about what she calls "money pods," groups of young women who are all dressed alike, but who may have differing abilities to afford what they're wearing:
"That is how we get in trouble," Ms. Orman said. "We think our friends are just like us, and if our friend can afford something, we fool ourselves into thinking we can afford it too."

The problem is not just that we are trying to keep up with the Joneses-- the problem may be that we mistakenly think we ARE the Joneses. But whether you are a Jones or not, it's a social taboo to admit it.

Back to that point about pretending you have to take the subway, don't you hate that? It really bothers me when people make a fuss about how "poor" they are when you know they aren't. I suppose we are all guilty of this at times, in various ways-- I don't think I spend a lot of time complaining, but I do worry a lot in this blog, much of which could be seen as the over-anxiousness of a middle-to-upper-middle class person for whom the majority of the US population, let alone the rest of the world, need have no sympathy.
I mention it, though, because on a few occasions, I have been annoyed by Ben Stein's column in the Sunday Business section because he has referred to the travails of "middle class guys like me." I suppose it was somewhat facetious, but though I don't remember the exact context I remember thinking it didn't seem all that ironic at the time, and that surely Ben Stein, a Yale-educated "lawyer, writer, actor, and economist" would not be considered middle class by anyone's definition. But in today's piece, he argues that because they risk their lives protecting the stable, secure conditions under which business prospers, the members of our armed forces should be paid better. He thinks this should be financed by raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans who benefit most from that prosperity, and says "It's time for them--us, because it includes me-- to pay their (our) share." So Ben has redeemed himself with me.

Well that is enough blogging over breakfast-- time to go out and enjoy this sunny spring Sunday!


Dawn said...

I knew the NYT was more geared for adults, but real estate porn! I would they would have the decency to show the homes with some furnishings and not totally naked. I would think the imagination could do the rest.
Real estate porn, I love it! And good article by the way.

mapgirl said...

Thanks for this article and the article about daily costs pinching. I enjoyed both of them a lot!

calgirlfinance said...

I read both articles, but I hadn't gotten around to blogging about them yet! Thanks for the summary - I think I'll just reference your blog!

Anonymous said...

It's kind of bizarre advice coming from someone like Suze Orman. She's a billionaire right? What does she know about not being able to afford things?