and other such issues makes one reflect on the idea of just what do we mean when we say “rich”? Should we embrace the Micawber Principle?
“Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.”
One I heard the other day was “rich people are anybody who isn’t living paycheck to paycheck”. Or perhaps we prefer the more economist-friendly “anyone who’s assets exceed their liabilities”, or the Dickensian “anyone who’s income exceeds their expenses.”
Maybe “rich” (like “poor”) is, like so much else, a direction on a continuum,, not a specific location on it. Everything is relative. Marx believed rich and poor was defined in contrast to the expectations of the society, and was to at least some extent subjective in spite of the accountant’s precision and banker’s discipline. A Victorian mill worker reading a broadside by a candle in a freezing tenement is the modern equivalent of a Walmart employee watching TV in his sweltering, un-airconditioned house trailer. But to the former, the latter would be a wealthy man. Reconciling those two opposites is the task of modern politics and economics.
Romney has lots of money, but how much is too much, or not enough? Like most everything else, there really is no answer. No matter how poor you are, you’re better off than millions of others, and some people just never seem to have enough money, either because they are greedy, or because accumulating more of it is their only hobby.
I would like to define rich as being able to get everything you need, and some of what you want. If pressed, I would further clarify it by saying that being rich means being able to pay your bills, acquiring the occasional luxury or indulgence, and having a little left over to put away for a rainy day. Of course, that depends on how much rain is in the forecast, and nobody knows that.
I bring this up on CE because working definitions of rich and poor are important when discussing contemporary political and economic life. Personally, I don’t believe anyone can be too rich, that is, that they should have some of their money taken away from them.
On the other hand, I don’t believe anyone should be too poor, especially if it is through no fault of their own, (everyone secretly likes to see greedy and extravagant people ruined due to their own, well, greed or extravagance). And we all love to see destitute people pull themselves up by industry, hard work, and ambition. Unfortunately, neither of those happens as frequently as we’d like. But I do believe when the rich get richer and rarer, and the poor get poorer and more numerous, then something is wrong. And when this situation not only persists, but becomes worse, and faster, then something is desperately wrong. And I don’t think its the fault of the poor, no matter who exactly they are.