Monday, July 23, 2012

Let's Talk About Money--Oh, Okay, and Politics (Part 1)

Have you seen the Mitt income calculator over at Slate? You can use it to see how quickly Mitt Romney makes your annual salary. He made mine in less than a day. The median household (not individual) income for Americans is $51,914. Mitt Romney made that in 20 hours 59 minutes and 39 seconds.

It would take that average American family 417 years 3 months 1 day 14 hours 23 minutes and 18 seconds to make what Romney made in 2010. With a life expectancy of 78.5 years, that's a little over five lifetimes.

Money Dollar

With various theories coming out as to why Mitt Romney does not want to release his tax returns and confirmed reports of his offshore savings accounts and that he's used a series of tax loopholes so effectively that he paid only 14% in taxes in 2010, it's clear that Mitt Romney is very, very rich. 

Is being rich a problem? 

Scrooge McDuck.
Yep, that's Scrooge McDuck. He might be biased. 
As I discussed in another recent post about politics, the American ethos has a bit of a paradoxical underpinning when it comes to the American Dream: we like to pretend it's all about the individual while basing our definition of "success" almost entirely on economic conditions that are determined primarily by the collective society. 

The Paradox of Money

Along with this paradox comes the problem of money. We all want it. We use it to define success in everything from music videos and advertisements to the way we landscape our yards and the cars we drive to the neighborhoods we live in and the clothes we wear. Even when we see ourselves as living a lifestyle that's counter to the norm, that lifestyle is often accessed primarily through monetary means. It takes money to shop at Whole Foods and drive an eco-friendly hybrid, for instance. 

And it takes money just to live. We all want to send our kids to the best schools, and--especially in many urban areas across America--that takes money. It either takes money in the form of a stable tax base for a public school (and the money to buy the house in the right zip code) or it takes money to pay private school tuition. We all have to eat, and that takes money (and thanks to the backward system that has left the least nutritional, most processed foods costing the least, the better you want to eat, the more it usually costs). 

I'm not denying that there are some people who have escaped this system. There are a handful of people who truly live "off-grid" and don't participate in the capitalistic culture that makes up most of Americans' day-to-day lives (though as this Sociological Images post suggests, they aren't always as far off-grid as they think they are). But I think it's safe to say that most of us use money, and most of us wouldn't have much of a problem figuring out ways to use a little more than we currently have. 

Too Rich to Be President?

So, I ask again, is being rich a problem?

Does it become a problem when it makes you unrelatable? Does it matter how you get there? Does it matter what you do with it once you've got it? 

All of these are possibilities that Catherine Poe touches on in a Washington Post article about Romney's money and favorability. Because it does seem that, for Romney, being rich might be a problem. 

Poe explains that 20% of people polled say that Romney is less likely to get their vote because of his wealth, and 54% of Americans think Romney should release his tax returns.

Money, Money, Money

I find this entire problem fascinating. Almost every aspect of our culture from music to advice columns to commercials tell us to accumulate wealth practically above all else. We're told it's a measure of success. It's even suggested that it's a measure of character. 

Yet, it's clearly not that simple. 

I'm going to spend this week examining some of the paradoxes I see in our culture when it comes to money and success.

In the meantime, what do you think? Is being rich a problem? How do you view the intersections of wealth, ethics, and success? Does money drive your personal goals? And, specifically, is Romney too rich to be president? 


  1. Just very quickly -- off to get partner's birthday pizza in a few! -- I think the problem is not that Mitt Romney is rich but rather that Romney has a lot of unexamined privileges -- class privilege among them -- that render him less willing to try to understand what it's like to be not rich.

    1. I completely agree. And I think you make a great point by noting that it's UNEXAMINED privilege that's the problem. That, and running on a platform of being in touch with the "real" Americans. Hope the birthday pizza is great!