Farmers Commit

Our worthy overlords speak:

A survey … invited the very rich to write freely about how prosperity has shaped their lives and those of their children. … Roughly 165 households responded, 120 of which have at least $25 million in assets. The respondents’ average net worth is $78 million, and two report being billionaires. … Respondents report feeling that they have lost the right to complain about anything, for fear of sounding—or being—ungrateful. Those with children worry that their children will become trust-fund brats if their inheritances are too large—or will be forever resentful if those inheritances (or parts of them) are instead bequeathed to charity. ….

If the rich do take jobs, they sometimes find that co-workers resent them on the grounds that they’re “taking away the jobs of people who need them.” The rich also leave jobs more quickly than others, for the simple reason that they can afford to do so. … An heir … earned an M.B.A. from a top-tier school and was an obviously intelligent man. He nonetheless moved from one high-tech job to another. “At some point, something would happen at each job that those who have to work for an income would learn to tolerate. … And he’d just say, ‘I don’t want to deal with this.’ Eventually he had to say, ‘I don’t have a career.’” …

One issue that … comes up frequently is the question of at what point in a relationship to reveal one’s wealth—a disclosure he makes sound as fraught as telling your date you have herpes. “When do you tell someone that you have got a huge amount of money?” he asks rhetorically. “If you tell them too soon, you are going to worry that they want you for your money. If you wait too long, can the person really trust you? (more)

The right to complain, and when to disclose to mates, are issues mainly because the very rich are a minority. But committing less to careers because they don’t have to put up with stuff, that issue applies to all of us to a lesser extent, in this our rich world. Our farmer ancestors were way into commitment, to marriage, to land, to family, to religion, etc. But with increasing wealth, we feel less of the fear that inclined farmers to follow strong norms. Overall this self-indulgence is probably good, but let’s not pretend that something valuable is not being lost in the trade.

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  • Doug S.

    “Overloads”?

  • Buck Farmer

    Two outcomes that leap to mind:

    1. Reduced wage stickiness…and thus cyclical unemployment and effectiveness of macroeconomic stimulus.

    2. Increased cost for firms and individuals to invest in firm-specific or industry-specific human capital — i.e. less training and shift towards generalist skill set

    Incidentally, (2) when combined with automation means the generalist non-automated do great for cheaper, the specific automated do very poorly, and the other two combinations sit in the middle.

    This roughly matches the hollowing out of the middle class. We need our barbers and our philosopher-kings. Factory workers and office clerks need not apply. Is Dubai our future?

  • Prakash

    I believe that science is an excellent choice of career, where having an inheritance or a money backup is useful. One can pursue hypotheses without fear. This is ofcourse, dependent on whether the pursuit of status doesn’t become a goal in the mind of the rich scientist.

  • Telnar

    I think that people with quite ordinary incomes can acquire more leverage to try to change their working conditions by having enough savings to cover a period of unemployment. This will probably work better for dealing with a small company than a large one (since large companies have to worry more about consistency across employees), and it will probably work better for employees who are more difficult to replace (whether because of good performance or firm specific skills).

    So, I agree that this situation ought to be common in our rich world. Perhaps it’s not still more frequent because the median American has negative net worth.

  • Anonymous

    Overall this self-indulgence is probably good, but let’s not pretend that something valuable is not being lost in the trade.

    Very probably. It is worth noting, however, that this lost value is otherwise based on existential extortion. In extreme cases, this may well constitute a subjective net-negative life for individuals. There is a reason why religions have traditionally insisted that would-be suiciders will be tortured forever and ever if they dare withhold their productivity by means of existential rejection of their roles.

  • Jonas

    reading recommendation:
    http://catalogue.nla.gov.au/Record/3912432

    Summary

    “The Sociology of Elites deals with the issue of the role of elites in society. In view of the continuing growth of the divide between the rich and the poor, people in many industrialized countries are asking questions about the responsibility of the elites for society. Are the activities of elites determined primarily by their responsibility for the common good of the population or by their interest in enlarging their own power and wealth?”

    “In answering this question the book presents an overview of the most important sociological elite theories, ranging from the classics in the field – Mosca, Michels, and Pareto – to authors such as Lasswell, Dahrendorf, and Keller, and including the determinative critical elite theorists Bourdieu and Mills. The book also looks at the world’s five largest industrialized nations – the United States, France, Germany, the UK, and Japan – and shows through empirical analyses how the elites in the various countries, especially the political and economic elites, are recruited and how they cooperate with one another. Particular emphasis is put on the role played by educational institutions and the question of whether it is appropriate to speak of separate sectoral elites or of a ruling class.”

  • Anonymous

    I’m in this position. I haven’t ever “needed” to work. But I do, and have been in the same job for 20 years. I have had many moments where I might have thought, “I don’t need this. I’m going to quit.” But I have never considered it an option. Not for a second. I enjoy the people I work with. My work is creative and very much appreciated. And I know pretty much what would happen to me if I didn’t work. I have a comparison group: my own brothers and sisters. Some of them haven’t taken up the work option. It hasn’t gone well for them. I, on the other hand, have a place to go every morning. I have challenges to overcome, and when I rest, I have something to rest from. I’m integrated into the common world of humanity, and when I consider the esteem I’ve earned and the network of people from all classes and occupations I’m part of, I realize that all of this is priceless.

    • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

      Paging Charles Murray

    • Buck Farmer

      I enjoy the people I work with. My work is creative and very much appreciated.

      This is essentially the ideal situation, no? Community-support, status-recognition, expansion of skills via creativity, all combined with no sword of damocles ready to strike on random misfortune.

      Arguably the trade-off comes when you don’t enjoy the people you work with, your work is stupefying and unappreciated.

      The pricing mechanism ensures that society on net doesn’t lose out as people shun these jobs. The only real risk I see is insufficient foresight and a dramatic reduction in wealth pushing us back into the dark old days of being so many cogs spinning in the social machine.

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  • http://danweber.blogspot.com/ Dan Weber

    I worked with a rich guy. Every time he had a problem, either with his work or with his colleagues, he would threaten to quit.

    Eventually everyone else who wasn’t him left.

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