Don’t be a Rich Jerk

Good morning, dear readers! Today we’re going to have a fun chat about money and shame. It’s going to be one giant subtweet of Some People on the Internet. Let’s do it.

Let’s start here, with Tanja Hester’s pithy observations about charitable giving (you can source her points here):

Predictably, within a few short hours people were lamenting that we shouldn’t shame people on how they spend their money, because it was their money to spend.

Now the core of this point has some truth to it: we shouldn’t shame people on how they spend their money. If you saw this twitter thread last week you know the many ways in which poor people are shamed: if they pick up some fast food, if they have a smartphone, if they drive a decent car–all of their choices are policed by those who needn’t worry about such things. It has to do with control: some wealthier people seem to think they have the best ability to make choices and that poor people have made chronically bad choices, thus leading to poverty. You can’t throw a rock on the personal finance internet without hitting this kind of belief in bootstrap narratives. Even though most of America’s wealthiest players have made their money on far more than the sweat of their brows (family money, government subsidies and tax breaks only the wealthy enjoy, the ability to invest their money so as to make passive income, etc.), they’re treated as though they’re all self-made–and those who are struggling are often treated as the opposite, even though they make up far more of the population.

The recent government shutdown and the idiotic criticisms of government employees as not having substantial enough emergency funds to weather an unanticipated MONTH-LONG shutdown is a prime example. Suddenly every choice an employee ever made was up for public scrutiny, and the scrutinizing done by people who have no idea what the employees’ lives were like but who spoke like some kind of god-given authority.

Then some of the very same circles of people started talking about how we shouldn’t shame the rich for not giving to charity.

For me this hits on so many levels of things. One, peoples’ wealth-bias was showing here. Glaringly. They’re buying into the “wealthy people know best” narrative, and that narrative is garbage.

Next, you’re letting people who could make a serious difference off the charitable giving hook while also taking for granted how much less wealthy to downright poor people DO help each other out. We also need to talk about how so many people (cough, Jeff Bezos, cough) make their money by keeping others at stupidly low wages–and how when they do finally decide to be charitable, it’s often a tiny percentage of their wealth they give away; in reality, they could still be stupidly wealthy while paying people more and putting more money towards good causes.

You see, for example, I think shooting a car into space isn’t a good cause.

We have tremendous wealth disparity right now in the US and in the world at large. Shaming less-wealthy people for their lack of emergency funds while claiming wealthy people shouldn’t be shamed for their financial choices reflects not just a double standard but a double standard that promotes these ongoing disparities. It supports the “wealth knows best” approach and unsurprisingly rejects any awareness of systemic problems that exist, persist, and grow with wealth disparity.

We can fix this, and if shame’s what it takes, well, I’m all for it.


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