"I am no better ... and neither are you; We are the same ... whatever we do." — "I Like Everyday People," as performed by Sly and the Family Stone
One of the worst byproducts of two emerging economic classes (the very rich and those living near the poverty line) is the recent trend of each blaming and resenting the other. Those in the 1 percent dislike being labeled as entitled, selfish money hoarders. Those without many economic resources resent being labeled as unmotivated and undeserving.
An economic system that features only the truly wealthy and those without any wealth, without much of a middle class in between, is bound to foster disillusionment and anger at the top and the bottom of the food chain. This kind of system can be sad, dispiriting, and dangerous, and pit us against ourselves.
Most wealthy Americans have labored incredibly hard to attain their financial station. Nothing is more irritating to folks who have clawed their way to the top than the inference that they are only successful because they were born into some "rich person's club" where membership is bestowed at birth. If such a club exists, I haven't found it. Virtually every client I've ever worked with has a story about overcoming adversity while building a decent nest egg. Success still requires enormous drive and energy. The suggestion that wealth is simply handed to our most successful entrepreneurs and business people is laughable.
Then there are those without wealth who are fighting to escape their economic circumstances. Yes, some could try harder, but most are working multiple jobs, scrambling to pay for an education, and generally applying what skills they do have to move up. Many matriculate at less effective public schools than do their wealthier counterparts. Those who strive to lift themselves see few legitimate financial success stories nearby that can serve as role models.
Members of Brazil’s wealthy class, in some cases, fear venturing out beyond gated subdivisions without bulletproof car windows. It’s a country suffering from advanced economic inequality. That kind of distrust and fear is contagious in a society divided by wealth. It’s a scenario we should avoid here at home. Communities of understanding and inclusion are safer and more economically empowering than places of resentment and distrust. It’s just good business sense that we need to sustain a healthy middle class.
Another practical downside of a shrinking middle class is that there are fewer dollars to buy the products being marketed by successful entrepreneurs and business owners. China’s remarkable growth has been built around the concept that a healthy middle class is an economic imperative. Here in the U.S., consumer spending has traditionally accounted for 70 percent of our GDP, and with a shrinking middle class, our national economic health is imperiled.
Margaret R. McDowell, ChFC, AIF, a syndicated economic columnist, is the founder of Arbor Wealth Management, LLC, (850-608-6121 — www.arborwealth.net), a “fee-only” registered investment advisory firm located near Sandestin.