Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Guilt Money

It's the news on everyone's lips: the recession. Or at least the "official announcement" that came yesterday, telling us the country is, indeed, in a recession. Call me crazy... but I'm pretty sure we all knew that factoid before the economists put their blessing on the news. Since this is the latest buzz, it isn't surprising that the related news articles are everywhere. One in particular caught my eye this morning titled, "Luxury shame: Why even the very rich are cutting back on conspicuous consumption" (by Johnnie L. Roberts, published in the current Newsweek). Intrigued, I read on -- then found myself fuming mad.

The whole article detailed how those with wealth well into the vulgar range are reigning in their spending because they feel a little guilty about said wealth. It began with some multimillionaire who collects high-end properties like Hallmark ornaments. "I collect homes because I enjoy it," he was quoted as saying. This is a man who has just one piece of property valued at $27 million. One property. ONE! And he does this because he enjoys it. The article went on to document (among other specifics) the fact that Lehman Bros. CEO Richard Fuld was raked over the hot coals at a Congressional hearing for his post-bankruptcy half-billion dollar compensation, owning several multi-, multi, MULTI-million dollar estates AND an art collection which was valued at $200 million. The article said all Fuld could muster was "sheepishness," and went on to state he had recently auctioned off $20 million worth of art. Unless I am missing something here, if he auctioned off part of his art collection, didn't that basically just liquidate an asset? I mean, it never said he donated the proceeds to a charity, or some other philanthropic move. So, did he pocket the cash, or what? And then there's AIG, who reportedly treated top-level employees to a $440,000 spa retreat AFTER THE GOVERNMENT BAILED THEM OUT, COSTING THE TAXPAYERS $150 BILLION. Ummm, excuse me. Where's my day at the spa?

Then, in what appeared to be an effort to show how the wealthy are trying to dumb things down and not be as showy, Roberts reported future First Lady Michelle Obama recently appeared on a late night talk show in a "$400 J. Crew ensemble, rather than a designer dress." With all due respect to Mrs. Obama, is that statement supposed to make the rest of us feel better? You've got to be kidding me. No one I know would/could drop $400 on an "ensemble" from J. Crew. Not long ago I was so proud to tell anyone who would listen that I spent a whole $75 dollars on a lot of 13 maternity outfits off eBay -- apparently "going cheap" to some people consists of shelling out $400 at J. Crew. (But for the rest of us who have seen --and choked on--the retail prices of maternity clothes, isn't that a STEAL?!) But I digress...

You know, with Christmas just a little over three weeks away many of us would rather not hear about how the wealthy are feeling guilty about having sooooooo much money. I'd love to say they deserve to feel guilty, when there are countless American families who are in tears trying to figure out how to buy gifts for their kids this year. However, it is not my place to judge. For those elite wealthy who are crying the "too much money" blues, at this point it isn't about the fact that you have all that money, but rather, what are you going to do with it? No matter how they came into the astronomical sums of money in the bank -- earn, gift, steal, etc. -- it is what it is now. You have it, and what you choose to do with it is up to you.

Just don't insult the rest of us by publicly airing how "guilty" you feel.

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