Is it unfair to be wealthy?

38 thoughts on “Is it unfair to be wealthy?”

  1. I believe that it’s life. I think that some people are going to work hard and get further, and some will only go so far. Yes. there are people that have bad situations, keeping them from getting anywhere. But how many Cinderella stories of people have we heard? Those are everyone’s favorites. But do they realize how much those people had to do, had to sacrifice, and had to work to get out of that situation? Probably not.

    Too many people see the “overnight success” instead of seeing the years and years of that sacrifice and work that led to that success.

    My parents repeated a saying to us as kids, and we were taught to say it anytime we whined about something. “Life is not fair”. Some people will have more, some less. Some will work incredibly hard for it, others will be born into it. It doesn’t matter. That’s life.

    The journey, the day to day joy that life offers— that’s where life is really lived. We can’t look to others for the contentment, we have to look at where we are and for me, I look to Christ. My joy is only from Him.

    But wherever you get it, it wont come from throwing hate at those who have more. Great post! Really great encouragement that I think we all need!

    1. “Life is not fair”. Some people will have more, some less. Some will work incredibly hard for it, others will be born into it. It doesn’t matter. That’s life.

      That’s exactly right, Ember. Life isn’t about making things fair. It’s about making the very best out of your situation.

  2. I believe it depends on the definition of fair. Everyone should play under the same rule set to be fair. But disparate outcomes is not inherently unfair. Results are often part luck and part your actions. At some point we can’t make luck equal and your actions are up to you. Like you noted though we do donate and other steps to mitigate those less lucky. We also push for consistent rules for all.

  3. To me, it’s not a question of “should everything be fair?” That would be making the inherently gray-area world we live in a single, black or white question. It’s more a question of “what degree of unfairness do we find tolerable?”

    Is it acceptable to us for a child born into wealth to be twice as likely to be wealthy in adulthood as a child born into poverty? Ten times? One hundred times? One thousand times? A million times? I would imagine even the staunchest libertarians would find a million-to-one shot at financial wellness to be unfair and unacceptable (we’re nowhere near that right now).

    Absolutely we should acknowledge that individual choices matter, and that everyone has the power to make their own lives better (with some rare exceptions). And absolutely we should put our money where our mouths are and donate to causes we support. This article just seemed a little dismissive about people trying to change the system and alter our own society’s “fairness meter.” 😉

    1. Thanks FFF – There are a lot of people out there who ARE putting their money where their mouth is, no doubt. And, it’s those people who are creating the most profound changes in our society – hopefully for the better!

  4. I think it depends. It’s not possible for everything to be completely fair, there are a lot of grey area. In Vancouver, real estate is pretty crazy, million dollar homes are basically everywhere. A newish 500 sqft apartment probably will cost you $500k. There are a lot of “wealthy” people with super fancy cars (Ferrari’s, Porsches, Austin Martins, etc). BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Lexus are pretty damn common here. In fact I see an Austin Martin maybe every week driving around town. These people are showing off their wealth. Meanwhile, some people are really wealthy but you wouldn’t know it. Because of stealth wealth. It is fair that these people are really wealthy regardless if they’re showing off or not? The thing is, we don’t know how much hard work they’ve done to get such money. Often without knowing the full story it’s unfair to judge.

    1. I absolutely agree, Tawcan – we just don’t know what they did to acquire those expensive things. I spend a good amount of time in the Scottsdale, AZ area and see the same things. Porsches are a dime-a-dozen.

  5. Regarding this: “I believe in a system where people are rewarded for their hard work disproportionately to those who work less hard. ”

    Did you mean to say proportionally? Why would people get rewarded Disproportionately? I might be misunderstanding, can you explain?

    To me “fair” is equal opportunity (which is still debatable) and reward for those who take advantage of those opportunities and work hard. Disproportionate reward seems like it rewards people who are already ahead of the game. Shouldn’t proportional reward be enough? Disproportion is defined a “too large” or “too small” in comparison to something else. “Too large” seems punitive.

  6. Steve’s brain is a-WORKIN’ today, folks! Love this philosophical brain food, well written as always. I love the concept of “Nature” and the reality that things never will be, and never have been, “fair”. I’ve often thought about how “Lucky” we were to be born where we were. We could have just as easily been born in the poorest slums of Rio. Sometimes, life’s not fair. Don’t protest and demand gov’t imposed redistribution. Instead, focus on making a difference in the areas you can impact. Improve your skills, apply for a “better” job. Donate your time to improve someone’s life. Great post on a delicate subject.

  7. Ahh, what a toughie. The idealism behind a fair society seems like the right thing to do, until you consider the fact that we’d have to essentially become communist to make it happen (and communism doesn’t work because of human nature).

    1. Idealism I believe is a nice fairyland thing in the clouds to aspire to, but you’re right, human nature itself prevents us from ever attaining it. Ah, that human nature…

  8. Ahh bad memories flooding back. I had a Facebook brawl out with someone posting up memes comparing CEOs to fast food workers saying the CEO should resign and give her money to minimum wage workers since the CEO failed to revive an already failing business (it was Yahoo). And I was like…but you can’t compare fast food work to CEO work…it’s just on completely different playing fields. Why didn’t they pick an adjunct professor as comparison on wage inequality?

    Yahoo was on its last leg anyways.

    1. I’ve had my fair share of those types of brawls too. I have since stopped debating about those topics (especially on Facebook). It’s just not worth the stress! 🙂

  9. On the other hand, there are people who are punished unfairly by systems that do, in fact, conspire to make life more difficult for them despite their best efforts.

    For instance, Consumer Reports had an eye-opening piece on how car insurance is priced in areas with higher rates of non-whites or lower incomes. Turns out that people who live in ZIP codes with higher minority populations and lower incomes pay far higher rates for car insurance DESPITE actually having not only a lower rate of accidents, but also typically less expensive vehicles.

    There’s a system set up to disproportionately harm the “less fortunate” because they are “less fortunate,” not because they pose an increased risk or cost for the services they use.

    There are similar instances of the added cost of all sorts of things for poor people. Here’s a Washington Post story about it http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/05/17/AR2009051702053.html.

    So in that regard, it’s intentionally harder for people of certain circumstances to move beyond those circumstances. Impossible? Of course not. Fair? Hardly. That’s not “shit happens”; it’s systematic oppression disguised as capitalism.

    1. Oh, totally agree on that point, Dreamer. There’s definitely things in our society that go far beyond “shit happens”. The criminal/unethical side of our society…any society, has no legitimate place around the rest of us.

  10. Great post! I am superstitious about telling others what I accomplished because I think Murphy’s law will be enacted to make me miserable for punishment! I like my level of net worth and continue to build more. I think for the most part, tragedy is rare for our species. If it was common, we all wouldn’t be here. I do believe in charity too. But I make sure it has a low overhead so that it’s not making the leader of the charity rich. It has to go mostly to those I want to help.

    1. Thanks Bill. Yup, I share your concern about charities. They do great work, but I too want to ensure the money’s actually going to those who need it.

  11. Sage words.

    Sounds like you would enjoy Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. She made up her own philosophy (objectivism) to describe what she was seeing in the world. Her book describes what could happen if we continue to “level the playing field”. Its unsustainable.

    Also, thanks for the shout out to rationalization of high doctor pay 😊 Some of us work as much or more than your CEO and with much more training to get started and with higher stress and won’t have the 20m estate. I don’t complain though, I’m paid fair and large company CEO takes talent that largely can’t be taught, unlike medicine which can be taught. Plus, I benefit from stock prices with good CEOs.

  12. I’ll answer your question with a question: if you could only pick one, would you rather make a million dollars a year and be miserable, or $25,000 per year and be gloriously happy? Life is not about money, it is about happiness. People often confuse the two. We all know a bunch of rich folks who are not happy, and probably a fair number of “less rich” folks who are. Strive for happiness and let the dollars fall where they may.

    1. Excellent attitude, Oldster. Happiness should be the end goal, not money. I like to say that if I’m going to be miserable, I might as well have money. But if given the choice, I won’t choose misery. 🙂

  13. Great discussion you’ve started with some interesting points. Having wealth is not unfair, but having unequal opportunities is unfair. This country was created so that every person, if they worked hard enough, could become whatever they want to be. Unfortunately, we are at a time where broken education and healthcare systems are favoring the wealthy and creating problems for the economically disadvantaged. But like you said, the best thing we can do is speak up and contribute our time and money to the causes we believe in.

  14. This is fantastic. I acknowledge that luck (including what family/situation you were born into) plays a huge role in outcome, but trying to correct for those factors definitely feels idealistic. A system that on the whole rewards hard work over less work operates more smoothly than any system that tries to level the playing field.

    My grandfather had two rules.
    1. You bring it, you carry it. (He had 6 kids..)
    2. Life is not fair. (Get asked to carry your little brother’s coat and try to reference #1, see rule #2)

    He taught us that life wasn’t fair (and as a man who lost the love of his life while he had 5 young kids, he knew) but also that when it comes to work, hard work pays off. He would tell us, “rule #2” then encourage us to try again.

    All that said, our public education system in the US is broken and playing a big role in potential outcomes regardless of hard work. It’s why Mr. RtR and I give heavily both financially and with our time to education initiatives.

    1. Amen to that! And I totally agree that education is so important. Perhaps less focus on topics like AP Calculus and more focus on, say, basic personal finance and civics might be a step in the right direction. 🙂

  15. Man this is tough, well if you work hard and take advantage of opportunities that you believe you can attain you will likely get rewarded. Some luck will factor in to achieving these opportunities because hard work does not always equal rewards because politics will get involved in which favoritism will come into play.
    I guess you can say we make it as fair as a society as we can get because the idea of having everything fair is only idealistic and not realistic.

  16. I largely agree with you.

    It this is how I largely think about it.
    “A life well lived is not a life free from adversity, rather one that triumphs over it.”

    I find the underlying assumption about those that are always going on about fairness is that they believe a good life is one without struggle and that no one should have to face adversity.

    I can’t disagree more. People improve themselves through adversity.
    A lack of adversity is a death sentence for the human spirit.

  17. Extremely well written post Steve! While I don’t think life is fair, I’ve had the opportunity to feel the vindictive side of power. It’s not fun, and no amount of hard work can earn your way back from the black book of the powerful. I still haven’t recovered from it, despite my reasonably large net worth.

    I also think certain individuals in society have less time and less power in society to enact real change.

    Say for example that house cleaner you mentioned. She/He may need to work more than 10 hours a day (at a physical job) to make ends meet, or might not be articulate enough in English to support his/her ideas in a city council meeting.

    It’s hard to enact change in society when you’re dead tired from working.

    1. Thanks Mr. Tako! Good point – when working drains the life out of you, it can definitely be tough to summon up enough motivation to fight for something.

  18. It’s not unfair to get more money if you work harder.

    It’s however very unfair in my opinion to get a huge amount of money when the hardest thing you had to do is get born. Most of the Forbes richest are in fact people who inherited wealth. Some of them might be working to grow that fortune, but I’ll be willing there are at least some freeloaders, who enjoy spending what they did not earn.

    People don’t grumble about how Oprah has a lot of money. She’s a woman who had to overcome huge adversity to get where she is, if anything she’s an icon for most people.

    But we do grumble when we see Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump being given lots of money and high government jobs that other people had to work damn hard for, just because of who her daddy is. And we also grumble when we know her daddy went to an Ivy League school because her grandfather paved the way with lots and lots of money. Let’s be honest, that’s not fair.

    1. Yup, nepotism and being born into the right (or wrong) families definitely happen. Just a part of life, I suppose. Doesn’t mean we have to like it! 🙂

  19. I disagree with some of your points. Wealth inequalities have clearly been snowballing all over the world, and in particular in the US, over the past decades. Whether you think it’s fair or not is almost not relevant: at some point, a growing portion of people will find the inequalities so unbearable that they will rebel violently. When that happens, the “privileged”, whether fair or or not, will have a very bad time.

    I’m sure the kings and nobles in France found that being wealthy by inheritance and blood was nothing but fair. Had they been given access to blog platforms at the time, there would have been at least one noble to explain in a lengthy article why this is acceptable, and that other nobles who disagree with this idea should give part of their money to “help the poor”.

    Then a large share of these folks got killed during the revolution. Fair or unfair did not matter after all. Social peace was the actual path. And social peace means reducing inequalities, whether it’s fair or not to do so. Otherwise you run the risk to alienate enough people that they’ll make it happen for you.

    I’m very wealthy. I believe I acquired my wealth in agreement with what the market was willing to pay for my skills, and I’m super happy to be in my situation. But I’m not blind, this was random luck, I don’t consider it necessarily “fair”.

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