Monday, July 25, 2005

Are We Too Rich? (Take 3)

     This is my third attempt to address this topic. Attempt #1 and Attempt #2 left me feeling unsatisfied. (Plus, nobody read my blog then) There's something about this that really bugs me, and I'm having the hardest time elaborating on exactly what. I feel that both times I attempted this in January, I fell short. There were circumstances this weekend that reminded me, so I'm going to try yet again.
     I'm not going to use my standard disclaimer that I'm not a tree-hugging hippie, because some of you know that and the rest won't believe it. Some of you just think my whole reason for existing is to attack Christians. That's fine. At least I still have credibility, right?
 &bsp   Six months ago, I linked too much wealth with the cultural and economic demise of the United States in the future. I want to talk about this on a personal, anecdotal level. My wife and I live in a quiet suburb of Atlanta, Georgia. Despite my love of cities, I was tired of the apartment lifestyle. I was tired of living cheek to jowl with other people, of smelling their cigarette smoke on my balcony, of hearing them fight and have sex in the apartment above me. I wanted a house with a yard and a quiet neighborhood street. The neat thing about Atlanta is that you can get these things intown. In fact, there are neighborhoods in walking distance from downtown and midtown that meet these criteria. However, they have one of two problems: they either have a large supply of crack houses or they have a price range close to or above $1 million. So we are as close in to the city as we could get and still afford the house we want (that's not very close in). We're actually surrounded by $800,000-$1.2 million riverfront houses. Our house is set back, in a much more modest neighborhood. But we're still in the million-dollar school system, so our neighborhood is in high demand with families. In fact, I believe we have a disproportionate number of single parents in our neighborhood, since this is the best school district they can afford on one salary. It's a hard-working neighborhood, full of single-parent homes, dual-income homes, and families just starting up. It remains affordable because the people who can buy more expensive houses usually do - there are plenty of choices nearby.
 &bsp   So who are my best neighbors? Just about everybody. It's an older neighborhood, so there's no mandatory association, but people work to keep their yards neat and maintained, and there's a volunteer group to keep the entrances pretty. So are my worst neighbors? They're the family that moved in next door about 9 months ago. Here's my introduction to them: I was setting up my yard for Halloween one night after work - putting up lights so the kids won't trip and things like that. I noticed a few SUV's at the house for sale next door. They back out and drive away, except one, which drives over to my house (25 yards away). A middle-aged, slightly balding guy gets out and introduces himself, saying he just bought the house. "Congratulations," I said, holding out my hand. "Welcome to the neighborhood." "Oh, it's not for me," he said. "It's for my daughter. And her kids. And her... live-in." I fought back surprise to stay polite. "Oh. Well, I can't wait to meet them." "I'm not so sure about that. Her boyfriend's not the friendly type. Well, I hope they don't give you too much trouble. I'll probably be around a lot, mowing the lawn and fixing up the house. She's too young to do those sorts of things. I probably stared as his Suburban rumbled away. We've met this girl - she's actually very pleasant. She's a little younger than us - although obviously not "too young" to mow the lawn. Her two kids (by 2 different fathers) seemed nice too, if a little spoiled. We never did meet the boyfriend, but we did learn from conversations with this girl that he doesn't work and neither does she. In the past nine months, we've been treated to gangsta' rap at all hours and the delightful scent of pot smoke wafting from their garage. Now, I'm not in a condo or townhouse. For us to smell pot smoke in our kitchen with the windows closed from next door means they were having quite a party. What happened this weekend was that one of her kids was having a birthday - 5 years old, I think. And they were having a party. I was out working on the lawn, and I got to see the guests arrive. A few had kids in tow, but it was the presents I noticed. No Harry Potter or Tickle-Me-Elmos. They were carrying 6-packs of Natty Lite and closed brown bags. And the entertainment for this children's party? A boombox in the driveway yelling about "pimping 'dem hoes".
     How is this relevant? Well, obviously the girl's father has too much money. He's not super-rich or anything, but for his lifestyle, it's too much. Enough that he never saw the need to educate his 25-year old daughter to keep her legs closed or work for a living or even maintain her own residence. Nice girl, but pretty worthless in society. For her kids' sake, I hope her father lives a long, healthy life. But is this why we have money? Is this the Republican ideal? Is this why when it comes to setting tax policy they oppose taxing gifts and inheritances? I say that because unless you're a militant anarchist, you understand that our government needs revenue to operate. And it has to get that revenue from someplace. Someplace=taxes. So the question is, when we get taxes, what is best for our society? And the answer seems clear: not from people who want to ruin their children. I truly believe that what this father is doing to his daughter is child abuse. Or maybe just plain abuse, even though he treats her like a child. He is funding his daughter's descent into the dregs of our society, and instead of allowing her to reap the fruits of her (non-)labor like a good Republican (I noticed the "W" sticker on the car), he's propping her up and enabling her behavior. Which is actually punishing me and my hard-working neighbors. Because now the prices of starter homes is going up since so many of the purchasers are parents of over-age children who are not price sensitive. I make a good living, but I stretched to my limit to afford my house. This guy bought his deadbeat daughter a house that cost more than mine and promptly began $20,000-$50,000 of renovations.
     I'm not just mad about this girl, although that hits closest to home. I have millionaire coworkers who have children my age. Most are screwed up - they can't finish college, they're getting pregnant (or getting someone pregnant), they're sitting at home jobless. And it's all funded by their parents. (They're all rabid Republicans too, and complain about welfare and race and people being allowed to work on Sunday) The response to a kid getting knocked up? Buy her a $300,000 house! To be fair, some of my coworkers' kids are responsible and mature. Their parents, while wealthy, did not give all their money to them. One coworker, in particular, has 2 houses, an RV, a houseboat, a pontoon boat, and 2 waverunners. These are his toys. His kids? They got summer jobs at McDonalds and Publix in high school, they bought their own homes, and they were married before they thought about having kids. Is it selfish? Or is our society in better shape if it allows people to use their money to spoil themselves, but not ruin the next generation or two? If we as a society have to decide where to get our tax money, should it be from the people working two minimum wage jobs or from the people who have no further use for their own money and are giving it away to a broken generation? Silly questions. Obviously it needs to come from those evildoer minimum wage folks.


Mike said...

Are you saying it is the Republicans' fault your neighbor has enough money to spoil his kid rotten and teach her no morals?

I'm having a tough time following the logic of your post.

While I don't condone the way your neighbor treats his daughter, at least he has the freedom to do so. I guess in your world we could tax him to death and force him to throw his daughter into a shelter. She would have to give her kids up for adoption, or even better the state could have asked her to have an abortion.

If that's not your alternative, Scott, what is?

Alisa said...

Have you thought about calling SRS or whatever you call your child protective services there? This sounds like child abuse if the woman is having parties with that much pot with two children underfoot.

I'm hoping that the father in this story is smart and bought the house but did not deed the title over to the daughter. He probably sees himself sitting on a nice investment while being able to enable his child to become the worthless dreg of society he knows she is.

The two victims in this are the children not the father and daugther. They're already reaping what they've sowed but are their weeds and roots encroaching upon the ability of the two young children to grow?

I don't think it's republicans or democrats that spoil their children. It's parents.

We didn't have much money growing up, so as I got older and my parents started making the money, they started spoiling us. (as a side note.. one is republican and the other democrat). Thanks to them I've learned personal responsibility as well as how to be grateful for generosity when it's extended.

I do think that the next generation is going to take a while to get it's legs under them. There is a lot of enabling going on and also a sense of entitlement that they are exhibiting. It will be interesting to see how their hand plays out.

Dave said...


I'm also not really sure what your point was, but I will say this. The environment you raise your kids in will undoubtedly affect how they grow up, but don't assume a bad environment means a bad kid and vice versa. I grew up in the middle of NYC, not a bad neighborhood, but not a rich one either, and we did have our share of crime. Am I a thug now? Do I kill people because I play violent video games and watch violent movies? No. The little girl across your street may grow up surrounded by good kids in her good school, and realize her parents are morons. And grow up wanting to be nothing like them, which is true for many people (and probably most teenagers!). In the end, they grow up in a way determined by their character, or lack thereof. I think that comes from within, and no matter how much people spoil or abuse their kids, they are individuals and will all grow up differently.

Ben said...

I really don't see how you can say this is a Republican problem. I know plenty of liberals who ahve spoiled their children. Coddling and "understanding" seems more a of liberal thing, but I jsut don't see this as a party thing at all. It's a societal thing. It's not just the parent, it's the MTV lifestyle the girl sees all the the time, and even if her father wasn't paying for her, she knows that there are so many government handouts to people for every little thing that she could get along just fine without working too hard. Kids are made to realize early on that they don't ahve to work hard. The first time they fail a test in school but get a B because they "tried hard" and the teacher didn't want to hurt their self-esteem starts a kid on the road to being a useless member of society.

As far as "Are we too Rich?"... My roommate and I discuss the future of humanity a lot. My position is that allowing some social Darwinsim to do it's job wil lead to evoultion, to colonizing space, etc. On the other hand, trying to level the playing field for everyone,m and taxing epople who do too well will only lead to stagnation for our species. That's my thought anyway, and the crux of our discussions.

Ben said...

Oh, and Dave, you are DEFINITELY a thug! If I saw you coming on the sidewalk, I'd cross to the other side.

Dave said...

True, you better recognize biatch! kids turn out to be doesn't have anything to do with their parents politics. But instead of focusing so much on rich vs poor, how about dumb vs smart?? We need dumb people like Scott's neighbor to keep spending and consuming without rising above their current economic level. Can you imagine what the economy would be like if no one had credit card debt, if everyone made wise investments and purchase decisions? Capitalism doesn't work with everyone being rich, partially because human nature and you could say Social Darwinism will separate the dumb from the smart.

Elise said...

Interesting post....I agree with others here that it is not belonging to the Republican party that makes this father enable his daughter. What's worse? One spoiled, aimless daughter whose lifestyle is funded by her parents, or an entire subculture of unfortunates who have figured out exactly how to misuse the welfare system, funded by hardworking young families like yours and mine? In my eyes, both are caused by the same problem: a lack of expectations.

Ben said...

You could also relate this to the current campaign for reparations for slavery. Instead of trying to fix problems in the African-American community (endless numbers of single-parents families living in poverty, rampant drug use, gang culture, lack of respect for a good education), their "leaders" just put out their hands and say, "Gimme gimme." Except Bill Cosby, and when he spoke out he got trashed in the media, and people dug up every bit of dirt on him they could find, because the last thing they want to is to lose their victim status.

How different might the world be if everyone worked hard and took responsibility for their own actions and decisions?

ORF said...

I agree with Alisa that it's not necessarily party alignment that's effing that girl up, but rather her parents. Which leads me to say, for like the fourth time this week, that people should have to obtain a license to bear children. Call me George Orwell, but it just makes sense!

You see a related phenomenon in NYC where people have babies instead of buying a Lexus because it's THE accessory to have in this town. But then junior gets pushed off on three nannies so Mommy and Daddy can go live in the Hamptons during the summer to work on their coke habit free of poopy diapers. It makes for some really charming kids. (No offense, Dave.)

Mainline Mom said...

I love how you see a W sticker on the father's car and you automatically rail into Republicans for wanting to be able to pass our earned wealth on to our kids without the government taking 55% of it. You think all super-wealthy people who pass inheritance to their kids do it irresponsibly and spoil the kids. That's not even half true. Bill Gates isn't going to give $5 Billion to Gates Jr. He is giving almost all his money away, and Jr is getting a itsy bitsy piece of it. Still a couple million more than I'll probably ever see, but if I were Jr. I'd be kinda pissed. My grandfather has done very well for himself, pulling himself up by his bootstraps, so to speak, and in a few years my sister and I will be the major benefactors of his wisdom and hard work. I intend to use that money to send my kids to the best college I can, not to buy them houses or cars. And it is not right for the government to tax my grandfather's money twice.

Ben said...

If I become rich, I'm going to give away about half (a lot to the Boy Scouts, to my college fraternity, and to various Jewish charities) and give the rest to my children. I have a feeling that most (certainly not all) really rich people do give away HUGE amounts, and would maybe give more if they weren't taxed so much.

I forget the exact stats, but a MIND-BOGGLING amount of money to various tsunami related charities came from private US pocketbooks. After seeing the numbers compared to the giving of other countries' provate citizens, no one has the right to call Americans stingy.

Amber said...

...she knows that there are so many government handouts to people for every little thing that she could get along just fine without working too hard.

That's a laugh. I see people (mainly Republicans) repeating this line all the time, but from their comfortable upper class seats do they really even know what they're talking about? I come from a middle class (possibly lower middle class, depending on your defintion) family, and when I was in college (and married), I was poor. A lot of college students say they're poor, but their parents still pay their tuition, or rent, or what have you. Or at least they are on their parents' health insurance. We had none of that - we struggled. It is not easy to get by, paycheck to paycheck - and I never saw any of these elusive "handouts."

Mike said...

Amber...did you get financial aid for college?

Kaitlin said...

If that's what he wants to do with his money, I say let him do it. Because in the end, if we let them do it, Darwinism will come back to bite them in the butt. He might spoil his kid, but when he dies and she has little to show except an inheritance, it won't take her very far. She obviously hasn't learned skills that will help her to survive. And if that's what he wants his money to do, so be it. But I'd rather let him decide than give the government the money to be able to do the same thing with people who aren't related to me, and over whom I can't exercise any control. This man might not be doing anything good for his daughter, but in the end, he's in control of that choice.

And our government needs money to function, sure, but it doesn't seem that they're efficient at many of the functions. The money has to come from somewhere? No, the politicians (both sides of the aisle) need to understand the concept of finite resources and the fact that the government can't put a one-size-fits-all band-aid (NOT solution, mind you) on the country's problems. Because the way it seems, it's not that the government needs money to function, it's that the politicians keep coming up with more functions that are better left to non-governmental sources.