Tag Archives: culture

Question of the Day: Can Wealth Be Fair? – from Brip Blap’s Blog

Blogger Brip Blap poses the question “can wealth be fair?” The blogger goes on to list three different scenarios where in order for people and a country to build wealth, others might have to suffer. The blogger does not say that (s/)he agrees with these scenarios. In fact, Brip Blap goes on to explain how (s/)he is upset but each of the scenarios discussed.

#1 — A college graduate basically decides to save nothing and spend all his money throughout his life. Is society responsible to pay for his medical expenses and basic necessities later in life when he can no longer work?

Brip Blap Says:I detest this attitude. His attitude will take money out of my pocket when he is older…. (still) I doubt anyone is prepared to see senior citizens sleeping on the streets.”

I say: I think financial education should be a required, ongoing class in public school. Each year you should have a different amount of money (income) to budget with, and the idea of the class should teach you about saving money, investing, and why credit card interest rates are the devil. After that, if someone choses to go out and spend all their money right away, especially if they’ve made enough to save, then I don’t see why the government should have to pay anything to them when they’re older. I don’t think the government should be able to “force” you to save your money through taxes, but should provide a clear and easy-to-understand tax incentive for people to save money. It should be income based, maybe in match form, so those who are in a lower income bracket but manage to save 5 percent of their income get a 10 percent match, where those in the upper income bracket get a 5 percent match… or something like that. (Those in the higher income brackets would likely be investing anyway.) For rich people who don’t save, I don’t mind them ended up on the streets. It’s their own fault.

#2: A child is born with 50+ different health problems. Keeping her alive is more expensive than treating dozens of other children. The family is in debt, the health insurance system is hurting because it can’t afford to treat this kid.

Brip Blap Says: “I knew a child like this. She was a lovely, happy and intelligent child who suffered from an incurable genetic condition that meant her chances of living to be a teenager – much less an adult – were minimal. Even if the chances of her living to be an adult are slim, she deserves her chance at whatever life she can have. My higher insurance premiums that may have resulted from that? Please.”

I say: If we are going to have a health insurance system at all, I think it should not be based on the concept of wealth. We should all pay equally into a universal healthcare system and receive the same quality health coverage, regardless of our pre-existing conditions. Those who are well off may wish to also purchase individual insurance for additional benefits. Yes, even a government-run healthcare system has to make some money to pay for the people who work there, but until healthcare leaves the hands of private, profit-seeking companies, it will never be fair.

#3: Is it fair that a middle class married couple pays more in taxes than someone living off their investments, even though they both may be taking in the same amount of money? Is it fair to tax the rich more, but keep taxes on lower-income families low?

Brip Blap Says:The unfairness in the system – the loopholes, the weak taxation on rich people – may not benefit me now but it will when I am financially free. I plan to be one of the people living off my investments, earning no wage income and avoiding my fair share of taxes. So if I want to build wealth, why should I rail against this system? I intend for it to benefit me in the end.”

I Say: Taxes are never going to make everyone happy. If you live in a society with no taxes and a very limited government, the rich get richer, the poor get poorer, and the middle class disappears. Then the poor start a revolution and the rich get slaughtered. This has happened in history many times. Yes, it’s sounds extreme, but that’s what happens if you make it impossible for the poor to have at least some opportunity to make it into the middle class. The more opportunity you give, the less likely we’ll have another civil war one day. So as much as I hate knowing how much of my income gets zapped from my paycheck due to taxes, I know that at least some of those taxes benefit me (I’m glad the bridges are maintained, as to avoid falling into the East Bay). However, I’m not sure about taxing those living off interest income less than people earning the same amount. It seems taxes should be based solely off of income, regardless of where it comes from.

Brip Blap closes with a great point: “there is no fairness in a capitalistic society. Does anyone want complete fairness? Inequalities in the system are what allow wealth to be built.”

That’s very true. Otherwise we’d live in a communist society where we’d all (supposedly) be equal. We’d all work, get the same pay, have no reason to better ourselves or society. What kind of society would that be?

That’s why I think the role of the government should be to keep wealth in check. To give opportunity to people who are born in poverty and even middle class families. If I had my way, I’d make it illegal for parents to give their children money, and instead they’d put that money into a giant pot that would be divided up evenly amongst all the children in the country. It seems fair for individuals to build wealth, but unfair for their children to profit from such wealth. Yes, I come from a family where I did profit from my parent’s wealth, but at what cost? I’d probably be better off if I learned about budgeting from a young age, knowing that I would be on my own with a few hundred dollars in the back to start off with. Allowing families to pass money down from generation to generation is where unfairness begins.

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The Lawsuit and Rich Parents (aka, why I have $26k in my bank account at 24)

Many of you might wonder how on earth I have managed to save over $25k at 24… and to be honest, I’m a bit embarrassed to admit the truth. While I’d love to tell you all stories of how I worked my ass off through college, got an extremely well paying job the second I graduated and continued to watch my salary climb as the years passed, the reality is none of that is true.

Here’s what really happened:

I was born into an upper middle class family. My mother stayed at home. My dad was an actuary who made a strong six-figure salary. While my mother and I kept spending his hard-earned money, he still managed to save quite a bit. Additionally, his company had a pension plan and all of those old fangled tricks to keep people working at one company for their entire lives. And it worked… my dad, after dropping out of his graduate program in Physics at Cornell, ended up spending his entire life working for this one company and climbing the corporate ladder. He never seemed happy, as he certainly did not like my mother, and having to commute one hour each way into the city everyday couldn’t have helped.

But as he worked hard, I continued to reap the benefits. He saved up more than enough money to send me to a relatively expensive private institution for four years. Somehow he also managed to pay for my frequent shopping sprees to discount clothing stores. I was spoiled in an upper middle class sort of way. It’s not like I went out and bought Prada or even Coach. Designers always meant little to me, but nonetheless I had a major talent for spending heaps of cash.

If all of that were the entirety of my story, I would have graduated without debt, and with about $9k in savings thanks to dad’s “apartment for daughter after she graduates” fund. That would have been plenty more than I deserved.

But here’s the secret to my minor fortune:

In 6th grade, I broke my arm at my birthday party. I’m not quite sure whose fault that was, although my parents, our lawyer, and the judge all seemed to agree that the company running the party was at fault for negligence. As an 11-year-old, all I really wanted was an apology from the folks running my birthday party… after all, I had to leave three minutes into the festivities while the rest of my friends stayed and got to enjoy games and cake. Well, my “apology” came in the form of $15,000. Although $5000 was taken out in lawyer fees, by the time I could access the funds at 18, my bank account had grown to about that original sum.

So if you were wondering how on earth I have so much money – that’s how.

I do feel guilty about it, as I have many friends who had to take out loans to get through college and who will be paying for their education for years to come.

I’ve had the luxury to move across the country, to rent a $1050 a month apartment, and to mess up at a few jobs and figure out my career through trial and error. I’m lucky. I’m very, very lucky.

It’s hard to compare myself to others my age. I don’t know a great deal about people’s personal finances, but I have friends across the spectrum of class (ranging from “upper lower” class to “upper middle” class.)

My boyfriend’s situation is somewhat different, yet he also has money in savings and graduated with no loans. His mother has never moved out of her parents house. She’s worked consistently throughout her life, and has saved most of her income. While I was a spoiled little brat as a kid, my boyfriend never experienced the finer things in life… even though his family had the money to show him such things if they wanted to spend it. But instead, his mother believed in buying clothing from the thrift store. Last Christmas I was shocked that she got me a gift (it is the thought that counts) but I just found it interesting to see that the “gift” was a red wool coat that she had bought from a thrift store a while back, knowing that at some point she’d give it away as a gift.

I don’t judge her for this at all, I’m just fascinated by the different financial mindsets of people in America. I wonder how much of it is based on culture and religion, and how much is unique to each family and person. Even I believe that the best part of making more money is being able to share that money… at least with the person you love and your close friends.

There’s plenty more I can write about all of this, but I need to get some more work done this evening before heading off to bed. Please leave comments about this topic, as I’m interested in hearing about your families and how that influenced the way you spend and save today.

Edited to add: My parents no longer send me money. I’m on my own. If I was in debt or something awful happens, I know they’d be there to help as much as possible. But now I’m earning money and paying all of my bills, including rent.