Thursday, January 20, 2005

The Best Things in Life Are Free

Again, a rant/writing assignment:

America has an ever widening-wealth gap in which a family of four with two incomes cannot always afford to buy a house. The costs of things like education, health care and housing are increasing at a rate that outpaces inflation and wage increases. Americans see wealth as an accomplishment and afford more privilege and opportunity to the rich simply because of their wealth.

Contrary to popular belief, America is not a meritocracy. People are not always rewarded according to their talents and how hard they work. There is so much built into the socio-economic structure of our society that keeps the “wrong kind of people” from getting ahead, or even being able to earn a decent living. Discrimination is big part of this system. People like to think that racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination are all in the past. They even hold up examples of minorities that have been successful and hold positions of power. They do not notice the multitudes of poor people of color that are forced to live in dangerous housing projects and afforded little opportunity for a better life. They do not notice the woman that is looked over for the promotion because she’s not part of the Good Ol Boys’ club. They do not notice the immigrant that is branded a terrorist out of fear and misunderstanding. They do not notice the disabled man that isn’t able to get a job or even run his errands due to lack of mass transportation in his city.

Wealth often brings about power, which in turn brings about even more wealth. It’s a classic case of the rich getting richer. When a family can’t even earn enough to make ends meet, they certainly don’t have money left over to put into savings. They are not able to purchase a house or help finance their children’s education. This is where the poor get poorer. Compound interest works for those who have money and against those who don’t. This trend carries over into the next generation. Wealthy people leave their excess to their children, who have already grown up with privileges, while the poor have not been able to send their kids to college and have no savings for their own retirement, much less anything to pass on to their children.

There are many obstacles to obtaining wealth and there are also many ways that people obtain wealth they did not rightfully earn. When you take these two ideas together, it becomes ridiculous to judge a person’s intrinsic value based on their net worth. Celebrities are a prime example of people judged superior to the average citizen because of their wealth. Some would argue they usually have talent that sets them apart, but I beg to differ. The number of people famous because of their parents is growing by the week, i.e. Paris and Nicole. Most celebrities do have acting or musical ability, but something else happened to catapult them from being the good singer or great chef into celebrity status. They got paid a ridiculous amount of money to star in a movie or they opened a chain of restaurants that are the height of popularity. Most of the time, they had rich parents to support them while they went to acting school and then spent years auditioning, or they were able to ask a wealthy family member to finance their first album as well as the promotion necessary to become a well-known recording artist.

The effects of such a wealth-obsessed society are many. When people think that everyone with money is a worthy person, it follows that those without money are lacking in skills, talent or morality. People get caught up in the trap of believing that they must provide luxuries for themselves and their families, and that they are bad people if they can’t make the money required to do that. This leads to epidemics of low self-esteem and even depression among the working class, which puts them even further behind the elite. All of this adds up to a society where the few people that are lucky enough to be wealthy are looked up to by the masses of people that aren’t that lucky. Children get the wrong message as they grow up and see how much easier life is when your parents have money and/or power. Unconsciously, they begin to place an inordinate value on wealth just like those around them and the cycle continues.

When a society becomes competitive instead of cooperative, some people get left behind. It gets harder and harder for them to catch up, since few people will take the time to stop and help someone when they feel they are losing the race as well. It seems to me there will become a time when the race will not become worth running if too many people are unable to reach the finish line.

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