Sunday, 24 June 2007

The greatest sin

Do you know what it is – according to the Americans? It’s not being rich, filthy rich, obscenely rich.

If you’re not rich, filthy rich, obscenely rich, it must be because you’re not trying hard enough. Anyone, whatever their field of expertise, whatever their abilities, whatever their education (or lack of), whatever the state of their health; whatever the economic situation in their country, can earn oodles of money if only they apply themselves to that goal. No exception.

I thought that the American Dream thing had been debunked long ago; that it had become obvious to everyone that being determined, flexible and hard-working just wasn’t enough; that the world was now a very different place from what it was at the turn of the last century – it may have been true then, it certainly isn’t now.

But, no, it looks like this kind of thinking is still alive. Someone, whose comments weren’t exactly welcome, advised me today to work harder. Er, yes, I would if I could. I would if I wasn’t unwell. I would if there was work to be had – somewhere. But there isn’t.

Quite apart from being astoundingly arrogant, this attitude is staggeringly stupid. It shows a complete lack of understanding of the way the world works. Only someone who has had a sheltered life or who, like the person in question, earns big bucks working for an international bank* in a European city that has, if one is to believe Wikipedia, the best quality of life anywhere in the world, can still come out with this kind of crap.


* Working in a bank: my worst nightmare!

Addendum (25/06/07): I love my hit counter: as well as telling me how many readers I have it tells me who reads me – those who can actually read and also those who can’t. You have been warned. LOL!


  1. Ok, just curious why you say "according to the Americans"? Is this referencing an article somewhere or something else I missed? Or just a response to your commenter?

    I thought rich people everywhere thought those of us who weren't rich were just too stupid or lazy to figure out the system :-)

  2. R, 'according to the Americans' is a bit of a generalization and my post is indeed a response to that person, but not just that. Yes, rich people everywhere take this condescending view of those who haven't achieved the same degree of wealth, but the American Dream wasn't called that for nothing: it is specifically American and comes from the Protestant work ethic, i.e. wealth through thrift and hard work. (The philosopher Alain de Botton discusses it in his book Status Anxiety.) There is no such assumption in other countries.

  3. It seems to me that the hardest work pays the least money - I mean physical, exhausting hard work, being a night cleaner or a sewage worker or a postman. I have in my mind the image of the MD of a company I worked for - he'd come in, read the paper for an hour, organise his wife's car insurance on the internet, dictate two letters, make a phone call, have a long lunch with a client, hold a short meeting, then go home. He told me his aim since business school where he did his MBA was to get promoted to the level where he was paid for his ideas not his labour.

  4. Also, what a cheek, that person! As far as I know from what you've said, Bela, you earn very little and indeed don't work all the time, but you're not taking any money from social security or your partner or friends, and are not in debt - you just don't spend very much. Is that right? You've said your flat is tiny and you don't go on holiday or eat at restaurants. So no one's money, directly or through taxes, goes to support you, so no one's got the right to tell you what to do about it, have they? In my view.

  5. It’s always been thus, L. Manual labour has always been badly paid. Consultants, those who are paid for what they have in their brains, earn the most.

    It’s simple: I earn very little because I don’t work full time. I don’t work full time because I’m not in good health, but I worked full time for 30 years and subscribed fully to the Protestant work ethic: work always came first; unfortunately, contrary to what the American Dream promises, I still didn’t earn very much for 25 of those years because, however much you may work, translation is badly paid; the only time I earned a good living was when I worked in-house in publishing. I don’t go on holiday or eat at restaurants again because of my bad health. But, you’re right, I don’t get money from the state or anyone else, and I do not owe a penny to anybody (I don’t have a mortgage and pay my credit card in full every month). I do not have any financial problems and even if I did no one is entitled to tell me what to do about it.

  6. You don't hear much about the American dream over here anymore. Can we blame outsourcing? I know whom I blame. Under the Bush administrations, the gap between the very rich and the rest of us has taken on the dimensions of the Grand Canyon. The Grand Canyon--now THAT'S something American to dream about.

  7. London is the same - the gulf between rich and poor is really apparent in every shopping street.

  8. My father came from the WW2 generation and he could never understand why I went from job to job. He said stay put, work hard you'll get somewhere. That's the American dream, it's what keeps people coming here. But dreams don't come true, they're just a distortion of reality. Today we don't dream of getting a good job, we dream of winning the lottery.

  9. It's true, Laura, that the American Dream seems to be obsolete, but the idea that if you don't make a success of your life (measured in money) you are not a 'good' person is still around. According to Alain de Botton, it is blamed, among other things, for what is seen as the lack of efficient social services in the USA.

    Lulu, London is now the most expensive city in the world (it used to be Tokyo) because of the influx of foreign millionaires (they get incredible tax breaks), who've made everything - especially property - go up. I'm especially annoyed: I left Paris because it was impossible to live there without having lots of money and now London has become even worse.

    Yes, J, the young dream of getting rich quick nowadays. I don't know how the two can coexist but they do.

    MH, your avatar is obscene. If you dislike what I write so much I suggest you stop reading my blog. I certainly have no intention of reading yours.

  10. Most people with money and (or) power, inherited it.

    George Bush is a distant cousin of Queen Elizabeth. John Kerry has blue blood from all the royal houses of Europe. Al Gore is a descendant of Edward I.

    Most people who work hard don't end up starving or living on the street, but it can happen. HEALTH is the key. In the U.S. we have no universal health plan. You can work as hard or harder than the next woman, but if you get sick, you can end up with nothing. And everyone who doesn't die first, ends up OLD and unable to work hard.

    The American Dream is a cruel joke that Americans play on themselves. Each new baby is greeted with the idea that "she/he can be anything!" Bullsh*t.

  11. Well, this American has worked all her life and will still never be able to afford her own house or ever go to Europe again. And that's just the big dreams.

    Money does not buy what it used to, and the financial laws that have been passed during the last few administrations (to use the term loosely) have stacked the deck in favor of the very rich to a degree that I think most ordinary Americans would be shocked to discover. And discover it they will, next time they have a financial crisis and there is nothing left, no safety nets, no programs, no help, no insurance. We have named a new class of people over here called the "working poor" - they have full-time jobs, often with two breadwinners in the family, and still no chance of ever getting out of poverty. More Americans are entering this class every day, and it has accelerated during the Bush II years. Welcome to Wal-Mart hell. (I hope they don't have those stores over in the UK - yet.)

  12. Phew, TLP and Flora, I’m so glad you confirmed what I said. It’s always difficult to criticise another country.

    Here the price of property means that already lots of people can’t afford to buy their own homes, but I don’t think we have ‘working poor’ yet, because of minimum wage, free healthcare, income support, etc. Some people don’t have much disposable income but at least their basic needs are covered by the state. Most of the people on the streets are there because of additional problems: mental illness, for instance, or youngsters who were in care and do not trust the authorities any longer, drug addicts...

  13. I can hear you: making pots of money sometimes entails disnenious means or circumstance or even sheer luck! It's not a measurement of hard work.
    No one became filthily rich by plain hard better tell your friend that.

  14. H, that person wasn't a 'friend', but any stretch of the imagination: my friends are not patronizing or rude.


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