the danger of the temporarily embarrassed millionaires ideology28 Jan 2017
i can’t remember where i heard this line, but it’s amazing.
“Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.” — ronald wright*, a short history of progress
this makes so much sense to me. in fact, just last night when i was at the 2 dope queens live show in boston (thanks dcc!) i saw it. as part of a lead-up to a punchline, a comedian asked a white man in the audience if he was a millionaire. his response: “not yet.”
this mindset causes so many problems in america. the most obvious problem is that it keeps the poor advocating for policies that are against their economic interests. on temporarilyembarassedmillionaries.org, the body text states:
You may not realise it, but you could be a temporarily embarrassed millionaire. Do you plan to someday in the future have more money? Are you concerned that your taxes are too high, because someday you might pay too much tax. Do you ride the bus only because this year you can’t afford that luxury car you’re going to have? Do you live pay cheque to pay cheque like most people just because you haven’t had your lucky break.
You aren’t rich and it’s very unlikely you ever will be. The economic and power systems of this planet are not designed for you to get rich. The American dream doesn’t exist and it never did. Stop being a temporarily embarrassed millionaire and just be a person.
now, i don’t agree with the call to action on that page (though i’m infinitely curious about the person/people who pay to keep it up), that second paragraph is dead on. if you’re not rich now, statistically, there is an almost 0% chance that you will ever get rich. because a capitalist economy isn’t designed to do that. and even if it were, oppression is a thing that keeps people in power and helps those people prevent other people from getting it. this is why it’s so critical to the wealthy to keep poor people dreaming about being wealthy. of course, the rich recognize that it’s never gonna happen for most of the poor so they are not threatened by the occasional person who does make it. in fact, it’s important to herald that person as a huge success because it stokes the dream. but statistically, the chances of that happening are literally tiny.
a related problem this temporarily emabrassed millionaire thing brings about is a prevention of other goal setting. when the goal is to be rich, people tend to under-prioritize other valuable goals. for example, what if the ideal life of an american meant being healthy, connected to your community, happy, and fulfilled? our entire economy and culture would be shaped differently.
but instead, it’s shaped around money and the consumerism one is allowed to partake in when you have disposable income. i wonder what would happen if we instead demonized or pitied the rich because it made them under-prioritize other important life goals? maybe i’ll write an alternative futures story about that…
* note: apparenty this quote is misattributed often to John Steinbeck, but there are no quotes around the words when wright writes them in a short history of progress. therefore, it’s most accurate to attribute it wright, even though it obviously loses some of the ethos of being a steinbeck quote, especially given steinbeck’s subject matter.
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