Zajímavý text nazvaný What the Rich Won’t Tell You vyšel v New Your Times. Řeč je v něm o bohatých Američanech, ale do značné míry se dá myslím vztáhnout i na bohaté – či zbohatlé – Čechy. A co že to bohatí neřeknou? Neřeknou, že jsou bohatí a jak jsou bohatí a své bohatství dokonce tají, třeba i tak, že odstraňují cenovky, aby personál v domácnosti (dříve by se řeklo služebnictvo) nevěděl, za kolik nakupují (což on ale samozřejmě ví, takže jde o rituál bez reálného efektu). Přitom se sami za bohaté nepovažují a mluví o sobě jako „normálních lidech“ a „střední třídě“, protože se srovnávají s těmi ještě bohatšími, své nerovnosti a svých privilegií jsou si však vědomi, a i proto o svém bohatství mlčí. Aby bylo jasno, o jak bohatých lidech je řeč, tak jsou to ti, kteří mají majetek v řádech desítek miliónů dolarů a roční příjmy na rodinu ve vyšších statisících až milionech.
We often imagine that the wealthy are unconflicted about their advantages and in fact eager to display them. Since Thorstein Veblen coined the term “conspicuous consumption” more than a century ago, the rich have typically been represented as competing for status by showing off their wealth. Our current president is the conspicuous consumer in chief, the epitome of the rich person who displays his wealth in the glitziest way possible.
Yet we believe that wealthy people seek visibility because those we see are, by definition, visible. In contrast, the people I spoke with expressed a deep ambivalence about identifying as affluent. Rather than brag about their money or show it off, they kept quiet about their advantages.
To hide the price tags is not to hide the privilege; the nanny is no doubt aware of the class gap whether or not she knows the price of her employer’s bread. Instead, such moves help wealthy people manage their discomfort with inequality, which in turn makes that inequality impossible to talk honestly about — or to change.
My interviewees never talked about themselves as “rich” or “upper class,” often preferring terms like “comfortable” or “fortunate.” Some even identified as “middle class” or “in the middle,” typically comparing themselves with the super-wealthy, who are especially prominent in New York City, rather than to those with less.
When I used the word “affluent” in an email to a stay-at-home mom with a $2.5 million household income, a house in the Hamptons and a child in private school, she almost canceled the interview, she told me later. Real affluence, she said, belonged to her friends who traveled on a private plane.
At the same time, the rise of finance and related fields means that many of the wealthiest are the “working rich,” not the “leisure class” Veblen described. The quasi-aristocracy of the WASP upper class has been replaced by a “meritocracy” of a more varied elite. Wealthy people must appear to be worthy of their privilege for that privilege to be seen as legitimate.
Another woman told me about a child she knew of whose father had taken the family on a $10,000 vacation; afterward the child had said, “It was great, but next time we fly private like everyone else.”
These efforts respond to widespread judgments of the individual behaviors of wealthy people as morally meritorious or not. Yet what’s crucial to see is that such judgments distract us from any possibility of thinking about redistribution. When we evaluate people’s moral worth on the basis of where and how they live and work, we reinforce the idea that what matters is what people do, not what they have. With every such judgment, we reproduce a system in which being astronomically wealthy is acceptable as long as wealthy people are morally good.