In a recent New York Times article, Rachel Sherman, a sociology professor at the New School in New York City, recounts interviews she conducted with members of the top two percent. These individuals often hide their wealth by removing price tags from fancy furniture or expensive bread so that their hired help won’t see the astronomical difference in their wealth. This might seem absurd, but Sherman goes into detail as she explains the logic of the upper class and its impact on the morality of our own class system.
Sherman observes and records the moral implications of wealth. Those who inherit wealth might be viewed as “self-indulgent” while those who work in finance jobs are considered “working rich.” Their income, though substantial, is not seen to be permanent. They work in impermanent jobs but reap the rewards of intensely high salaries.
These working rich are not the typical upper-crust. They are not new money, in the sense that they do not flaunt their wealth. Instead, they are uncomfortable with their wealth and their position in the class system. They work. They explain that they eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. They walk their children to school. They don’t own private jets. Yet they manage to spend over half a million dollars in a year. Their tastes are luxurious, from their living quarters to the bread they eat. Yet, they work hard to make their day-to-day lives seem “normal.” And they hide their wealth in terms of price tags, but they still make the expensive purchase.
As Sherman recounts the things the rich have told her, she concludes her piece with several questions. She wonders if the morality of a work ethic, philanthropy and being a good, decent people is enough to counter wealth inequality. Or, should society strive to remove the idea that wealth is morally fine so long as it is earned? Should we live in a society that finds wealth inequality itself immoral?
These questions are worth considering, especially as income inequality continues to increase.