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There was an article recently on Yahoo! Finance (reposted from Business Insider) that really made my stomach churn. Oddly enough, it did exactly the opposite of its supposed intent, which (I infer) was to make “rich people” seem less like elitist assholes.

21 Ways Rich People Think Differenly

Written by Mandi Woodruff, it’s presented as a condensed “interview” with author Steve Siebold, although it’s really just an article-length plug for his book How Rich People Think. (And no, I’m not going to link to it. You want it? Find it yourself.)

I’m going to break this into 22 posts—one for the introduction and one for each “way” in which rich people (whom Siebold gratingly calls “the world class”) think differently—which I will post at a rate of one per day at most. Each one, in its own way, shows how out of touch this so-called “world class” is with the actual world they live in.

World’s richest woman Gina Rinehart is enduring a media firestorm over an article in which she takes the “jealous” middle class to task for “drinking, or smoking and socializing” rather than working to earn their own fortune.

What if she has a point?

Steve Siebold, author of “How Rich People Think,” spent nearly three decades interviewing millionaires around the world* to find out what separates them from everyone else.

It had little to do with money itself, he told Business Insider. It was about their mentality.

“[The middle class] tells people to be happy with what they have,” he said. “And on the whole, most people are steeped in fear when it comes to money.”

Siebold makes three separate assertions in this introduction, each one of which is worthy of an essay all by itself. I’ll try to be brief.

First off, let’s look at the phrase “It had little to do with money itself”.

Seriously . . . WTF?

Here’s a newsflash for you: Nobody does anything with the intent of becoming or remaining poor. When it comes to “work”—whether that’s employment or a business or a creative venture—money is always a motivator. It is rarely the only motivator (well, in the case of businesses and creative ventures, anyway), but it is always part of the equation.

If people didn’t want to make money from their endeavors, those endeavors would be hobbies. Electricians wouldn’t call themselves electricians, they’d say “I enjoy toying around with wiring and circuits”. Musicians wouldn’t call themselves musicians, they’d say “I like playing music”. Football players wouldn’t call themselves football players, they’d say “I like to toss the ball around.” If one does something enough to call oneself a doer of that thing, it is pretty much always because one is making or wants to make money doing it. Money is always a motivator.

Now, let’s look at the next statement, “[The middle class] tells people to be happy with what they have”.

Um . . . since when? Mostly, the middle class are looking upward. Earn more! Acquire more! Get the big house! Drive the fancy car! YOU NEED MORE STUFF!

It may be misplaced and focused on the wrong things, but the upward aspiration is there. The last thing that the middle class believes is that they should be “happy with what they have.” In fact, I don’t think anyone believes that**.

Finally, we have the assertion that “most people are steeped in fear when it comes to money.”

To be fair to Siebold, this is a true statement. But he says it as if it’s somehow an irrational fear.

Another newsflash: Most people are afraid about money because they’re one or two paychecks away from insolvency! True, that is often the case because of suboptimal life choices, but it’s a vicious circle. Fear makes people irrational, which causes them to make bad choices, which gives them more financial stress, which makes them more afraid. It’s not like people can easily shake themselves out of this and say “Wow, I’ve been behaving irrationally; it’s time to break this cycle!” If it were that easy, I’d have done it by now, and I’m more consciously aware of how caught up I am in it than most people are.

There’s a very insightful article by John Cheese (no, not John Cleese, John Cheese, as in “cheddar”) on Cracked.com called The 5 Supidest Habits You Develop Growing Up Poor. Specifically, item #4 (second on the list, because they almost always count down from 5 to 1) is apropos to this point. To those of you who have never been poor, it may sound crazy. But I have been poor, and it’s true: when all your income goes towards survival, thinking about money is terrifying. And when you’ve been denying yourself simple pleasures or small luxuries for months or years on end, any influx of cash goes, not into savings, but into soothing those feelings of desperation and deprivation that living paycheck-to-paycheck engenders.

There’s a lot more to say about this, but I’ll stop here for now. Tomorrow (or shortly thereafter), I’ll post Part 1, which deals with the claim that “Average people think MONEY is the root of all evil. Rich people believe POVERTY is the root of all evil.”


*Am I the only one who is thinking “Okay, but did he also interview poor people around the world? You know, as a control?” Because it sure looks like he didn’t, for reasons that will be made more clear as this series progresses.

**Some of you will say “What about buddhist monks? Or other ascetics who renounce worldly goods in favor of spiritual enlightenment?” My response is: even those people want more. Not more money or more stuff, but more of whatever drove them to seek spiritual enlightenment in the first place. Only dead people have no goals or aspirations at all.


( 36 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 6th, 2012 02:48 pm (UTC)
I have known rich people, some of them very wealthy. I only glanced at his article, did he include "Rich people have a sociopath's regard for the rest of the human race" in there?

Because that's what I saw a lot of. If you weren't a friend, or immediately family, then fuck you was the attitude.
Sep. 6th, 2012 02:50 pm (UTC)
Wow, you read fast.

He doesn't say it in so many words, because basically the whole thing is a glorification of the rich, but he makes certain points that make that "sociopath's regard" quite clear, as I'll be getting into in later installments.
Fear...? - niall_shapero - Sep. 6th, 2012 07:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Fear...? - ebenbrooks - Sep. 6th, 2012 08:38 pm (UTC) - Expand
Sep. 6th, 2012 03:04 pm (UTC)
For the first time in Steve's and my adult lives, we have a comfortable income. I think what Sieberg describes here is the attitude of people who have been rich for a while, and have convinced themselves it's permanent. It's not.

Having money isn't just hard work, or more people would be millionaires. There's a lot of luck involved. There are some tactics and skills, which you can read in books; we did.

On the other hand, I also made choices most other people would rather not to get where I am. The Army is getting to be a whole lot of misery, but it reaps benefits so I deal with it.

We also have benefitted from generosity. Steve's dad could have left all his money to the Church, but he didn't. When our old gold Saturn died in 2007, friends of ours passed a hat to put towards the red Saturn I'm still driving today.

This is why as I'm sitting pretty financially, I'm doing what I can to help other people achieve the same thing. It's why I give to Kiva, buy the work of self-published authors, donate to Kickstarter, etc. I figure I best do it now--all things are temporary.
Sep. 6th, 2012 03:37 pm (UTC)
All very good points. It does take discipline and making some hard choices to get from poverty to financial stability and thence to wealth. But support from family and friends also helps, and so does plain old luck.

Related story: when I went to Music Strategies in 2010, the message that Tim Sweeney, the man who runs the conference and who advises musicians and other artists around the world on how to make more money and get more recognition, pushed the idea that fame comes from knowledge and perseverance. And then every one of the speakers he brought in to talk to us said, at some point in their presentation, "...and then I caught a break." So, yeah, here's Tim saying that knowledge and hard work are the key, and everyone else saying "I got lucky." Go figger.
Luck is a good thing... - niall_shapero - Sep. 6th, 2012 07:17 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Luck is a good thing... - ebenbrooks - Sep. 6th, 2012 08:39 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Luck is a good thing... - kishiriadgr - Sep. 6th, 2012 08:47 pm (UTC) - Expand
Sep. 6th, 2012 03:15 pm (UTC)
A lot of this seems, to me, to come down to what people think makes them wealthy versus what does. I'm reminded of a cartoon, of the New Yorker variety, I saw in my Trusts & Estates textbook...

A father talking to son in his (well-appointed) study: "It's very simple. I started out buying one unsharpened pencil for a penny, sharpened it, and sold it for two pennies. With those two, I bought two unsharpened pencils, sharpened them, and sold them for two pennies each. Then your Aunt Hilda died and left me ten million dollars."

Rinehart's whole "you need to work harder" thing is a reflection of this kind of disconnect. Even if she in fact put her back into it and grew an economic empire out of nothing, and didn't get a leg up (I have no idea how she got rich and I don't give a shit), she still got lucky, and many people who put just as much personal energy or more into their work don't. And because she got lucky, and doesn't even realize it, she thinks "anybody can do what I did!"

This also underscores the "little to do with money" point. Rich people get to not think about money. They don't have to worry about making the next rent payment or food bill. That just happens. It's an abstraction.

Edited at 2012-09-06 07:16 pm (UTC)
Sep. 6th, 2012 03:41 pm (UTC)
Exactly. A lot of the points that I'll be looking at further down in the article underscore exactly this point: the rich don't have to think about money when they don't want to! The rest of us have to think about it all the time, and 99% of the time, it's because we have to figure out how we can afford to spend it this month, which is an exercise in frustration and disappointment to most.
(no subject) - neo_tanuki - Sep. 6th, 2012 04:16 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - scifantasy - Sep. 6th, 2012 04:20 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - neo_tanuki - Sep. 6th, 2012 04:36 pm (UTC) - Expand
Sep. 6th, 2012 03:49 pm (UTC)
Well...that's...gross. And another example of an author without very good critical faculties.
Sep. 6th, 2012 04:03 pm (UTC)
And only reporting one side of the story. And completely ignoring the rules of objectivity and detachment.
Sep. 6th, 2012 04:20 pm (UTC)
On that whole mad spending of extra money thing... yeah, I'm so experiencing that right now.

I do really well. I'm solidly middle class at this point, but I'm still not comfortable with spending money. I try to make sure I'm not overspending for like six months at a time and then I get a bonus check from work and BOOM!

I just ran out and spent a buncha $$ on clothes. I need them. It isn't frivolous spending. My old clothes are mostly 5+ years old, are showing wear and in many cases don't fit well anymore. And, when all things are normal, it wouldn't be a problem. I could afford it. But my automatic response is to clench up again and imitate a turnip. Then in another six months there will be a spending spree again.
Sep. 6th, 2012 04:57 pm (UTC)
I almost did the same thing when my tax return this year was much larger than I thought it would be. I allocated some of it for a new computer. Now, admittedly, I haven't actually bought that new computer yet, but ... well, I need one, soon, and so it's only a matter of time.
Sep. 6th, 2012 04:28 pm (UTC)
OK, took a look at the article you linked. Some thoughts and reactions:

1) As I said in another comment below, I have no personal beef with people simply because they are wealthy. Wealthy people can be nice and some of them have worked very hard and striven to get where they are today. That's cool.

2) However, the person interviewed in this article (Siebold?) does come across to me as thinking "If you are a member of income bracket X, you are automatically a better critical thinker, worker, and person than anyone in bracket Y." This has more errors than I can shake a stick at:
A. It neglects the fact that many wealthy people simply inherited their income.
B. Wealthy people aren't automatically successful. There are many people who gained or started with wealth who ended up broke due to poor investments, war, misfortune, or (ding!) poor judgment (like trusting someone you shouldn't with access to your bank book.)
C. He completely ignores the fact that some people became VERY wealthy by stealing and cheating others (Bernie Madoff, the heads of Enron, etc.)
D. (IMHO, most important point) There's an ongoing implication in his comments that wealth=virtue. (Reminds me of what I've read about Ayn Rand). His arguments kinda sorta wibbley wobbley hold up if he's only talking about people who created their own wealth through hard work and innovation. But he extends it into the fallacy that ANYONE with a certain amount of income must be virtuous because they created their own wealth through hard work and innovation. See points A, B, and C above!

So, yeah. Basically, this is some dude who admires wealthy people (apparently just because they are wealthy) and generalizes some very silly conclusion about people of a certain income level with very little to support himself. Of course, these are all soundbites presented with no facts to back them up, too.
Sep. 6th, 2012 05:00 pm (UTC)
"Of course, these are all soundbites presented with no facts to back them up, too."

Exactly, which is why I called it a poorly-dressed plug for his book.

Good observation on the Rand bit. I was getting that vibe from it, too, but for some reason didn't quite put my finger on it right away. And yes, he's definitely pushing the "wealth = virtue" agenda, but he's also shooting himself in the foot, because the examples he provides are in some cases ridiculous, in others infuriating, and in all cases woefully incomplete.
(no subject) - neo_tanuki - Sep. 6th, 2012 05:16 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ebenbrooks - Sep. 6th, 2012 05:20 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - neo_tanuki - Sep. 6th, 2012 05:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
Sep. 6th, 2012 04:31 pm (UTC)
I have to add, just for the sake of disclosure, that Minette and I both tremendously enjoy watching the Wealth TV channel on television. They've run some really neat documentaries on the Hapsburg Emperors of Austria and fun shows on big castles and mansions in Europe. I even liked their documentary on Ridiculously Decadent Yachts.

So there is the virtue of enterainment from the rich, if nothing else! :D

Personally, I would advise against getting too worked up about this silly person, because A) It isn't worth the aggravation it will bring you, he's too shallow; and B) A lot of what you are arguing is really apparent just from the shallow foolishness of his comments! ;P

However, the sheer absurdity of some of his remarks did clear up a bit of my earlier gloom. So there's an unintentional good deed!
Sep. 6th, 2012 05:16 pm (UTC)
"Personally, I would advise against getting too worked up about this silly person..."

I'm not getting worked up, per se, but I feel I need to continue with this point-by-point refutation, for two reasons: 1) I think I'll enjoy it, and 2) there are still so many people who believe this shit! I have friends who believe this shit, as silly and stupid as it is. So I feel it's my ethical duty to respond.
(no subject) - neo_tanuki - Sep. 6th, 2012 05:24 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ebenbrooks - Sep. 6th, 2012 05:43 pm (UTC) - Expand
Statistics... - niall_shapero - Sep. 6th, 2012 07:37 pm (UTC) - Expand
Sep. 6th, 2012 05:46 pm (UTC)
That is such a bullshit article... I'm glad you're taking it apart and I look forward to reading your evisceration.
Sep. 6th, 2012 05:48 pm (UTC)
Thank you. I'm actually thinking of putting the link in a comment on the article itself, even if it does open me up to vitriolic abuse, because I think people need to know just how much bullshit the article is. What do you think?
Sep. 6th, 2012 07:12 pm (UTC)
My thoughts...
When I was a "starving student" (many, many years ago), I had to budget carefully in order to be able to afford a candy bar at the end of the week. If I spoiled a meal, that meant that I DIDN'T GET TO EAT THAT MEAL. No "do overs". No "toss it out and try again". Food was limited. If I screwed up the meal, I either ate the crap I'd cooked, or I went hungry. I learned how to cook rather well (or at least, how to cook things that I liked to eat). I learned how to cook "peasant food" (soups and stews and the like), because I could make a large quantity cheaply, and then freeze it. I'd spend two days cooking, then I'd be able to live on the results for two weeks.
I put myself through two years of undergraduate and four years of grad school, working some of the crappiest jobs you ever saw. I did all sorts of things for money (all legal and, thankfully, ethical and moral, but not particularly "fun"). I did, I will admit, come from a middle class background - so I wasn't "pre-programmed" to do potentially stupid things. But I came out of it with a tendency to be VERY careful about my money (and to "plan for a rainy day"). When I ended up out of work, recently, I had enough cash in my "war chest" to survive for almost five years; it will take some time to rebuild the war chest, but I am in the process of doing it now that I am once again gainfully employed.
Things get put off until I can afford them. It's called, "delayed gratification". It's not easy, it's not fun, but it improves one's survival chances.
My brother married into a rich family when I was much younger; when I went back East one year (before I was paying my way 100% in school) I stayed with them for a weekend. It convinced me that, while I wanted "more money coming in than going out" I most definitely did NOT want to be "rich". The life they (my brother's in-laws) lead was one that would have driven me insane within months; they lived in constant fear that someone would hurt them, would try and take their wealth away, or would try and hurt someone that they cared about. I decided that I didn't need to live in that kind of a paranoid environment; since I did not sense that their fear was really paranoia ("even paranoids have real enemies") - that it was grounded in reality - I decided to "live a different style life".
Sep. 6th, 2012 08:43 pm (UTC)
Re: My thoughts...
You were blessed with a gift, that of willpower and discipline. Alas, these gifts are not common. The problem is, it's easy for some people to dismiss others as "not worth my time" for not having them, when in fact they are simply behaving the way humans behave.
Re: My thoughts... - niall_shapero - Sep. 6th, 2012 08:51 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: My thoughts... - ebenbrooks - Sep. 6th, 2012 08:53 pm (UTC) - Expand
Sep. 6th, 2012 07:30 pm (UTC)
Rule 7, a short (?) comment...
I looked at Number 7: Average people earn money doing things they don't love. Rich people follow their passion.

I immediately thought of Larry Niven. Larry was born to the purple - to call his family wealthy is like calling a supernova luminous (He is a great-grandson of oil tycoon Edward Doheny).

His first science fiction sale (THE COLDEST PLACE, 1964) was made when he was roughly 26 years old. He managed to scrape through school and get a BA in math before that. But he had the opportunity to try and make a living as a writer because he was already set up for life financially.

This is not to be taken as criticism of Mr. Niven - I really love his short stories. But if he had been born to a middle class family like mine, he would not have had the OPPORTUNITY to spend the necessary time learning the craft of writing (which, for the most part, does NOT pay at all well). He would have been forced by circumstances to "get a decent job" (or go hungry a LOT).

Rich people can AFFORD to follow their passion; average people may not have a choice but to do what will keep a roof over their heads and food on the table.

Failing to recognize this "little" difference between rich and average people is a disconnect.
Sep. 6th, 2012 08:44 pm (UTC)
Re: Rule 7, a short (?) comment...
Yup. A big one. I'll of course get into it more when I "review" point #7 in about a week.
( 36 comments — Leave a comment )

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