Chapter 10 – Wealth of sorts

Life can be strange when you look at it but one thing for sure is that it’s unquestionably entertaining. For most of us, we are the so-called simple folks or the middle-class of society. That’s all very heartening to know and feel but what exactly is the middle-class? Is it just a mere hodgepodge of wage-earners and what sort of wages can qualify you to be middle-class?

Is someone earning say 2,500 per month of any dollars qualify to be middle-class? What about someone who earns 7,500 per month? Or that chap who earns say 12,000? Can he be considered affluent or just middle-class? Yet from 2.5 grand to 12 grand, it is an almost 500% differential in earning. Therefore should we be more divisively or categorically precise of the middle-classes? Could there or should there actually be a lower-lower-middle, lower-middle, middle-middle, upper-middle and upper-upper middle class? In this case, we’d actually have 6 levels of middle-classes. Then again, how about a person earning say 25,000 a month? Can he or she be considered affluent or just super-middle-class?

Song Dynasty Jiaozi,- the world’s
earliest paper money

So at the same time, what does it take to be qualified as or considered wealthy? Can a person who earns the equivalent of 200,000 a month be referred to as wealthy? What about those earning 500,000 or 2 million or 20 million a month? There’s a huge discrepancy and disparity in these primetime earners. There’s a 100-fold difference between 200,000 and 20 million. Yet still either way, it’s “helluva” lot of money for an average bloke.

Are we to also then have the lower-lower-wealthy, lower-wealthy, middle-wealthy, upper-wealthy, upper-upper-wealthy and super-wealthy? Incidentally too as with the so-called middle-class, these are 6 classes. So which class do you belong to? Maybe next time when they make references in socio-economics, they might as well be a bit more descriptive instead of subscribing to meaningless expediency.

So what exactly do administrations and “experts” mean when they say they would like to elevate standards of living and eradicate poverty? Does that also mean that the poor can be divided into numerous classes and rising from the hard-core poor or the destitute on to the ranks of the marginally poor? We could easily create 6 levels and end with a 6-6-6 in social standings. That could indeed be all too telling too!

Photo by Nafise Motlaq

The poor we generally know and tend to clump them together. Most of us might not even want to think about them but exactly who belongs to the middle-class and to the affluent? As a matter of fact, quite a sizeable number of people who are referred to as middle-class are actually the “affluent poor” or aptly described as those who are not destitute but are always financially short and regularly still feel inadequate. Then they go shop for an LV bag.

As we might easily encounter, most men want to just earn a decent income and go home to their families every evening. Most women would like a well-behaved and caring husband, one who would bring home the bread and stay home in the evenings and not to be out with the boys and up to no-good. Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? Still, such simple aspirations are quite seeming and rare indeed.

Life is full of complications and contradictions. Some are circumstantial and some are self-created or self-inflicted while some may be inevitable impositions. Sex and money issues often get in the way of marriages and the so-called middle-class are likely to just be working their butts-off just to make ends meet and if possible, to have a little extra.

The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh.

Wealth in its intrinsic meaning should also mean quality of life. Take it hypothetically if you may but take the situation with Roq who’s a lower-middle-class guy. He is such a lover of fine cars, knows their specifications inside-out and has always dreamt of owning one. After all, he has been drooling looking at all those high-resolution wallpapers of performance cars. One fine day while in his late-30s, he was fortunate enough to have earned 1,000,000 dollars in a deal of a lifetime.

Photo by Leon Petrosyan

He spends most of it on a fine car instead of bettering on his living standards and conditions. He drives around in style but cannot afford a finer home than his present lower-middle-class abode. “That can wait” he says to himself and laconically believes a fine car that does 0-60 in 4 seconds will make him look good and whereby attract more admiration and money. Instead he has to maintain his dream car with top-dollars and it is guzzling high-grade fuel like nobody’s business. Now is that betterment to his quality of life? Yes, appearance can be truly deceiving and most of us are deceptively pretentious in our image portrayal.

In retrospect, he could have instead moved into a better home, still have a lovely car albeit not a super-marque; have money for partying with family and friends, eat better meals and still have some decent savings left and move up the social ladder at least a couple of notches. Alas, he became remorseful but managed to dismiss his poor judgment as one of life’s mistakes and continues to strive for another 1,000,000 dollars or perhaps an even better double million-dollar pay-out of a deal. However, that deal seemed elusive and he strives even harder in the midst of his wife’s incessant nagging, third-degree and harsh reminders of “I told you so” and “you stupid fellow, you blew it all”.

 

On the other hand, you have another chap Lee who happens to be a wealthy person but who apart from having loads of cash and assets, uncannily also has loads of responsibilities and financial commitments. For a start, he has payrolls to fulfil, mortgages and business loans to service, taxes to pay, law suits to defend, wife’s and mistress’s spending to provide. He also has officials, business associates and clients to entertain. Lee has hypertension, a life-threatening cardio condition and diabetes as well since these 3 ailments are what some call buddy-diseases which generally go hand-in-hand.

On top of that, he bemoans his uric acid is high owing to all the rich foods he has been voraciously consuming and as a result he suffers from painful tingling gout. He has to watch his diet and though he can well afford the best, he’s forced to shun consuming good and rich foods. His medication and his stress level have to be constantly monitored. After a long day at the office, he lies to his wife he has to entertain clients when in actual fact, he is en route to his concubine’s pad. So finally he gets there but hell, to his horror he discovers that he may have joined the ranks of the penile-dysfunctional. The day’s stress seems to have had the better of him.

Photo from UpstateNYer

When he awakes each morning, he is anxious whether his portfolio of investments would be going up or down. He worries whether the string of companies he owns would remain viable or whether diversification is timely or more spending has to be injected. He worries about the unions and those smiling politicians soliciting donations for their party coffers. He does not enjoy freedom of anonymity and cannot simply go on low-profile dates even when a strikingly beautiful and luscious lady invites him. And when he finally gets lucky, he worries whether there would be any spy cams hideously placed to capture him in lewd action or worse still reveal his shortcomings and failings in bed.

He worries whether there’ll be any blackmailing and paternity suits arising in the imminent future. He is habitually suspicious of people he meets – especially those who are not as affluent or enjoy similar social standings as him. Then he always has a nagging anxiety and is saying to himself, “I hope any issues about money coming from me will not crop up”.

He is particularly weary of his relatives and don’t need new friends. He is pointedly so afraid that somebody would raise an issue about money, come with business proposals or plainly seeking a loan. Most, he opines, would be after his money. He wants people to know that he is wealthy as well as don’t want people to know he is wealthy. So in actual fact, he has a whole lot of anxieties. Arrogance can set in especially when he is in the presence of those with lesser wealth: sort of to say “I’m richer than you are; so I must be smarter and luckier than you – so God must truly favour me”. He views others with sheer disdain, contempt and indignation.

Eurasian vulture – Photo by Thermos

One can equate his haughty ascribes as akin to the idiosyncrasies of vultures and other wily scavengers; those who’re there principally for his picking and that those lower-statured are his pickings to be had. He worries about being kidnapped and forcibly having to bear the greater pain of needing to pay a stiff ransom to procure liberty. He constantly worries that ill-health and the resultant untimely death might dispossess him and extirpate him from the continual pleasures his wealth brings. Overall, he worries about possible risks of indentations to his wealth.

The French have been very explicit in this area of societal classification. Bourgeois is the wealth stratum of socio-economic classes which came about in the Middle Ages. In English reference, the Bourgeoisie belong to the middle-class but in French, they are the middle and upper classes. They are aptly divided into 4 classes. Namely, these are la petite bourgeoisie, la moyenne bourgeoisie, la grande bourgeoisie and la haute bourgeoisie.

The la petite bourgeoisie is basically people who have improved their financial standings for a generation or two. They are typically traders or craftsmen or basically a small entrepreneur. Mostly, they are different and distinguishable from the typical worker. Although self-employed, they mostly may not be able to employ others. A typical example would be the shopkeeper or small farm owner.

prototypical bourgeois

After a couple of generations, they would likely have progressed to be a La Moyenne Bourgeoisie. They have larger and stable income as well as some assets – especially real estate and would have some connections with aristocrats and social circles of means. Comparably, they would belong to a class such as the so-called American upper-middle class. La grande bourgeoisie naturally have more wealth than la moyenne bourgeoisies. They are families that have been bourgeois for at least some 5 generations or since the 19th. Century. They marry with the aristocracy and have advantageous marriages to grow their wealth.

With large cultural and historical heritage amassed over time, their names are well-known in their cities or circles and are part of the local history. French speakers often refer to them as la petite haute bourgeoisie as well. The top of the strata is the la haute bourgeoisie. In a crux, they are time-tested and their wealth and status have only come about through time. They belong to the nobility and many have been bourgeoisies since the French Revolution. The French often refer to them as “les 200 familles” or “The 200 Families”. With lavish lifestyles, they have esteemed professions with celebrated marriages and don’t marry below their status. They vigorously guard their realm from the nouveau riche or “new money”.

Raxus, a moderate-poor chap whom everybody affectionately calls Rax, on the other hand, has mostly very simple and straightforward aspirations. Mostly he hopes to co-exist as a dignified human being and wants others to accept him as he is, a moderate-poor chap, and still accord him due respect. He hopes life would be slightly better and don’t think too far ahead simply because he can’t afford or daren’t. Affable by nature, he is less suspicious of people and is able to see the goodness in those he comes across though some may actually be quirky.

He isn’t too afraid with his security or the imperilled risks of bad business deals and worse still, being a victim to robbery and kidnapping. According to Rax who is often rather comical and light-hearted, he is not weary of his wife slipping arsenic into his food while being avariciously and deviously motivated by inheriting his moneyed estate simply because he has none.

For such simpletons, getting laid may be free and with no nasty surprises nor hidden strings attached. As Rax sassily puts it, “we don’t have the chance or means of corrupting our systems with sumptuous drags of alcohol so much so as to render us erectile-dysfunctional”. “Sex can be the highlight of the day and we immerse ourselves in the pleasure of looking forward to it”. “Predictably, we end-up having larger families and work hard to ensure that we are all provided for even if it meant just basic needs with a treat here and there”.

He comes home to a house full of energy and activity and at the end of the day, they all settle down and spend some quality time together. They feel a sense of contentment and achievement with the consolation of having a nice family. “We have each other and yes no doubt, we frequently worry about making some extra money here and there”.

“We worry about how to educate our kids too”. But while knowing that their humble parents are trying their best, their kids tend to give their utmost in gratitude and loyalty. They know that a good education is the way to a better life and their parents are struggling. So they are likely to excel academically and the next thing you know, poof….help is coming from various sources to get them into higher learning.

He exclaims that whenever there are festivities, they have sincere people who come and partake in their minute celebrations. Some bring goodies along to sincerely share. They are not there because they hope they would be receiving anything big-time. Their relatives who shun them won’t be showing up either since there is nothing to gain. So they are spared undue falsity and hypocrisy. Those who are there are there for good and sincere reasons.

Photo by Nafise Motlaq

When their children wed, they receive generous gifts often with a kind thought that they deserve it. There’s always a mark of appreciation and admiration simply as the givers know these folks have been poor and that they have all indeed come a long way. They are respected for having ridden the rough tides and for having come out intact and are now better off.

So wealth has many meanings. For one thing, the rich can get immune as well as addicted to wealth. Now how does that work? Lee succinctly puts it this way. “Wealth is so bloody addictive”! “You want more and more of it and the more you have, the nicer it feels”. “After you have been living in a 10-bedroom mansion for a while, you kind of get immune to the finery, take it for granted and before too long you find that there is nothing so special about it anymore”. “You then yearn to live in a 20-room mansion and thereafter, a palace or at least something closely resembling it”. “It is never enough”!

He continued and lamented that after you have been driven around a while in a Mercedes you soon find that it is not that special a ride anymore and you hope soon you’ll be able to ride in a Bentley. “Aren’t all these sort of getting immune to wealth”? As for addiction, he went on to say that they mostly cannot do without their so-called lifestyle – or in short, their extravagance. To cut back would be painful and distressful. They find it hard and overtly sacrificing to downgrade from their usual Blue Label to Black Label scotch while Red Label is beyond outrageous and purely unthinkable.

In Rax’s case, he articulated that in comparison, the slum dweller would have felt a great sense of achievement as if to have summit upon a great mountain when he moves up to a 5-room bungalow and rides in a 200E. He would have come a long way and probably neither has the time nor avarice to expect more riches. He is likely to be highly appreciative and constantly thanks God for his betterment. Life has been a long and great uphill trek and now he has reached the pinnacle of “easy street”.

Morally, life has a way of rewarding or punishing us as well as in conducting balancing acts!

 

Author: J. Sam Barr

Greetings from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

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