Thursday, October 2, 2008

Rich Man's Burden

Does wealth really mean a better quality of life? (photo courtesy: Juan Barahona)

A few days ago, my colleague Mark suggested that I start asking what it means to be rich, rather than poor. What does being wealthy mean?? I thought this was a very interesting question. And something I'd love to hear your thoughts on.

Not surprisingly, this New York Times Op-Ed titled "Rich Man's Burden" from Dalton Conley, the chairman of NYU's sociology department, caught my eye. Is wealth really getting us anywhere?? I mean, does our quality of life really get better? In the United States, where we enjoy a high quality of life,
...the rich...are the most stressed out and the most likely to be working the most. Perhaps for the first time since we’ve kept track of such things, higher-income folks work more hours than lower-wage earners do [in the United States]. Since 1980, the number of men in the bottom fifth of the income ladder who work long hours (over 49 hours per week) has dropped by half, according to a study by the economists Peter Kuhn and Fernando Lozano. But among the top fifth of earners, long weeks have increased by 80 percent.

This is a stunning moment in economic history: At one time we worked hard so that someday we (or our children) wouldn’t have to. Today, the more we earn, the more we work, since the opportunity cost of not working is all the greater (and since the higher we go, the more relatively deprived we feel).

In other words, when we get a raise, instead of using that hard-won money to buy “the good life,” we feel even more pressure to work since the shadow costs of not working are all the greater.[...]

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