24 votes

America's Professional Elite: Wealthy, Successful and Miserable

15 comments

  1. jonluca Link
    This is a very interesting article. I've seen a lot of criticism and almost outright hatred for the subjects of the piece, which seems a bit reactionary. The parallel I'd like to draw is the old...
    • Exemplary

    This is a very interesting article. I've seen a lot of criticism and almost outright hatred for the subjects of the piece, which seems a bit reactionary.

    The parallel I'd like to draw is the old argument of middle class American problems compared to the (usually stereotyped) 3rd world problems. This is something like the problem of getting assigned a wonky schedule at work - maybe you have to work from 2pm to 10pm instead of 9am to 5pm. It's a real problem that can have serious repercussions in your life, but "compared to" 3rd world problems it seems almost laughable.

    The fact that people have it much worse doesn't invalidate your feelings and discontent about your situation. People are ridiculing the subjects of the article, but that doesn't detract from their depression or lack of satisfaction. I'm simply making the argument that there's probably an underlying cause that this feeling is so widespread - the article touches on it briefly with the "always on" culture, but it's interesting to me that people are so quick to dismiss this and label the people as horrible capitalists.

    Take this tweet. They are completely disregarding the content of the article simply because these people are affluent. It's easy to make these people out to be caricatures of fat cats or imbeciles that fell into their riches, but the reality is that they're probably fairly competent people that are trapped by their circumstances.

    Would love to hear other people's thoughts on this. Does the "sliding scale" of relative problems end at some point? I think it's trivial to draw the comparisons between someone that makes ~60k a year and someone that makes ~200k a year, but do the "relative" problems stop making sense at some point?

    11 votes
  2. Gaywallet Link
    As a silicon valley native, I think the author missed an important point here - work life balance. People around here are often so focused on making money and becoming successful that they forget...

    the answer comes down to oppressive hours, political infighting, increased competition sparked by globalization, an “always-on culture” bred by the internet — but also something that’s hard for these professionals to put their finger on, an underlying sense that their work isn’t worth the grueling effort they’re putting into it.

    As a silicon valley native, I think the author missed an important point here - work life balance. People around here are often so focused on making money and becoming successful that they forget to meet people along the way and make time to enjoy themselves.

    Even worse, it feeds into the mentality that money matters more, and you might find yourself doing a job that you don't want to do or feel no sense of purpose in, simply because it pays a little bit more or is a stepping stone to that next promotion. It's hard to find meaning in your work when you're willing to sacrifice meaning for more money or status.

    19 votes
  3. [6]
    Sahasrahla Link
    (emphasis added) This is an opinion I see frequently expressed by the wealthy and I think it has implications beyond just the life-satisfaction of anyone who finds themselves in this trap. When we...

    [One classmate] earned about $1.2 million a year and hated going to the office ... He had received an offer at a start-up, and he would have loved to take it, but it paid half as much, and he felt locked into a lifestyle that made this pay cut impossible. “My wife laughed when I told her about it,” he said.

    (emphasis added)

    This is an opinion I see frequently expressed by the wealthy and I think it has implications beyond just the life-satisfaction of anyone who finds themselves in this trap. When we talk about having a more equitable society the way we usually suggest achieving that is by taxing the rich. It seems like this shouldn't be too big a burden on them—if you're taking home $1 million per year does it matter if you could have had more?—but unlike the ultra-wealthy the mere one-percenter in the article above has managed to find a way to spend all of his money and he feels like he can't get by with less. He hates his job but the idea of taking a job he would love at a $600K salary is, quite literally, laughable. As many think-pieces as we have from people like Warren Buffet or Bill Gates saying "please tax us," real change will be difficult when most rich people still feel like taking a pay cut from their 6–8 figure salary is an unthinkable sacrifice.

    15 votes
    1. PathOfTheProkopton Link Parent
      It's amazing really. 1.2 mil is such a large amount of money in a year that if you cut in half you'd still be in the 1%, that's still very good and successful. Yet as you mentioned it's a...

      It's amazing really. 1.2 mil is such a large amount of money in a year that if you cut in half you'd still be in the 1%, that's still very good and successful.

      Yet as you mentioned it's a laughable suggestion to them. Sounds like they have a serious issue with overspending.

      9 votes
    2. SourceContribute Link Parent
      This sounds to me like the curse of those who are loyal to a company, whether they're middle-managers or the frontline staff who do the work and have risen up through the ranks. They earn a great...

      unlike the ultra-wealthy the mere one-percenter in the article above has managed to find a way to spend all of his money and he feels like he can't get by with less

      This sounds to me like the curse of those who are loyal to a company, whether they're middle-managers or the frontline staff who do the work and have risen up through the ranks. They earn a great paycheck and then get stuck and have to keep on because the rest of their life now depends on the one paycheck.

      They should have diversified but instead their portfolio is just a bucket of one stock; themselves.

      Warren Buffet has multiple sources of income and hedges his bets. Bill Gates did the same, he didn't only work on one piece of software, he worked on multiple and then later on managed to create multiple revenue streams through a good strategy (Windows and Office reinforced each other and then Windows brought in games with DirectX and then they created their own gaming platform with XBox and now have expanded into cloud computing). Diversification is the only winning move. If these professional elite spent just 1 hour a month doing consulting on the side or creating a side project they would be in better shape and would at least be slightly less reliant on one company.

      6 votes
    3. [2]
      Gaywallet Link Parent
      Typically speaking how much you spend goes up as you make more money, but there's a point at which it wont. The biggest houses in the wealthiest areas aren't going to cost more than 50m, so when...

      Typically speaking how much you spend goes up as you make more money, but there's a point at which it wont. The biggest houses in the wealthiest areas aren't going to cost more than 50m, so when your net worth is billions of dollars this argument starts to fall flat.

      It also ignores that these taxes can slowly ramp up over a long period of time. You might not be able to decrease your spending by 10% in one year because people want to increase taxes and your mortgage isn't changing in price, but give someone 10, 20, 30 years to do so? Absolutely feasible.

      For the ultra wealthy billionaires I'd say there's more room to enact the taxes now because a 10% difference in spending isn't going to matter as they are typically accumulating wealth much faster than they are spending it.

      3 votes
      1. Sahasrahla Link Parent
        All good points. I think higher taxes are much harder to implement without the political support (or at least, the lack of resistance) from the medium-wealthy who have fallen victim to "lifestyle...

        All good points. I think higher taxes are much harder to implement without the political support (or at least, the lack of resistance) from the medium-wealthy who have fallen victim to "lifestyle inflation", but they're a completely different case compared to the wealthy who literally can't spend their money fast enough.

        3 votes
    4. pleure Link Parent
      Well, the one benefit we have is that the wealthy are firmly in the minority almost by definition. If you could organize the bottom 90-whatever percent of the population together we enact whatever...

      Well, the one benefit we have is that the wealthy are firmly in the minority almost by definition. If you could organize the bottom 90-whatever percent of the population together we enact whatever redistributive scheme we please (I'd call for a hard wealth cap personally but I know a lot of people find that contentious for reasons I don't want to debate). The problem is as always that organizing is difficult, especially in the US where the fundamental class relations have long been buried under obfuscatory terms like the "the middle class" and dogmas like "if you work hard one day you'll be rich too".

      Also, while it's an unpopular point to make even among leftists I honestly think such actions would ultimately be beneficial to the wealthy as well. In the current state they're completely alienated from society at large and usually miserable like this guy that takes home enough money annually that he has essentially complete freedom to do whatever he wants with his life but chooses to continue amassing wealth instead.

      2 votes
  4. [5]
    Emerald_Knight Link
    I mean, I don't really feel any sympathy for the guy. You're earning $1.2 million every damn year. If you can't manage your damn finances on that kind of money, then the problem is you. Your job...

    He earned about $1.2 million a year and hated going to the office. . . He had received an offer at a start-up, and he would have loved to take it, but it paid half as much, and he felt locked into a lifestyle that made this pay cut impossible.

    I mean, I don't really feel any sympathy for the guy. You're earning $1.2 million every damn year. If you can't manage your damn finances on that kind of money, then the problem is you. Your job isn't the cause of your problems, it's a symptom. You should be able to live off of $600,000 easily, let alone $1.2 million.

    “My wife laughed when I told her about it,” he said.

    I've had actual, genuine financial problems. We're talking digging through trash for cans to collect deposits on for gas money, picking up bags of donated clothes that hadn't been taken in by the donation service yet to have something to wear, worrying about having to choose between having a full stomach and paying the electric bill... and yet I still scraped by. And this guy can't get his shit together enough to afford his expenses on a $1.2 million salary? He can't even think to pay a modest fee to a financial advisor, a fee he could absolutely afford, to get his spending under control?

    I would laugh, too.

    13 votes
    1. [3]
      frostycakes Link Parent
      Seriously. When the median US annual wage is a bit under one fourtieth of his and people manage to make it work, I have zero sympathy at all. Because "only" making 20x the median annual salary is...

      Seriously. When the median US annual wage is a bit under one fourtieth of his and people manage to make it work, I have zero sympathy at all. Because "only" making 20x the median annual salary is such a punishment.

      3 votes
      1. [2]
        Emerald_Knight Link Parent
        I mean, granted, cost of living factors in. But even then, San Francisco and New York are typically the most expensive cities to work in where you're likely to be doing any real business or...

        I mean, granted, cost of living factors in. But even then, San Francisco and New York are typically the most expensive cities to work in where you're likely to be doing any real business or investing, and your expenses there still shouldn't exceed the national median wage by more than 4x to live comfortably.

        Just for the hell of it, let's play a little game. If we assume, just for the sake of making it a worst-case scenario, that that cost of living is for a single person, then let's go ahead and double that to very, very generously account for additional expenses for a family of four, bringing our total cost of living to a whopping 8x the amount of the national median wage. Finally, let's be fair and assume the $600,000 is pre-tax and he loses roughly 50% to federal, state, and local taxes. We're just going to pound away at this guy as hard as possible.

        The roughly $240,000 cost of living + $300,000 tax bill still leaves this guy with $60,000 to his name, or nearly 2x the median salary and still a nice 25% buffer above that steep cost of living. That's a brand new car every single year. That's out-of-state tuition for a year at a decent university for two kids. You could get a pretty decent used car; put a sizable chunk away into a college fund for your children; stuff a chunk into a Roth IRA for retirement; get a bunch of brand new appliances, furniture, clothes, and new phones; buy yourself a cup of coffee every day on your way to work; and still have a nice chunk of money left over to dump into savings or investments.

        You have to try really hard to not be able to afford living on that kind of salary.

        4 votes
        1. bike Link Parent
          To build on your comment, I estimate that a cost of living of $240,000 could pay the mortgage and taxes on a $3,000,000 home.

          To build on your comment, I estimate that a cost of living of $240,000 could pay the mortgage and taxes on a $3,000,000 home.

          1 vote
    2. Gully_Foyles (edited ) Link Parent
      This is why I have such a problem with most elites. I think they are entitled to their earnings, but they act incredibly selfish and always have to frame everything like they're the victim.

      This is why I have such a problem with most elites. I think they are entitled to their earnings, but they act incredibly selfish and always have to frame everything like they're the victim.

      1 vote
  5. Deimos Link
    This is the main article from the New York Times's magazine this month, which is titled "The Future of Work". There are several other articles as well: The Rise of the WeWorking Class Out of the...

    This is the main article from the New York Times's magazine this month, which is titled "The Future of Work". There are several other articles as well:

    10 votes
  6. SourceContribute Link
    All of these professional elite have golden handcuffs and then are mismanaging their cash. The aim is to buy your own freedom from a 9-to-5 job and these professional elite are failing at that...

    All of these professional elite have golden handcuffs and then are mismanaging their cash. The aim is to buy your own freedom from a 9-to-5 job and these professional elite are failing at that because they haven't explicitly set that goal for themselves.

    He had received an offer at a start-up, and he would have loved to take it, but it paid half as much, and he felt locked into a lifestyle that made this pay cut impossible

    Seriously, that's someone with very little savings, I wouldn't be surprised if he's almost living paycheck to paycheck!

    6 votes