The wealthy get a lot of bad press. They take advantage of the poor; they’re evil money-hungry bastards; they’re vampire squids on the face of humanity; etc.
True – it might be a little classist. For myself, I’m strangely okay with that; because when the day arrives that I’m suckling on humanity’s face, I’ll repay the favour by being elitist.
That said, I am begrudgingly (at this point) aware that rich people have feelings too. And this post was inspired by a conversation that I had recently, where my friend Chris was telling me about research into the psychology of wealth. Which sounded self-indulgently intriguing, especially as there was talk of “stages”…
So I went agoogling, and I found this: the Money, Meaning and Choices Institute (MMC). It’s a California-based organisation that caters specifically for the interpersonal conflicts and psychological crises that arise from the possession of plenty. With slogans like Preparing the next generation for the responsibilities of wealth.
I did a bit more searching, and I found this academic paper: “Money, Wealth And Identity“…
If you’ve ever asked the “What does it feel like to be rich?” question; the short answer: you feel it in four stages.
The Four Stages of Wealth Identity Development
Stage 1: Bling It On, Baby
The quintessential “new money”.
The person-in-question reverts to “the height of normal narcissism” that’s normally reserved for one year olds. The Black Amex arrives and there are suddenly yachts and gold grilles and private planes equipped with jacuzzi and mail-order strippers from Thailand.
The newly rich feel freshly powerful. And they (*gasp*) tend to be elitist.
Although, there is a small group of exceptions. Those characterised by anxiety and generalised religious guilt can become autistic about their wealth. The Scrooges that become the paranoid hoarders of their money. And often, because of their holier-than-thou approach to monetary conservatism, they struggle to realise that they are stuck.
The consumeristic contingent, however, start to max out the marginal utility of each additional yacht, and Stage 1 turns into an anticlimax…
Stage 2: Please Just Get Thee To An Ashram In India
This is the point at which the millionaires/billionaires begin to wonder if their partners are with them for them, or for their money. And because “everyone has their price”, relationships and intimacy are purchased with grand jewellery/car-related gestures. Anxiety turns into suspicion and general disillusionment.
These are the bitter old “poor Ritchie Riches”. And I reckon (I have no basis for this observation) that these are the guys that turn power-hungry and destructive, and give Capitalism its bad name.
And yet, if there’s enough self-doubt, and a courageous-enough therapist to point it out, there is hope for redemption. A small hope that might involve camels and eyes of needles. And it might include sanctimonious trips to Bali to consult healers à la Eat, Pray, Love. But the path of self-discovery is open to all.
Stage 3: “Money is no object? Don’t be ridiculous. It’s definitely an object”
The wealthy tend begin this stage in one of two camps:
- “I am my money – it defines my identity”
- “I am not my money – I will deny any impact it has on me”
Both of those are delusional. Money is just money. It has an impact, but not all impact.
This stage sounds existential, and concludes with an answer to the question: “Given that I have money, who am I to be?”
On the materialistic front, I’m guessing that these folks are no longer partying on yachts and flaunting rolexes with the price tag still attached. It’s certainly classier…
Stage 4: I Want To Live Forever
The Bill Gateses and Warren Buffetts of the world. Where money is just another tool to be used wisely. And they start to give it away into foundations and projects and so on.
But not Donald Trump, I’d say. Or anyone that stars in the Bachelor. Or the Koch brother that spends time suing people over bottles of vintage wine…
They need to get them to that institute.