Chelsea Clinton and The Phenomenon of Money-Hating Rich

The following appeared in the New York Post online on 6/23/14:

Hillary Clinton insists she isn’t “well-off” and now daughter Chelsea, according to a recent interview, claims she couldn’t care less about money. “I was curious if I could care about (money) on some fundamental level, and I couldn’t,” she told Fast Company in an interview that ran in the magazine’s May edition, explaining why she gave up lucrative gigs to join her family’s philanthropic foundation.  

The Clinton name likely opened doors for the political heiress, including an eye-popping $600,000 annual salary for an irregular stint as an NBC special correspondent, but Chelsea insists her work speaks for itself.  “I will just always work harder (than anybody else) and hopefully perform better,” said Clinton, who along with former banker husband Marc Mezvinsky, purchased a $10.5-million Gramercy Park apartment in 2013. “And hopefully, over time, I preempt and erase whatever expectations people have of me not having a good work ethic, or not being smart, or not being motivated.”

Do people like this even hear what they’re saying?

When somebody claims indifference to (or active dislike of) money, yet still benefits from what it has to offer, then I immediately think: hypocrisy.

But in a way, Clinton’s attitude makes sense. If you haven’t contributed to the creation of your money, then you don’t really grasp or appreciate its value, do you?

Take what Chelsea Clinton is saying at face value. “I don’t care about money.” She really doesn’t, because she’s not in a  position to do so.

You cannot care about what you did not create. Think about it. If you make a fortune over time, through taking risks and spending long nights working hard at the business enterprise, giving the business everything you’ve got, it means something to you. For the same reasons, you feel devastated and empty if your risks and hard work pay off to nearly nothing.

There’s a direct connection between personal effort and personal reward. You cannot value or “care about” the second if you had no involvement with the first.

The Clintons are a professional political family. They make millions on their fame and celebrity, from having held political office (and possibly doing so again). Chelsea did not create any of this. Her parents created it through their political efforts over time.

Political efforts do not involve the same thing as genuine business enterprises. Political efforts involve redistribution of wealth (some, myself included, would call it theft); manipulation of personalities; repeated distortions of truth; and the forging of group interests in order to attain certain electoral outcomes. This is the legacy Chelsea Clinton inherited, and the millions her parents make is due to the celebrity they achieved while engaged in these parasitical ventures.

Chelsea undoubtedly enjoys the trappings of a millionaire’s life. Note that she shows no interest in abandoning these because of her indifference to money. If the authorities showed up and took her expensive Gramercy Park apartment away, she would not likely be happy. She’d probably feel impoverished, upset and angry. To me, it seems that someone sincerely indifferent to money would simply give their valuables up or — better yet — give them all away. But that’s not what Chelsea Clinton does, nor what anyone else claiming to have her attitude about money ever does.

People born into wealth normally have two choices. They can either grasp and appreciate what created that wealth, and seek to maintain or expand it; or they can simply spend it lavishly without a concern for what created it. The heir, in the first case, cares a great deal about money, and will consequently treat it rationally and seriously; the heir, in the second case, can truly claim that he’s indifferent to money, as he squanders the family fortune.

Why do so many rich people hate money? Some of them feel guilty. You can feel guilty for good reason — meaning you obtained the wealth by fraud, or by force (as politicians do). Or you can feel unearned guilt. Unearned guilt occurs (as with a Bill Gates), when you run an extremely successful company and make everyone else look poor by comparison. Instead of recognizing that you did indeed build this success, the emotion takes over that, “I’ve got to give back.” It’s as if you stole something when really all you did was create something so valuable that millions of people want and willingly purchase it. Even charging a nominal price for it, with all those millions of people buying it, you end up a billionaire. And for that you feel guilty. People with their hands out — skillful politicians like the Clintons, most of all — stand ready to cash in on that unearned guilt and use it for their own purposes of fortune-building and power-seeking. For this they feel superior and are often applauded as such. In reality, they would be nothing without those upon whom they host.

Perhaps Chelsea Clinton suffers from unearned guilt, because she recognizes (on some unstated level) how her parents ultimately earned their fame and money, i.e. preying off the earnings and authentic success of others. Or perhaps she feels guilty because they attained their wealth through their own political efforts, and she merely rides on their name. Or perhaps there are other reasons. We’ll never know.

What we do know is that Chelsea Clinton should not be envied. To live a lavish life built on the careers of moralist-politicians who spent most of their careers bashing the creation of such wealth (at least when done in the private sector) must be a rather humiliating, or at least disconcerting situation, with which to live. She sounds a bit conflicted in what she says, doesn’t she?

The lesson of Chelsea Clinton — and many others like her — is that money will indeed not buy you happiness. What buys you happiness are the virtues and the psychological engagement which make the money meaningful. In other words: the effort, achievement, presence of mind and sense of accomplishment which accompany the honest earning of great sums of wealth.

Those who ride on the coattails of others, or who seize money from others like thieves and parasites in plots of legalized looting, will never know authentic satisfaction. Perhaps when people like Chelsea Clinton express disdain for money, this is what they’re really trying to tell us.


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