The rich, to mangle F. Scott Fitzgerald slightly, they rationalize differently than you and me. Whether they succeed or fail, they’ve always got a pseudo-scientific excuse. If they do well, it’s because their habits are better than those of the rest of us peons. If they do badly, it was their upbringing, since wealthy parents too readily substitute lucre for love.
Don’t believe me? Let’s turn to the headlines.
Last month, personal finance and self-responsibility guru Dave Ramsey posted a list on his website entitled, “20 Things the Rich Do Every Day,” originally written by New Jersey accountant and certified financial planner Thomas C. Corley, who, according to his website “studied the daily activities of 233 wealthy people and 128 people living in poverty.”
The list, which quickly went viral, was filled with the self-improvement tropes that could be called “Why the Rich Deserve Their Money.” Prosperous people eat less junk food than poor people. They read more books. They watch less reality television and make their children volunteer more time to charity.
It should come as no surprise that the country that brought you the myth of Horatio Alger should love such bits of wealth-building advice. We have a history after all, probably one going back as far as Ben Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanack, which offered up such words of wisdom as “a penny saved is a twopence dear,” now widely remembered as “a penny saved is a penny earned.”
Franklin, however, lacked access to modern market research techniques. As a result, the modern iteration of this way of thinking really begins with the publication of The Millionaire Next Door in 1996, a book that posited that the wealthy might be our neighbors but they really aren’t like us. They are thrifty, luxury-eschewing self-made men; they drink Bud instead of merlot, and most certainly do not give too much to their children.