Opinion

Painful Truth: Rich versus just having money

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The rich are different from you and me. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famous quote was followed up by Hemmingway, who responded simply “Yes, they have more money.”

No.

There’s a distinct difference between being rich and having a big pile of cash.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot since our local lottery winners hit the jackpot for $7 million. I wish them well of it, and I expect it will bring them financial security and the opportunity to travel and enjoy life.

But most lottery winners aren’t really rich. Being rich isn’t just about money (though it helps). It’s about the infrastructure of maintaining money, over years and decades and generations. It’s about protecting that wealth and propagating it. It’s about culture and, yes, about class.

You can see the difference in what happens to rich people who go through really, really bad situations.

Let’s take Conrad Black as an example.

Black was born rich and made himself richer. He controlled Hollinger, which once up on a time owned most of Canada’s major newspapers, plus a passel of publications overseas and in the U.S.

And then he got caught with his hand in the cookie jar of his own company. He spent time in jail in the U.S.

This kind of thing would break a normal person. But just last year, Black sold his massive Toronto-area mansion. It was valued at north of $20 million.

Compare that to people who strike it lucky and lose everything. There are athletes and entertainers who accumulate a fair amount of money, and then years later are destitute, scammed by their own advisors or out of cash due to poor decisions.

A really rich person will never die alone, living off food stamps in a third-hand mold-infested mobile home. They’ll die comfortable and warm and surrounded by comforts most of us can only dream of, almost regardless of how they conduct their lives.

Why? Because the world works to ensure their continued wealth. Access to everything from networks of friends and family to high-priced legal counsel

On paper, a rich person might be millions in debt, but that’s just an inconvenience. There will be an inheritance, a loan, an offer of a spot on a board, a consulting gig.

It is possible to fall from being rich to poor. But it’s hard – it takes even more effort than the journey the other way.

 

 

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