We hate our helpers for reminding us of feelings of helplessness. Evidence of this comes from Lenox, Massachusetts, where students seek to erase evidence that wealthy patrons made their educations possible.
The local high school boasts a unique nickname: the “Millionaires.” The 99 percenters in the 99-percent Caucasian community desire something less politically incorrect (“Redskins” is available). Two-thirds of students expressed a desire to change the nickname in a vote.
The town boasts a rich history with one percenters.
Andrew Carnegie died in Lenox at his Shadow Brook estate. Tanglewood, which attracts the rich and cultured every summer, drips more lucre than your average summer concert shack featuring perennial visits by the Steve Miller Band and Lynyrd Skynyrd. And, most importantly, a group of millionaires summering in the bucolic Berkshires burg once bailed out the community in a budget crunch. The nickname pays homage to these patrons.
But the beneficiaries see the financial blessing as a curse.
A member of the student council reasoned to the Berkshire Eagle that “the term ‘millionaires’ has become associated with the top one percent of our country, which excludes and burdens a very large majority of the population and currently plays a large role in the division of the United States.”
Apart from reasons political, practical concerns color the cognomen class warfare. Student complain of teasing from fans of opposing teams and the embarrassment that comes with wearing “Millionaires” letterman jackets in public.
It ain’t easy being a Millionaire. Small-m millionaires face increased hardships in their comfort, too.
A label almost-universally strived for became a term of derision sometime along the line. Rather than a reward for offering the world something it wants, success stands as evidence of cheating. We once congratulated winners. Now we say, “No fair!”
The envious regard the market, where consumers pick winners or losers through their wallets, as rigged. In its place, they want the government to determine who succeeds and who fails. The envious don’t describe their outlook this way, just as they rarely describe themselves as “socialists,” but when, on rare occasion, they offer a positive program to accompany their negative, hate-the-rich outlook, it generally looks something like this.
Rich people supply us with the cars, computers, and entertainment we favor. Rich people pay most of the taxes, with the top one percent on the hook for more than 45 percent of federal income taxes. Libraries, hospitals, homeless shelters, colleges, and much else in the non-profit sector exist because of the for-profit sector.
History abounds with examples of the wealthy confounding stereotypes.
Matthew Vassar, Leland Stanford, Jr., William Colgate, Cornelius Vanderbilt, and scores of others gave more than their last names to America’s great universities. James Smithson never visited America in all his years. More than 30 million Americans visit the institutions bearing his name in Washington, D.C., every year. Immigrant Andrew Carnegie, born in a tiny Scottish cottage shared with another family, gave the seed money for more than 1,500 libraries in the United States. Even the misers among the millionaires generally invested their money when they balked at charity. When they don’t intend to, haves make the world a better place for the have-nots.
The resilience of Marxism stands as a simplistic explanation for why we hate such people. The seven deadly sins predate Karl Marx’s existence by more than a millennium. And human nature predated the seven deadly sins. Greed and gluttony can provoke envy. But envy occurs on its own without provocation. It takes moral instruction, too often lacking in the educations of young people recoiling at a mere word denoting abundance, to overcome the impulse to mind the business of others.
In the Berkshires, students no longer wish to cheer on the Millionaires. Don’t blame Lenox. Americans don’t much cheer for the millionaires, either.