I never believed that F. Scott quote, "The rich are different from you and me." And the fact that I hear it quoted every other day reinforces my contrarian skepticism. The rich eat, shit, fuck and die just like the rest of us. We are all alike in the we want a lot of jack, moola. The rich are different only in that through luck, brains, beauty, pluck or moxie, they have been able to achieve the goal that we are all aiming for, namely financial independence, or in more common parlance, "fuck you money."
Before I proceed, maybe I should first describe who I mean by "you and me." You and I are just a couple of guys (or maybe you are a gal) who are hustling our way through this hardscrabble world, trying to reach an increasingly higher level of income, standard of living, professional status. We go about our business, play by the rules, live and let live, don't expect handouts from the government or anyone else (and obversely, don't like paying taxes). We are slowly grinding our way to a better and better life and don't appreciate anybody standing in our way upwards.
I know two or three guys whom I would label as "super rich." They are all hedge fund guys with net worths in the scores of millions of dollars. I have noticed that these guys have changed in one respect once they have reached Mt. Olympus: their politics have switched from caveman conservative to limosine liberal, or in these cases, Gulfstream liberal. This phenomenon has become prevalent enough that for the first time more hedge fund money went to Democrats than Republicans this past election cycle.
These guys I know had never pounded the drum of some defined, deeply held political philosophy. But they once had a healthy skepticism and suspicion of bureaucrats and politicians and, like Ronald Reagan, believed that government was often the problem and not the solution. They didn't think some assholes in DC should be telling the rest of us how to live our lives. Like most Southerners they were pro-military and thought that the US of A should spend enough on defense to always remain the toughest, kick-butt bad ass on the global block. They hated taxes. They cracked a lot of gay and ethnic jokes. They dressed like they had just jumped out of a Brooks Brothers catalogue. They loved to hunt. Growing up, they went to church every Sunday and then the country club afterwards for a big family lunch. Their main goal in life was to get filthy rich. In short, they were by nature and nurture, a Republican.
But at some point on their ways to amassing hundreds of millions of dollars, they changed. They became an environmental "champions." I saw a photo of one of these guys in the newspaper at some Greenpeace gala attended by a bunch of buck-toothed Kennedys. A couple worked their way into the Hollywood crowd, and to do that you have to swear allegiance to the liberal creed. To my shock and dismay, I discovered that one of my mega bucks buddy was one of Al Gore's biggest financial backers. Somehow, these guys had turned into a liberal Democrats.
What causes such a radical transformation? What changes hedgies and other super-duper rich folk from the conservative Republicans they were on the way up to liberal Democrats after they have attained their enormous piles of lucre?
Is it some kind of guilt? I don't think so. It isn't as if these guys obtained their wealth like the 19th century Robber Barons did, i.e., through monopolistic plunder, sweatshops, extortion and bribery. These are for the most part law-abiding citizens who just happen to be extraordinary traders or investors. I, for the most part, geniunely respect and admire them.
I have a theory that what makes these guys change political stripes and become the exact opposite of what they had been before is a need for special kind of status. Once they become mega-rich, they ask themselves, Is that all there is? Once attained, the goal of becoming filthy rich seems hollow, not worth the stupendous effort. They find that their money buys them a certain amount of respect but not love and adoration. And guys who get to their levels of success are mightily driven by something, and usually it's a profound need to be loved and adored. Someone once said that at the beginning of every great fortune, you will find a crime. I would amend that and say that at the beginning of every great fortune, you will find a deeply insecure person.
These guys don't won't to be adored by just anybody. The affection of the hoi polloi is not worth having, is best shed on professional wrestlers and Britney Spears types. No, our Hedgie Hero has high and finicky tastes when it comes to whom he wishes to be loved by. Only the best will do. Simply put, he wants to be in with the In Crowd.
The In Crowd consists of media moguls like Ted Turner, Harvey Weinstein, members of the intelligentsia like Frank Rich, celebrities such as Madonna, Gwyneth Paltrow, super nova athletes like Tiger Woods. Hedgie Hero is shocked to learn that some among this crowd do not think highly of him just because he is a modern-day King Croesus, and even view him with disdain and suspicion because he made his money not from some socially redeeming activity such as professional basketball or movie acting, but via a hedge fund. The In Crowd sneers at the money grubbing world of Wall Street and high finance. This makes Hedgie Hero all the more determined to get on the "inside" and gain their love.
It goes without saying that the politics of the In Crowd is liberal. Our hedge fund guy is willing to throw overboard whatever political convictions he had before in order to get on the Good Ship Cool and Hip. He sees how George Soros managed to go from Financial Swashbuckler to Hollywood Hobnobber and sets out to chart his course.
And so the Hedgie Hero sets up his foundation, gives to various environmental and liberal causes, and becomes know among the In Crowd as a real mensch. Giving money rather than his time is cheaper since his time is the most expensive thing he has. And of course, this foundation protects him from the increase in taxes that his new-found politics surely entails.
I don't begrudge Hedgie Hero his right to buy into whatever political orbit that he wants. What I do mind is the politics that he supports, namely higher taxes, ensnaring and constricting regulations, class warfare income redistribution, in short all those dragons that Reagan slayed in the eighties so that guys like Hedgie Hero could become unimaginably rich. The most selfish thing the uber rich can do is support policies that will keep the rest of us from ever getting to where they are.