The Good Rich and What They Cost Us

The Good Rich and What They Cost Us

Robert F. Dalzell
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    The Good Rich and What They Cost Us
    Book Description:

    This timely book holds up for scrutiny a great paradox at the core of the American Dream: a passionate belief in the principle of democracy combined with an equally passionate celebration of the creation of wealth. Americans treasure an open, equal society, yet we also admire those fortunate few who amass riches on a scale that undermines social equality. In today's era of "vulture capitalist" hedge fund managers, internet fortunes, and a growing concern over inequality in American life, should we cling to both parts of the paradox? Can we?

    To understand the problems that vast individual fortunes pose for democratic values, Robert Dalzell turns to American history. He presents an intriguing cast of wealthy individuals from colonial times to the present, including George Washington, one of the richest Americans of his day, the "robber baron" John D. Rockefeller, and Oprah Winfrey, for whom extreme wealth is inextricably tied to social concerns. Dalzell uncovers the sources of contradictory attitudes toward the rich, how the very rich have sought to be perceived as "good rich," and the facts behind the widespread notion that wealth and generosity go hand in hand. In a thoughtful and balanced conclusion, the author explores the cost of our longstanding attitudes toward the rich.

    Among the case studies inAmerica's Good Rich:

    Puritan merchant Robert Keayne

    George Washington

    Manufacturers Amos & Abbot Lawrence

    Oil magnate John D. Rockefeller

    Bill Gates

    Warren Buffet

    Steve Jobs

    Oprah Winfrey

    eISBN: 978-0-300-18888-2
    Subjects: Sociology, Political Science, Economics, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[viii])
    • 1 PARADOX
      (pp. 3-9)

      Broadly speaking, my approach has been shaped by three propositions, one obvious, the other two hardly less so, although they are easily taken for granted. The first is that from the beginning ours has been a capitalist society; the second, that the chief function of capitalism is to create wealth; and the third, that even at its most successful, left unmediated, capitalism does nothing to ensure the equitable distribution of that wealth. In fact it usually does just the opposite: under its aegis a small number of people become rich, leaving the rest of the population to arrange themselves on...

      (pp. 10-25)

      Nothing about the story would ever seem simple, not to him, not to those confronted with his explanations of it in years to come. A successful London merchant, in 1635 he had joined the decadelong Puritan immigration to New England and settled in Boston, where he added to his wealth, trading in goods imported from London—useful items the townspeople had serious need of, if they were to have any chance of living as they had in England. Yet before long those same people fell to grumbling about his prices and the interest he charged for late payment of them....

      (pp. 26-50)

      In the pantheon of American heroes, no one stands taller than George Washington, yet few people reflecting on his life stop to consider how rich he was. For he was rich, very rich. To accompany the final version of his will he left a “Schedule of Property,” listing roughly a million dollars in assets.¹ In today’s currency that equals more than $100 million, making him one of the wealthiest citizens in the new American nation he had done so much to create and certainly the richest person (in constant dollars) ever to have served as president of the United States—...

      (pp. 51-70)

      He was the luckiest of the lucky few. Among the legions of eager young men flocking to Boston to make their fortunes, Amos Lawrence would conquer the field. Born in Groton, Massachusetts, where his ancestors had lived since the seventeenth century, he was twenty-one years old when he arrived in the city Robert Keayne had tried so hard to make safe for modern commercial enterprise. It was April 29, 1807, and he came with $20 in his pocket but feeling, as he wrote later, “richer than I had ever felt, or have felt since.”¹

      Appearing at the end of this...

    • Photo gallery
      (pp. None)
      (pp. 71-92)

      During a span of years that lasted for just short of a century, John Davison Rockefeller led several different lives, each in a different place, a pattern that began in his youth, much of which was odd and unsettling. A handsome, philandering patent medicine salesman joined in matrimony to a pious, upright woman given to thinking in relentlessly moral terms, his parents—William Avery and Eliza Davison Rockefeller—were unlikely to have provided their children with a placid upbringing, and indeed they did not. Plagued by scandals over William’s relations with serving girls in his own home and driven by...

    • 6 HEIRS
      (pp. 95-125)

      John D. Rockefeller, Jr., would always idolize his father, who was in fact a loving and supportive parent. Yet the man who could play happily with his children for hours on end also—in attempting to shield them from whatever influences outside the family he could—created problems for them that would last a lifetime. Growing up without schoolmates or friends could not have been easy. Nor could spending the winter months shut up in hotel rooms have been much fun. Added to those problems, too, the Rockefeller children had to contend with their parents’ strict Baptist moral code, which...

      (pp. 126-153)

      Since 1982Forbesmagazine has been compiling and publishing annually a list of the 400 richest people in the United States. Conceived, fittingly enough, in the glow of Ronald Reagan’s first term as president, it quickly became the blue plate special on the menu of items feeding the nation’s hunger for information about the very rich.

      The format is simple. Every year the 400 are listed in order of the size of their net worth (and alphabetically on a second list), accompanied by brief notes indicating the amount and source of every listee’s wealth, whether it has risen or fallen...

      (pp. 154-166)

      In point of fact, Occupy Wall Street had its beginning in a call issued by Kalle Lasn and Micah White, the editors ofAdbusters, a Canadian-based, anticonsumerist magazine. Sent toAdbusters’ sixty thousand “friends” in June of 2011, proclaiming that “America needs its own Tahrir”—referring to the massive Egyptian protests of a few months earlier—it proposed that on September 17 a phalanx of twenty thousand people should flood into lower Manhattan, remain there, and incessantly repeat one simple demand, in a plurality of voices.¹

      The demand Lasn and White had in mind was for “Barack Obama to ordain...

    (pp. 167-168)
    (pp. 169-190)
  7. INDEX
    (pp. 191-199)