Fear and Loathing on Wall Street

A study by Boston College has found that the extremely wealthy fear greater things than the beach house having termites, Forbes misspelling their name, or the kids picking up a hispanic accent from the housekeeper. Nor are their innermost fears spilling caviar on their ascot, not being able to find a dessert wine that perfectly compliments the imported goat cheese, or leaving their favorite cashmere cardigan in Paris.

“He found that the rich—especially the inheritors of vast fortunes—have unique sets of worries, and face the added difficulty of knowing that many despise or envy them. “Often the word rich becomes a pejorative,” Kenny says. “It rhymes with bitch. I’ve been in rooms and seen people stand up and say, ‘I’m Bob Kenny, and I’m rich.’ And then they burst into tears.”

From “Secret Fears of the Super Rich”

The study surveyed 165 households, 120 of them having at least $25 million in assets, with an average net worth of $78 million. Paul G. Schervish, of Boston College’s Center on Wealth and Philanthropy, along with Robert A. Kenny, a psychologist and architect of the study, explain the study’s findings in an article for The Atlantic.

To summarize for those of you who don’t want to read the article, some of the things they found the ultra wealthy worry about are:

  • Consumption becoming commonplace to the point where even the most extravagant purchases provide little joy
  • Less fortunate people viewing them negatively
  • Feeling as though they have no right to complain about anything
  • Relationships being influenced by their wealth
  • Inheritors face little motivation to accomplish anything successful in life

I can understand some of these fears, while a few of them seem trivial to me in comparison with the easier lifestyle their wealth provides. I would certainly worry about my children having little motivation in life if I were leaving them enough money to not have to work a day in their lives. I’d also be hesitant every time I met someone new, wondering if they were interested in meeting me, or the hope of meeting my money. I may even feel the need to be humble, and as though I couldn’t complain about anything.

But I can’t see the myself reaching the point where the envy of others causes me concern, or where I no longer feel joy using my money to lead the life I’d like live.

My favorite quote of the article appears near the end, when discussing the effect wealth has on relationships.

“One issue that Kenny says comes up frequently is the question of at what point in a relationship to reveal one’s wealth—a disclosure he makes sound as fraught as telling your date you have herpes.”

I urge you to compare the reaction you’d have on a first date if you told a woman you had $25 million to her reaction if you told her you had herpes. I guarantee your night ends a lot better in one of those situations.

View this on my Wall Street Oasis blog here.

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