Being wealthy in someone else's eyes is one thing--we all know one man's middling $100,000-a-year income is another's cushy salary, one man's dream house in the Berkshires is another's shack in the sticks--but what does it take to consider yourself wealthy?
It takes more and more, these days, apparently: Helen Kearney reporting from Reuters in New York (where else?) says that four out of ten American millionaires just don't feel rich. True: wealth is largely subjective--we at the Atlantic Wire have heard some outlandish reports that one may even feel wealthy in the near absence of money--and certainly there are always those whose material wealth dwarfs your own, no matter where you fall on the bracket (unless of course your name is Carlos Slim). But have things gotten out of hand? It seems like every month a richer person declares he's just steps away from the soup kitchen.
Let's recall the debate around Bush-era tax cuts for people making more than $250,000, which were eventually extended. Despite making more than five times the median household income of $50,000 a year, these earners didn't feel rich either. One law professor made the case at length, and he wasn't the only one. "When Washington, D.C., says go after those rich people, well, $250,000 in Fairfield County (Connecticut) does not make you really rich," said congressman Jim Himes, (D-CT) in September.
Then there was RNC chairman Michael Steele last year telling a bunch of students in Arkansas that $1 million dollars of pre-tax income was no great shakes. "Trust me," he's quoted in The Wall Street Journal, "after taxes, a million dollars is not a lot of money."
And now here's Reuter's report on the Fidelity survey--42 percent of 1,000 millionaires with at least $1 million in "investable assets," (not including property or retirement accounts) reporting that they did not feel wealthy. So now if a $1 million dollars isn't wealthy, where is the new bar? "Many would need to have at least $7.5 million in order to feel they were truly rich," Kearney reports. Would they really be satisfied there? For how long?