I struggle a bit with the difference between my wealth now and how I grew up so a post on the ethics of being our level of rich would be really interesting to me. For instance, my husband thinks we should buy a second house and rent out the one we’re in and I can see why this is a good idea but I really struggle with the fact that we could afford two houses in our expensive real estate market and whether we’d be making things worse by doing that.
I also struggle with this. I grew up in an extremely frugal household in which our income was uncertain and every penny spent could end in screaming. But we always had food and clothing and housing even through lengthy bouts of unemployment. Genteel poverty. There have been a lot of sea changes as we go through these different wealth levels. I gain new levels of understanding of how the next chunk of income will make our lives different and how it won’t. (Turns out, above the # mentioned in that previous post– frugality starts getting thrown out the window because it is less costly to just buy something than to think about it and I started thinking about all those things that kids I knew with high income parents got to do like fancy summer camps and travel. Many of my colleagues have built their own 4 and 5K sq ft houses or bought vacation homes which makes them feel artificially low wealth, but we think 3K sq ft is plenty big for us and don’t want the hassle of owning more real estate when Air BNB is a thing.) There’s less fear of bag lady syndrome.
Like I said in the comments before, as long as you actually rent out the second house, it’s likely ethical. But you still don’t want to be a landlord because if you get unlucky it can cause no end of grief and anxiety. There are much more peaceful ways to earn additional money.
Ethics: Part of me feels like we should be giving half our incomes away instead of stock-piling it. We do donate strategically to a lot of causes, both activist and charity. And we’re generous with tipping and pay people who do work for us either what they ask or more. But it is nowhere near what would leave us with only a reasonable upper-middle class income (that is to say, once we have a few of DH’s payments under our belts again– we have been living on just my salary and unemployment for quite a few months). We’re stockpiling for an uncertain future and because I’m worried about income inequality increasing in the US and want to make sure that our children and our children’s children (if they have them) have a safety net if the US is no longer going to be able to provide one. I’m like, I want to take care of our own first. And that’s selfish and money can do so much more for people who have less of it. But… they’re my children and my potential grandchildren. And we need structural change and I will fight for that. I would feel much better about having less of a nest egg if I could trust our government and our society. But I can’t. So we need to stockpile money to stay “Haves” even if the “Have nots” need it more and I hate that. I want everybody to be Haves. I want all kids to have stability and opportunity. But fear keeps me stockpiling.
It’s crazy to me that you have to be in the top 2% of household income or higher to be able to afford a high quality full-time legally documented dedicated personal assistant or housekeeper that you’re not married to ($150K/year give or take, themselves in the top 20% of income), but when you get to the top 1% of income, you can afford many such people. That’s a huge concentration of wealth among a very small percentage of the population. I think a lot of rich people think they’re not really rich because they can’t afford servants, especially when they remember being middle class back in the day meant having a woman come in to cook and clean and “do for you”– but back then people didn’t really think of the women who “Did” as people themselves. I don’t want servants, except mechanical ones. Though I do think it’s great when people have businesses that do a specific task for a large number of different households. That seems efficient.
Which is to say: I think hiring people is ethical, and hiring cleaning people and yard work people and so on is ethical. But it’s not ethical to have a lowly paid personal servant (remember Alice on the Brady Bunch?)– if you want someone like that, you must pay the price for them, and at our income that is not a price we can afford. We can afford college students or underpaid undocumented labor but the former is a crapshoot and the latter unethical, so it’s best to avail ourselves of whatever services are available. For us that’s just yardwork because I hate the way cleaning crews cost money and get in my space and don’t clean things as well as I was brought up and grumble about how we don’t preclean before they get there. (We’re currently not happy with our yardwork either, but have yet to find anybody who is happy with theirs– the crackdown on undocumented labor has really decreased the quality of this kind of service.)
Grumpy nation: How do/would you deal with income and ethics?