PRN: Oh, to Be Rich

Physician's Money Digest, November30 2003, Volume 10, Issue 22

Natural History of the Rich

As Mark Twain famously said, "Therich are different than you and I—they have more money." We could tryto nail down how much net worth orcash flow defines "rich," but we intuitivelyknow who they are and thatthey have a different set of behavior.And as Rich Coniff points out in his fascinating(Norton; 2003), people have alwaysbeen intrigued with the way the reallywealthy conduct their lives.

As natural creatures, we struggle forcontrol, dominance, mating access, andstatus. The rich are notable for havingmore tools to accomplish these goals.Most of the wealthy do so with gusto.Lest we get too superficial or biologic,however, let's agree at the outset thatthere is much else that defines thehuman experience—spirituality, character,moral values, and much more.Having issued our caveats, let's get onwith the fun, perhaps catty, part.

Human Intrigue

Lifestyles of the Rich andFamous

People

Why do we care about the rich? Thisis a good question, endlessly studied bypsychologists and sociologists. Let's juststipulate that we do. Look at how muchthe media (eg, and magazine), consumerspending, and government activity (consider"tax breaks for the rich") all showour obsession with wealth and its display.

Isn't 1 of the fundamentals of Americathe visible freedom to rise in societyby wealth, no matter what our originsmay be? One way we can put this intoaction is through a social version of "seeone, do one, teach one."

Flattering Mimicry

Coniff points out that every affinitygroup has its own dress, speech, andbehavior. Those of us who want accessto the perks of wealth ape wealthyattributes, consciously or unconsciously,and wealthy characteristics, in 1 form oranother. Inevitably, this mimicry pervadesall corners of our culture. Justlook at the way designer dresses arecopied within hours of their introductionfor a fraction of their original cost.

But the rich know that it isn't thedesign, but rather the price tag that isthe true status symbol. Otherwise, they,too, would buy their Louis Vuittonhandbag knock-offs at the flea market.Coniff validates what most people haveintuited: Rich people say that it is anythingbut their money that makes themspecial, but then they act as if money isthe only thing that matters.

What can we learn from all this?Maybe it's that hypocrisy is not excludedwith increasing financial status. Orthat all of us are descended from kingsand are very lucky to live in a time andplace where such things can be discussedand acknowledged. Then we'rejust a bit freer to move on.

Jeff Brown, MD, CPE, a practicingphysician who is a partner onthe Stanford University GraduateSchool of Business Alumni ConsultingTeam, teaches in the StanfordSchool of Medicine FamilyPractice Program. He welcomes questions orcomments at jeffebrownmd@aol.com.