So a rich guy and a homeless guy walk into a bar . . .
Sorry, let me start over.
So a rich guy and a homeless guy walk into a dumpster . . .
One more time. A rich guy and a homeless guy walk into The Washington Post . . .
America is officially a “Tale of Two Cities,” as New York Mayor Bill de Blasio says.
The grand canyon between extreme wealth and abject poverty has grown so wide and deep that we have lost all perspective. We have become indifferent and uncaring.
It’s common for the rich, especially, to believe that poor people choose to be poor. The rich imagine the poor are HAPPY.
The uncomprehending attitude toward poverty is on display in the Business section of Sunday’s Washington Post.
Scott Adams was striking a learned tone when he callowly compared rich and poor. His essay started on the front of the Sunday Business section, beneath a huge, unbusinesslike cartoon of Dilbert with a dog holding a plate of French fries. The billionaire and homeless guy are on page G5. Here is the offending paragraph:
“Keep in mind that happiness is a directional phenomenon. We feel happy when things are moving in the right direction no matter where we are at the moment. The homeless guy who finds a promising dumpster is happier in the moment than the billionaire who just lost $100 million on a bad investment.”
Some people call this sort of brainless gaffe a “howler.” It should have been caught by copy editors.
A howler looks plausible at a glance, but upon careful reading, it’s revealed to be an ignorant blunder, obviously illogical. Some people will read it over and over and still not get it.
So let me get this straight. A billionaire loses $100 million. A homeless guy finds a dumpster. Is he supposed to eat out of the dumpster or sleep in it? Whatever.
Are we supposed to believe that the billionaire, who still has at least $900 million left and is drinking French wine at his country estate, is SAD? And the homeless guy with the dumpster, is HAPPY?
The hapless writer, Scott Adams, is the creator of the “Dilbert” cartoon, seen in 2,000 newspapers around the world. He’s a superstar among celebrities. Is that why his learned essay about happiness was the most prominent part of The Post’s Sunday Business section?
What were the business editors thinking? Why did they devote the main Business page to a cartoon that had absolutely nothing at all to do with business? There is no logical explanation for Scott Adams and his windy essay and overblown cartoon in the Business section. The only possible reason is celebrity.
For a look at the Business page in question, and the previous post on this witless essay, click right here.
It’s a good example of the “winner take all” economy. Hundreds of reporters, including business writers, are out of work, and a cartoonist gets paid to write about happiness in the Business section.
To put this blunder in sharper perspective, consider: Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, a certified billionaire, paid $280 million to buy The Washington Post newspaper.
The paper, by its own report, is a money-losing operation that’s suffered declining readership and advertising for years. Does this sound like a good investment? Jeff Bezos stands to lose $280 million if his investment turns bad. Do you think Jeff Bezos is happier than the homeless guy, or sadder?
Someone should tell Scott Adams that billionaires make $100 million gambles in the stock market and in losing newspapers for fun. When they lose, they take it off their income taxes.
So this is how wide and incomprehensible the gap has become, between wealth and poverty, in America. Many middle-class people who are neither rich nor poor actually believe that a homeless guy is happy and a billionaire is sad.
The only explanation is mass hallucination. People believe that the poor cannot feel suffering and hunger. And billionaires cannot feel happiness.
— John Hayden
What do you think? Simply click on the tiny line below that says “Comment.” Your thoughts, pro or con, are appreciated.
I think, in general, poor people are happier than rich people. Just from my observation. I’m not talking about the homeless guy in the dumpster, I’m talking about the guy at the gas station who changes tires on rims all day every day for 30 years. The janitors I know. They are happier than the Real Estate agents and bankers who want more more more seem miserable.
I think I’m pretty miserable, financially hanging by a thread all the time, but I love my life.
This is an opinion I have formed over time from people I know.
You make an excellent point, Mark. Poor people can be, and very often are happy, especially if their basic needs for food, safety, love, and meaningful work are met.
And rich people can be sad in the midst of luxury. As you point out, the materialistic way of life does not automatically deliver happiness. Wealthy people, by the lust for riches — keeping score by who has the most money — often participate in their own sorrow. No matter how much you have, there’s always somebody who has MORE. And the more one strives, the more one obsesses over money, the less time and energy one has to simply enjoy and be grateful.
As Max Frankle observed, even in a concentration camp or prison, the one thing a person retains control over is their own Attitude and Will.
However, generally speaking, it is harder for most of us to maintain a happy attitude if we’re starving, freezing or in great pain.
Under some circumstances of poverty, it may be impossible to be happy. If a mother or father knows their children are hungry, they are deeply sad, and nothing, except food, can raise their spirits.
The question of sadness and happiness among rich and poor has fascinated many great thinkers over the ages.
I agree competely with your commentary on Sunday’s WA Post Business section. The Dilbert article was junk to fill up 2 pages of an ever-shrinking newspaper. I miss my hefty Post.
Junk journalism is an apt observation.
I have been reading this and the preceding post with ever-increasing disbelief. Aware as I am of Scott Adams’ reputation for being socially retarded — I can’t even remember where I heard about his pro-Romney and other politics, but the description came across as shocking for someone who satirizes the predicament of office wage slaves — I didn’t realize he was this numbnuts.
I think it was Billie Holiday who said “I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor. Rich is better.” Some people manage to be unhappy despite wealth and some people are not bitter or sad despite being poor, but not having things you need is hardly a formula for long term happiness even if there are occasional moments of glee. I’d love to see this guy take the “dumpster challenge.” Specially here in DC where it was 8 degrees this morning.
Thank you, Ms Sled. Few people have your gift for getting directly to the heart of the matter. I was still stuck trying to decide if Adams saw the dumpster as a delightful source of food or a cozy home.
I think of the challenge as partly consisting of finding out what he himself could possibly make of it.
I take this pretty personally in that my ex-husband — a brilliant, kind, severely mentally ill man — was technically homeless when he died, though since he had advanced cancer and was of Medicare age, he died after several weeks in a good hospital. Money alone wouldn’t have solved the problem, but money does buy modest housing for disabled, incapacitated people and help to guide their use of services, His disorder was beyond the coping skills of any layperson; I know because I was only one of many who tried. I can’t think how much greater our burden would have been if he had not been at least able to collect minimum Social Security (nowhere near enough to even rent a room) and get his doctor bills mostly paid. It’s actually unthinkable.
Anyway, when he was found after collapsing on the street, it transpired he had been sleeping in the entrance of Union Station. About which he lied to me, out of pride.
I guess he was happy when he woke up in a warm hospital. I’m just thinking it was probably something way outside the Dilbert experience.
I grew up wealthy and though I’m in my late 30s, my income has never reached more than 21k. Am thankful my HS education has gotten me further than a lot of college grads, thankfully it was college prep. Sure I miss riding in a Mercedes or eating at fancy restaurants like anyone else would but nowadays my pride comes from a hot pot of stew made from scratch or shoveling a neighbor’s driveway. You know, when old money runs out, we still have our manners…. my siblings are flat broke, but we do it in style!
I was made poor overnight. I am an elderly woman. The courts are out of control.