Aspen, Anger and Envy

Have you ever noticed that people who profess such deepness and profundity that they don’t care about their own money always seem to have an inordinate interest in other people’s money? Up here in Aspen, this paradox thrives.

There are two kinds of people here: The ones who are rich and care about their own money and the ones who are not and care about the same money.

The rich ones can be annoying. For the most part, they are friendly and generous to a fault. But is it really necessary to pay other people to wash your car, clean your house, fetch your skis, wipe your butt and scratch your back?

I say it’s not. And the fact that they pay through the nose for those services doesn’t make me feel much better about it. People should be self-sufficient. They should wash their own car, clean their own houses, fetch their own skis, wipe their own butts and find a friend to scratch their backs in exchange for scratching the friend’s back.

Some of the Aspen rich are trustafarian types or successful gold diggers (and I’m not referring to the miners who died out last century). But most made it on their own. How did they navigate the business world successfully if they need help to find their skis?

The answer, of course, is that they are perfectly capable of finding their own skis. They pay others instead because it makes them feel pampered. The lap of luxury is like a Victorian couch. It may not be comfortable, but it’s so, well, luxurious.

“Ah, yes, I’m rich,” boasts this first type, “because money is important to me. I could find my own skis, but it’s so luxurious to pay ‘people’ to do such things for me.”

Whatever. It’s their money.

The money of this first type of Aspenite leads us to the second type of Aspenite, the impoverished. (“Impoverished” is of course a relative term in a town that makes taxpayer-subsidized housing available to insiders making up to $184,000 a year.)

This type is even more annoying than the first type. The “impoverished” celebrate their poverty in a conspicuous display of moral exhibitionism that puts to shame the material exhibitionism displayed by the first type.

“No, I’m not rich,” boasts this second type. “That’s because money is not important to me. I could be rich if I wanted to be, but it’s so luxurious to be morally superior instead.”

(Not mentioned is that their chosen path also affords them a lot of free time to ski, and they like skiing.)

Even though this group disdains money, they don’t disdain the things that you can trade it for. That’s the rub. They want to enjoy the moral superiority and free time that poverty buys, while also enjoying the material things that poverty doesn’t.

Their solution to this problem is ingenious. They figured out that they don’t need to earn money to buy the things they want. They can instead simply make those who did earn the money buy them. Housing, bus passes, utilities subsidies, senior discounts, you name it, they can have it all bought and paid for with other people’s money.

Here’s where the irony gets really rich. The second type does not feel guilty about taking filthy lucre away from those who earned it. To the contrary, they feel righteous about taking it. To take money away from those who earned it is to right a wrong, in their view. Because, after all, they tell themselves, those people whose money they’re taking are bad people because it was greed that drove them to earn it.

Moreover, the money is miraculously cleansed upon the taking. It goes from the root of all evil in the hands of the greedy rich, to the blossom of goodness in the hands of the selfless ones who took it away from them.

Adam Smith would shudder and Karl Marx would rejoice to see how the “invisible hand” of the market has been pushed aside by the “handout” of the class warriors.

And now we have a Dem candidate for president who, like the class warriors of Aspen, doesn’t care about money except when the money is earned by someone else — in which case it’s the most important thing on his plate (or will be, once he takes it off the plate of the guy who earned it).

When old-time gangster Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed banks, he famously said, “Because that’s where the money is.” At least in the old days, the gangsters were honest.

(Published Dec. 18, 2015 in the Glenwood Post-Independent at http://www.postindependent.com/opinion/19696841-113/columnist-examines-aspen-anger-and-envy)

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