I began writing the Wealth Matters column in December 2008. The column was conceived earlier that year, when the economy still appeared to be running high. But by the time the first one ran, the economy was deep in crisis, and Americans were worried about their investments, their savings and, in many cases, their homes.
It took years for many Americans to recover. As for the wealthy, they have flourished in those 13 years.
I’m writing my last column — No. 608 — as the Covid pandemic has highlighted how stark income inequality has become. We have multiple billionaires blasting into space on their own rockets, high above the economic, financial and health problems of the rest of the world.
So for this Wealth Matters column, I called a group of people who work with or study the wealthy, people I’ve leaned on repeatedly over the years for insights, and asked them this open-ended question: How has the perception of wealth changed from 2008 to today?
“I got death threats the first time you mentioned me in your column and the last time, too,” said Brad Klontz, a financial therapist whom I first quoted in February 2009 and most recently last month in a column about whether $400,000 in annual income qualified someone as rich for tax purposes. He was one of my go-to sources to explain why there was often such a visceral hatred of the wealthy in America — for which he was thanked by online attacks.
“There’s this psychological drive to disparage those who have more money than us,” he said. “Yet if you make $50,000 a year, you’re one of the top 1 percent richest human beings who has ever walked the earth. But my question is: Do you feel rich?”
That line, said on a CNN show, got him “an email about building a guillotine and stacking financial therapists like firewood,” he said.
(Just last week, after I wrote about the private aviation industry dealing with a surge in demand in the pandemic, I received this email from a reader: “Mr. Sullivan, What may I do to help these private jet owners suffering so in these terrible times? I look forward to hearing your insights on assistance to these troubled parties. Thank you.”)
So from one perspective, the columns attracted readers critical of my efforts to describe the actions and concerns of the wealthy.
But James Grubman, a psychologist and consultant to wealthy families, said those negative sentiments about wealth …….