Saturday, June 19, 2021

MUCH More Impressed With Abigail Disney Than I Am With Myself!!!

theatlantic |  When you come into money as I did—young, scared, and not very savvy about the world—you are taught certain precepts as though they are gospel: Never spend the “corpus” (also known as the capital) you were left. Steward your assets to leave even more to your children, and then teach them to do the same. And finally, use every tool at your disposal within the law, especially through estate planning, to keep as much of that money as possible out of the hands of government bureaucrats who will only misuse it.

If you are raised in a deeply conservative family like my own, you are taught some extra bits of doctrine: Philanthropy is good, but too much of it is unseemly and performative. Marry people “of your own class” to save yourself from the complexity and conflict that come with a broad gulf in income, assets, and, therefore, power. And, as one of my uncles said to me during the Reagan administration, it’s best to leave the important decision making to people who are “successful,” rather than in the pitiable hands of those who aren't.

I took far too long to look with clarity upon these precepts and see them for what they are: blueprints for dynastic wealth. Why it took me so long is a fair question. All I know is that if you are a fish, it is hard to describe water, much less to ask if water is necessary, ethical, and structured the way it ought to be. As long as no one so much as raised an eyebrow about the ethics of the CRAT, the CRUT, and the credit swap, who did I think I was to query the fundamentals? I did not have the emotional courage to go down that path.

There was another reason for my inaction, and I am deeply ashamed to say what it was. But here goes: Having money—a lot of money—is very, very nice. It’s damn hard to resist the seductions of what money buys you. I’ve never been much of a materialist, but I have wallowed in the less concrete privileges that come with a trust fund, such as time, control, security, attention, power, and choice. The fact is, this is pretty standard software that comes with the hardware of a human body.

As time has passed, I have realized that the dynamics of wealth are similar to the dynamics of addiction. The more you have, the more you need. Whereas once a single beer was enough to achieve a feeling of calm, now you find that you can’t stop at six. Likewise, if you move up from coach to business to first class, you won’t want to go back to coach. And once you’ve flown private, wild horses will never drag you through a public airport terminal again.

Comforts, once gained, become necessities. And if enough of those comforts become necessities, you eventually peel yourself away from any kind of common feeling with the rest of humanity.

I tell you all this not to defend myself; that’s between me and my conscience. I am telling you this because human nature is a mighty force, and fighting it requires understanding it.

What has caused me to question my indoctrination has been ethics.