According to an article in the paper today, with heating bills coming to some $150 million a year Queen Elizabeth II had some of her minions casting about for some additional funds to help heat her drafty old palaces. Says the article:
“. . . a request for assistance from a government fund that provides subsidized heating to low-income Britons has caused a spot of bother for Queen Elizabeth II, long one of the world’s wealthiest women.”
Her Majesty’s application in 2004 was politely turned down by the government — in part because of fear of adverse publicity — and quietly forgotten until The Independent newspaper published the correspondence Friday after obtaining it via a Freedom of Information request.
The Queen’s little problem bears tangentially on some of the controversies swirling about here in the Colonies of late, given the woes of the Great Recession and political disagreements over how to deal with the economy and taxes.
That the Queen, often cited as one of the world’s wealthiest women, would seek this kind of relief caused me to speculate on money and how different are the attitudes people have about it. Clearly, based on life experience and reading, I think most Americans simply try to achieve as high a salary as they can and then spend most of it, all without much planning for the long term. But that suggests an interesting question. When people do succeed in acquiring more money than they need just to be comfortable, how does that affect their behavior?
Abraham Maslow, a noted psychologist often quoted on human motivation, found that people have different levels of needs, starting with basics and ending with the highest aesthetic aspirations. His “hierarchy of needs” is:
- Psysiological (food, water, sex, sleep, etc.)
- Safety (security, employment, morality, property)
- Love/belonging (friendship, family, sexual intimacy)
- Esteem (self-esteem, confidence, achievement, respect)
- Self-actualization (morality, creativity, spontaneity, lack of prejudice, acceptance of facts)
Now Dr. Abe was clearly onto something because his theory continues to be quoted in books and classes all these many years later. A central tenet of his theory is that each level motivates behavior only until its needs are filled. At that point, those
needs no longer motivate and the needs of the next level become the drivers of behavior, and so on up the pyramid until everyone becomes like Warren Buffet, the Sage of Omaha.
I made that last part up. I only wish Queen Liz and the rest would become like Warren, who is one of my favorite people, but that won’t happen. Alas, most people seem to get stuck somewhere around level 4 or below. That’s a shame. The Bible, which may be on to something here, says that the LOVE of money (but not money itself) is the root of all evil. For the wealthy level 4’s, life becomes all about seeking attention through celebrity, houses, jewelry and expensive toys. This behavior keeps the National Enquirer and People Magazine in good supply of material.
I found it interesting that Michael Douglas, a wealthy and successful man at age 56,
still feels the need to seek celebrity-attention on talk shows when after years of hard-living he developed stage 4 throat cancer. As I mentioned in a previous post, one’s career often defines who we are, and I suspect that Mr. Douglas is hooked on celebrity attention as much as he was (is?) on tobacco and booze.
This brings me to the Bush tax cuts, due to expire at the end of 2010. There are howls of outrage from the GOP that the Obama administration wants to renew the cuts for the middle class, the 98% of tax filers whose joint incomes are under $250,000, while letting them expire for the 2% above that amount. The reasoning, if you can call it that, is that failure to renew the cuts for the wealthy would be, in a word, UNFAIR. No, really.
Here’s what Robert Reich wrote in a post for the Christian Science Monitor last month:
“A final reason for allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire for people at the top is the most basic of all. Although Wall Street’s excesses were the proximate cause of the Great Recession, its fundamental cause lay in the nation’s widening inequality. For many years, most of the gains of economic growth in America have been going to the top – leaving the nation’s vast middle class with a shrinking portion of total income. (In the 1970s, the top 1 percent received 8 to 9 percent of total income, but thereafter income concentrated so rapidly that by 2007 the top received 23.5 percent of the total.) The only way most Americans could continue to buy most of what they produced was by borrowing. But now that the debt bubble has burst – as it inevitably would – the underlying problem has reemerged.”
The federal Estate Tax is also set to expire, and, I’ll be darned, the GOP wants to let it. Why? I asked a conservative friend of mine, Thurston Howell IV, and he said, “Because we worked for, uh, earned, uh, inherited, uh, OWNED that money (and went to all the trouble to invest it and collect the interest on it, he mumbled) and nobody, nobody, has a right to take it away from us! It wouldn’t be FAIR!” So there!
Here’s what Warren Buffett, one of the world’s richest men and a Maslow level 5 if ever I saw one, thinks about the issue (quote courtesy of Duane Graham):
“I would hate to see the estate tax gutted. It’s in keeping with the idea of equality of opportunity in this country, not giving incredible head starts to certain people who were very selective about the womb from which they emerged.
“I’m not an enthusiast for dynastic wealth when there are 6 billion people who have much poorer lives. I can’t think of anything that’s more counter to a democracy that dynastic wealth. The idea that you win the lottery the moment you’re born: It just strikes me as outrageous.”
Gee, I wonder what the Queen would say to that?