Which half do you align with… the rich half or the poor half?
What’s your opinion when you read the words “how the other half lives”? What do you expect?
Do you expect to read about the wealthy or the poor? Your answer will probably says a lot about where you see your own position in the hierarchy. Wherever your thoughts led you though, you’re likely to be surprised by the reality.
“How the other half lives” is a phrase which originally appeared in How the Other Half Lives: Studies among the Tenements of New York (1890) which was an early publication of photojournalism by Danish immigrant, Jacob Riis. It documented the squalid living conditions in New York City slums in the 1880s. At this time, people in upper and middle-class society were unaware of the conditions in the slums among poor immigrants. Riis hoped to expose the squalor of the 19th-century Lower East Side of Manhattan.
So this was originally a phrase aimed at the rich, inviting them to consider the poor. My perception is that, for the most part, the phrase has today been hijacked by those who see themselves as the poor, inviting them to look enviously at the rich.
Which half do you align with…the rich half or the poor half? If I asked you about how the other half live, would you be thinking about the wealthy or the poor? Well if you have more than £2,400 in assets, you might be surprised to learn that you are amongst the richest 50% on the planet. Unless I’ve completely misjudged my audience, that’s just about everyone reading this.
If you’ve ever looked enviously at the other half, guess what…you’re in it!
Okay, maybe you had an inkling you were in the top half, but what about the top 10%…richer than nine out of ten other people, surely that can’t be you…can it? Well if you have assets of £50,000 or more it can. If you own your own house or have a pension pot. it’s very likely that you are one of the wealthiest 10% of people on the planet.
To creep into the top 1% you do need a bit more behind you. Total assets of around £500,000 places you ahead of 99 out of every hundred residents of planet earth , and yet there are plenty of U.K property owners who are worth at least that much who wouldn’t consider themselves comfortable, let alone rich.
We should consider ourselves fortunate to live in a part of the world where the vast majority of us are in the more desirable ‘other half’ and millions of us (almost three million at the last count) find ourselves in the top 1%. And yet politicians and social campaigners still talk about poverty in our country.
What they’re referring to of course, is relative poverty – inequality – some people having more than others. But isn’t just about everyone affected by that? Lord Sugar is relatively poor compared to Richard Branson. Duncan Bannatyne is relatively poor compared to Lord Sugar. You and I are poor relative to all of them. But in a country where almost everyone is amongst the richest 50% on the planet, does this really matter? Isn’t it just a little bit obscene that we make a fuss because some of us have more than others when almost all of us have more than most? Does inequality really matter when the poorest of us are relatively rich?
Perhaps only if envy, jealousy and a desire to drag back those who have climbed higher are your driving force.
There may be another reason but I’ve yet to figure out what it is.
I have to say that I was surprised to discover that I am in the top 50% . It is certainly true that the expression “how the other half lives” tends to be used for those we perceive as being better off than ourselves. For many years however, there has been, what I see as a very British fault, which is to try to bring down the high achievers. The desire to knock down those who truly succeed by the media here in the UK I find depressing. I guess it is a form of jealousy but is prevalent even amongst those one considers friends.
Being ‘rich’ does not just depend on or isn’t measured simply by money or the monetary value of goods / property owned. It also depends on quality of life: freedom from bigotry, hunger, illness, short lifespan, tyranny and oppression; equality of opportunity, access to education and means to make an income; family, friends and having a valuable and valued role (not just financially).
There has always been, and will always be, inequality of various kinds; wealth is only one and is not the most important.
Quote: “When you cease to dream you cease to live.” Malcolm Forbes