Rather Than Bash the Rich, We Should Emulate Them by John Tamny

During a recent business trip to Minneapolis, an article in Mpls.St. Paul Magazine caught this writer’s eye. Titled “Blake’s True Colors”, the article chronicled the allegedly positive evolution of The Blake School, which is generally viewed as the most academically rigorous center of learning in the Twin Cities, and also the one with the most well-to-do student body.

Though the author lauded with forked tongue Blake’s efforts to morph from a school not just for the rich, but also “for the worthy”, the greater theme within concerned the values that privileged white children bring to the classroom each day. Supposedly those values are aimless, wasteful and unworthy – rich and worthy mutually exclusive – so for Blake to be relevant going forward, the students lucky enough to attend will, if the author has her way, learn to not think like rich, white kids.

The very notion of not thinking like the rich is pregnant with false meaning, and unsurprisingly, is contradicted by an article meant to discredit the wealthy and their offspring as the lucky winners of the lottery on life. Nothing could be further from the truth.

To become rich is simple, at least on paper. In order to grow wealthy one must first work very hard, and then offer up one’s labor in a field that serves the needs of others so much that profits are relatively large. This same person must then save those profits with great gusto in order to turn earned income into wealth. If it were easy to become rich we all would be, but as the rich and poor alike know intimately, getting rich is surely glorious, but also very difficult.

The rich, by virtue of being rich, are society’s ultimate benefactors thanks to them doing things that remove unease from the lives of others, and then, rather than wasting those gains, their delayed consumption is transferred to other ambitious entrepreneurs who access the capital they don’t consume in order to make our lives better themselves. There is no wealth without thrift, and it’s the thrift of the rich and hard working in our midst that funds the innovations that increasingly enhance all of our living standards.

Looking at the children of the rich who attend Blake, if it’s even remotely true that parents pass on their value systems to their kids, then it’s also true that the children of the well-to-do are bringing to school each day an essential mindset that others should emulate. These values would once again be hard work, thrift, and as evidenced by Blake’s story, charity.

As the article’s author perhaps unwittingly noted, programs offered by Blake “range from highly successful summer programs for Minneapolis Public Schools students called LearningWorks, to a quickly expanding service learning program that is designed to build a sense of responsibility toward others”. What the author conveniently leaves out is that these programs have a cost, and it’s a safe bet that they’re funded by the very parents who presumably impress on their privileged children the good that comes from helping others.

It’s also the case that last year Blake offered 250 students $4 million in aid in order to attend the school. Not mentioned once again is the likelihood that in a school that is 81% white, probably a great deal of the funds meant to give others the opportunities that were once just the preserve of the rich came from the rich white parents whose children supposedly aren’t worth emulating.

Blake was of course founded in 1900 “by the richest families in Minneapolis for the purpose of securing access for their children to the elite private schools on the East Coast,” but with 1/5th of the student body unable to afford its nosebleed tuition, it seems the school’s supposedly valueless benefactors are sacrificing a great deal of their own money in order to give to others the advantages their children presently enjoy. If so, and if the rich and their offspring place a high value on accessing the best education well beyond Blake, shouldn’t the non-rich be eagerly copying their values, rather than dismissing them as unworthy? Probably.

Looking at community service within a school that is aggressively addressing what the upper school’s assistant director terms “white privilege”, Blake students “volunteer for organizations such as Minneapolis Crisis Nursery, UNICEF, and Vail Place, a support program for adults with mental illness.” Apparently it’s a good thing to “think like a rich kid” if a volunteerism is any kind of gauge.

The obvious reply to this line of thinking is that the children of the wealthy enjoy easier lives than their parents do, so while they may be taught the importance of thrift and hard work, they don’t aspire to those values. That’s an easy assumption for sure, but one belied by simple, anecdotal evidence.

Indeed, movie moguls Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg both grew up on New York’s Park Avenue, Winston Churchill at Blenheim Palace, real estate entrepreneur Donald Trump was raised by a father who’d done extraordinarily well himself in property, while Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg attended Phillips Exeter Academy. Failed children of the successful are always notable, but not discussed enough is how often they inherit their parents’ belief in hard work on the way to great success.

Also not mentioned is how many children of the unsuccessful end up much like their parents. This number would be hard to quantify, but if values are some degree inherited, it’s a safe bet that a not insignificant number of children who grow up poor take the values of light work and an aversion to thrift well into adulthood. Simply put, the values that lead to failure are in no way the sole preserve of the upper middle classes, let alone white people.

Taking this a bit further, can the author suggest with a straight face that the values of hard work, study and charity permeate the more downtrodden schools in Minneapolis? If so, why is it that a Blake education is so desirable to the rich and poor alike?

Ultimately it’s the goal of The Blake School to erase the culture of “white privilege” from its hallowed walls. No doubt this plays well to a media possessing an almost reflexive hate of wealth, but for the rational minds in our midst, white privilege is a falsely pejorative term for the enterprise and parsimony that often lead to financial and charitable success. Blake may well rid itself of what its administrators deem a wanting, privileged culture, but if successful, they’ll rid the school of the values that make it so attractive to the ambitious, including those not rich or white.

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