Those of us in the bottom 90 percent rarely get to see, much less interact with, the 3 million members of the top 1 percent. This explains why it may be difficult for us to wrap our heads around what life is like for them, and how dramatically their everyday lives differ from our own.
What little we do see, are their public displays of wealth and privilege — like when they are in luxury boxes at the Super Bowl, sitting court-side at a Laker’s game, or on television showing off their mansions and car collections. But how much do we really learn about their world from these brief glimpses?
Statistics help. We know that the top 10 percent take home half of all the income each year and own a whopping 75 percent of the nation’s wealth . But statistics are abstract and it’s hard to put them in perspective. Sometimes it helps to pair them with more concrete evidence or a relate-able example. Like, for instance, getting a haircut.
Whether you’re super rich or super poor, at some point (almost) everyone will need to have their hair cut. Hair couldn’t care less if you have truckloads of money or if you’re a pauper, it’ll just keep growing. It’s very egalitarian in this way. Haircuts are one of the few experiences we have that remind us of our shared humanity — right up there with putting our pants on one leg at a time.
So, now take a moment to think about what you paid for your last haircut. And if you have kids, what you spent on theirs….
Good. Now to give you an idea of what it’s like to get a haircut if you’re rich, let’s take a look at what a wealthy parent paid for haircuts for his two young daughters…
These receipts came from a former student of mine who had worked as a nanny for a wealthy family. The haircuts and styling were for their two girls, ages 11 and 9.
It would be hard to find anyone from the middle class — much less from the working class — who could even imagine paying $900 to have their kids’ hair clipped and colored. When I was little, my dad used take my brother and me to the backyard himself and shear us like sheep. Children from wealthy families might find it difficult to relate to my experience just as I find it hard to comprehend the frivolity of a child getting a three-figure haircut.
Here we are in the richest country in the world where, we are told, anyone can make it to the top. And when they do, they get to spend whatever they want on hairdos. This we are also told is what makes America great. But this is also a country where more than one out of every five children currently lives below the poverty line. Where 15 percent of its people are officially poor. Where wages for those in the middle and working class have not increased for decades while the incomes of those at the very top have ballooned.
If some parents in our society are able to pay this much on their kids’ hair, while other children go hungry, we have a problem. If they can spend hundreds of dollars on a child’s hair without blinking, imagine the amounts they are spending on their clothes, housing and private schools — let alone on extravagant vacations, violin lessons and various iToys? Surely they could afford to pay higher taxes to support programs to feed, house and educate our nation’s less fortunate children.
But we hear all the time from conservatives that we must cut the taxes of the wealthy so they can invest more and “create jobs”. But if these “job creators” are doing things like dropping a grand on highlights for a couple of pre-teens, I’m not sure I can buy what they’re selling. Frankly I’d rather see taxes on the rich raised (and mine too for that matter) so that nobody’s kids will have to go hungry tonight. If that means the children of the wealthy must suffer the indignity of a $30 haircut, so be it.