By Bailey McCann
Sunday’s New York Times ran an interesting take on the fallout from the subprime crisis and economic slowdown: the rich are less rich. While the rest of us probably aren’t crying any tears over this development, the ramifications of the rich being less rich is a study in how a crisis in the financial markets may be a catalyst in forcing all of us to pare down, clean up and come out on the other side of this with a whole different perspective and perhaps a little more balance.
Much of Christine Haughney’s piece focuses on how the very wealthy facing cuts in bonus checks and Wall Street layoffs are selling their possessions to help pad their bank accounts. They’ve started by selling pieces of jewelry they rarely wear, or perhaps a fur coat that hasn’t been worn out in public for quite some time, maybe the odd piece of art out of an extensive collection. But then, the article drifts into more serious territory: they are doing this not just to pad their bank accounts because they recently faced a layoff or they are playing it safe, they are doing it to save marriages and make sure their children don’t get snubbed at school. If you listen to media reports, the economic downturn is always explained in terms of tangibles: gas is $4+ per gallon, food is more expensive, everything is more expensive and people are getting fired. While the job situation might be more secure off Wall Street the wages certainly aren’t following the increases in living costs. But what about the non-tangible factors? Such as interpersonal relationships, networks, and marriages.
While it may sound almost laughable to some that a marriage might end over a drop in income from say $30 million to $5 million, these moves create a ripple effect throughout families. The impacts of divorce on a family are well known, but if the marriage survives it may not be any easier. Haughney points out that some parents are worried children might get snubbed at school, leaving parents forced to explain what is a relatively complex situation. But that may be a good thing. What if more people used this trial by fire to force some more balance into their lives?
Easy for me to say. Yet, sometimes the dreaded character building exercise does just that. Possible or impending job loss is decidedly not an easy experience to live through, and no parent wants to explain to their child why they’ve not been invited out or lost a friend due to an obvious dip in the family bank account. However, in a world focused on status symbols it might actually help families to lose a few of them and find out what and who are the truly meaningful relationships. When we are forced to take a long hard look at our personal and career choices with an eye toward what to do next, the best course will usually sift itself to the surface influenced by this new perspective. With that knowledge we might come out of this time a few diamonds short but a good deal stronger over all.