Teaching our Students to Feel Guilty About Financial Success

by Christopher Paslay

The New York Times is seeking to publish college application essays that focus on corporate corruption, class warfare, and the guilt associated with financial success.    

The New York Times is the only newspaper I know of that runs a “business” column not about how to get ahead economically but about how to indoctrinate kids to feel guilty about being financially successful.  At least that’s the theme of Ron Lieber’s recent article, “An Invitation for High School Seniors to Write About Finances,” which calls for seniors to submit their college application essays that focus on finance to the New York Times for possible publication.

How do high school seniors write exemplary essays about “finances,” exactly?  One way is by concentrating their writing on corporate thugs like Bernie Madoff.  Lieber states in his article:

At Pitzer College, a student used the example of the Ponzi schemer Bernard L. Madoff to take a philosophical look at how much money people truly need to be happy.

This, according to Angel Pérez, vice president and dean of admission and financial aid at Pitzer, makes for an excellent college application essay. “I think there is this new consciousness,” Pérez said.  “It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen.”

High school seniors can also write about “finances” by stepping into the class warfare fray by stigmatizing the richest 1 percent and demanding they pay more taxes (more than the 39.6 percent they pay now).  According to Lieber:

Aside from the Madoff essay, Mr. Perez has read other Pitzer applicant essays and had other conversations with applicants about money and the economy in recent years that have stuck with him.

“One student last year was very affected by the whole conversation about the 1 percent,” he said. “He sent us his proposal for the tax code. The committee thought that this is someone who is clearly thinking about this in a critical way, is informed about what is going on the world and has done some dissecting of the information, and that’s the kind of student we’re looking for.”

High school seniors can also share their thoughts on “finances” by putting down in words the guilt they feel over their parents’ financial success and affluence.  Lieber writes:

The more affluent [students], if they do understand it, struggle further when trying to put it into words. “When it becomes visible, it comes accompanied with a U-Haul full of guilt that they’re towing behind them,” [Harry Bauld] said. “Then, it forces them into various clichés.”

But it need not always. Mr. Perez said Pitzer was quick to admit a student who talked about her travels around the world on her father’s yacht, anchoring in various high-end ports. “It bothered her that her family was never willing to leave the comfort zone, to go to real places,” he said. “To me, that young woman was absolutely memorable, and it took a lot of courage for her to do that.”

Apparently, leaving the limited confines of the United States and gaining new cultural perspectives and worldviews by visiting other countries doesn’t mean much—these experiences aren’t authentic and these places aren’t “real.”  (I wonder what are considered “real” places to people of this mindset?  My guess is that “real” probably means urban—where poverty is romanticized and street culture is glorified, where the rich, who live in their own separate neighborhoods and send their children to separate schools, feel guilty and privileged and have a codependent, patronizing relationship with poor people, where everyone votes the same and thinks the same and attacks anyone who dares present a different point of view).

Outside of class warfare and guilt over financial success, the New York Times is also looking to publish various college application essays where students have “thought through how you measure the success of the services a nonprofit organization delivers.”  Speaking of nonprofits, U.S. organizations listed as “nonprofit” earn $670 billion annually, yet pay zero federal income taxes.

Nonprofits are listed as “exempt” under section 501(c) of the U.S. tax code, so they don’t pay squat in taxes.  One in 12 Americans work in the nonprofit sector (and some executives of nonprofits are super rich), but the organizations pay nothing to the federal government.  (Do you see the irony here?  Evil corporations pay a corporate tax rate of 35 percent, while the $670 billion-a-year entity known as the sacred “nonprofit” pays none.  Quick!  Someone call Occupy Wall Street!)

With the “exempt” tax status of liberal nonprofits in mind, I’m sure the NYT is looking for college application essays that really highlight “the success of the services a nonprofit organization delivers.”

As a high school English teacher, I’m thinking about taking the NYT up on its invitation for seniors to write about finances.  Although I only teach 10th graders, I can still begin indoctrinating them to revile the rich and all their financial success and achievement.  I mean, who in their right mind would want to be rich?  Make lots of money and contribute nearly 40 percent of it back to their fellow man via the U.S. government in federal income taxes?  Who in their right mind would want to have a good quality of life and live in relative comfort?  Better to rail against money and success, become a sheep and adopt a groupthink mentality; better to engage in class warfare and side with the “takers” over the “makers.”

This way, my students can take full advantage of the entitlement programs being set up for them by those compassionate tax-dodging nonprofits, and make good use of all those kind, caring, progressive folks down at the NYT, like financial guru and “Your Money” columnist Ron Lieber.

3 thoughts on “Teaching our Students to Feel Guilty About Financial Success

  1. Christopher,
    Our world is full of inequities and you choose to vilify students who offer an alternative?

    No, there are not enough resources to go around, but there is a lot of waste within the food, housing, energy, healthcare, finance and transportations sectors. Some powerful, for-profit corporations spend a lot of time maintaining that waste because it enriches their bottom line. And please don’t tell me that the excessive wealth “trickles down” to hard-working middle- and lower-income people.

    The economy does not have a life of its own. The economy is the way it is because powerful people want it to be that way. Poverty exists because so much of our economy is unjust. What’s wrong with students thinking about and imagining a more sustainable and just economy?

    What is the role of a democracy?

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