Charlie Stross asks the question, “So why do the rich keep trying to acquire more money, long past the point at which it can make any noticeable difference to their lifestyle?” This isn’t the question I thought he’d be asking in this article, relative to its title. I thought he’d talk about how being rich isn’t what it is used to be.
There was a time, pretty much always actually, when being rich meant you could have not just more stuff than poor people, but better stuff. A rich guy could have a pen that works better than a pencil, or a typewriter that works better than a pen, or a secretary who types really fast onto nice paper. Having access to better tools made rich people richer of course, but it also made being rich worth the effort of getting rich - you get a substantially nicer day, every day.
But in the first world in 2012, even on a lower-middle class salary, your day can be pretty similar to that of a rich person. You spend the majority of it in front of various screens, from your laptop to your iPhone. These are the same screens rich people use, and the same media they consume. Rich guys get just as excited about the premiere of Game of Thrones as poor guys, and watch the show on TVs and sound-systems only marginally better. They get their coffee at Starbucks. They buy organic bananas even in the off-season for an extra buck or two. They wear tshirts that are marginally more comfortable than the 3-pack you bought in Walmart. They wear crocs and don’t understand why dubstep is a thing. They play Angry Birds on the train. A rich person’s average day in 2012 is better, but not much better, than my average day. That’s revolutionary.
I’d still like to get rich, though. It would be nice to have the money to travel anywhere first class, or to pay someone to stay in my house and cook my favorite foods, but those things wouldn’t be seismic shifts in my day-to-day life. In 2012, thanks to the iPhone in my hand and the Chinese-made shirt in my closet, I’m a lower-middle-class rich person. Not as a good as the authentic kind, but almost.