This post was originally published at smerconish.com
I’ve been reading the story lately of the woman in New Hampshire who won a $560 million Powerball jackpot and is now fighting the state in order to remain anonymous, an action that strikes me as both suspicious and un-American. The hiding of amazing good fortunes, especially when it involves sums of money that few of us can even fathom, is just something that Americans don’t do. We are a proud, boastful, immodest, braggadocious people and the idea of not wanting to lord your windfall over others seems to go against the core of who we are.
In this country, there are only two reasons you don’t want people to find out that you just got a whole lot of money. Either it’s ill-gotten gain, and you’d rather the authorities not know about it, or you’d rather your family not know about it because if they find out, you’ll never get them to leave your house. According to her attorneys, this lottery winner just doesn’t want strangers approaching her with their hand out for money. Doesn’t she realize that with $560 million, she could hire a couple out-of-work linebackers to keep both strangers and family at bay, 24 hours a day, for the rest of her life, and still not have to go searching in the couch pillows for pizza money?
No, the thought of suddenly having “in your face wealth” is what makes people leave the house in the morning and drink heavily upon their return. Name one person who has immense wealth that you don’t know about. See, you can’t. No one ever sues Forbes magazine asking that their name be taken off their annual Richest List. On the other hand, people have complained that their wealth was underestimated. And some have even lied about their wealth to get on that list! Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross was recently dropped from the Forbes list when it was discovered that he had been falsely inflating his wealth in order to seem more “important.” Seems that instead of having billions, he merely had hundreds of millions.
Even people who we think don’t care about how rich they are actually do care. They just like to show off just how much they don’t care. Take Warren Buffett. Though he’s now worth over $85 billion, he still lives in the same house he bought in 1958 for $31,500, drives an older model car, and clips coupons. You might say, “See, he doesn’t show off his wealth”. But that’s exactly what he’s doing; it’s his thing. He’s letting us all know that he’s so wealthy that the fact he lives like the rest of us, or maybe even worse, makes him much more special than the rest of us. Have you ever marvel over that neighbor that’s been in the same house for over 50 years and drives an old car?
What about those people you read about who give money to those in need anonymously because they don’t want any know about their generosity? If that’s so, then why do we know all these stories about people who’ve done that? It’s because being a secret anonymous benefactor is their thing. They are so rich, they give money away without telling anyone, except of course for the people they inform that they’re giving away money anonymously.
America is an ego-driven society, who made the most narcissistic and ego-driven person they could find (who happens to be quite rich) president. Now, half the population proudly boasts that it was them and their vote that was responsible for making him president while the other half to complain that he only talks about himself, “What about us? Why isn’t he thinking about us? He should be thinking about us!”
Which brings me back to the woman in New Hampshire and her desire to remain anonymous. Lottery winners such as her need to understand that it isn’t just about them, it’s about the rest of us too. We are all living vicariously through them, and they have an obligation to all of us to help fulfill our personal fantasies. Nobody wants to hear that you don’t want to show off, that you’re going to stay in the same house and maybe paint the garage. We want to hear them say that they can finally move away from their neighbors who have do nothing but hold them back from achieving the social status they now so richly deserve. Isn’t that what we in our fantasies do?
Her desire to remain nameless and faceless seems to violate the entire spirit of mega-million dollar lotteries and instantaneous wealth beyond imagination. We need better standards for these winners. How many times have you seen an interview where one of these a newly minted, luckier than Ringo Starr, gazzionaires, have said, “The money isn’t going to change my life.” What?! Of course the money is going to change their life – that’s the point of money! If you’ve been given enough money to buy your own country, and it isn’t going to change your life, then either you don’t need the money, or you don’t know what to do with it. Either way, it should be taken away.