A Different Approach to Affluenza

Charles Payne
Posted: Jul 29, 2014 12:01 AM
A Different Approach to Affluenza

1. A painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety and waste
2. Inability to understand the consequences of one's actions because of financial privilege

There is a lot to be said about both definitions of affluenza. The national conversation is being fueled by efforts to make the trappings of success so unbecoming that it is worthy of punishment. We are a nation fueled by consumption, so much so that our economy feeds populations all over the world who are dependent on the insatiable appetite of Americans for the good life. It is not just about the rich buying luxury cars and watches, but it is also about middle-class Americans planning to purchase flat panel televisions and leasing new cars.

Are we pushing the envelope too far? Have the societal norms pressured us to one-up the Jones, even when it means we are spending money we do not have, sabotaging our chances of prosperity that comes with patience, savings, and investing?

For me, wanting what others had began with more humble things, like heat and hot water. I thought the kids that lived in the projects were lucky because they had elevators. Later, I set my sights a little higher and began buying Architectural Digest, even though my salary at the time was $13,000 a year before taxes.

I think people should dream big. I have no problem with a rapper talking about private jets, or the woman in a dead-end job hoping that one day she has the chance to call the shots from her vacation in the Mediterranean. America is a nation where people come from all over the world to pursue their dreams. While some would argue the babbles of success are the same as success, I could easily say it was a desire for those babbles that made the dream come true.

On the other side of this dilemma, is the push to give part-time workers more rights and a higher minimum wage. The latest tactic is to promote this as a civil rights issue. This line of reasoning has greater roots in Marxism than in capitalism, and in many ways is insulting to the people working part- time or, for minimum wage. For various reasons, many find themselves working part-time, but it is not a reflection of who they are or where they will be later in life.

The fact is that efforts by unions to promote a $15 minimum wage are transparent efforts in order to reverse a sagging membership, but it's also an example of greed- to take from someone more than they're willing or obligated to give. A better solution for those who work in lower paying jobs should be to remain motivated by dreams of having a greater life; pooling their resources together, taking college courses online, saving money, and putting off having children. In other words, be driven by affluenza to take positive steps in changing your circumstances.

A person who works for minimum wage and allows their current income to define who they are is making a gigantic mistake. For the record, minimum wage is still the minimum wage, and if you want more in life, no legislation can make that happen, and no amount of demonizing the very same people that gave you a job in the first place, will change your current situation. The great news is that mobility is still an amazing facet of life in America; for it to work, one has to believe it will.

In the meantime, each individual has to deal with their own greed level and what price(s) they're willing to pay to have stuff they cannot afford, or might be wiser not owning. Affluenza is a component of success and yes, it means pain, anxiety, and periods of doubt and frustration. However, what happens when you reach a certain level of success, enjoy it.

I'm Innocent Because I'm Too Rich

A part of the negative narrative about the rich recalls images of ancient Rome, where wealthy citizens would have a long, abundant feast and then would deliberately regurgitate their food in order to continue to eat while slaves cleaned up the mess. That image is more of a caricature these days. An element of rich entitlement is alive and well today. The second definition of affluenza is a serious issue. The most famous case of its kind is that of the ugly face of wealth, which depicts the story of Ethan Couch.

On June 15, 2013, Ethan Couch stole a couple cases of beer from a local Wal-Mart and jumped back into his dad's Ford F-350 truck for a joyride with his seven passengers. Breanna Mitchell, who was driving a SUV, stalled on a dark, rural road. Being a Good Samaritan, a youth minister stopped to help, as did Hollie Boyles and her daughter, who lived nearby. Minutes later, Couch drove down that very same rural road and killed all of them.

His lawyer said it was not Couch's fault because as a rich kid, he never learned right from wrong. The judge bought the story and gave Couch 10 years probation.

This kind of injustice happens every single day, and mostly, we ignore it, or discuss it with astonishment. However, sometimes it hits closer to home, and we are confronted with the notion of a two-tier world where knuckleheads are not only given a free pass, but also in their minds, are encouraged to do stupid things, knowing accountability can be bought and paid for.

It is time for a different approach.

Older teens and young adults who pull the "I'm-too-rich-and-don't-know-better" card should face twice the maximum penalties. If there is proof that they influenced or mitigated legal punishment, parents of repeat offenders should also face criminal charges.

Moreover, it is time for accountability to swing through all of society. Rich jerks who are breaking laws are just the same as poor hoodlums; they all know better and should face the same consequences.