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ChatChat - Claudia Cragg

May 13, 2021

Claudia Cragg speaks here with Mother Jones' senior editor @MichaelMechanic (Michael Mechanic) who offers a harsh wake-up call for the millions of American  dreamers who still believe that winning the lottery—or just simply having obscene wealth—will change their lives for the better.

The author ushers readers past the velvet rope to reveal the lifestyles of the ultrawealthy and the ever more expensive ventures they have to indulge in to not only keep themselves amused, but to outdo their wealthy peers.

One of the most interesting factoids in this well-researched book is that, according to one study, a person’s “self-reported positive emotions improved with rising earnings up to a satiation point at about $65,000 per year. Negative emotions…declined as earnings increased, reaching an inverse satiation point at $95,000.”

As Mechanic demonstrates throughout this eye-opening book, once the contentment with one’s finances ends, the addiction to “extrinsic” goals—e.g., buying mansions, cars, and other luxury goods—leaves less time for the “intrinsic” pursuits that give us real grounding.

Mechanic shows how the ultrawealthy make their money and how U.S. tax laws and loopholes allow them to keep building it—but he also provides a cautionary tale about the myriad headaches that unbridled wealth can bring.

Mechanic is happy to report that the rich are often bored and miserable—and (surprise!) less compassionate unless they can balance their extrinsic and intrinsic pursuits. Though the text is often a gleeful sendup of the absurd eccentricities of the superrich, the author also spotlights a few billionaires who find genuine spiritual contentment in giving their wealth away. “For an actual rags-to-riches tale,” writes the author, “one might turn to Ford Foundation president Darren Walker, who grew up penniless in rural Texas and went on to become an icon in the world of philanthropy.” [Kirkus Reviews]