“A rich man starts out poor…”

This very recent Horror comes from an essay on income inequality, a response to a group of readings. There’s a bit of iffiness in the writing, but it’s the thinking that really fascinates me:

“A rich man starts out poor, builds his empire with the American opportunity, and as a result has money. This is where the problem starts.”

The paragraph did NOT go on to explain the specific link between “the problem” and having money, nor did it clarify the way in which the result WAS money; instead, my student reverted to an earlier comment that money was not bad but inequality was.

The process as he envisions it smacks of the Underpants Gnomes, as processes described by students sometimes do. He does consider the means by which the process is fulfilled, but names it simply “the American opportunity.” Is there only one? I imagine what he wanted to say would have been better said without the “the”: simply “American opportunity.” But what does that mean? Earlier in the paper I am assured that “equal opportunity” is “part of America,” but that’s about as far as he goes to establish the idea. Evidently it has something to do with building an empire (which concept I would have thought, until the last few decades, was not “part of America”), but if so, then I don’t think the opportunity has been equally distributed to me.

At any rate, the process completed, the rich man has money as a result of having built his empire. I LOVE that the very next sentence is “This is where the problem starts.”

I assume my writer means that the point at which the rich man has money is where the problem of inequality, or at least income inequality, starts. But isn’t that fairly obvious—that income inequality starts with some people having a lot of money? If in “start[ing] out poor” the rich man is typical, then we assume that everybody else starts out poor, and when the rich man achieves his empire the rest of the people are still poor. Income inequality: QED. Maybe if we had refused to let him use the American opportunity (Ah! If there is only one A.O., I guess he uses it up!) there would have been no inequality then, with him groveling around in the mud with the rest of us poor people.

If we look around us (poor or not), we may think that “This is where the problem starts” has a wider implication than the income gap. If I had written that sentence, I would have followed it with a description of the cascading social, political, economic, and philosophic “problems” that proceed out of vast inequality of income or wealth: This is where the problem starts, and look where it goes.

I didn’t write it, and that line of development was not within my student’s scope of discussion. Just the same, I think that second sentence resonates for the reader in an almost cosmic way, like another sentence I wrote about awhile ago: “In Adam and Eve this is the first time man and woman have been together and right away there is trouble.”

About RAB

Teacher of English writing and literature (college-level); academic-freedom activist; editor and copy editor; theater director, costumer, actress, playwright. View all posts by RAB

One response to ““A rich man starts out poor…”

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