Jon Gallo is a noted tax attorney, who with his wife, the psychologist Eileen Gallo, has written Silver Spoon Kids: How Successful Parents Raise Responsible Children. In Worth for December 2007, Jon is quoted as saying that when he got into estate tax work in 1967, estate planning was treated as "a chess game with the IRS." Now, he says, the key conversation is, or should be, about "the effects of inherited wealth."
Honestly, we are still decades short of the real conversation, Jon. This is not about law, nor really about psychology. It is about politics, sociology, literature, spiritual traditions, moral and political philosophy; it is about the liberal arts and the role of wealth in a successful society. It is about consumerism, materialism, and the corrosive effects of birth to death marketing. It is about the corrupting effect of mass media. The parents cannot raise wealthy/healthy kids in a bubble, not even in Ameya Preserve, a community of conscience where nature meets culture in Paradise Valley. A healthy life in a sick society is challenging not just to the poor, the cast off, and the cubicle slaves, but even to the children of affluence. We aren't going to address the key issues, no matter how profound our estate plan, unless we begin talking about the responsibilities of wealth, about the perks and requirements of a wealthy heir, about social class, and about what used to be called nobility.
Today we have rich people, few high class people, no upper class worthy of the name, just cliques or marketing demographics, no aristocratic culture, no noblesse oblige, just wealthy vulgarians reading Worth or the Robb Report and planning to pass on their values as well as their valuables, by taking the child to a psychologist, or hiring a life coach, or sending the kid to detox, or putting an incentive trust into the estate plan.
It may not take a village to raise a child, but it takes a social class to raise a noblemen or noblewoman. If we are going to have aristocracy, someone ought to be inculcating Cicero, Seneca, and Marcus Aurelius, let alone Aristophenes and Martial, rather than letting the kids lose in the mall. Problem is, if we inculcate the parental values, the wealthy kids will be as culturally illiterate as the wealthy parents. I would like to say that religious education would help. But it seems very often a cram school for sanctimony, hypocrisy, bellicosity, and jingoism. The most wordly and money motivated people I know never stop telling me about Jesus, as if he had come to earth to preach some get rich scheme.
The Gallos are among many cashing in on the values planning mega-trend. What about me? I got class! And here I am railing from a Dumpster, standing on a tottering pile of second hand books, an entire great books curriculum, tossed unopened and unread into the Dumpster by these same wealthy kids loitering home from School. Ah me, I got an MA in Psychology. Maybe I can play that angle, and say I am curing Affluenza.
Reading Worth is a queasy voyeuristic delight. The slick pages, the obscenely expensive products advertised on every page, the cunning mixture of articles on philanthropy, hedge funds, gourmet foods, personal finance, boats, houses, planes, cars, motorcycles, watches, wines, spas, plastic surgeons, and of course "values." Reading level: college freshman. Range of cultural allusion: limited to whatever the wealthy ignoramus might have picked up on television. Is it any wonder that a child growing up in a household subscribing to Worth is screwed up? Values are just another product, another gimmick, another hook, another matrix in which to embed ads targeted to wealth. Real values, asserted even lightly, would explode the whole enterprise. Instead, the child, today's Huck Finn, trapped in this bubble world, and with an inkling of rebellion, grows depressed or angry, and is sent to the psychologist to get cured of anomie and despair.
The sickest among us set up as healers. I among them. But I have never denied that I am a Dungeon Master in Wealth Bond*ge, born again and rebranded as a Morals Tutor to America's Wealthiest Families, and constantly backsliding into my besetting sin: Spanking the hide off the spoiled brats, and their parents too. In days of old, the Fool, a madman speaking truly, would help the king and queen stay sane, when all around them were courtiers and flatters. Who will awaken today's Kings and Queens, these Worthy Consumers whose misquided values we flatter and pass on?