Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Like all rich people, I started this morning eating crumpets and watching Market Makers on Bloomberg TV. It's almost like they know what rich people want to hear, and I was totally revved up by what I saw. The host was interviewing the founder of Chobani yogurt, and she repeatedly pointed out how he'd come up from nothing to become a billionaire. The American dream is alive! they both chanted. Poor people are only poor because they're too lazy to become rich! To people of my income group it's not just a mantra: it's also a lullaby, because it's the only way we can get to sleep.

After they'd both confirmed that success is the inevitable result of hard work, the host ran off onto a tangent. Chobani is an official Olympic sponsor, she noted. Is it because Olympic athletes, like Chobani's founder, have also made something out of nothing? Have been born hopeless and penniless and used nothing but their own blood, sweat and tears to become modern-day American heroes?

Mr. Ulukaya was too modest to reply, but I think the answer is obvious. People who work hard can make it, and people who don't make it didn't want it hard enough. Like the bobsled, though, we find our subsequent thoughts hurtling toward the border of racism, because the U. S. Winter Olympics teams are 99% white. Though the Market Makers didn't tackle that topic, it seems natural to conclude that they too think minority groups just won't put in the work.

Me, I blame the welfare state. I mean, these urban kids are so debilitated by all the free money being handed out that they can't even bother to drive to the ice rink. They're so busy keeping themselves in stylish shoes and baseball caps that they suddenly can't afford $800 for lift tickets.

If these kids had an ounce of initiative, I think they'd be surprised by how far they'd get. Their nannies probably wouldn't mind driving them to the equestrian center every day, because they could still write thank-you notes for their mistress while waiting in the Range Rover. The downstairs maid could still polish the silver in the parking lot of Trampoline Town. Instead kids are too busy tweeting and texting to even ask! The black cloud hanging over their heads precludes them from seeing that their neighbor has four thousand dollars worth of spandex. Their aunt has an disused luge track. Their cousin has a nose clip and a desire to swim exactly like them.

Now, I'm not an idiot. I know there are some kids whose parents and relatives won't just give them stuff. Where some people see a brick wall, though, I see opportunity! These kids will just have to work a little harder. Maybe they'll have to take out the trash once a week in exchange for a polo pony. Maybe they'll have to get straight As before Dad moves the family to Norway. Heck, I'll bet there are a few kids who don't even have parents! They just need extra determination. They should follow in the footsteps of Ben Franklin, who was born into poverty along with his sixteen brothers and sisters. "Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity," Ben said, and indeed he was totally prepared when his brother was thrown in jail and left him a free newspaper business. Even without family help, kids can keep plugging away at that minimum-wage job until they can afford rent, a car and food. So what if they're the only 50-year-olds at luge practice? It's just the naysayers who'll be negative. In true Olympic spirit I think the other athletes would applaud their determination and say "Welcome!" before they shatter both their hips in a bad salchow.

In closing I'd like to say that I don't think it's the insularity provided by all of my money that gives me high hopes for inner-city youth today. I know once they get their first taste of success, they'll want to thank the self-made Mr. Ulukaya for being a prime example of a man who built a bright future out of nothing. Well, and his dad, who owned a yogurt factory too.

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