Saunders: The relationship between net worth and what we value

I was watching Ray Dalio on “60 Minutes” a couple of months ago when he said that “wealth inequality is a national emergency” in our country, that from a man who is worth about $18 billion and who manages $160 billion of his clients’ money at Bridgewater Associates.

Having grown up in the middle class, he has written a book called “Principles” in which he talks about our economic system being out of balance and at a crisis, explaining how and why capitalism is not working and in need of reform. Dalio talks about the divide of wealth between the poor and the very wealthy as perhaps leading to the downfall of our way of life. He believes in taxing the rich substantially to help narrow the income/wealth/opportunity gap that exists between rich and poor. And he himself is investing in education as a way to reform the divide.


Not only does there seem to be a crisis in earnings between the poor and the very wealthy, but there also seems to be a retirement crisis in America. It is estimated that workers in the top 20% of earnings distributions had half of all retirement wealth in 1992 and 2010 compared with the bottom group of earners which saw its share fall from 3% to 1% between those same years. In those same 18 years, the share of workers in the bottom fifth of the earnings distributions with no retirement savings jumped from 45% to 51%. Perhaps what people spend their money on does not allow them to think about the future.

Inspired by childhood memories of Vrest’s father’s general store in North Calais, Vermont, which had opened in 1897, Vrest and Mildred mailed their first catalog to 1,000 people on their Christmas card list and thus began a tradition of timelessness into the 21st century.

About the same time as Dalio’s presentation, Dean Minnich wrote a column on what we value most by opening with the earnings of a couple of baseball players, albeit over 10 years. Still at $300 million for 10 years, or $30 million a year for 26-year-old Manny Machado, and another player making $420 million for 10 years, or $42 million a year — those are hefty sums for their playing lives to say nothing of endorsements and other ventures once their playing days are over. Guess who pays those salaries! I would also imagine that there are no stipulations that tie salaries to performance!

Dean Minnich tied his article to the political situation of Carroll County needing $418 million to run the county next year and the inherent conflict between the conservatives and the progressives on how to pay the bill.

Equally interesting to me were two issues of “Parade” magazine in April, one comparing what people earn in 2019 and the other 100 years of jobs in America and what people earned then and now. The April 7 issue touted two more sports figures’ earnings. Tom Brady, 41, who plays quarterback for the New England Patriots, earns an estimated $29 million a year! Beating them all, however, is LeBron James (34) making an estimated $85.5 million a year playing pro basketball. Of course he has to play more games in a season than Tom Brady!

After reading this prayer and enjoying its humor, I went in search of its origin. While its origin is obscure, many seem to believe that it represents a 17th century nun’s prayer who might have been experiencing a mid-life crisis!

Not only do sports players make the big bucks, but so do celebrities in other fields. “Parade” listed actress and singer Lady Gaga (33) making an estimated $50 million a year; Jennifer Lopez (49), actress, singer and dancer, an estimated $47 million; and singer and judge on “The Voice” Blake Shelton (42) an estimated $28 million. Entertainment does not come cheap. Who pays these tremendous salaries? The answer of course is those who seem to value entertainment whether in sports arenas and playing fields or in theaters, other venues, and on television and are therefore willing and able to pay the price to be entertained.

As another issue of “Parade” indicated, wages have obviously come a long way in the last 100 years when the milkman made $1,500 a year to deliver the milk to our homes. That job is pretty much defunct now except for an occasional milk delivery driver, one of whom makes about $40,000 a year, according to Parade.

But what about those who make considerably less than that $40,000 a year? I am particularly interested in personal care and home health aides, a group that is expected to add the most jobs in the next five to 10 years because of the aging of Americans. They make an average hourly wage — with many below the average — of $17.10 and a median pay of $23,130 a year. (That is about the same median pay of an animal care and service worker who grooms, feeds, bathes, and exercises pets.)

Many people are thus trying to keep food on the table, clothes on their backs and a roof over their heads while fulfilling valuable roles in our society. They may be on the cusp of earning barely enough to afford the basics of life but little more, with many of them needing to rely on two wage earners in the household.

So, the question remains: what do we as individuals, rich or poor or anywhere in-between, value most — besides entertainment? On what do we spend most of our time and our money?

The list might include long life, good health, wealth, education, friendships, family, charitableness, faith. This list can go on ad infinitum. Make your own list to see what you value most. Is what you value commensurate with your wealth? Perhaps more importantly, does your financial worth affect what you value? And ultimately, what is the relationship between financial wealth and what you value?