• Monthly
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $other
  • use PayPal

Support Our Annual Fund Drive!fund-drive-progress-thermometer

We only shake our readers down two times a year, but when we ask we mean it. So, please, help as much as you can. All contributions are tax-deductible.
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

How Life-Affirming Tales of Modest Multi-Millionaires can Reinforce a Troubling Message

Sylvia Bloom died in 2016, an unknown 96-year-old. Now the world knows all about her.

The New York Times recently profiled the remarkable fortune Sylvia Bloom quietly accumulated over the course of her 67-year career as a legal secretary. That fortune totaled over $9 million. And Bloom has now left the bulk of that wealth, the Times reveals, to help children from poor families.

None of Bloom’s surviving relatives or friends had any idea that their unassuming loved one had saved anything remotely close to her multiple millions. Bloom had lived frugally all her life in Brooklyn. She avoided the high life. She counted her pennies. In the end, she put all those pennies to good use.

Stories like Bloom’s have been popping up regularly. Leonard Gigowski, a Wisconsin shopkeeper, died three years ago at age 90 and left a “secret $13 million fortune” that’s currently funding scholarships. Grace Groner passed away in 2010 at age 100. She spent most of her life in a one-bedroom Illinois home, shopped at thrift stores, and left $9 million for her alma mater.

Our popular culture can’t seem to get enough of these life-affirming tales of modest multi-millionaire seniors. These stories make us feel good. They also, unfortunately, reinforce a message that cheerleaders for our society’s richest find enormously convenient.

You don’t have to be money-hungry, commit vile acts, or even have extraordinary talents to become wealthy, all these stories about hidden millions suggest. You just have to be frugal.

And if you don’t happen to become rich, this media coverage not so subtly hints, just look in the mirror. You, too, could have counted your pennies and built a huge fortune. You chose not to.

Conservative pundits have always loved this basic “frugality pays” thesis. If we all only understood “that building wealth takes discipline, sacrifice, and hard work,” as one noted a few years ago, we could all become wealthy.

But if “discipline, sacrifice, and hard work” build wealth, why do so many millions of disciplined, sacrificing, and hard-working Americans today have so little of it?

Sylvia Bloom’s life offers some clues. Yes, Bloom lived frugally, sacrificed, and worked hard. But she also matured in a society — mid-20th century America — that endeavored to help disciplined, sacrificing, and hard-working people.

That help came in many different forms. Sylvia Bloom attended Hunter College, part of a system of free public higher education in New York City. She and her husband lived in a rent-controlled apartment. She commuted, for a few dimes per day, on one of world’s best public transit systems.

Young adults today confront a different reality. Sky-high college costs have turned 21st-century youths into life-long debtors. To find an affordable place to live, they have to squeeze into tiny — and expensive — apartments close to their jobs or plop themselves in distant exurbs, fighting traffic jams all the way to work.

These millennials aren’t living the frugal life. They’re living the austere life — and not by choice. Our elected leaders have thrust this austerity upon them, with decades of public policies that have rewarded the rich with tax cuts and whittled away public services at every opportunity.

Sylvia Bloom had the good fortune to live her early adult years in a society much more caring than ours. She cared back — and chose to devote her own financial good fortune to helping others to the same support that so helped her.

So, yes, Sylvia Bloom’s life does indeed offer up inspiration. But let’s not let greedier people turn that life into a rationalization for their riches.

More articles by:

Sam Pizzigati writes on inequality for the Institute for Policy Studies. His latest book is The Rich Don’t Always Win: The Forgotten Triumph over Plutocracy that Created the American Middle Class, 1900-1970 (Seven Stories Press). 

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
Weekend Edition
October 11, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Becky Grant
CounterPunch in Peril?
Anthony DiMaggio
Fake News in Trump’s America
Andrew Levine
Trump’s End Days
Jeffrey St. Clair
High Plains Grifter: the Life and Crimes of George W. Bush
Patrick Cockburn
Kurdish Fighters Always Feared Trump Would be a Treacherous Ally
Paul Street
On the TrumpenLeft and False Equivalence
Dave Lindorff
Sure Trump is ‘Betraying the Kurds!’ But What’s New about That?
Rob Urie
Democrats Impeach Joe Biden, Fiddle as the Planet Burns
Sam Pizzigati
Inequality is Literally Killing Us
Jill Richardson
What Life on the Margins Feels Like
Mitchell Zimmerman
IMPOTUS: Droit de seigneur at Mar-a-Lago
Robert Hunziker
Methane SOS
Lawrence Davidson
Donald Trump, the Christian Warrior
William Hartung – Mandy Smithburger
The Pentagon is Pledging to Reform Itself, Again. It Won’t.
Richard Moser
The Empire Is Running Out of War Stories. Or is it? Will American Exceptionalism Rise Again?
Roger Harris
Why Trump is Facing Impeachment
Doug Lummis
Everything Going Wrong in Okinawa
Ramzy Baroud
Administrative Torture: Free Heba al-Labadi, a Jordanian Citizen in Israeli Prison
Christopher Ketcham
Ode to the Drums of Ginger Baker
W. T. Whitney
Upcoming Elections Represent Testing Time for Bolivia’s Socialist Government
Louis Proyect
Building Soldier Resistance Under the Shadows of Fascism
Mark Ashwill
Reflections on General Giap and the End of an Era in Vietnam
Gabriel Leão
Killing the Messengers: Rising Violence Against Journalists and Indigenous Leaders Defending the Amazon
Graham Peebles
Climate Change: All Talk No Action
Arthur Hoyle
The Meaning of Donald Trump
Dean Baker
Those Quaint Corporate Scandals in Japan
Laura Santina
Take Their Feet Off Our Necks
Julian Vigo
The New Workers’ Revolution is Afoot
Robert Koehler
The Rights of Nature
Dan Bacher
New Report Reveals Oil Waste in CA Aquifers
David Swanson
Trump’s Opponents Have Him Beat . . . When It Comes to Incompetence
Ben Debney
Liberals, Class and the Joker Complex
Brian Wakamo
Paying College Athletes: California Takes on the NCAA
Theo Wuest
Don’t Leave Equality to the Supreme Court
Jesse Jackson
To His Wealthy Donors, Trump is the Grifter
Mairead Maguire
Pathways to Peace
George Wuerthner
Logging Wild and Scenic River Corridors in the Name of Reducing Wildfires is a Really Bad Idea
Tracey L. Rogers
We Can’t Hug Away Injustice
Mike Garrity
How the Alliance for the Wild Rockies Stopped Trump From Bulldozing Cabinet-Yaak and Selkirk Grizzly Bears into Extinction
Lawrence Wittner
Why Are Americans So Confused About the Meaning of “Democratic Socialism”?
Nicky Reid
Climate Cthulhu: A Post-Modern Horror Story
Seth Sandronsky
A Sacramento King’s Ransom: Local Tax Dollars and the Owner’s Wealth
Susan Block
Cougar 2020?
David Yearsley
Mother Mallard’s Little Boy Grows Up
Elliot Sperber
Taking Out Columbus
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail