Thursday, December 11, 2008

"Born Rich"

"Born Rich" is a documentary made by Johnson and Johnson heir Jamie Johnson about kids like himself. He saw the curse that inherited wealth can be in his own family, and wanted to try to head off problems by studying people like himself. This is a smart idea, and I wish him well in finding a meaningful path for himself. As he says, the American Dream is to do better than your parents; he can't do that, so is trying to find a life worth living in America outside the American dream.

We saw the documentary in class again today. It first came out in 2003, but retains its punch. It is very hard to study the rich, because they have a thousand ways to keep you out and shut you up. Almost the only path that works is when an insider decides to study the wealthy tribe, and publishes the results. Some of Johnson's fellow rich kids come of well, notably Ivanka Trump. Others come off so badly that, like Luke Weil, a gambling equipment heir, they sued, unsuccessfully, to take back the release they had signed to appear in the documentary.

The picture is not really a pretty one. Having every privilege in the world seems to undermine these kids more than it helps. Quite a few will grow up to be mature adults, but they are as much hurt by their privilege as helped when young. Even the ones who are not self-destructive tend to report that they lack the drive to complete really hard projects, because they don't have to.

"Born Rich" is a valuable, narrow documentary. I look forward to Johnson's new film, "The One Percent," about the effects of income inequality between the bottom masses and the top one percent.

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