In Discussions, Money, Wealth

Imagine if you were ‘Born Rich’: A documentary into the lives of those who were

This documentary was created by Jamie Johnson of Johnson & Johnson, who was then 23 years old, and an heir at his 21st birthday to part of the Johnson & Johnson fortune.

Among the peers Johnson interviews are:

  • Josiah Cheston Hornblower, heir to the Vanderbilt and Whitney fortunes
  • S.I. Newhouse IV, of the Conde Nast Newhouses
  • Luke Weil, of Scientific Games gaming (racetrack betting and Vegas sport betting)
  • Ivanka Trump, daughter of Donald Trump
  • Juliet Hartford, A&P heiress (too bad that company is tanking)
  • Cody Franchetti, Model and Textile heir to Milliken & Co.
  • Georgianna Bloomberg, daughter of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg

It is absolutely interesting for those who want to know what these heirs think about basically getting lucky in the birth lottery.

Here are a few of my thoughts post-video, and aside from the fact that being rich is generally considered better than being poor (more opportunities, no worry about basic needs met, etc), there are still interesting things to tease out from having been born into such fortunes.

WORKING IS THE KEY TO HAPPINESS

This actually ties in very nicely to my post on: The Meaning of Life is to Live in the Now, I may not have my millions yet, but I daresay I’d prefer my life of having something to work towards as an overall goal, than just being… rich.

As Jamie Johnson says: There’s no class in college on how to be a productive, rich person.

I’ve already been there and done that. Doing nothing all day is boring, meaningless and you’re always searching for something to challenge you.

The answer to what rich people need when they feel useless was said best by the Vanderbilt/Whitney heir Josiah Cheston Hornblower: I realized that working hard makes me happy.

GUILT IS AN EMOTION THEY ALL HAVE

Regardless of what the Italian textile heir and model (Cody Franchetti) said, he feels guilt.

If he didn’t feel guilt, he wouldn’t be talking about it as a sub-topic on how he feels about being rich.


He even goes so far as to quote Nietzsche’s ideas of “guilt being a useless emotion”, and something that is taught to our societies because of a Protestant work ethic.

(Protestant, originating in Germany founded by Martin Luther, talks about how you should work very hard, be frugal and prosperous so that you please the higher-ups in heaven and are able to get in.)

I’ll give him credit for having read Nietzsche, but although he read his ideas, he didn’t understand them.

The context in which the philosopher wrote that was for the Middle Ages, and he was writing about someone having EARNED all that money, not having just received it for doing nothing.

A rich, self-made person, should not feel guilt because he or she has worked, and earned every right to all the money they have, which is also something I believe.

(And by “right”, I mean that they worked for it, they deserve it. Someone who inherits it, also has that money as a right by parentage, but they are not the same “rights”.)

It is absolutely not the same thing to inherit a dollar than it is to earn and save one.

Even Jamie Johnson says it near the end: I am starting to realize that inheriting a dollar is not the same as earning one.

Like when the A&P heiress Juliet Hartford jokes about giving all the money away to the homeless — it’s not something I’d personally joke about, but it goes to show that they’re awkward with their money, not having earned any of it.

THEY ARE A PRODUCT OF THEIR ENVIRONMENT

They’re just awkward at times and it was painful to watch in some spots.

You could just see the confusion on their faces, and the fact that they’ve been talking about this as something they don’t quite understand, leads me to believe that there’s been a lot of therapy — going to a shrink, retail therapy, sports…

What they can’t accept or grasp, is that they are rich by luck.

They’re searching for meaning in their lives of why they were chosen by nature to be born into the “right” family and have been born into a fortune.

They simply don’t know what they want to do, and they don’t know what to say, but they sure as heck know that having lots of money is not a shield against pain or having problems.

In essence, they’ve never had to fight for anything they’ve been given, which why they feel like they’re missing out on “life” as the middle-class (majority of U.S. and Canada) knows it.

As kids, I used to fight with my siblings over toys, but in their families, they’d probably just buy one of each toy and end the fighting instantly.

This lack of conflict over scarce resources because they have everything they need in excess probably haunts them to some extent, because they’re asking themselves: What did they do to deserve it?

They’re struggling in another way that we can’t understand — not having a goal to work towards, not actually needing to work hard — these are all identity issues they’re struggling with, and trying to find a “worth” of themselves in the world.

As the gaming heir Luke Weil said: “I want to feel indispensable“, and that’s exactly it.

They feel dispensable only because they have money, but they feel like they don’t have a value to society otherwise because if the fortunes disappeared overnight, no one would really care about them any more.


Their only worth is their fortune, which they didn’t even work for or know the people in their family who did.

IT’S ACTUALLY KIND OF SAD TO THINK ABOUT THEIR LIVES

How about the fact that they’re taught since an early age that people treat them differently because of their parents’ money?

They’re also scared all the time that they’ll lose their money all the time, either from being cut off from the will or from bad investments.

(So why not work hard and make your OWN fortune so that you don’t worry about this stuff?)

If their parents’ make bad investments, or their companies tank, it means that all of their wealth tanks along with them, as they’re shareholders in their family corporations.

The saddest of all, is whether or not they’ll be able to find someone who will like them for who they are, and not for their millions. I mean, how can they call their potential future wife a “gold-digging bitch” for not wanting a prenup?

It’s not the prenup that’s the problem for me, it’s calling your future (well now ex-future) wife whom you’ve probably screened with your heart and soul — a “gold-digging bitch” because of your inherited money, and then saying you’ll probably get divorced, etc etc.

You don’t learn these things on your own as a kid. You’re taught them by your environment and your parents.

They also don’t tend to socialize outside of their circle, so the problem compounds and intensifies, as they meet other kids who are JUST like them, and so on and so on.

HAVING ENOUGH MONEY IS BETTER THAN TOO MUCH

Strange for a PF blogger to say this, but for me, having ENOUGH money, is better than having too much.

There is a clear distinction for me in that regard — I want enough money that I earned and worked for.

It brings a whole host of problems aside from solving the financial ones when you have too much.

What would I do with billions anyway? Probably end up giving it away to charity like Buffett and Gates, because we all know that inherited wealth tends to only last through 3 generations, as the old Chinese proverb goes.


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Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

I got out of $60,000 of debt in 18 months using TheBudgetingTool.com. Since then, I have worked 50% of my career (taking 1-2 year breaks), and quadrupled my income within 2 years of graduating, going from $65K to $260K (savings rate = 85%). I could retire today if I wanted, but love my work-life balance as a freelancing consultant in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math). I also post daily on Instagram @saverspender.

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Posted on July 13, 2015

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15 Comments

  1. J
    Jaime

    This post motivated me to watch “Born Rich.” Then I watched “The One Percent” which is also by Jamie Johnson. Some of the kid’s on “Born Rich” I liked such as Ivanka Trump, Josiah, Georgianna Bloomberg.

    Those are the kids of the wealthy who are trying to find meaning and value in their lives. Some of the kids were just pathetic like the one who tried suing Jamie and the count just came across as a jerk. The pimple faced kid was nice but his story was a little sad.

    He stays in his dorm instead of going home during holidays and then he said his rebellion was getting a college degree and a PhD in something. It’s kind of sad when people are born into money but their parents don’t seem to care. I just don’t get that.

    Anyway, I have read a couple of stories online that have nothing to do with this documentary, of how some rich parents have chosen to pay for their kids education and even the first house but after that the kids were on their own and no inheritance would be passed on to them.

    Then in “The one percent” movie, Nicole Buffet’s the grand-daughter of Warren Buffet, was sent a letter in the middle of that documentary that she was no longer part of his family. I thought that was really disgusting.

    How can you cut off your children or grand-kids just because you don’t agree with them being in a movie about wealth? I get if you don’t want them to inherit the money because Warren Buffet apparently has a rule that after you graduate college, you are on your own.

    But he actually sent her a letter that he no longer considered her part of the family. That’s emotional blackmail.

    It’s sick. I felt like Jamie’s parents were more tolerant I guess, but I find it kind of sad that his father was silenced and kind of emotionally blackmailed for making that movie in the 70s about poverty in Africa.

    It seems like if you inherited your wealth, you seem kind of free to the outside world but you truly aren’t because you’re worried about losing the money and being scolded by the family or the board of directors.

    My heart really went out to his dad. I was also surprised that Chuck Collins the Oscar Meyer heir gave away his fortune. Before watching these documentaries I did feel envious towards the wealthy, but I never hated them.

    Now I feel a little sympathetic for them. I don’t pity them but it seems like they live in this little bubble of having to do everything right. Which has led me to the conclusion it’s better to go out there and make your own money and speak your own opinion and be independent, than to always be nervous about not doing and saying the right things and getting “cut off.”

    Reply
  2. D
    David Stern

    As Warren Buffett says, all of us who were born in developed countries, with reasonable parents, in reasonable neighborhoods are already very lucky.

    Reply
    1. M
      Mochi & Macarons

      I would agree with that. We are all lucky to begin with.

      Reply
  3. B
    Bridget

    I finally had time to watch the whole thing (that’s two great YouTube documentaries you’ve gotten me hooked on now!) and I enjoyed it. I wish it was a bit more in depth, it was a little amateur and sporadic. I think it’s interesting to hear that they do feel these emotions of guilt, listlessness, boredom and even a sense of injustice (that they don’t have the chance to make wealth since it was done for them). We always insist a life of purpose is the secret to happiness, not money — and it looks like that’s actually true.

    Reply
    1. mochiandmacarons

      I’ve always thought that happiness is subjective, and it’s nice to hear that working hard makes even the uber rich, happy.

      Reply
    2. M
      Mochi & Macarons

      I really want them to do a real documentary without prejudice or fear. I am genuinely interested in what they think. Yes, I’d be a bit jealous (of course), but it would fade quickly because there’s no point in pining for something that is not yours 🙂

      Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wealth, no? 🙂

      Reply
  4. Chantelle

    I only watched a little of the video, but the kids in it seem okay to me. I associate having lots of money primarily with luck, not with good deeds or hard work. So many people don’t even have the opportunity to earn decent wages–how hard they work or want to is irrelevant. Those in the video may not have earned their fortunes, but people who do earn millions/billions aren’t always that great either. Far too often, the fortune’s gotten or maintained by gaming the system, walking all over “little people,” and/or by being obsessively competitive–not by being nice.

    I think part of their awkwardness is due to the poor filming set up. It is awkward to randomly talk about your private finances with one of your friends/acquaintances in front of a camera and lights.

    Reply
    1. M
      Mochi & Macarons

      You are so right. Not everyone who has worked for their money is a good person, that much is true.

      I would really love for them to do a real documentary on this. No judgement, I am genuinely curious about how they live and what they do. Nothing like “rich kids of instagram” because it doesn’t talk about how they feel.

      This is a fascinating world for me mostly because I am not in it 🙂

      Reply
  5. PK

    Interesting stuff, although I (personally) find lottery winners more interesting. If there were a ‘Rich’ square in Monopoly, most of them would be in ‘Just Visiting’. You’ve got this demographic of the temporary rich, and very few people change their habits just because they come into a lot of money.

    I’m not saying that ‘remaining rich’ is the ultimate proof that people who grew up with money deserve it, but I do think that even a heir/ess can be a decent steward of family money, if raised the right way. It’s not something that the Upper Middle/Middle Classes generally have to deal with, but if I’m Ivanka Trump, say… I want to prove I won’t blow it when I get the keys to the kingdom.

    Reply
    1. M
      Mochi & Macarons

      I agree. Ivanka and her brother seem to have taken on the reins of real estate quite handily. They sound smart enough, but it always brings up the question in most people’s minds of if they could have done all that on their own without the backing of their grandparents and then their father.

      Due to jealousy perhaps 🙂 But it’s also interesting to wonder how much of that compensated for or complemented their existing acumen & intelligence.

      Lottery winners would be an excellent documentary to watch. I think there’s a DVD out on them somewhere on Amazon.

      Reply
  6. S
    Sense

    Maybe this is not a representative sampling, but I find their attitudes to money refreshing, given what we are exposed to on, say, My Sweet Sixteen or other media portrayals of upper middle class kids. It is clear that their parents put a lot of effort into giving them the best education and tools to think about these topics. They may come off as snobby when they talk about it sometimes, but I think for the most part they sound quite humbled by how rich they are, for doing nothing. They at least seem to recognize the disparity.

    Reply
    1. M
      Mochi & Macarons

      I agree! I made a slight reference to that, for the fact that they sound a bit confused, awkward…

      They have a sense that it’s not “fair” as they haven’t exactly worked and saved that money to be able to spend it so easily, but what is “fair” then? How do you regulate such “fairness”? (I’d rather have capitalism than communism, by the way)

      They were just born into it. That’s it. But they feel a sort of existential crisis.

      Reply
  7. Michelle

    Interesting perspective. Now I don’t feel too bad being poor now. 🙂

    Reply
    1. M
      Mochi & Macarons

      I think it all depends on your perspective. I know people who are considered “poor”, but are the happiest, most generous folks I know. Others I know, are millionaires, but don’t seem to have a very enviable life to me, always wondering if their kids are waiting for them to die to take their money.

      Reply

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