Doctors’ waiting rooms seldom reveal more than forced inactivity and forced patience, but my last visit to one such place provided me with a chance to read a magazine I never look at: Town and Country. The October 2019 issue trumpets on its glossy cover: “TAKE OUR MONEY! Rich kids revolt.”
That’s not quite accurate, according to interviews quoted inside the magazine with a dozen or so young New Yorkers who belong to Resource Generation. With branches in twelve U.S. cities, this organization numbers six hundred dues-paying members who pledged twenty million dollars of their inherited wealth to not-for-profits whose goals they admire. Since it’s estimated in the article that $32 trillion dollars of “generational wealth”—that, is in family trust funds—will be transferred to young inheritors as their parents and grandparents die over the next 25 years, the impact of their future donations on our culture could be quite dramatic.
Tax deductions, the article points out, go hand in hand with philanthropy, so the tax savings from these large gifts will also be dramatic. But saving on taxes is not what inspires these young people. Beginning, perhaps, with a vague feeling of discomfort over inheriting money they haven’t earned and may feel they don’t deserve—the income inequality that bedevils this country has brought these issues out into the open—these inheritors, all in their twenties and thirties, question the entrenched notion that anyone who works hard can achieve something called The American Dream. The president, as well as the members of Resource Generation, disprove this notion. From early childhood, the children of the wealthiest one percent of U.S. citizens receive the education, the grooming, the allowances, loans and preferential treatment that make the Dream (however it is defined) possible. It’s not possible for the other 99 percent of the population.
This movement is not only about giving away money; it’s also about redistributing power, a far more complex issue. It’s not possible to give away the non-monetary advantages that are always available to inheritors—the education, travel, introductions, and renown that will keep them, however uncomfortably, tethered to their class.
Crucially, these inheritors, with one exception, do not yet have children. Therefore they have not considered, it seems, the impact their donations will have on the next generation. Although the one mother in the group noted a change in her grown children’s values—they seem less interested in the acquisition of assets and more concerned about the state of the world around them—this admirable realignment may not last indefinitely.
So often young women, particularly, who stand to inherit marry partners who may have their own interest in preserving, and using, that wealth—even though we are reluctant to notice the economic incentives that influence, to a greater or lesser extent, all relationships.
And offspring who have come to expect the perks of wealth—the big houses, the luxurious vacations and so forth—may be reluctant to settle for staying at motels rather than beachfront condos or for traveling economy class when they have always traveled first. It is easier to give away money than to give up the ways of life of the wealthy.
And yet, the existence of Resource Generation and its members is enormously positive. They are opening the conversation. For their grandparents and even for their parents, the old rule held sway: nice people never discuss sex, religion—or money. Money, its often criminal acquisition, and the avoidance of responsibility that used to be respectable for inheritors, is now out in the open. There’s no telling what the long range result will be.