Are rich people bad? From “Classy”
Feb 29, 2024
Season 9

Are rich people bad? From “Classy”

Recommended listening for "This Is Uncomfortable" fans: How do we make sense of class?

This week, we’re sharing an episode from another podcast we think you’ll love. “Classy” is a new show from Pineapple Street Studios and Audacy exploring the ways that class infiltrates our day-to-day lives. Host Jonathan Menjivar has some hang-ups about class. In this episode, he takes us from a nightclub outside Los Angeles to the halls of a fancy Manhattan prep school, and asks sociologist Rachel Sherman, “Are rich people bad?”

And to get even more Uncomfortable, subscribe to our newsletter. Each Friday, you’ll get a note from host Reema Khrais and some recs from the “This Is Uncomfortable” team. If you missed it, here’s the latest issue.

If you want to tell us what you thought about the episode or anything else, email us at or fill out the form below.

This Is Uncomfortable February 29, 2024 Transcript

Note: Marketplace podcasts are meant to be heard, with emphasis, tone and audio elements a transcript can’t capture. Transcripts are generated using a combination of automated software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting it.


Reema: Hey everyone, it’s Reema. So the team and I are busy working on some more new episodes for you all this season, but in the meantime I’m coming to you today because I want to tell you about another podcast about money that I’m loving these days. It’s called Classy with Jonathan Menjivar. And it’s a show all about the class divisions that exist between us that are hard to acknowledge and even harder to talk about. They have episodes about how class shows up at the workplace, in the music we listen to, in our food, and the TV we watch.

At the center of the show is Jonathan, who grew up working-class. He’s got a lot he’s trying to work out and make sense of. Tt’s a thoughtful show with a lot of  funny and emotional moments throughout. Several outlets last year named it one of the best podcasts of 2023. So today we’re going to play the first episode of the show for you all. I hope you enjoy it, and we’ll be back with a new episode of This is Uncomfortable next week. 

Alright, I’ll catch y’all then.


JONATHAN MENJIVAR: I don’t remember my parents together. The only evidence that it happened are a couple of photos and … me I guess. The memories start with Soul Train. If I was at home with my mom on a Saturday morning … Soul Train was on. Watching everyone on screen dance, it felt like our own personal disco. I loved it. The minute the host came on, my mom would pull me off the couch and force me to dance with her.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, SOUL TRAIN]:  And now, here’s your host Don Cornelius. (MUSIC) Hello and welcome aboard, you’re right on time for another ride on the big train.

JONATHAN: If I was with my dad on Saturday morning … he’d pull me off the couch when Soul Train came on.

[ARCHIVE CLIP, SOUL TRAIN]: And now, here’s your host, Don Cornelius. (MUSIC) Hello and welcome aboard, you’re right on time for another ride on the big train.

JONATHAN: My dad Carlos lived in a crappy little apartment complex in Whittier, CA … just outside of LA. His place had green shag carpeting … pictures of lions and tigers on the walls … he put them in these homemade wooden frames that he’d singed on the stove. My dad didn’t make a lot of money, so all the decor was kinda DIY in that way. Instead of a big screen TV, he had this way he could make his small TV look bigger.

JOSE MENJIVAR: I bought a, like it’s a big lens I would put in front of the TV, so it would project a bigger picture.

JONATHAN: It was like a big magnifying glass in front of the TV, right?

JOSE MENJIVAR: Yes, that’s what it was.


JOSE MENJIVAR: Man, but it was good, it did the job. The only that’s wrong with that, if you looked at it from the sides you couldn’t watch the TV. (Laughs).

JONATHAN: Yeah ‘cause then from the side, it was like all distorted, or you couldn’t even see at all.

JOSE MENJIVAR: No, no you couldn’t. You had to sit or stand directly in front of the screen. But their heads looked real big.


JONATHAN: Next to that TV, there were two trophies.  One was second place in a softball tournament. My dad didn’t play softball. He’d just found the trophy in the trash at the factory where he worked making shower doors. He told me the trophy was to impress women who came over.

JOSE MENJIVAR: And I got it out of the trash. Yeah, you’re right. (Laughs)

JONATHAN: And then… the other one was for the hot bod contest…

JOSE MENJIVAR: The Hot Bod Contest? What’s that?

JONATHAN: Don’t play dumb with me!

JONATHAN: The Hot Bod Contest. It was like a softball tournament, but for hot bods. My dad won it at a club called Mr. Js in El Monte, California.

JOSE MENJIVAR: I used to like to party a lot. I used to club a lot. So I have fun dancing. I have always liked music. And they had contests in there.

JONATHAN: My dad … he’s Salvadoran. Short guy. And he was doing a lot of weightlifting back then. Drinking protein shakes … downing raw eggs, all of that.

JOSE MENJIVAR: I think it was first, it was a shirtless contest. With no shirt. I don’t remember if it was a hot bod contest all the way. I don’t think I had the nerve to do that.

JONATHAN: Wait a minute, so you’re saying you know you took your shirt off. You don’t remember if you also took you pants off?

JOSE MENJIVAR: Right. Yes, exactly. Yeah. I don’t remember if I did the butt contest.

JONATHAN: Wait, the butt contest!

JOSE MENJIVAR: The butt… the butt…

JONATHAN: What are you talking about?

JOSE MENJIVAR: Because people used to go… they’d downsize all the way to your underwear. And, you know, and the ladies went crazy.

JONATHAN: OK so I guess we’re never going to get to the bottom of whether he kept his pants on. In any case … my dad … he is out there on the dance floor. Women are screaming at him, he’s waving his shirt above his head.

JCM: You wave it and people like it. People start screaming. It’s kind of embarrassing. But when you have a few drinks? Forget it. Just having fun. Just clean fun at a club. But nothing nasty or anything like that.


JONATHAN: So this story … I like what this story says about me and where I come from. I like all the gold chains and … sweat and immigrant hustle. I like the joy … this kind of vision of working-class life that isn’t dour or sad. I’ve never been to Mr. J’s, but this is my world … this is the class of people I grew up with. A place where dudes take their shirts off on the regular.

JONATHAN: I’m super proud of all of this. But it’s not the world I live in anymore. I live on the East Coast … I work in media. Most days I’m sitting on my ass making podcasts. And so this story … this world … sometimes it’s better to keep it to myself. Like, if I’m at the National Book Awards or some party for New York Fashion Week … those are both things I’ve actually done … I’m not gonna bring up the hot bod contest. In those moments … it just feels weird to have my dad’s pecs out there. You know … exposing him like that exposes a little too much of myself. Like if people know this about me … then they’re going to know everything. That my parents worked in factories … that my stepdad was a truck driver. That vacations were camping and motels … that luxury was ranch dressing and chili cheese burgers and chicharrones. That the surf shorts I wore in 7th grade were knockoffs from the swap meet and I shot BB guns at targets of Saddam Hussein in my backyard. That I saw my mom borrow a hundred bucks from a friend to cover rent and my teeth are crooked because we couldn’t afford braces. I’m afraid that if I tell this story … then that’s all you’re going to see.


JONATHAN: If it’s not clear by now … I have some hangups about class. And I realize it’s ridiculous because who am I kidding? I’m not Joe Sixpack or whatever we’re calling that guy now. I think of myself as a working class kid, but I’m clearly something else now. I mean I own multiple cardigans.

KRISTEN TORRES: I would love for you to describe the outfit you’re wearing right now.

JONATHAN: So, I’m gonna do a fit check I guess… (tape fades under)

JONATHAN: In fact, I’m so into clothes … and like nice clothes … that one day while I was sitting in my closet where I’ve recorded most of this podcast, my producer Kristen Torres started asking me a bunch of questions about everything that was hanging there … and what I had on. She wanted me to name all the brands. I was wearing a flannel from a brand called 3sixteen, a wool cardigan from EntireWorld … a pair of high end Levis … these Danish wool slippers.

JONATHAN: And uh, the other thing I’m wearing is, um, cashmere socks. I’m wearing cashmere socks.


JONATHAN: They’re really warm. You have to hand wash them and it is absolutely ridiculous. It’s like I’m wearing a sweater on my foot!


JONATHAN: Like, I am on the wrong team when I wear these socks. This is like, rich asshole, you know?

KRISTEN TORRES: And if you’re on the wrong team of rich asshole, what team should you be on?

JONATHAN: I mean, I’m working class. I am. You know? I think I am? I feel it. But I know the reality is that as I talk to you in my house that I own, wearing cashmere socks. Like… I’m in a different place now.


JONATHAN: I don’t want to go too far … I’m not the Great Gatsby or something. But you know … my clothes are this symbol of all of my class issues. Instead of taking off my clothes at the club and living out some fantasy that way … I put clothes on. I like the way I feel when I throw on a blazer … and what that might signal. It’s some weird Dead Poets Society cosplay. But I also feel guilty about the extravagance of it all. I mean like, my mom put iron on patches in the crotch of her jeans she wore to work every day … cause they would wear out . What the hell am I doing wearing cashmere socks? Ugh … aye yai yai.

JONATHAN: I’m telling you all of this because until now … I’ve mostly kept this to myself. And it’s dragging me down … I mean, I’ve worked through some of this … I’m in my mid-40s, this stuff isn’t as potent as it used to be. But sometimes … I still get embarrassingly angry at rich people. All it takes is one Mercedes cutting me off in traffic … one person asking me where I went to college. Why do I spend so much energy on this? I’ve wasted years of my life feeling resentful … feeding the chip on my shoulder. I’ve cycled through feeling pride, embarrassment, shame, guilt, fear … none of it has felt like a good use of my time.

JONATHAN: So recently I started talking to people and of course … I am not the only one! So many of us have this class anxiety that we’re letting munch on our insides like a little parasite. And it’s not just former working class kids like me … this class discomfort goes in all kinds of different directions. So many of us … rich, poor, working class, middle class … we’re looking to the people around us and either wanting more or feeling bad about what we already have. And that icky feeling … it gets us in trouble, it puts us in awkward spots, makes us do things we wouldn’t normally do. So that’s what we’re going to be doing here on this podcast. From Pineapple Street Studios … this is Classy, a show about the chasms between us that are really hard to talk about, but too big to ignore. I’m your host Jonathan Menjivar.

JONATHAN: So throughout this show, I’m going to be wrestling a bit with the class monkey on my back. But you’re also going to be hearing some incredible stories about other people. We’ve got stories about people running from their past who decide to put their lives on the line … stories about people who make a lot of money and then lose it all … we’re going to look at how class shows up in our food, how it’s manipulated on TV, why it’s the best fuel for making music. We’ve got comedians, rock stars, a fashion designer … people who are struggling and people who are feeling just fine. It’s going to be awkward … it’s going to be fun. Let’s get into it.


JONATHAN: Before we move forward, let’s get some basics down about what we’re talking about. First off … what is class? How are we going to define it? The way we’ve been thinking about this here at Classy, is that class is not just the money you make, but also everything that that money gets you. So it’s all the goods and opportunities you can or can’t afford. It’s where you live, it’s the food you eat, the clothes you wear, the cultural references you know. Sometimes it’s literally how you carry yourself in the world. So much is conveyed by a haircut or a tone of voice or whether that Carhartt jacket you’re wearing is actually dirty. Class isn’t just a moment in time, a snapshot of where you are now. It’s how you grew up, it’s the future that you can (or can’t) depend on. It’s whether you have the connections to get to where you want to go.

JONATHAN: And I want to tell you a story now that really embodies a lot of this. It’s about a woman named Dita. Dita went to a prep school in New York City. And when she got there, she noticed a difference between her and the other kids. Particularly some of the girls on the volleyball team.

DITA: There’s these girls that have been playing travel volleyball since middle school. And as a young girl with like body image issues like most girls do. There’s a certain, like ideal of wanting to be skinny… like rich, skinny and pretty. And like, there’s like a certain body type that comes with somebody who has had the money and the resources to have a sport that they’ve played since they were in third grade.

JONATHAN: Mmm hmm.

DITA: You know, they’re, they’re lean. They don’t have a pouch on their stomach. They almost have abs at 14. They have long lean legs and like a nice butt. Like their posture is higher, their hair is shinier. It just feels like everything just has like a nice bow around it.


JONATHAN: Dita was born in Kosovo, she’s Albanian. And when she was two in the late 90’s … her family fled. They ended up in the Bronx, in a building full of other Albanians. Her dad had wanted to be a doctor, and her mom had been studying engineering. But here in America, her dad worked as a doorman in a building just off Madison Avenue … her mom cleaned houses.

DITA: Sometimes my mom would take us to the people’s houses and like we would help her and you would just kind of like look around at the museum and be like weirded out that your mom was cleaning someone else’s house.

JONATHAN: The museum?

DITA: Not the museum. I mean it felt like a museum. Cause in that space where it’s so clean and there’s no mess, and obviously my mom is the, the one responsible for that. But that idea of like, having somebody else to clean up after you and to have the space to have all these closets and these different rooms. And also this idea that, like, this isn’t mine, I can’t touch it.

JONATHAN: Occasionally Dita would get other glimpses into rich people’s lives … her parents would gossip about how much people tipped for Christmas. Or she’d get a box of hand me downs from JCrew from one of her mom’s clients. And then in middle school, Dita got into this fellowship program. That’s how she ended up at the prep school. It’s called Trinity … it’s on the Upper West Side in Manhattan. So now everyday, she’s taking the train down from the Bronx… watching the neighborhoods change as she goes to school. And she thrives. She does really well in school … holds her own with all the rich kids. But these cultural differences keep coming up. In simple, but loaded conversations. Like the classic question … what was your summer like?

DITA: You know I went to Connecticut or I went to this house, or I went to the Hamptons, or I went to, there was that kind of… Turks and Caicos. I had no idea that was even a place. And then I was like, “They’re going to Turkey.” And my mom was like, “no Dita, it’s not Turkey.”


JONATHAN: One day … when Dita’s at Trinity … the students hold something called Identity Day. The whole school splits up into small student led groups, where they’re learning more about each other. It’s all been organized by the students themselves with some oversight by the administration.

DITA: And we had this exercise which basically was kind of like a form to fill out. And depending on if you answered yes or no, you would either add one point or subtract one point. And the questions were like, “Both of my parents have college degrees. I have a country house. I have gone skiing. I have a housekeeper.” Questions that were clearly directly related to somebody’s social capital or their socioeconomic status. And by the end of the form, you got a number.

JONATHAN: Dita and all the other kids are told … “Ok … write your number on a post-it.”

DITA: They go around, they collect the Post-its, and they arrange them in numerical order on the chalkboard. And at this point, everybody has been silent just watching them place our value, because that’s what it represented, onto this black chalkboard.

JONATHAN: Remember it’s plus one you have something, minus one if you don’t. Then the student who’s leading this exercise … they step back from the chalkboard and say … “Imagine a world in which this number represents how much money you have.” The top number is 23.

DITA: And I look at my number and it’s negative three.

JONATHAN: Dita is at the bottom. There’s one kid with a number lower than hers.

DITA: And then it was just like silent in the room for a little bit as everybody looked around and did exactly what I did, which was place everyone’s value to whoever they thought it was, which was pretty easy in a room of ten, fifteen students that have gone to school together for three, four years.


DITA: I was like, what is going on here? Like you’re telling me that I have negative dollars. That somehow I’m already in debt in this imaginary world that is completely representative of my lived reality. And I was like, What are we looking at? And I got very insulted.

JONATHAN: Did you say something about it?

DITA: Oh, yes, I did. I genuinely asked. I was like, what is the point of this? And the point was so that this is what they said in response… the point is so that people that are on the higher end could see that other people exist.


JONATHAN: What really bothered Dita about all this was that the learning was all aimed in one direction. It seemed to be all about teaching these rich kids about people outside of their bubble. People who didn’t live in the museum.

DITA: The goal is for those rich people to be good people. For them to expand their perspective. But to enrich people that have more privilege than us, we have to emphasize what we lack so that they will then gain empathy for our lives.


JONATHAN: OK, so these kids leading Identity Day … I know they’re like 17 years old or something, but damn … what a bonehead exercise.  I mean, I get they were trying to do good … they were trying to see beyond their bubble. But there’s something really complicated going on here. And I think it’s a little window into how issues of class are really messed up for everyone. I mean, this situation, it definitely sucks for Dita and whoever else’s numbers were down there on the bottom with hers. But it also seems like a shitty exercise for the rich kids, too. Like, the message is that these rich kids were going to be bad unless they single out and stare at people like Dita? Were they bad to begin with? Are rich people bad? I’m not just trying to be provocative here. The idea that rich people are bad is pervasive in our culture. In fact … Hollywood has been making a lot of money selling this idea back to us with movies like Triangle of Sadness and Glass Onion … and TV shows like Gossip Girl, Succession and The White Lotus…

[ARCHIVE CLIP, WHITE LOTUS]: The guy lied, we did book the room with the pool. And we paid for it, my mom forwarded me the booking.

JONATHAN: And asking this question, “Are rich people bad?” It actually helps define a bunch of stuff about class and the way that we talk about it. We found the perfect person to answer this question. You’re going to hear from them … right after this.


JONATHAN: Hello … Jonathan here … I am your very classy host. So just a second ago, I asked this question that I know I have wondered … maybe you have too. Are rich people bad? And we’re going to turn to someone who has thought about this idea a lot. She’s a professor of sociology at the New School in New York. Her name’s Rachel Sherman.

RACHEL SHERMAN: And I am a qualitative sociologist, and I study social class, culture, emotions, labor.

JONATHAN: What does qualitative sociologist mean?

RACHEL SHERMAN: Sorry. That doesn’t. That’s completely useless to you. Um, I talk to, like, the kind of research I do involves talking to people about stuff or participating with people. Not like numbers and statistics and stuff like that.

JONATHAN: A few years back, Rachel Sherman was really interested in how rich people in particular spend their money. She wrote a book about it … it’s called Uneasy Street. And she thought that if she could talk to people about the things they buy … what they’re willing or reluctant to spend money on … then that would give her some insight into how rich people see themselves … how they feel about having all that money.

RACHEL SHERMAN: So the way that I investigated that was by interviewing 50 New York parents who were all in the top 2%, mostly in the top 1%, mostly not in the top 0.1%. So not like the super wealthy, about the lifestyle choices that they were making, which leads to, you know, talking about money and talking about family, talking about the future, talking about people’s jobs.

JONATHAN: The people she talked to made anywhere from $250,000 a year to over $10 million.

JONATHAN: How willing were people to talk about this stuff?

RACHEL SHERMAN: Well, I mean… initially, it was hard for me to figure out how to approach people. You know, the way that we talk about money is to not talk about it for the most part, right? So it was hard to be like, “hi I’d like to talk to you because you’re rich.” And I actually, I mention in the book, I had a woman who turned out that her family’s assets were over $50 million –

JONATHAN: Oh my god.

RACHEL SHERMAN: And she, when I asked her about the assets, she said, “You know, that’s so private. I feel like you’re asking me if I masturbate.”


RACHEL SHERMAN: And that freaked me out because I was like, “Yeah, no, I don’t want to know about that at all. Like, I got really weirded out.”

JONATHAN: So instead of just flat out asking these wealthy New Yorkers about how much they make or the balance on their brokerage accounts … Rachel found this workaround. She asked them about … home renovations.

RACHEL SHERMAN: And that’s something actually people do want to talk about. As anyone who’s ever done a home renovation knows, you can’t stop talking about it. And I include myself.

JONATHAN: Rachel says that once she started interviewing these wealthy New Yorkers, one major theme emerged. It’s not just us lobbing the accusation that rich people are bad at them in their penthouses … the rich people themselves are having this conversation.

RACHEL SHERMAN: The people who I talked to were really working hard, although not always explicitly and not always aware of it themselves, to frame themselves as morally worthy people, like as good people, even though they had money. So they’re always talking about being hardworking and, you know, having a work ethic, even if they don’t actually work for money. And one thing that I hadn’t really expected, although it makes sense in retrospect, is that a really big piece of this was talking about being like a reasonable consumer or a disciplined consumer. And so not wanting to be ostentatious or materialistic or, you know, show off your wealth or whatever. And so one example of that is a guy who I interviewed, who his wealth comes from his family. So it’s inherited wealth. And he was renovating his home in Brooklyn. And he was telling me, you know, the contractor or the architect or whoever had wanted to put in like a really fancy stove. And he was like, “No I don’t want that kind of…  a stove that looks like it came from a luxury kitchen.” And so, you know, it’s not “I want the cheaper stove.” It’s like, “I don’t want the stove that looks fancy.”

JONATHAN: I’m trying to picture that kitchen that in every other way would look incredibly fancy and then have the regular stove. Like, does picking the, the normal stove, does that trick anyone? Like, what is that actually doing, you know?

RACHEL SHERMAN: Well, that’s what’s so fascinating to me about it. I mean, this idea of like, who are you trying to fool? You know, like, there’s another story in the book of a woman I interviewed who said she would hide the tags on her $6 bread, which maybe now $6 bread isn’t, doesn’t seem so expensive now. But she said, you know, for the, for the house cleaner I hide the tag on the $6 bread because I don’t want her to see that. And I just thought, don’t you think she knows that you’re wealthy? You know like, it doesn’t take a literal price tag for the person who’s cleaning your house to know that at least you’re a lot wealthier than she is. You’re hiding the tags from yourself.


JONATHAN: There are of course people who have no problem at all being ostentatious and showing off their wealth. Those people, they’re not the subject of this episode. It’s the more, I don’t know, self-conscious rich people, the ones who think that eating soft, luxurious bread with the perfect crunch might be morally suspect … but also they really want that bread … those people are the ones we’re interested in here. And some of those people Rachel talked to chose to run towards a class level that people seem to think is morally superior … the middle class.

RACHEL SHERMAN: What I really saw in these interviews is the idea that the middle class is kind of a state of mind. Or identity, right? More than like actually literally an economic thing. So when you think of a middle class person, I think often you’re thinking of somebody who works for a living, maybe somebody who’s been upwardly mobile. I think historically that’s kind of what it meant. Um, it’s somebody who is still thinking about money. So this is the way in which often my, the people I spoke to would say, like, “I am not wealthy because I still think about money.”

JONATHAN: Did they actually call themselves middle classroom, any of the people you interviewed?

RACHEL SHERMAN: Yes. Oh, yeah. Yeah. Some of them will call themselves middle class. Sometimes they’ll say, you know, “Well, I was brought up middle class, and I still feel middle class even though now I’m upper middle class.” I mean, someone said that to me, a woman said that to me who had an income of over $2 million a year, a household income.



JONATHAN: I think if we’re honest … a lot of us want to be perfectly middle class. That’s this kind of moral safe zone. Not poor where people say you’re lazy or don’t know how to handle your money … but also not rich living in a museum cleaned by other people. The middle class has become this Goldilocks income bracket. And it can be confusing what it even means anymore. But the implication is that the middle class is the humble income bracket where we can provide for the people we love … but also not take more than our share of the pie.

RACHEL SHERMAN: That’s why it makes so much sense for my wealthy people who don’t, you know, not my wealthy people, but the wealthy people I interviewed to, uh, to be sort of what I call aspiring to the middle. They want to locate themselves in the middle class because that is the morally better class. You know, nobody wants to be the obnoxious, rich person.

JONATHAN: You know who doesn’t want to be the obnoxious, rich person? I don’t want to be an obnoxious rich person. Don’t worry, I’m not in any danger of that happening. But you know … there are some things about my life that some people might consider obnoxious. I mean for one … I make a decent living doing exactly what I’m doing right now … talking about ideas and putting together stories and sharing them with people like you. What an insane privilege that is. Or you know … sometimes when I’m feeling stressed out and I need to center myself … I think about this time when I was in Japan sitting in an onsen staring at the mountains. An onsen is what the Japanese, and also obnoxious people who’ve been to Japan, call hot springs. And maybe the biggest one for me is that … my wife and I own a house. My entire life … I was a renter. Growing up, there were a lot of Friday nights where my parents would drive up these beautiful hills to the nice neighborhood where our landlord lived so we  could deliver the rent check in person on pay day. But a little more than a decade ago, my wife and I scraped together the smallest down payment and managed to buy an old house that still needs a lot of work. I like living here. I can’t believe we did it. And I’m also diminishing the achievement as I tell you because I feel guilty about it too. I want everyone to have this … and I also want you to know how much of a struggle it was for us to get. I want you to know that I didn’t grow up with privilege … and that if I lost my job tomorrow, I don’t know what the fuck I’d do. That’s the truth. But it’s also, I recognize, a bit of self preservation. That story about my class position is the morally better one.


JONATHAN: I know I’m not the only one who does this. No matter what our class position is, there’s always someone above or below us that we’re adjusting our story for. Rachel Sherman says that when she was interviewing wealthy New Yorkers, she found that when people were surrounded by other people who had more money than them … that’s when they really played down what they had. These people … who tended to work in finance, or corporate law, or real estate … they could look at the people around them and convince themselves that they were middle class.

RACHEL SHERMAN: So only 1% of the people are above you. 99% of the people are below you. But symbolically, you kind of, you know, locate yourself in the middle. And yeah, sometimes explicitly saying, we’re middle class and the people who aren’t middle class are the people who have a private plane. Or the people who never think about money, who never worry about money.

JONATHAN: Yeah. Yeah, man, I do some of that for sure. Where I’m like, well, you know, I didn’t completely renovate my house before we moved in, you know, because we couldn’t afford it or whatever.

RACHEL SHERMAN: That’s what I think people often do. And you know, not just people I interviewed for that book, but also like, I do it, my friends do it. You know, the sort of more upper middle class world that I’m in, people do it all the time. Everybody is diminishing their access to resources. They’re not saying like, “I have a lot you know, they’re sort of saying like, well, look at this limit. Right. That’s why they’re saying. Well, we have a used car or, you know, I shop at Target. Or you know, there’s a story that I tell in the book about an interior designer. And he said, “I always throw in pieces from IKEA or Crate and Barrel for my clients.” And he said “they love that, it makes them feel better.” And I think the idea was they want to feel like they’re saving. And part of the reason they want to feel like they’re saving is that they want to feel like there is a constraint.


JONATHAN: So uh, we’re asking the question, “Are rich people bad?” And like that idea, it feels like it’s something that’s running through our culture that rich people, that they’re out of touch, that they’re entitled, maybe even a little cruel and that there must be like something nefarious about why they have the amount of money that they have. I’m thinking here of like the story of Robin Hood and like, why that has its appeal, um, Thurston Howell III from Gilligan’s Island.

RACHEL SHERMAN: Gilligan’s Island, yeah! (laughs)

JONATHAN: All of the Trumps, every preppy guy in eighties movies, Sam Bankman-Fried, Elizabeth Holmes, Rupert Murdoch, all the characters in Succession, the Koch Brothers, Bernie Madoff, Scrooge McDuck, Cruella de Vil, Mr. Burns. It’s pretty rampant in our culture. So, so super big question, what do you think of this idea, are rich people bad?

RACHEL SHERMAN:  Yeah, I have a lot to say about that idea. But can I ask you a question first?

JONATHAN: Yeah. Yeah.

RACHEL SHERMAN: When you say, so, almost the first word you use to describe these bad rich people was entitled. So what do you mean by that?

JONATHAN: Um. I think it means that people think that they deserve something. More than other people.

RACHEL SHERMAN: Mm hmm. Yeah. I agree.

JONATHAN: Oh thank god. I did not want to fail Dr. Sherman’s class.

RACHEL SHERMAN: I mean the word entitlement is something that I have become kind of obsessed with, and it’s because we use it in all of these different ways. So that was that’s a word that almost all the people I talked to for “Uneasy Street” will use in a negative way. Right. Like primarily “I don’t want my kids to be entitled.” Um, so one example of this is a woman who I interviewed who had a multimillion dollar family income. She and her husband and their kids would travel, I think, at least twice a year, you know, on like a international fancy vacation. But the kids would have to fly coach. Even though she and the husband were flying first class.

JONATHAN: She and her husband are up in first class and the kids are back in coach?

RACHEL SHERMAN: Yes. And she did that because she didn’t want them to, like, get accustomed to something that she felt they hadn’t earned. But the parents are really tortured about this kind of decision. You know lots of parents, because they want to give the kid all the advantages that they can afford to give the kid. And yet they want the kid to not be a terrible person. And they, you know, they just often can’t figure out how to navigate that.


RACHEL SHERMAN: So, what it means to be a good, wealthy person is not to act entitled. You don’t want to seem like you think that you’re better than other people or think that you deserve more than other people. But what’s sort of striking or ironic about it is that, in fact, if you don’t feel entitled and you don’t act entitled, you actually are entitled. Like, it’s okay that you have all this money because you’re not acting like you should have all this money.

JONATHAN: OK, I know that’s a little bit of a bong hit of an argument so I’ll repeat it. As long as you don’t act entitled to your millions … we as a culture say, “Yeah … go ahead and horde all that wealth.”

RACHEL SHERMAN: So as long as you’re kind of modest and, you know, nice to the waiter and don’t think that you’re super great, you can keep all your millions, right? And that’s what I think the good rich person overlaps a lot with the idea of the middle class person, not in terms of how much money they have access to. Right. And, you know, the people I interviewed who are, want to be good people, and want to think of themselves as middle class, certainly do not want to actually be in the middle of the wealth and income distribution. They are keeping that money. But they want to feel like they deserve it because they have the kind of identity and affect of the middle class.


JONATHAN: Rachel says that sometimes when she’s making these arguments … people will read her as defending rich people. Like she’s saying rich people aren’t that bad.

RACHEL SHERMAN: What I’m trying to say is that individual actions of individual rich people don’t matter that much. And so it’s kind of a distraction, politically, to be focused on you know, is this person a good tipper or do they give to charity or did they accumulate their wealth themselves or do they live in a castle?

JONATHAN: When we’re focused on gold toilets and fancy stoves … when we are asking, are rich people bad … we’re not talking about tax rates or mixed income housing or anything that might even the playing field a little. Which I get but still … don’t we want rich people working to understand what it’s like to be the rest of us? If someone say has inherited 3 million dollars … don’t we want their parents to have taught them how to be a good rich person?

JONATHAN: Isn’t there a danger of raising lazy jerks, you know, who are, like, entitled and don’t have an understanding of, like, what you need to do to earn money?

RACHEL SHERMAN: Well, those are two different things right? Is being a lazy jerk and not having an understanding of what you need to do to earn money the same thing?

JONATHAN: I guess not. No.

RACHEL SHERMAN: So why is it that you think that earning money is like the only way to not be a lazy jerk?

JONATHAN: (Laughs) It’s so dangerous talking to a sociologist.

RACHEL SHERMAN: Well I think that’s the thing, there’s so much of this stuff we take for granted –

JONATHAN: Well, it’s also because so many other people are really, really struggling to just, you know, have their basic needs met. They’re working really hard.

RACHEL SHERMAN: Well, that’s true, but, but… sorry. So what about that?

JONATHAN: I’m just saying, like… part of it is, I think is just because there are so many people who are, they’re having to work really hard to earn enough money to just, like, pay the rent and feed themselves and their kids.

RACHEL SHERMAN: Right. But what about that? I’m sorry! (Laughs) I’m just like not understanding.

JONATHAN: No, no, no, no, no. Um, that like, if you are a rich person who just inherited money, like… and you don’t understand that. You know that like, that there are so many other people around you who are doing that.

RACHEL SHERMAN: Yes. And if you understand that…. why is that better?

JONATHAN: Um, just because you should be like, interested in other people’s situations and empathetic?

RACHEL SHERMAN: And if that’s the case, is it mean it’s okay for you to have the $3 million dollars?



JONATHAN: Sociologist Rachel Sherman. Her book we’ve been talking about is called Uneasy Street: The Anxieties of Affluence. And yeah … ok … Rachel … she clearly bested me in sociology class. But we don’t live in sociology class. Until the revolution comes, we’re going to live in a world where some of us have access to money and power and some of us do not. It’s hard to not get upset about that. It’s hard not to blame someone. But the whole idea that people are good or bad based on how much they have or don’t have … Rachel’s right … it’s a distraction. Are rich people bad? I don’t know man … there are assholes all up and down the class ladder. Just try to not be one of them.


JONATHAN: There’s one other thing that I want to leave you with. Dita … who you heard at the beginning of this episode … it’s been 8 years since she graduated from Trinity. She’s now a copywriter and does some administrative consulting. I don’t know what that is, but it’s what she does.

JONATHAN: You do alright?

DITA: Yeah. I do great. I do a lot better… I make almost 2.5 times as much as my dad was making when he was raising a family of six.

JONATHAN: Wow. Nice work.

DITA: It’s my network.


DITA: (Laughs) It’s what social capital brings you.

JONATHAN: Dita lives on the Upper East Side … much closer to Trinity than her old home in the Bronx. She shares an apartment with her sister.

DITA: We live on the same street as my dad works on. And he bikes to work every day and we have a balcony. And he will call me on his way to work and I’ll wave to him as he’s biking to work from the balcony.

JONATHAN: (Laughs)

DITA: And it’s the sweetest thing I’ve ever experienced in my life.

JONATHAN: Does that happen every day?

DITA: It happens Monday through Friday around 2:30. I get a phone call from my dad and I run out to the balcony. And he waves to me and I wave back and there’s some nonsensical yelling about some family drama, whatever political things he wants to tell me about for two minutes. And then I give him a kiss. It’s very, very sweet.

JONATHAN: You also can I point out this, even in that sweet moment with your dad he’s looking up at you and you’re looking down.

DITA: Yeah. That’s going to make me cry. Yeah. That’s exactly it.


JONATHAN: For a long time … I wanted to do what Dita has done. To walk into a place where I didn’t belong and thrive. But it took a long time for that to happen. Even once I had a job doing exactly what I wanted … and I was working for a nationally known radio host … I thought I had to pretend to be someone I wasn’t. I did (laughs) some very dumb and silly things as a result of that. That’s our next episode of Classy.



JONATHAN: Classy is a production of Pineapple Street Studios. It’s written and produced by me, Jonathan Menjivar. Our Producer is Kristen Torres. Associate Producer … Marina Henke. Senior Managing Producer … Asha Saluja. Our Editor is Haley Howle. Executive Editor … Joel Lovell.  Our Assistant Engineers are Sharon Bardales and Jade Brooks. Senior Engineers are Marina Paiz and Pedro Alvira. Our head of Sound Design and Engineering is Raj Makhija. Fact checking by Tom Colligan. This episode was mixed and scored by Marina Paiz, with additional scoring by me. Music in this episode from Joseph Shabason courtesy of Western Vinyl, Joseph Shabason & Vibrant Matter and Shabason / Gunning courtesy of Seance Center, and Nicky Roberts, Bruce Sherman, and Junel courtesy of Numero Group. Music in our trailer was by Jerry Paper, courtesy of Stones Throw. Additional music from Epidemic Sound. Our artwork is by Curt Courtney and Lauren Viera of Cadence 13. Marketing and promotion by Grace Cohen-Chen, Hillary Schupf, and Liz O’Malley. Legal services for Pineapple Street Studios by Kristel Tupja at Audacy. Special thanks to: Kat Aaron, Sophie Bridges, Leila Day, and Jess Hackel. Jenna Weiss-Berman and Max Linsky are the Executive Producers at Pineapple Street. Episode 2 is available in your feed now! Make sure to listen on the Audacy app, or wherever you get your podcasts.


The future of this podcast starts with you.

We know that as a fan of “This Is Uncomfortable,” you’re no stranger to money and how life messes with it — and 2023 isn’t any different.

As part of a nonprofit news organization, we count on listeners like you to make sure that these and other important conversations are heard.

Support “This Is Uncomfortable” with a donation in any amount and become a Marketplace Investor today.

The team

Zoë Saunders Senior Producer
Alice Wilder Producer
Jasmine Romero Editor

Thanks to our sponsors