Monday, August 26, 2013

The Illusion of Wealth

Reflect a while on how your life was ten years ago, twenty or even thirty. Are you really far richer than you were then? Some of us will remember the days when RM10 (or US10 in USA) was quite a lot pf money and can buy us many things. You could have a good meal for just RM2 or RM3, see a film at the cinema, and still have enough money for the bus fare to go home. You could buy many items for the kitchen at the sundry shop or even the wet market. Now you can't even get enough of one food item for that amount of money in the supermarket. And don't walk into a shopping complex with that modicum of dough unless you only wanted to do some window shopping!exquisite but cheap furniture available on credit

Today, your income must have increased five to ten times, from RM200 to RM1k or RM2k if working in the village as your cooly and your own boss, or RM2k to RM10k or RM20k if employed in the city. ( You can't live in the city with an income of less than 2k). So, you can consider yourself to be rich, belonging to the upper or lower middle class. Your standard of living has improved tremendously with flashy cars (obtained on loan), a big comfortable house ( obtained on loan),lovely and expensive furniture (secured with the help of a credit card), with no fear of walking into the supermart or shopping complex because you're armed with a gold or platinum credit card. No luxury hotel or connoisseur restaurant is too expensive for you for you don't need to have hard cash in your wallet. No fear of having to wash dishes for not being able to pay the bill.protons can look like a BMW

So, you do feel very rich. But are you? Unless you're a business tycoon, a rich real estate or property owner ( mostly inherited from your rich father or forefathers), a powerful political leader holding public office or a top executive in a very successful and wealthy company, you still worry about paying the bills or making the monthly deductions from your bank account at the end or the beginning of every month. They keep increasing, always faster than the increase in your monthly income. Every now and then you've to apply the brakes on spending or tighten up your belt, although you don't starve like the villager who can't earn enough to feed his can be dressed up like a millionaire

But you certainly don't feel much richer than before. In many cases among the lower income people, you just feel much poorer off. It is the scintillating glass and steel buildings filling up the city, the huge shopping malls and supermarkets, the modern transportation systems and the millions of cars bought on hire purchase jamming up the roads, the sprawling housing complexes with houses bought on long-term mortgages, the branded and fashionable clothes, household appliances, furniture, toys and electronic games made available by the modern factories, that make us all feel rich and enjoying a very high standard of living. Even if you're still struggling to make ends meet, to keep your bank balance in a healthy state of preparation for a rainy day ( and it rains often in Malaysia), often miss your installment payment for the house or the car but not often enough to cause the property to be auctioned away or the car to be repossessed,you still enjoy a modern and comfortable life with your family. The richness and high quality of life around you make you feel rich although you are not.

That's what I'm referring to as the illusion of wealth. Modern life makes you feel rich and sophisticated even when there's hardly any surplus in your bank account every month. You can afford to furnish and decorate your home like a rich man, buy smart and branded dresses for yourself and family, buy food from the supermarket like the wealthy guys, and enjoy the shows in town like the well-to-do, even though you can hardly afford it. So long as you can service your loans and pay the monthly installments on all the things that you've acquired on credit, you will appear as rich as the next guy.

That's the illusion of wealth in modern living. The economist will, of course, explain it in a different way. Put it in anyway you want, the illusion is still there. It will only stop when you can no longer pay up your monthly dues in full.


abdulhalimshah said...

Despite all the illusions of wealth that you mentioned, I still believe that at this stage of our lives, the real wealth is health. No matter how much you have, nothing can be equated to the health that you enjoy till your time is up. As for those who are still on the go, they can be engulfed in the debt-laden society till the end of the world.

norzah said...

Agree 100% Akhi Halim.My concern is that the illusion of wealth can be self-deceiving. It's frustrating to know that everything you have is on credit, hire purchase, or on loan. Yet some people happily flaunt their 'borrowed' assets while the rich taokays who give them the credits drink from gold cups and eat from gold plates studded with diamonds. "Menang sor
ak kampung tergadai...."

kaykuala said...

Akhi Norzah,
One laughs when told Nasi lemak was 1 cent in the 30s, and 10 cent in the 50s (I was there)

Now it's RM1.00 plain(even then if one is lucky!)

It's a progression to a higher level in paying but for the same item and for the same satisfaction.

Enjoy it when we can before it reaches out to an even higher level.

P/S Nice to have met you and Datin at Amelina's wedding!

norzah said...

Thanks for dropping in, Kaykuala. The price inflation is obvious ? What is not ibvious is that, we feel much richer than before but actually we could be poorer. Only the amenities of modern living make us appear and feel rich. The envirinment in the kampung makes one feel poor.