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Zen and the art of wealth amassment

  • 17 July 2015

There is a suburban myth about the genealogy of class in migrant families that I heard as a teenager. It goes something like this. The first generation step onto the soil with two pennies in their pocket and toil for their whole lives so they can send their children to the best schools they can afford.

The second generation – flush with sophisticated educations – become professionals. The third generation – benefiting from the financial and cultural privilege of professional parents – well, they become artists.

I heard this story in the migrant suburbs, and while I can see its logic, it doesn’t really account for many of the family stories in my orbit, including my own. What it does speak to is the narrative of capitalist affluence: We toil so that we can be free.

All hard work pays off. It has to.

But what happens when you toil and toil and get your payoff, and your children reject the values you toiled in the name of? That’s a question you can ask Gina Rinehart.

The wonderful and outrageous spectacle of the Rinehart family drama delivers a mild sense of justice to the middle and working classes, who are, relatively speaking, unpoisoned by wealth.

Justice, because the Rineharts are deranged. Mild, because they are still billionaires who are able to influence government for the benefit of their own wealth. The matriarch’s interview on Australian Story revealed her children’s failings: 'They say that if you give your children too much, they don’t get the joy out of work, they just want unearned things to keep falling from the sky. I think I’ve been the fortunate one.'

Is that what the purpose of amassing wealth? To produce children who will be free from work, free from the obsession that productivity inspires, but who will inevitably fight bitterly with their parents and siblings for their share of the empire in some real-life adaptation of King Lear? That’s great news, because it means that the money I will never have was toxic all along. You can’t fire me, I quit.

Like all dynasties, the Rineharts are destined to one day represent the crusty relics of former glory. That’s fine, schadenfreude is a beautiful thing. And apparently, 65 per cent of family wealth is lost by the second generation, and 90 per cent by the third generation. I mean, why would the beneficiaries of other people’s obsessive toils and struggle work, if