Why do the rich clamor the loudest for free lunches?

A recent New Yorker piece on Jack Welch’s retirement perks made my blood boil. Despite his net worth of nine hundred million and a yearly pension of almost eight million, Welch’s perks included a free NYC apartment and deals at the restaurant in the building. Plus, free courtside seats for Knick games, a subsidized car and driver, and the unrestricted use of GE’s jet. But these weren’t enough; Welch’s lawyers also made GE agree to foot the bill for Welch’s golf outings on four of his favorite courses. When I read this to a colleague, he said, “hearing that makes me want to become a socialist.”  

Why does having more beget the desire for more freebies? American culture is generally a culture of deals and coupons, which is why it is a relief to see ordinary people untouched by it all, living by their own ideals. 

Recently, a man in a suit bought almost sixty dollars worth of fruits and vegetables at a street-side vegetable stand in NYC. As he was packing his stuff, the vendor offered to drop in a few “complimentary” apples, real good ones, he proudly said. The man politely refused, but the vendor insisted, saying it’s my pleasure; you bought so much. The man again turned him down, saying he could not take anything he didn’t pay for, loaded his stuff into his car, and left. I was next in line, and the vendor asked me in amazement, did you see that? I gave him apples for free, and he refused. I said, isn’t it splendid there are people like him who refuse free stuff? 

This exchange reminded me of an incident many years back when I lived in Philadelphia. A man asked me for some change. As I gave it to him, he asked if I wanted some cake from the packet he was holding. Who knew panhandlers believed in bartering?  

More recently, I was privy to another non-transactional interaction.  I was in line at an Indian store. The woman ahead of me bought a lot of stuff. It was raining outside, and as she was leaving, the shopkeeper offered her a “free” samosa. To keep you warm, he said. For Indians, samosas and tea are popular snacks for rainy evenings. I only had a couple of items to check out. So, I was surprised when the shopkeeper offered me a free samosa too. I politely refused, saying I didn’t want any freebie because I barely bought anything. He said he appreciated my ethics but insisted I take it. He was grateful I shopped there, period. 

Role models are on the streets, not on pedestals.  

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