Friday, October 31, 2008

Now THIS Is Rich!

The Democratic Ticket can't seem to agree on what constitutes "rich". First, Senator Obama said that his tax package would only raise taxes on those making $250,000 per year. Then in a more recent interview he stated that only those making over $200,000 per year would see an increase in their taxes. A day later, VP Candidate, Senator Biden, said that Obama's plan would only raise taxes on those making over $100,000 per year.

It seems as though they can't decide on what "rich" really is. While I don't fall into any of the above income levels, it does seem that the threshold keeps falling lower and lower. I, for one, am thankful that the election is only four days away. If the campaign goes any longer, I might eventually fall into the rich category, myself!

Today we visited a house of a REAL rich guy - the late George M. Vanderbilt. It's The Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina, and it has the distinction of being the largest house ever built in the United States of America. This house has over 240 rooms including 55 bedrooms and 47 bath rooms. "Opulent" is not quite an adequate adjective to describe this "humble abode". The old saying is that "A man's home is his castle". Well, George Vanderbilt really DID have a castle for a home.

While taking a two hour tour of the house (and that tour only included 60 rooms!) I could not help but think, "How much house does a guy really need?" One can easily imagine a plethora of needs and causes that Mr. Vanderbilt's fortune could have helped. But then a study of that family reveals that they were very much the philanthropists that their wealth demanded them to be.

Surely it seemed so unfair that a king's ransom could not have paid for the cost of building and maintaining such a monstrosity. The Vanderbilts and hundreds of house guests over the years reveled in the luxury, while thousands - even millions did all they could do to eke out a living and put a roof over their heads. Still it should be noted that the Vanderbilts created hundreds of jobs in the construction alone of Biltmore. They employed more than three dozen full time staff with living quarters that were far better than most of the homes they had come from. They paid the rural North Carolinians in their employ wages far above the local rates for domestic help, and comparable to those paid to their employees in New York City. They helped bring a boom in the economy to this rural mountainous area, and the estate is the greatest tourist attraction in this part of the Tar Heel State. The economic impact still "trickles down" in the form of an economic gusher to the economy of Greater Asheville.

Furthermore, even though the magnificence of the home is so much overkill, one needs to remember that Mr. Vanderbilt's father, "The Commodore" made his money the old fashioned way. He earned it. He took risks and made investments. He employed men to build and run his railroads. He purchased equipment and rolling stock that caused manufacturers to increase production, creating jobs and adding to the economy. It was his money and he could do whatever he wished with it.

Am I jealous of the success of the Vanderbilts? Would I like to own Biltmore?

Heck no! I couldn't pay the electric bill for that place.

All of this begs the question, Why are some folks given more money than they know what to do with, while others can't put enough together to rent a sleeping room in a flophouse on Skid Row? Should we be envious and bitter that there are people who live in mansions, and some sleep in doorwways and on park benches? (I have some dear friends who live in bamboo huts and have trouble keeping the monsoon rains out of their homes) No, I've learned that life is much, much more than where we live, or even what we eat and wear. The Bible assures me that my needs will be supplied by a benevolent Heavenly Father, and I am content with that. Let me close with a verse from God's Word that pretty much gives me all the comfort I need:

"Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you." Hebrews 13:5

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