"Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft where we are hard, and cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand. They think, deep in their hearts, that they are better than we are because we had to discover the compensations and refuges of life for ourselves."
— F. Scott Fitzgerald, "The Rich Boy," 1926
No, Greg Bell does not think that he is better than we are.
And the lieutenant governor of Utah would not be among what the author of "The Great Gatsby" was talking about when he described, there and elsewhere, "the very rich."
Still, it betrayed a certain remove for Bell to explain last week that he was resigning his office because his meager salary — $104,000 a year — just wasn’t enough.
Bell has been in public life for almost a quarter century, starting on the Farmington City Council, then mayor, then a member of the Utah Senate. He was picked to fill the open lieutenant governor’s spot by his predecessor, Gary Herbert, who had become governor when his predecessor, Jon Huntsman, became ambassador to China.
All that time in government, earning a reputation as a reasonable and knowledgeable public servant, Bell couldn’t have avoided, even if he had wanted to, tons of data about how the other half lives.
He knows full well that there are a lot of folks around here who are barely scraping by, seeking, or being denied, government aid, stressing the healthcare and educational systems, filling the prisons and approaching us on streetcorners.
But knowing it and living it are different things. It is simply unreasonable to expect a real estate lawyer from Davis County, one who has watched the long-term investments he had been counting on to make his retirement as comfortable as his working life shrink significantly in the economic downturn, to give up his whole world for the sake of a few more years in office.
"My wife and I have decided it’s time to step down and return to the employment market," Bell said Monday.
Of course, the employment market for someone who knows the ins and outs — and, more important, the personalities — of state government as well as Bell does is going to be a lot brighter than it is for a great many other folks.
In many Utah households, it would take the efforts of maybe five people to bring in the annual income that Bell can no longer force himself to accept. And a lot of them wouldn’t have the eternal health insurance that Bell will be taking with him into the private sector.
It is no knock on Bell, or any other individual, to note that the different strata the people of our state and nation live in are more divided by the day. One in five Utah households doesn’t have enough steady income to be able to feed their children regularly.
Nationally, jobless recoveries are becoming the new normal, what income gains there are flow mostly to the top 1 percent and even economic experts can’t agree on what to do about growing income inequality.
The drive by Utah’s U.S. Sen. Mike Lee to defund the Affordable Care Act, or shut down the government trying, is accurately described as malevolent.
But just about everything else — including, say, the reluctance by Bell and his boss to expand Medicaid or raise taxes to boost public education — are not so mean-spirited.
They are just what happens when people live in different worlds.
George Pyle, a Tribune editorial writer, also lives in his own little world. It’s got wifi.
Twitter: @debatestateNext Page >
Copyright 2013 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.