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With Great Power, Comes Great Responsibility

November 15, 2011

Joe, you had the power to do more.

In the movie “Spiderman,” just after Peter Parker learns about his super powers, he decides to enter a wrestling contest to earn some extra money. His uncle Ben, who drops him off at the competition, talks to him about becoming a man. Just before Parker leaves the car, his uncle tells him, “Remember, with great power comes great responsibility.”

Later in that scene, after Parker has won the wrestling contest, a thief runs right by him, but because he did not steal from him, Parker lets him go by. In looking for a getaway car, the thief kills Uncle Ben. From this, Parker decides that Spiderman will be a force for good, not a way to make a fortune.

Around 10 years ago, a graduate assistant on the Penn State football team saw a former assistant coach sexually molest a child on the Penn State campus. The assistant told legendary head coach Joe Paterno, who in turn told the athletic director. From there, not much is known, but the information did not go much further until the scandal was exposed.

Like Parker, Paterno apparently did what he thought was his legal obligation. He followed Penn State’s protocol or chain of command, but he did not do what was morally right. He slacked on his moral obligation big-time.

At the time, and up until a week ago, Paterno was Penn State. He had more power and a higher salary than anyone else at the institution. Even though he won more Division 1 football games as a coach than anyone else, he ultimately will be remembered as the coach who failed to seek justice when he had the chance.

Paterno had great power, but in this instance he chose to ignore his great responsibility. He chose to not stick up for the children who could not stick up for themselves. And by making that decision, his legacy has been tarnished. But that should be the least of his worries when you consider what he knew.

What does this have to do with personal finance? It’s a bit of a stretch, but this scandal should serve as a reminder that those who have been successful in this country have a moral obligation to give back. They have achieved great power in terms of financial assets; therefore, they need to utilize their great responsibility for good.

We have declined in this realm as a country in recent times. In general, the United States has been a “me first” society. Many who have become multimillionaires have blown it on extravagant purchases. And for what? You can’t take any of it with you in the end.

It makes me sick when I read about the things rich Americans spend their money on, considering how people are struggling in our country, and much more so across the globe. Below are some of the most outrageous spending this past June:

•            A 200-year-old bottle of wine sold for $42,840. It is fine to have a wine collection, but one bottle that costs as much as what half of Americans earn in a year? Ridiculous.

•            Someone bought Michael Jackson’s red coat that we wore in “Thriller” for $1.8 million. That will be a pretty expensive per-wear cost.

•            In an auction in Denver, a photograph of Billy the Kid sold for $2.3 million.

•            A Stradivarius violin sold for $16 million.

•            Lunch with Warren Buffet set someone back $2.35 million.

•            Marilyn Monroe’s famous white dress was sold for $5.6 million.

•            California estate was purchased for around $150 million.

One could argue that these people worked hard to earn their money, so they should be able to spend it how they choose. In all likelihood these people did do some special things to make their big bucks, but their greatest financial advantage is living in the U.S., the land of opportunity.

If you have worked hard and made a fortune, you can and should enjoy some of the finer things — in moderation. However, you also have a responsibility to benefit your community, state, country or world with what you have. Sterling has benefited from the great generosity of some of its citizens. I thank them for their charity whenever I walk into the new Blue Spruce Hall on Northeastern Junior College’s campus, swim with my daughter at the Sterling Rec Center pool or award an NJC student a Hope Scholarship.

Gates and Warren Buffet, two of the richest men in the world, have taken most of their wealth and donated it to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which works to improve conditions around the globe from education to end disease, hunger and poverty in third world countries. They are using their super hero powers just like Spiderman did to make the world a better place.

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