Rich vs poor and Christmas entitlement

It’s a rough season for some. Two news stories already this week have shown people abjectly failing to plan for Christmas.

On the one hand we have the family turned down by the Salvation Army for Christmas aid “because they have relied on handouts rather than trying to help themselves”. On the other, the dad who doesn’t want to pay duty to release his imported Christmas presents from Customs.

The two stories are weirdly similar.

Both use kids “missing out on Christmas” to garner sympathy. Both involve people with a certain amount of entitlement: the family believe they are exempt from the obligation to fund their own luxuries; the dad believes he’s exempt from the tax and duty system of this country. Both situations could have been averted with a little planning: the family could have saved up; the dad could have researched the duty system before buying online.

Where the stories differ is in the public’s reaction. The story about No Christmas Family attracted 138 comments before Stuff closed the comments section. Almost all were negative towards the family, describing them with more or less vitriol as “greedy”, “selfish”, “pampered”, and “ungrateful” (although that old favourite, “bludgers”, didn’t make it onto Stuff and was instead reserved for the extensive coverage over on Whale Oil).

The story about Duty Free Dad currently has six comments, most mildly critical. Someone points out that using the Customs calculator might have been a good idea. No one calls the man greedy, selfish, entitled, or even stupid. One commenter helpfully suggests a means to fraudulently get around paying duty in future (for anyone wondering, yes, getting your British friends to mail you goods without a declaration is fraud; it’s also fraudulent to get them to carry the goods into the country next time they visit, unless they declare them as gifts and pay the duty).

Whining to the media when things don’t go as you’d hoped is never a good look. But the double standard we apparently have for entitlement is much worse. Poor folk whining about their Christmas dinner of chicken and bread get vitriol heaped on their heads; well-off folk whining about the $170 duty on their $380 Christmas parcel get mild approbation.

In both cases, yes, they’ve only themselves to blame. But there’s an important difference in the options these people now have available, which means we should pause before we condemn. The inconvenient $170 will probably be paid tomorrow. The giftless Christmas? Will still be there. It’s too late now, that family decided to spend their money and now it’s gone. No amount of good decision making can rectify their situation.

Rich privilege lets us complain about our problems *and* solve them, while the poor have no option but complaint.