“Dear Prudence” (a.k.a Emily Yoffe), my least favorite advice columnist (who answers weird questions from weird people at Slate), received an ethics quiz worthy query from a woman whose husband has had some business reverses and now, as he near retirement age, is looking at two jobs and tarnished golden years without a pension or vacations. Meanwhile, her husband’s brother (let’s assume this is true: it sounds like a hypothetical to me) won 50 million bucks in the lottery a few years ago, and is having a ball. The two brothers are on good terms and speak often. She asks,
“What I don’t understand is how he can stand to see his little brother so stressed and working so hard while he has more money than he could spend in a dozen lifetimes. Obviously he is under no obligation, but he does not seem to realize how hard it is to see how he spends his money on travel and amusements. I think he should help his brother out. What do you think?”
Prudence thinks the poor brother should ask the rich brother for money, and that if he won’t, the wife of the poor brother should:
“Sure, he has no obligation to help out his brother, but at this point I think it’s appropriate to ask. When it comes to difficult in-law relations, I usually advise for the immediate family member do the speaking, but in this case it might soften the potential awkwardness for everyone if the request came from you. Before you act, first discuss this with your husband. He may say he finds this idea mortifying, but I hope he doesn’t try to forbid you. Then if you do go to your brother-in-law, start by saying this is an uncomfortable meeting for you, but that you are asking for his help particularly because you are concerned about the effect working two jobs is having on your husband’s health. Say that if he would consider setting up some kind of annuity that would allow your husband to get by on only one job, you two could start rebuilding toward an eventual, frugal, retirement.”
Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day is this:
“Is is it ethical for the poor brother or his wife to ask the lottery-winning brother for a grant?”
“Would it unethical for the rich brother to say no?”
I think I’ll hold my fire on this one, as I am stuck in Providence thanks to a cancelled flight and typing this at the airport with the slowest internet connection in the world.
I will say, however, that the sister’s (and Prudence’s) attitude is one big reason why the recipients of large lawsuit damages for injuries due to medical negligence and product liability often dissipate millions they desperately need long before their illnesses or injuries run their course. It is also a big reason why lottery winners are often destitute within five years of winning huge jackpots.
Hey, but the important thing is to eliminate income disparity, right? It’s unethical to be lucky. It’s wrong to have more money than someone else.
Yes, I think I’ll hold my fire...