The Poor Rich

Strange lessons from the Netflix show ‘How To Get Rich’


50 Cent, expressing the id of America — succeed or die

I’ve been watching the reality TV show How To Get Rich which I want to hate, but I don’t. The unfortunate title is not what I think the host Ramit Sethi intended. He keeps referring to how to live your rich life, which is a very different concept. As he told one man earning $150,000 while his mother worked two cleaning jobs, you’re rich, but you don’t live richly.

Indeed, watching from Sri Lanka, all of these people are already obscenely rich. I earn maybe $25,000 a year but live much better than most of these people. The big reason is that I don’t function as an individual and I do not have to pay for (and worry about) everything myself. Down South, the economic unit is the extended family. ‘My’ house and my car are in other family members names, at least 15 people are actively involved in raising my children, and we share food and resources constantly.

In ‘developed’ countries capitalism has done its level best to destroy the extended family and replace it with ‘market’ forces. I struggle to see how this is more efficient.

Instead of sharing a home with family, people waste space or live badly alone and spend gas to see them. This generates profit, but is it prosperity? No. When you live as an individual or a nuked family you have to pay for every little thing rather than sharing resources. You actually have to spend (and waste) a lot more, which the market likes, but which makes social animals like us miserable. Instead of raising children collectively, parents (or single parents) are expected to do (and spend for this) on their own. In my opinion this is physically impossible, and not good for anyone. Children go from being a joy to being a duty and a burden, which is not how it should be at all.

The fact that this system of atomized individuals doesn’t actually work is covered up with massive amounts of debt. Borrowing against a future that doesn’t actually exist because the waste is choking the environment and people aren’t leaving anything for their children. Some of the people on the show have what to me is staggering amounts of debt — $200,000 in student loans, $25,000 in credit card debt, huge mortgages, car payments, etc. These people are ostensibly rich but it all blows out into the ‘market’…



Indrajit (Indi) Samarajiva is a Sri Lankan writer. Follow me at, or just email me at