A real question regarding well-paid “radical” academics

This is genuine question and I’m sure that I am not the first person to ask, but how do financially successful academics who build their career on critiques of capitalism handle the fact that they make a boatload of money? I’m not speaking in smoke and flames here either, I’m really curious. Do they donate it to specific causes? Help pay for student expenses (conference travel, for example — the situation that got me thinking about this)? Do they buy books and pay for themselves to go to conferences and workshops because the university is not helping them either? Do they buy nice houses and send their kids to private school and violin lessons*? All of the above?

To be frank, I don’t really care what the answer is. What I want to hear about is the internal struggle for those fortunate enough to be in this situation…

*I say this with a reflective smirk because I have a five year-old son who is going to a private French immersion kindergarten (his idea, not mine) and desperately wants violin lessons. My wife is a high school teacher and I make a TA salary and take out student loans, but also have a small retirement account from my six-year career as a structural engineer that I draw on to fund my own privileged international conference travel (I’ve been to England, Portugal, and Turkey for conferences in the last 15 months, with short stays in Spain and France for pleasure). We live in a two bedroom apartment, have one car, and I also have a condo in Denver that I bought in 2003 after starting my engineering career. I rent it out now and have been almost breaking even on it for nine years (enough in the red that my father thinks I’m stupid, but not enough to make me sell it). Anyway, even though I just brought my credit card to within $30 of its limit by paying a $135 partial registration fee for a conference, I’m not really irritated, for like Henry Miller, money actually seems to fall in my lap when I need it the most. So I realize that I’m privileged, but remain marginalized enough that I don’t have to struggle with a gap between what I profess and how I live. But I don’t know how I would feel if I were making $100k a year. I often say the first thing I’m going to do if I ever get a job is start endowing conference travel funds and dissertation writing fellowships for the poor burgeoning critical theorists at my university and beyond, but will I really do it? Only time will tell.

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