Loved this and see a lot of truth in it, but I think it’s important to remember that income is only one layer of environment and there is no such thing as a true generalization. A great example is that in high school I had two acquaintences of relatively equal means. One was given a brand new Mercedes when he got his license (and a second six months later when he wrecked it), the other drove a ~$10K Nissan Sentra a year after getting his license once he had saved the half his father required him to contribute. For many people, having money means being capable of saying yes to almost anything, yet not necessarily saying it.
Over the years I have learned and tried to point out that many of the benefits you mentioned are indeed shortcuts to success, but many can be obtained through effort if obtaining through money is not an option. Take the best schools. I went to high school in Fairfax County, VA, to one of the 2–3 that fell into the top 100 public schools in the country. It was just automatic. I learned later, however, that anyone in the large county could choose to go to any one of the twenty-something high schools. How many did? Very few, and none that I ever met personally.
Same thing with surrounding yourself with successful people. I met many without effort, but I have found that most successful people are eager to help others. There’s only so much time to dedicate in this way, naturally, but if you’re motivated and persistent you make the right connections. And of course your odds get better if you have your parents drive you 45 minutes to the better-rated, more affluent school. You just became friends with tomorrow’s leaders.
The dirty secret of affluent public schools is that their success is owed less to how much better an education is provided and more to the resources of it’s students’ — students who can afford tutors, expensive SAT prep courses, and whose parents have likely emphasized learning their entire lives.
I guess my point is that environment is everything. Money makes everything easier — if you’re headed toward success you will achieve it faster, and as you pointed out, if you’re headed toward disaster money can help speed that along as well. What I wish more people would understand is that many of the subtle fringe benefits of being wealthy can be replicated without money if you’re sufficiently motivated.