Inequality seems to have made the wealthy very upset...for themselves.
Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com
February 17, 2014
Is it us, or have America’s ultrawealthy been sounding increasingly
unhinged lately? Despite the fact that the wealth of the 1 percent
jumped 31 percent from 2009 to 2012 while the other 99 percent of
America saw a gain of only 0.4 percent, the rich are very upset, and
they need to tell us about it. Maybe it’s all the talk about income
inequality that’s gotten them so stirred up. Whatever it is, here are
five signs that the zillionaires seem to be losing it.
1. The rich are mouthing off in epic rants.
going on talk shows, writing editorials, bitching and moaning, and
taking every opportunity to tell us just how fed up they are.
Wealthy upper-eastsiders in New York are screaming
that progressive Mayor de Blasio is punishing them by not plowing their
streets of snow. Billionaire Home Depot founder Ken Langone warned Pope
Francis that if he doesn’t shut it about income inequality, the
charitable contribution spigot will be turned off. Nutcase venture
capitalist Thomas Perkins just claimed that there is a war on the rich
comparable to the Holocaust and that the wealthy deserve more votes
. Bill O’Reilly warned,
"Every affluent person in America is in danger. Every one." He asks you to pray for them.
the Occupy protests, there was a surge of wailing from the 1 percent
about perceived demonization and vilification, and it seems to have
risen once again. It’s gotten so bad that Jason Furman, head of the
President's Council of Economic Advisers (and quite rich himself) has
told his fellow 1 percenters to knock off the “hyperventilating
2. The Ivy League apologists are out ‘splainin’ in full force.
Harvard’s Greg Mankiw is America’s most shameless defender
of the 1 percent (just in case you didn’t know that about him, he wrote a paper titled, “Defending the One Percent
You can rely upon the chairman and professor of economics at Harvard
and former Mitt Romney advisor to pontificate about why the megarich are
smarter and more creative than you and not deserving of your ire.
Mankiw just published an op-ed in the New York Times
describing the risks our brave gazillionaire “superheroes” take to promote the public good.
that actor Robert Downey Jr. recently got a movie paycheck of $50
million, Mankiw enjoys a little taunting: “Does that fact make you
mad?...Does it make you want to take to the streets in protest?” He then
condescends to observe that of course we don’t get mad at Robert Downey
Jr. because our pea brains can comprehend how he made his money. It’s
when our limited mental faculties can’t digest the wondrous activities
of CEOs and financiers that we become sour.
Largely oblivious to
the fact that a significant portion of America’s wealthy have arranged
things so they can get away with cheating, bullying and creating nasty
financial products that drain the pockets of their fellow citizens,
Mankiw assures us that CEOs deserve their sky-high paychecks because the
“value of making the right decisions is tremendous” (like Jamie Dimon
overseeing a bank that has enjoyed an historic "crime spree
?”) and because of all the taxes they pay (like Apple’s famous “Double Irish with a Dutch sandwich
” tax evasion scheme?).
goes on to ‘splain that financiers are among America’s “most talented
and thus highly compensated individuals.” (Talented, perhaps, at
redistributing money upward?)
3. A new field of psychology is emerging to treat the uberwealthy.
Being loaded is a load to bear, evidently. A recent article in Mother Jones
outlines new trends in psychotherapy emerging to deal with this overwhelming burden.
Traeger-Muney, a “wealth psychologist,” became the first shrink
employed by a bank to work directly with customers when Wells Fargo
hired her to offer touchy-feely counsel to people worth over $50 million
in 2006. Now business is booming and she works with several other big
banks and financial institutions. She notes that the rich are upset by
all the bad press they’re getting and that they need to explore their
feelings. (May we suggest the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal
which are always open for this purpose?) For his part, psychology
consultant John Warnick, who works with bank advisors, is careful not to
use the awkward term "wealthy," but rather “legacy families” when
dealing with American fatcats. Has a nicer ring to it.
As the rich
pile up more and more money, there’s a whole new industry of coaches
who deal with everything from how to divvy up the loot to the kids to
coping with the guilt and alienation of “Sudden Wealth Syndrome.” They
teach the rich to meditate and cope with the biases against wealth that
can “gnaw at an inheritor’s self-worth
4. They’re barricading themselves in.
It is a perennial problem for the super-rich that once you’ve got the loot, you’ve got to guard it. In a February 15 New York Times blog
economists Samuel Bowles and Arjun Jayadev report that America now has
as many private security guards as high school teachers.
and Jayadev note that the share of our labor force dedicated to guard
labor (broadly defined) has risen fivefold since 1890 and today stands
four times higher than that of Sweden, which has similar high living
standards. “In America,” the authors write, “growing inequality has been
accompanied by a boom in gated communities and armies of doormen
controlling access to upscale apartment buildings.” Economic
disparities, they note, tend to “push nations to devote more of their
productive capacity to guarding people and property.”
American citizens have gone into survivalist mode, constructing luxury
bunkers and panic rooms in their fancy apartments. The 1 percent
doomsday preppers are requesting everything from secret passageways to
pepper-spray sprinklers, in preparation for every conceivable disaster
and attacker. Chris Pollack, president of Pollack+Partners, a New
York-based design and construction outfit, told Forbes magazine
that spending on home security has seen a noticeable uptick in the past
five years. Some of the stuff is in the realm of science fiction, like
infrared cameras, biometric technologies and ballistics-proof suites.
5. Buying sprees are getting weirder.
are only so many Prada bags you can buy before it starts to get boring.
So the overly affluent have to resort to ever stranger and more refined
items and services on which to spend their cash.
All across the world, luxury goods are booming. But wealthy American shoppers are particularly hedonistic in their spending
. Serendipity 3 in New York City sells a $300 hamburger
held together with a solid gold, diamond-encrusted toothpick. In South Beach, Miami, you can take a bath in Evian mineral water for $5,000
. For the morbidly minded, luxury taxidermy is all the rage just now
out in high style is becoming increasingly popular; America’s
plutocrats may not have caught up with their Chinese counterparts, who hire strippers for funerals
, but they’re working on it. Choose a burial-at-sea on a luxury yacht
or pick up a family mausoleum at California’s Forest Lawn Memorial Park
for $825,000. American richies excel in upscale pet funerals, spending
thousands to send Fido on a diamond-studded journey to the afterlife
. You can even have your deceased pet mummified
of this behavior leads us to believe that the rich are getting a little
nervous about all that cash they're hoarding, and how they got it.
Maybe burying yourself alive in a bunker with an open line to your
wealth therapist is the only thing left to do.
Lynn Parramore is an
AlterNet senior editor. She is cofounder of Recessionwire, founding
editor of New Deal 2.0, and author of "Reading the Sphinx: Ancient Egypt
in Nineteenth-Century Literary Culture." She received her Ph.D. in
English and cultural theory from NYU. She is the director of AlterNet's
New Economic Dialogue Project. Follow her on Twitter @LynnParramore.
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