In The Sum of Small Things: A Theory of the Aspirational Class, the author argues that the rich are now less likely to buy fancy cars or watches and more to worry about organic blueberries, hand-knit, logo-less sweaters, costly educational activities for their children, and, before then, how to demonstrate that their babies are breast-fed. She calls the new patterns of consumption “inconspicuous”, which is the only quibble I have about the book. Sure, we are no longer talking about Cadillacs or Rolexes, but the omnipresent yoga mats and chatter about remote vacations seem pretty conspicuous to me. The entire analysis is based on spending patterns and meticulously scaffolded around those patterns. Fascinating.
Tag Archives: wealth
The hero of Lake Success is hedge fund manager with an autistic son, a large watch collection, and an upcoming SEC investigation. He decides to chuck everything and go find his decades-old girlfriend (who, supposedly, will drop everything for him, just like his wife will just keep on taking care of his son). He discovers Greyhound buses and an entirely different set of characters from his rich colleagues and their educated, but now unemployed wives.
I could not care less about watches or performance cars, and following the predictable adventures of a man trying to slum it seemed unappealing at first, but the author does great job of exposing the logical, if distasteful, workings of his hero’s brain as he bumbles outside his cushy life, always expecting that his privilege will continue to hold. It’s funny story, really. Also, we need to tax hedge fund managers more. They would totally understand why.
The Beneficiary: Fortune, Misfortune, and the Story of My Father traces the life of the author’s father and grandparents, as they live on a luxurious estate established by a wealthy ancestor, on the abundant money flowing through trusts. It’s true that rich people have the same problem as regular folks–but money provides a wonderful cushion against hardship, be it alcoholism or uninterested parents. The author seems a bit tone death to all that, as she starts the book complaining about the high caterer’s bill from her father’s funeral.
There are some fascinating characters in the book, notably her indomitable grandmother who maintained a formidable wardrobe clearly labeled for parties and horse riding, her main occupations. The organization ion the book, with frequent time-changes, is sometimes difficult to follow as the family frequently reused the same first names.
The Inner Level: How More Equal Societies Reduce Stress, Restore Sanity and Improve Everyone’s Well-Being wants to prove that unequal societies are bad for everyone in them, not just the people at the bottom of the income scale, but everyone. It is very successful at proving the obvious: that in an unequal society, the folks at the bottom fare very badly indeed, whether it’s their health, their happiness, or their ability to move up in society. It does a fairly good job of showing that inequality matters more than gross income, again for the people at the bottom. I did not find that it manages to show that the richest people in unequal countries suffer–which means that change might be a little difficult, as the very people who have lots of power must like it that way! There is a valiant effort to show that those richest people are really, profoundly unhappy and stressed, but since it relies on self-reported studies that show that a full 25% of the population is depressed, they are a little hard to believe!
It would also be very useful to explore outliers. In almost every measurement, there are countries that just do not fit the trend at all. One would think that serious researchers would want to at least explore why they behave so differently…
A Double Life is a mystery based on a true story, of the mysterious near-murder of his ex-wife by a rich British aristocrat how then vanished. The story is that of their daughter, hunting for her father and ready to infiltrate her own family (incognito, since she and her brother changed identities after the attack) to do so. Thrilling and twisted.
I very much want to believe that The Heirs is a satire of a wealthy family, who inconveniently discovers, after the death of the father, that he had a second family on the side, but I am not so sure. And the blind assumptions pile up: children with moderate academic ability will go to Princeton, because, legacy. We will purchase vast apartments side by side to house our biological child and mother (long story!) because, inherited money. We will actually purchase an entire hospital wing, also because, money, inherited. And obsessively track the genealogy of anyone we meet so we can position them within the limited 400 families that count.
If it comforts you, read the book and see that the rich do have similar (if better hidden) problems with their wives, husbands, ex-boyfriends, children, and themselves.
It’s a little difficult to conjure up empathy for a family of four that spends $800,000 a year (and could spend more), yet frets about how to spend money. Uneasy Street: The Anxieties of Affluence pictures such a family and fifty other uber-affluent people in New York City, along with their worries about appearing too flashy and not having enough dough to do all the things they would want to do (lol). If you can suspend your hilarity, or anger, long enough to read the book, you will find that the rich are just like us: they worry about having enough money (to buy their third house, not to pay the rent); non-working spouses have secret accounts so they can buy the shoes they covet without their partners questioning their tastes (designer shoes, not sneakers); they worry about spoiling their children (because they always fly private jets, not just because they go on vacation with them).
It was quite fascinating to me to see how much the respondents valued hard work, being nice to others, and the importance of not bragging. Considering the relatively small size of the sample, I imagine there are many rich people who laze about, are mean, and brag — but it was comforting to see that at least 50 try to behave differently.
The Windfall is the hilarious story of an Indian middle-aged couple who, after selling a successful website, move from a crowded apartment building into a luxuiours house, discovering a very different lifestyle. It could be a simple nouveau-riche satire, but it’s a lot more than that since the heroes are not blindly trying to imitate their rich neighbors and have a very balanced approach to wealth and the ridiculousness of spending extravagantly. There is a funny subplot of their son, who is consuming more drugs than studying at a second-rate American business school. Won’t change the literary world but the story is entertaining, and deeper than it seems at first.
Even by the minimal standards of beach reading, China Rich Girlfriend is amazingly thin. It starts out like People on steroids, with a dozen brand names to describe each protagonists’ outfit, and the private jets, jewels, and out landing lifestyles carry it for the first few chapters. After that, the spoiled (adult) kids and their decadent parents got a little less interesting, even in a voyeuristic mode. The best part for me was the Chinese New Year’s party centered on fondling and wearing the party giver’s astounding jewelry collection. Hilarious, but pretty early in the book…
Primates of Park Avenue is billed as a memoir but is constructed and intended more as a reflection on how rich wives of the Upper East Side behave. I found it silly and over the top in (many) places, but good fun to read because of its tone and the pleasure of a voyeuristic look not only into the lives of these rich women (their husbands make few appearances) but also into the author’s life, including her unquenchable thirst for a particular handbag and her reliance on family connections to get her children into the right school, which she interestingly seems to take for granted.
Now my question is: these women seem to be smart and well-educated. Why do they let themselves be so controlled by their husbands? Surely the jewelry and clothes and houses and amazing lifestyle is not worth it, right? Perhaps not to them, I guess.