Wednesday, June 8, 2011

What the Rich Want

Today I am struck by two articles in the New York Times, both having a connection to the lives of the rich and the privileged. One article is about the huge amounts of money (up to six figures annually) that wealthy parents are paying to have their children tutored for rigorous, challenging courses taught at places like the Riverdale Country School and the Dalton School. The second article, less obviously related to this theme, is Thomas Friedman's column featuring environmentalist Paul Gilding who argues that in a world of dwindling resources we all need to find ways to enjoy life more but by relying on far "less stuff."

I like Friedman's column, but it also has me thinking about who it is exactly that will be expected to get by on "less stuff." Consider the obscene amounts of money the rich are expending to ensure that their children perform well in a single class. Can there be any doubt that one of the reasons they do this is to maintain their position at the apex of the economic and social hierarchy? I can't help thinking that even as most of the rest of us are asked to jettison our superfluous stuff, a mighty elite will continue to joyfully expand their already mountainous pile of possessions.

This mounting inequity surely will be the cause of our decline if we don't do something about it soon. For every person who says, rightly, that we must get by on less stuff, I want somebody else to stand up and declare that we must begin with the very wealthy few who will agree to go first, not just as an example to others but also because their lifestyles, if not constrained, will yet sink the democratic ship of state.

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