Sunday, August 5, 2007


From Flickr user chuckp

Except for maybe the most disconnected of college students or deeply radical of environmentalists, it is difficult any more to really argue against wealth as a social good. Still, questions like how a person becomes wealthy, how a society becomes wealthy, what defines wealth, how wealth can be sustained, and how wealth should be distributed through a population are interesting and contentious. As such, the NYT series on the theme of the "Gilded Age" holds great intrigue and promise. The basic premise, as I understand i, is to profile basic archetypes of varying strata of wealth in contemporary America, with the underlying understanding that the current era is a particularly wealthy one.

The first in the series of articles profiled a handful of America's richest businessmen - those who comprise the "upper one-one-hundredth of a percent" of American families who control a full five percent of the national wealth. The second installment took a step down the status ladder, looking at a few of California's technology entrepreneurs - millionaires by definition, but still working, without a feeling of having "made it."

Both articles are shallow, providing a surface picture of America's rich, but neither really tackle at depth interesting social questions (What makes these people special, in terms of creating or achieving wealth? Are these people uniquely positioned or capable of sustaining wealth for the economy as a whole? Has the increased concentration of capital at the upper echelons of society successfully facilitated improved quality of life at the lower echelons?) or challenging psychological questions (What drives the extremely rich to keep getting richer? What drives the moderately rich to stay in the rat race?) Nevertheless, it is interesting that the Times has chosen to broach the subject, and it will be curious to see where the series goes. Moreover, it is much more interesting to see what the rich think about the rich, rather than the sniping poor or middle class.

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