Flaunting is fashionable again, even when it flouts common sense. The Swiss watchmaker Tag Heuer is selling a diamond-accented, gold- or titanium-covered smartphone for $6,700, although it’s technologically less capable than a Samsung for about 2 percent of that price. Or for excess on a scale beyond wretched, consider Daphne Guinness, profiled at length in this past week’s New Yorker, who is apparently best known for wearing clothes, which she draws from a wardrobe of 2,500 garments, 450 pairs of shoes and 200 handbags. On the day she was interviewed, she wore a high-collared, presumably bespoke shirt by uber-designer Alexander McQueen, “a pave diamond brooch,” silver sheaths on two of her fingers and “custom-made sparkly silver Mary Janes, with a three inch platform under the toe” — not the heel, the toe. Well, to each her own, but she might as well walk around Manhattan wearing a sign saying “My husband stole your pension.”
Eric Dezenhall, a Washington-based crisis-management consultant whose clients have included many chief executives and celebrities, thinks the super-rich ought to be a little more circumspect about their displays. He cites a “gazillionaire” who came to him for advice after running his company into the ground. “I had one question for him,” Dezenhall told me: “Is your house visible from the street?” It had never occurred to this gazillionaire that his mansion could be a target for picketers. Why not? “Because the super-rich live in a bubble,” Dezenhall said. “They’re concerned about what a small circle of peers think of them, like the guys they play golf with, but nobody else.”
The GOP's take on Obama's call for a millionaires' tax
One solution would be for the super-rich to undergo intensive coaching in how to conduct themselves in our upstairs-downstairs, “hourglass” society: how to dress inconspicuously for the street, for example, or communicate with a valet parking attendant. Millions of Americans stand ready, for a nominal fee, to provide lessons in these and other daunting skills, such as how to purchase a bus ticket, should the need, God forbid, ever arise.
Already, a few of the politicians most sympathetic to the wealthy “job creators” seem to be getting some tips, however ham-handed, on how to proletarianize their images. Romney tweets his dining experiences at Carl’s Jr. and Subway. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) boasts, Palin-style, of butchering his own deer. And no one can call Rick Perry’s morning jogs an effete yuppie practice, since he runs with a laser-guided pistol tucked into his belt, the better to ward off coyotes.
The alternative would be for our multi-millionaire class to confront their demonization at its root, which, as the Bible suggests, is money. They could join Warren Buffett and hundreds of other super-high earners in supporting increased taxes for the rich, or at least taxes as high as they were before the Bush tax cuts. It should feel good, even cathartic, to say, “Aw shucks, I’d like to pitch in — not just to help my country in its time of need — but because I’m darned if I know what to do with all this money.”
Barbara Ehrenreich’s most recent books are “Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking Is Undermining America” and “This Land Is Their Land: Reports From a Divided Nation.”
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