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Prince Harry joins the American plutocracy

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At least one person is beating the odds in America’s still-troubled employment market: Prince Harry, who announced not one, but two new jobs this week.

On Tuesday, it was revealed that the Duke of Sussex would be joining BetterUp, a Silicon Valley start-up devoted to promoting wellness at corporations, as its chief impact officer. The next day, Harry was also confirmed as a commissioner on the Aspen Institute’s Commission on Information Disorder, a media-focused project at the well-funded D.C. think tank.

The two gigs, as well as the previously announced deals for him and his wife Meghan with Spotify and Netflix, suggest that Harry’s plan for independence runs through Silicon Valley, the Beltway and Hollywood.

The head of San Francisco-based mental health start-up BetterUp Inc., discussed the Duke of Sussex's appointment as the company's first chief impact officer. (Video: Reuters)

As Sangeeta Singh-Kurtz observed for the Cut, the two new positions mean Harry’s actual career is increasingly difficult to describe. “He’s gone and collected two of the most vague and fancy-sounding corporate titles out there,” Singh-Kurtz wrote. “Now, all he needs is something with the word ‘strategy’ in it to complete the professional festoonery.”

But while Harry’s circumstances are unusual, there is something all too familiar about the LinkedIn Premium job titles filling up his résumé. Harry is leaving the British royal family, but he may be joining the modern American plutocracy.

The employment follows a period of uncertainty for Harry. Unlike his wife, who was an actress before she became the Duchess of Sussex, he has not had a traditional career path.

Harry spent 10 years in the British military, including two tours in Afghanistan. But otherwise, he was in the opaque business of being a “senior member” of the royal family — albeit a nonessential one, due to his birthright. Harry was a “spare heir,” in the royal lingo, destined for a lifetime of handshakes and ribbon-cuttings unless a string of premature deaths took to the throne.

That is, until he and Meghan decided they wanted out. In January 2020, the couple announced they would “step back” from the royal family and aim to become “financially independent.” It was a move with major consequences.

In an interview with Oprah Winfrey that aired this month — full of revelations about how the royal family worked with the British tabloids and expressed concern about the race of Harry and Meghan’s child — the pair revealed that they lost not just the crown’s financial backing, but also perks like security.

“We didn’t have a plan,” Meghan told Winfrey, explaining how the uncertainty in their own situation coincided with the broader, worldwide scare from the coronavirus pandemic.

But the couple was warmly received when they moved to California. For three months last year, Meghan, Harry and their son Archie stayed at a home belonging to Tyler Perry, the powerful producer, director and actor, who gave them their own security detail.

The later deals with Spotify and Netflix to make podcasts and shows provided considerable financial cushion, too: They have been valued at an estimated $25 million and $100 million, respectively. It is not clear whether Harry’s position with BetterUp is paid, though the start-up is certainly well-funded with $300 million raised and a valuation of $1.73 billion. The Aspen Institute has said Harry’s role is not compensated.

Harry has explained his decision to take the jobs announced this week by talking of his strong belief in mental health and the concerns he had of “an avalanche of misinformation.”

But for the Duke of Sussex — a representative of a country with a popular national health service and a target of intense tabloid pressure — to join a for-profit mental health company and share a media-based commission with Kathryn Murdoch struck some as odd.

“Prince Harry and Rupert Murdoch’s daughter-in-law are not who I’d put on a commission on disinformation, but the [Aspen Institute] operates in another universe,” Jillian C. York, a writer and activist with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, wrote on Twitter.

Indeed, Harry may have swapped one stratospheric elite universe for another. The grandiose think-tank and start-up titles are the sort of thing we’ve become accustomed to seeing with former U.S. politicos.

Even members of the Trump administration found their way through the revolving door. Former vice president Mike Pence is now a distinguished visiting fellow at the Heritage Foundation, while former interior secretary Ryan Zinke, who resigned after a multiple investigations, became managing director of a “blockchain and cryptocurrency investment firm.”

Harry and Meghan’s agreements with Spotify and Netflix came after former president Barack Obama made similar deals with the two tech giants.

It may seem surprising how easy it is to move from the stuffy world of European royal lineage to the United States, the land of innovation and meritocracy. But Harry’s imperial background sells well to an American audience.

“Royalist mania transcends traditional political divisions in the United States,” Heather Souvaine Horn wrote for the New Republic in 2018, citing polling that suggested British royals were more popular in the United States than most American politicians.

Despite Britain’s legacy of strict class structure, most academics say it is better than the United States for social mobility. Polls show that Americans overestimate the social mobility within their country. Political philosopher Michael Sandel has said America suffers from “meritocratic hubris,” where success is viewed as one’s own doing.

In the interview, Harry told Winfrey that the royal family survives on public perception and that “there is a level of fear that has existed for generations.” He may have escaped the family and the fear that comes with it, but the prince has still managed to stay on top.

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