Tuesday, October 6, 2009

When Plutocrats Cry

The future looks bleak for our poor sclerotic plutonomy. First we don’t get the Olympics, then comes word that China, Russia, France and numerous Arab countries are laying the groundwork for eventually dumping the dollar, a move which will expose America as little more than a Third World country with credit cards and a big army. But I didn’t really begin to tremble until I came across this story from last weekend’s New York Times. Verily, the sky is falling:

Too Rich to Worry? Not in This Downturn

It turns out the other half — or at least the tiny slice who live at the top of the wealth pyramid — are not sleeping any better than the rest of America.

At a closed-door meeting of advisers to family offices — which serve families who typically are worth more than $500 million — I learned that the super-rich are just as concerned about the future as everyone else.

Even though the stock market has rebounded from its March 9 low, the family office advisers said many of their wealthiest clients were bracing for more bad news and wondering how it would affect their family unity.

Maybe the same way losing a home, a job, or your life’s savings affects your family unity; maybe the same way your family unity is affected when someone gets cancer and dies for lack of decent insurance, and the response from multimillionaires is to shrug their shoulders, tell us all to go eat cake, and then lecture us that national health insurance is socialism.

But I’m inching towards class warfare, which, as any self-respecting American plutocrat will gladly tell you, is just a false front for envy.

It’s also self-defeating, as the author of the article takes pains to point out:

Before you start laughing up your sleeve, be advised that this is not a good thing. When the super-rich get cold feet, the rest of America gets swine flu. They are, after all, the people who might finance new companies that create jobs, make big investments to support existing companies and spread their wealth throughout the economy.

True. Then again, they might also be the same people who’s stupefying greed created this whole mess in the first place. People who live in trailer parks don’t trade mortgage-backed securities.

The super-rich are learning how to cope, the article goes on to inform us. They are starting to look at their families “in ways that the average American can learn from.” Because, you know, us proles learn everything from the rich.

The basic issue for them is deciding what they want to do as a family now that they realize they cannot do everything. “You’re worth $500 million one day and wake up the next and it’s $350 million and you’ve pledged $100 million to the Met,” said Rob Elliott, senior managing director at Bessemer. “What are the family’s goals? Is it philanthropy or bringing along the next generation?”

Good gracious! Only worth $350 million with a hundred million pledged to the Met? I need a Valium and a glass of Cristal just thinking about it. But at least they’re coming to the realization that they can’t do everything. It’s nice they’re learning a lesson that most of us picked up somewhere around age ten or so. Better late than never.

They are also starting to understand “that they can’t have everything.” “It used to be, ‘I’m going to buy A and B.’ Now it’s, ‘I’ll buy A or B.’”

The mind reels.

But you know what’s really got them scared? The lurking shadow of Big Government:

The other risk to super-rich families is government action and increased regulation. They suspect it is coming but do not know how it will affect them. The result is that they are increasingly anxious about the future while still shell-shocked from the past year.
Lack of government regulation facilitated this recession, and they’re worried about … government regulation.

The mind reels. Wait, I already said that.

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