Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Our Tone Deaf Elites

Some people are enjoying a recovery. Among the super-rich, conspicuous consumption is back in style:
The latest project of Hyatt hotel heir Anthony Pritzker is a 49,300-square-foot building designed by an architecture firm in Paris. It involves a small army of specialized consultants and boasts amenities like a bowling alley, hairdressing area and gym. […]

The project, in the hills above Los Angeles, isn't a luxury hotel—it's a private home for Mr. Pritzker and his family.Plans filed with the city of Los Angeles, which deemed the mansion finished in November, provide more details. The 49,300-square-foot, two-story home surrounds a courtyard and includes a two-level basement with amenities including a game room, bowling alley, bar and media library. Above ground, there's a gym with changing rooms, his-and-hers offices, an arts-and-crafts room and a hairdressing area. Other buildings on the property, including a detached recreation room and a guest house, bring the total square footage of the compound to just over 53,000 square feet.

The home has a large skylight, roof-mounted solar panels and a curving driveway. A lawn spreads around part of the home, with a “floating pool” and spa anchoring one end of the property.

Critics of such mega-mansions “want to penalize people for being successful,” says Mr. McCoy, the builder of the estate. Referring to the scores of people large projects employ, he adds, “People have done this all along because they could, and aren't we lucky that they can?”

Yeah, we’re lucky all right. Our obscenely rich elites are sequestering themselves away from the rest of society, becoming even more inoculated from the consequences of all their bad decisions. In his book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, Jared Diamond lists this as a recurring feature of civilizations that failed, like Easter Island and the medieval Norse settlements of Greenland. The misery they created simply didn’t affect them so they didn’t do anything about it.

Their ruling classes also displayed a marked lack of adaptability. As the world fell in all around them, they doubled-down on all the bad habits that caused the problems in the first place. They drilled, baby, drilled, when what was needed was fresh thinking and fundamental reform. They were rigid and mentally sclerotic. Sound familiar?

It’s interesting that they’re building self-sufficient enclaves, isn’t it? Maybe they do know something about the future the rest of us don’t?

But don’t penalize Mr. Pritzker for being successful: he deserved every penny he inherited. Gimme a break. It’s time to squash this pernicious little trope once and for all. That asshole plopped out of mommy’s womb a multimillionaire, but he eventually did become successful in his own right. How did he do it, by building a longer lasting light bulb? No. Did he cure a disease? No. Hell, did he design a video game, invent the Post-It note or come up with a new freakin’ yo-yo trick? No. He used all of his wealth and all of his advantage to … start a hedge fund. My hero.

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