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January 04, 2011


Dick Pountain

Will - once again you've hit the nail straight on the head. I've just returned from a couple of weeks in Mustique, observing the lifstyles of those with "life-changing" wealth, who have in effect seceded from the society in which the rest of us must dwell. This class has been enormously expanded by the recently-ended boom (not just hedgies but lottery winners, sellers of modest businesses etc etc), and it's in the process of buying up the most desirable and sustainable parts of the planet to make into a gated alternative world.

Hardt and Negri are interesting but you really, really should revisit Thorstein Veblen too - he saw all this coming and theorised it as "predation" - the lifestyle of those who take rather than toil.

Ian Christie

Happy New Year, Will, and thanks for this post. I do agree. Dick is also right about Veblen.
I would add to the list of relevant analysts Christopher Lasch, in his collection The Revolt of the Elites.
Interesting to see that the political priorities of the US Republican Party are almost entirely about protecting the interests of those who have the wealth to secede from mass society. They are conducting a large-scale experiment in how far you can divorce the mass of your electoral base from the beneficiaries of your policies without provoking revulsion and political disaster. So far the Multitude is not putting up much resistance.

Dick Pountain

I've recently written a blogpost (in memory of Nina Fishman) in which I single out Veblen, Lasch and Debord as the most mordant social critics of the 20th century, but Veblen as the most practical - it's here


Felix Salmon wrote something interesting about this recently: you are rich if you pay more taxes then the median person earns. Of course, this is a very slippery way of defining richness and it's also not quite the "life-changing" wage you are talking about. But it's still an interesting threshold past which some might consider that "the poor are living off me".

The article is here: http://blogs.reuters.com/felix-salmon/2010/12/15/190000-a-year-is-rich/

Ian Christie

Yesterday's exchanges between MPs and Bob Diamond were revealing in this context.
Here we have an entire sector whose heads have achieved life-changing wealth and have freed themselves from all restraints except those of residual conscience and religion (did Diamond even know that John Mann was citing the Gospel?) , contingent family connections and perhaps some scraps of patriotism. The endless threats from the banking elite to decamp are instructive about the independence and mobility of Capital, and the attenuation of any ethos of rooted loyalties. I find it fascinating that no-one in the nominally Conservative Party ever accuses the fat cats about their unashamed lack of patriotic spirit.
The stand-off over bonuses has made the choices available very clear. Either we are prepared to call the bluff of investment bankers and take the economic hit if they do go, or we have to work for a long-term change in ethos in the banking sector. If anyone has a clue about how to achieve the latter , I'd be delighted to hear about it.

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