Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Bonfire of the Vanities, a Sequel

When Tom Wolfe dramatized the Age of Greed in the 1980s, his novel satirizing the downfall of a Wall Street Master of the Universe was not taken as prophecy, but reality is overtaking his art.

Now David Brooks, the New York Times pop sociologist in residence, is declaring that "after the TARP, the auto bailout, the stimulus package, the Fed rescue packages and various other federal interventions, rich people no longer get to set their own rules.

"Now lifestyle standards for the privileged class are set by...Democratic staffers, regulators, journalists, lawyers, Obama aides and senior civil servants" who "get to insert themselves into the intricacies of upscale life, influencing when private jets can be flown, when friends can lend each other their limousines and at what golf resorts corporate learning retreats can be held."

Brooks exaggerates, of course, but the trend is undeniable. Automakers flying private jets to ask for government handouts, huge bonuses for Wall Street bunglers and $35,000 commodes for an executive washroom are inflaming a public beset by job losses, home foreclosures and shrinking retirement plans.

The automakers, no matter how badly they have mismanaged their industry, are still in the business of producing something to be used. Their Wall Street counterparts, on the other hand, have been engaged in making huge amounts of money by managing money, a set of skills that 21st century America has overvalued even more than running around an athletic field or making faces for a movie camera.

The traditional economy that depended on goods and professional services has receded into the background (even health care is dominated by not by healers but insurance company money manipulators).

In the dire days ahead, one consolation may be a true Bonfire of the Vanities, in which there is a return to valuing the work of those who build the structures of society and keep it going rather than the Masters of the Universe who play Monopoly with real money and destroy lives.

1 comment:

(O)CT(O)PUS said...

With friends like that, who needs anemones.