September 15, 2013

The other day I read in the paper that we Americans have reached a milestone. According to a 2012 analysis by economists at the University of California, Berkeley, the Paris School of Economics (who knew Paris had such a thing?) and Oxford University, income inequality has reached record levels. The richest 1 percent now possess a fifth of the national households income. “Indeed,” concluded one economist, “the top decile share in 2012 is equal to 50.4 percent, a level higher than any other year since 1917 and even surpasses 1928, the peak of the stock market bubble in the ‘roaring’ 20s.”

The plutocratization of the U.S., which the New Deal succeeded in damping down but by no means extinguishing, was reignited in the 1980s under Ronald Reagan. It was morning in America and the sun was rising over Wall Street. Jay Gatsby had returned from the crypt and was back in fighting shape. The re-concentration continued under Bush 41, Clinton, Bush 43, and has survived the Great Recession. The wealthiest 1 percent has more than recovered the losses suffered in the crisis that followed the collapse of Lehman Brothers. The net worth of the other 99 percent has either stagnated or declined.

To anyone paying attention, all of this has been apparent/transparent for some time. It led to the brief upsurge of discontent in the Occupy Wall Street movement. But the exigencies of earning their daily bread soon sent the serfs slouching back to their plows (with no increase in the minimum wage) and allowed the lords and ladies to reseat themselves at the banquet table (while Congress wrestles with how much more to cut their taxes).

I’ve read so many articles detailing/excusing/explaining/denouncing this ongoing and ever-worsening system of economic distortion that I thought I was beyond the point of shock and awe and outright rage. Look, I’m over 65. It is what it is. The government is paralyzed and can’t/won’t raise a finger, so deal with it/forget about it/whatever. Is it the cocktail hour yet?

This morning, however, I made the mistake of beginning my day with the Real Estate section of the Sunday Times. On page 1 was a story about the return from bankruptcy of One Madison, a skinny-as-a-stick apartment tower on E. 23rd Street.

Hurray and hallelujah this Sunday morning! Good news abounds for the burgeoning plutocracy: “The redeveloped One Madison, which will be completed in the first quarter of next year, has 53 apartments, ranging from $1.825 million for the building’s only studio (sic) to $50 million for a 7,000-square-foot, five bedroom triplex penthouse. There will also be a 10,000-square-foot amenity space stretched across two floors and featuring double-height ceilings. It will include a lounge and screening room, a yoga room, a 50-foot lap pool, fitness center, children’s playroom and steam room.”

Turn to page 2: the plutocratic steam room stays steamy as Marie Antoinette gets down with the Marquis de Donald Trump. A townhouse on the Upper East Side has an asking price of $17.9. If that seemed extravagant, it was put in perspective by the article directly beneath reporting the sale of a duplex apartment at 18 Gramercy Park South that went “for its full asking price of $42 million.”

It crossed my mind that since high among the only people on the planet–never mind the city–who could afford these prices are hedge fund managers, insider traders on Wall Street, Russian gangsters/ entrepreneurs, members of the Communist (ha, ha) Chinese politburo and their cronies, Mid-Eastern sheiks, international drug traffickers, et al.–Mayor Bloomberg might think about including them in his proposal that the resident of public housing be fingerprinted.

Quickly shaking myself from deluded reveries, I consulted page 3 where the focus shifted to the plutocracy’s West Pocket, San Francisco. Featured here: panoply of multi-million-dollar properties ending with a bottom-ass Noe Valley condo at almost a million. (Implied but not stated: Losers Only Need Apply.) Suddenly I felt Chris Farley’s cri de coeur surging in my throat (if you’ve never seen Chris’s last flick, “Almost Heroes,” do yourself a favor and get it on Netflix) … “DO YOU WANT MY HEAD TO EXPLODE!?”

I’ve put down the paper down, swallowed an extra high blood pressure pill and am taking the dog for a walk. Look, I’m over 65. It is what it is. The government is paralyzed and can’t/won’t raise a finger, so deal with it/forget about it/whatever. The cocktail hour is nowhere in sight. Sigh.

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