The lower edge of luxury


by David Malone


We are NOT all in this together.

Pat and Ron Eastman, who live near San Jose, California, bought a 2007 Maserati Quattroporte sedan in February for $108,000, replacing a Mercedes S-Class

“This car is basically for play,” said Pat Eastman, a 56- year-old money manager. ” It handles beautifully.”  Her husband, Ron, a 58-year-old venture capitalist … (Bloomberg)

Worldwide last year Maserati sales rose 33%.  In the US sales rose 48%.  In 2009 sales has dropped 49% An almost perfect bounce-back – for someone,  but was it you?  Are you one of the saved, brother?

Sales of the Toyota Lexus in America fell 30% in June, down 15% for the year.

“When times get tougher, they are losing people at the lower edge of luxury,” said Jim Hall, automotive product analyst at 2953 Analytics in Birmingham, Michigan, referring to Lexus.  Those cars start at $31,000.

But wait, aren’t ‘we’ having a recovery?  The “lower edge of luxury” – one of those chillingly perfect phrases.  So much unintended truth.  And beneath that ‘lower edge’ in the other world:

The financial manager of the Detroit Public Schools, Robert Bobb, has submitted a proposal to close half of all the schools in the city.  His plan envisions class sizes of up to 62 students in the remaining schools.

While the City of Camden
in New Jersey, which if you have never been there (I have), is a desperate place, was forced to fire 163 policemen leaving only 202 to police one of the most violent cities in America.  Why was this insane step taken?  Due to budget cuts from non-existent tax revenue.  The same article tells us,

The state of New Jersey is in such bad shape that they still are facing a $10 billion budget deficit for this year even after cutting a billion dollars from the education budget and laying off thousands of teachers.

And so while the wealthy toast ‘the recovery’ in their brand new Maseratis a whole city of people born just the wrong side of the lower edge of luxury are divided from those destined to recover and will bring their children up in a city without police to protect them or teachers to teach them.  But the recovery will go from strength to strength.

In Detroit it is worse.  The Mayor Dave Bing wants to completely cut off 20 percent of the city from police and rubbish collection services in order to save money.

What happened?  Where did all the wealth go?  Well in another Bloomberg article entitled, “Rich Americans Raise Consumer Spending With Little Help From Middle Class” we are told,

Sales are up at Tiffany & Co. and Coach Inc., buoyed by demand for $6,000 diamond pendants and $1,200 leather handbags as a stock-market surge pads the wallets of the wealthy.

Now imagine if Congress hadn’t forced through the extension of President Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy?  There would have been no ‘Rebound in Consumer Spending’ and no headlines to convince us there was.  There truth is there is 9.4% unemployment, 6 million of whom have been unable to find work for over six months, 1.5 million of whom have been out of work for two years or more and house prices are still falling.

But no matter.  You see we can hide the utter poverty of 20%, one fifth, of the great nation of America, who between them feed their children on 3.4% of the income earned in America by averaging it into and thereby covering it over, with the fact that another fifth of America, the golden 20%, earn 49% of all the income.

In fact it gets better for the wealthy.

At the top, the wealthiest 5 percent of Americans, who earn more than $180,000, added slightly to their annual incomes last year …

And according to Amex, those richest Americans are buying for fun on their Amex cards back at the rate of 2008.

While the families at the $50,000 median level slipped lower.

And those at the bottom, well we don’t have to look at them do we?  Because our wonderful system is built in such a way that we need never recognize they are even there.  Each of us stands on those below, pushing them down, afraid lest we slip.  Each of us sorry for those below us, but we are determined and ready to fight them for whatever we need.  And at the bottom, if anyone were to look, those at the very bottom are in fact standing on the faces of forgotten people.  We all know they are there.

But as long as we don’t allow questions and no one is encouraged to dig too deeply beneath the thin, brittle lies, then we can just talk about ‘the consumer’ and ‘the recovery’.  We can talk about consumer spending without distinguishing who is buying and allow a few Maseratis and Tiffany bracelets to obscure the fact that 43 million Americans are so poor they rely on food stamps to feed their families.

The recovery of the rich is not reported for what it is.  It is blared at us as the proof that the bail out plan – the plan of giving to the banks all the money we might have wanted to save to help cities weather this storm and keep services going – is working.  It must be working because ‘the consumer’ is spending again.



David Malone is the author of the book Debt Generation. You can read and listen to excerpts from his book here: