Don't miss the slideshow field guide to luxocrats -- the hedge fund guy, the Silicon Valley geek, the old money trust funder, the struggling guy trying to make it in NYC on $500k a year.
The article is, of course, more amusing than realistic, but see here and here for accurate numbers on the US wealth distribution. If you want something even meatier, read this Economist article on the growth of credit derivatives (hedge funds are the largest traders of credit derivatives). The CDS (Credit Default Swap) market has a notional value of $17 trillion now! If I recall correctly, this market barely existed five years ago.
Bonus! Here's a long profile of James Simons, one of the most successful hedge fund managers of all time (via the new blog angryphysics; where's the anger, though? :-) The article has some interesting details about a lawsuit between Renaissance and two former employees, physics guys trained at MIPT (one of Landau's institutes in Moscow) and MIT.
Details: You know this guy from college. He runs a hedge fund—let's call it Colossal Capital Strategies—and if you’re diligent or masochistic enough to do a little research, you’ll find out that he made about $100 million last year. He’s 36 years old and he has billions under management. The Wall Street Journal likes to refer to him as a “high-net-worth individual,” but that wording seems so odd and clunky—the sort of boardroom-pretzel terminology that some lawyer from Enron might use to explain away a phantom transaction.
No. Let’s call him a luxocrat.
A luxocrat is not merely rich, but rich in a way that you couldn’t have imagined back in college. (Otherwise you would have been nicer to the guy.) He’s rich enough to guarantee that every calorie that passes his lips has been fussed over by a master chef, rich enough to share his truffled foie gras with the treasury secretary on a Gulfstream headed for Barbados, rich enough to impulse-buy doodads from the Robb Report with a black American Express Centurion card (whose existence you weren’t even aware of), rich enough to make your proud and dutiful little 401(k) look, in comparison, like the mound of coins that an Appalachian beet farmer might stash away in a pickle jar. A luxocrat is enormo-rich, robber-baron rich, 21st-century rich, swelled up with a wealth of such magnitude that it suggests the American class system would have to undergo a wholesale restructuring in order to accommodate it.
Which is arguably what’s happening at this very moment.
Usually when you read about the widening gap between the rich and the poor, you think of the insane chasm that yawns between, say, Bill Gates and a laborer trying to subsist on a few cents a day on the Bangladeshi floodplain. But there is a new status gap opening up in the American consciousness, one in which a young guy can earn or inherit what used to be a very respectable sum (well into the six figures, for instance) and still feel as if he’s stuck on a treadmill of perpetual proletarian worry and strain. Meanwhile he can’t help but notice that he’s got ultra-wealthy contemporaries (hedge-funders, real-estate moguls, Google geeks, surfers who retired at 30 after hitting the Silicon Valley jackpot) whose daily activities seem to have been shorn of all that worry and strain. The end result is the emergence of a different social pecking order—one in which the new money dwarfs the old, in which the currency-market globalists and Palo Alto venture capitalists conquer the top while even the Hollywood producers and Merrill Lynch desk jockeys get shunted to the bottom. A world in which the old rituals and pathways to success have been vaporized.
Let’s begin with the luxocrat’s home. “There is so much more big money in the hands of younger people,” says Pam Liebman, the president and CEO of the Corcoran Group, a national real-estate powerhouse with almost $12 billion in annual sales. “And their way of thinking is much less traditional.” In Manhattan, for instance, every budding tycoon used to lust for the pedigreed grandeur of an apartment in one of the pre-war buildings on Fifth Avenue or Park Avenue; he could acquire status by living in proximity to old money. Now “old,” in any configuration, has lost its allure. The luxury tyro’s ideal habitat is a brand-new, Lysol-scrubbed steel-and-glass monument to personal service. (Consider the residential tower that Eric Packer, the cold-blooded 28-year-old billionaire in Don DeLillo’s 2003 novel Cosmopolis, likes to call home: “It had the kind of banality that reveals itself over time as being truly brutal. He liked it for this reason.”) Even if the building happens to be beautiful and designed by Richard Meier or Santiago Calatrava, what you see from the outside is less important than what the luxocrat has access to on the inside. The magic word is amenities: He wants a concierge, a pool, a gym, a spa, a playroom for the kids, valet parking, haute cuisine delivered to his door. He wants things taken care of. He wants, in effect, to live in a five-star hotel 24-7. You can’t really blame him. “People are busy, and they want to be pampered,” Liebman says. “They want things that make their lives easier, more pleasant.”