Saturday, June 09, 2007

All about the benjamins

Sunday's Times Magazine is all about money and income inequality.

You can track your income status over the years in inflation-adjusted 2006 dollars here. Makers of real money won't really fit on the chart (which only indicates 10th, 90th percentile and median figures), although most academics will :-(

Even the figure below doesn't do justice to the money men, although it does indicate what's happening in our society. Statistical comment: by looking at wealth data you can see that most of the people in the top 1% of income in a given year are not there each year -- typically it's an upward fluctuation (like selling a business) that brings someone into the top 1%, although there are others like movie and sports stars, surgeons, top lawyers and financiers whose income is more consistent.

This interview with the creator of Entourage is telling -- note what his next show is about. The Harvard-educated doctors he refers to are described here.

Q: As the creator of the hit show “Entourage,” which follows four buddies from Queens on their adventures in Hollywood, you’ve become a leading chronicler of the American dream at its most nakedly materialistic. So perhaps it’s not surprising that you’re planning a new HBO series devoted to a group of hedge-fund guys in New York. Why do you find the subject of money so interesting?

Sadly, right now, that’s the world people are aspiring to. You have Harvard-educated medical doctors who would rather work at an investment bank than try to cure cancer, and that’s the wish-fulfillment lifestyle that I play into.

Q: The desire to make money is nothing new.

No, but now people are looking for the home runs constantly. That’s the difference. People are seeing shortcuts and easy routes.

Q: “Entourage” is itself a study in “shortcut culture,” to coin a phrase. The male characters don’t work very hard, except at playing video games and having casual sex and wanting to be famous. Is the show intended as a sendup of Hollywood excess?

No. In fact when we first started, HBO would say satire, and I said this is not satire. This is scripted reality. I consider the show 100 percent realistic. I have friends who wake up in the morning and want a Bentley and they go get it. I find it funny.

Meanwhile, in Nepal:

... Outside Africa, no country is poorer than Nepal. Its per capita income looks like a misprint: $270 a year. Sudan’s is more than twice as high. Nearly two-thirds of Nepalis lack electricity. Half the preschoolers are malnourished. To the list of recent woes add regicide — 10 royals slaughtered in 2001 by a suicidal prince — and a Maoist insurgency.

A few hours east of the city, a gravel road juts across a talc quarry, where the work would be disturbing enough even if the workers were not under five feet tall. Scores of young teenagers, barefoot and stunted, lug rocks from a lunar pit. The journey continues through a district capital flying Communist flags and ends, 12 hours after it began, above a forlorn canyon. Halfway down the cactus-lined slope, a destitute farmer named Gure Sarki recently bought four goats.

The story of Gure Sarki’s goats involves decades of thinking about foreign aid and the type of program often seen as modern practice at its best. Two years ago, an organizer appeared in the canyon to say that the Nepal government (with money from the World Bank) was making local grants for projects of poor villagers’ choosing. First villagers had to catalog their problems. With Sarki as chairman, Chaurmuni village made its list:

“Not able to eat for the whole year.”

“Not able to send children to school.”

“Lack of proper feed and fodder for the livestock.”

“Landslide and flood.”

“Not able to get the trust of the moneylender.”

“Insecurity and danger.”

How, again, does one justify keeping economic migrants out of rich countries? Oh yes, by weighting the well being of our fellow citizens an order of magnitude more than that of others born elsewhere.


DB said...

Compared to "Entourage", I fear the hedge fund show will sorely lack wild parties and casual sex.

Or maybe I'm just doing it wrong...

Steve Hsu said...

Now that I think of it, what fund is going to let a camera crew follow around their analysts and pms? Nothing good can come of it...

I guess the show will be fictional, in which case no problem -- just sex it up a bit like Wall Street or Bonfire or the Vanities.

Will there be a geeky quant on the show? :-)

Anonymous said...

As for wild parties and casual sex with a hedge fund connection, I would start here:

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