The 99 percent are suffering.
With inflation easing a bit, Thanksgiving dinner won’t be as expensive this year as it has been. But a slightly more affordable turkey is cold comfort. Rent is still prohibitive, with most tenants struggling to foot the bill. Even more worrying, 12.8 percent of households suffered from food insecurity at some point during 2022, a sharp increase from the previous year (10.5 percent). Then there’s health care. A Commonwealth Fund study released a couple weeks ago found large numbers of Americans weighed down by their health expenses, with many delaying or skipping needed care or drugs to save money, often with disastrous health effects.
How’s it going for the very rich? Very well, judging by how much they’re willing to pay for an array of lavish services. A small number are so absurdly rich that, according to a recent New York Times piece, a whole new suite of boutique services has sprung up.
The Times reports that the rich are paying top dollar to do nothing at all, hiring rotating casts of nannies so that there’s always one around (instead of just one to cover the workweek), private chefs, housekeepers, and even niche housework experts like laundresses, for those who find folding their own clothes to be beneath them.
Pet care is getting even weirder than that. Beyond the routine daily dog walker, some city dwellers reportedly send their dogs on daily wooded hikes out of town, at a rate that exceeds what most people can afford to spend on enriching activities for their children.
For those for whom the hustle of trying to get a reservation at a fancy restaurant is too much, there are websites that do the legwork for fees that may exceed the exorbitant bill.
Members-only social clubs have been part of elite existence for hundreds of years, and you no longer must be a white guy to join one, but some have gotten far more financially exclusive: the Times reports initiation fees as high as $200,000 (please note that’s the cost of four years at Harvard and does not include yearly dues).
The uber-rich are also paying top dollar for wellness services that sound like quackery, like IV vitamin drips. More troublingly, the paper of record notes a rise in health care concierge services, which help the rich skip the line when they have trouble — as we all do — in navigating our broken health care system. At a cool annual $3,000 to $6,000 (depending on the customer’s age), these concierges will help book same-day appointments, lab tests — all the things that can take weeks for us peons.
If rich people were taxed reasonably and rigorously, they wouldn’t have money for skipping the line. And we could have a health care system affordable to all, one that wouldn’t require boutique help to navigate, and where everyone could get the care they need, when they need it, regardless of their income.
Hiking taxes on the rich would reintroduce them to minor inconveniences and light household labor, while vastly improving everyone else’s chances of survival. It would complicate the wealthiest families’ ability to hire a cast of five nannies per child, but allow us to create a decent public school system for all children. They wouldn’t be able to afford housekeepers for their third homes, but we could invest in housing for all, putting an end to housing precarity, the stress of stretching to afford rent, and homelessness. Perhaps no one would be able to send their dog on a hike, but everyone would be able to send their kids to overnight summer camp in the woods. The rich would have to struggle through the humiliation of trying to get a reservation at high-dollar restaurants, but others would not have to wait in line at church food pantries to feed their families.
Looking at what the rich spend their money on shows us why “Tax the Rich” is always such a popular political priority: because it would benefit the majority, and everyone knows that people who can outsource the ironing of their shirts will survive a slight hit in lifestyle.
The strange list of services also offers a window into the weird alienation of those who are spending big to contract out their lives. Most of these people would probably be happier — and less in need of sketchy vitamin cures — if they did their own food shopping, spent more time with their children, and walked their own dogs.
Not to knock indulgent comforts! We all love luxury, and we all deserve it. Socialism should make space for the possibility of travel and chanterelles for all, if not personal servants (“no servants underfoot, no bosses overhead,” as the German labor song put it). Jennifer Wilson has pointed out in Lux that the early Soviet Union offered champagne and perfume to the masses, part of a vision of communist abundance that sadly never came to fruition.
It’s also true that many pleasures now considered luxuries — time to read, a hike in the woods, a day at the beach — should be part of our everyday lives. But no one should be so rich that they can hire a private laundress or join a club that costs more than an Ivy League education. That some people are, while others can’t even buy insulin or pay rent, is a blaring signal that our society must change course.
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