Make sure you’re sitting down when you read this. Ready? Here goes:
In certain unknown corners of the world there is a “money-based caste system” in operation. Crazy, right?
I read this in an interesting but somewhat tone-deaf front page New York Times article this weekend by Nelson Schwartz: “In an Age of Privilege, Not Everyone Is in the Same Boat.” Geddit? It’s a double-entendre because it’s about a special section offered by a cruise line that caters to the upper-middle-class, Norwegian. In a “ship within a ship” 275 guests have private entrances, pools, get the best seats in the house at shows, private transport to the ship, and so forth. It’s the first in a series of articles about “The Velvet Rope Economy… how growing disparities in wealth are leading to privileged treatment of the rich.”
In fairness to the writer, it’s a fascinating look at a world that I (and probably you) will never see and comes at a time when the ultra-rich really are getting richer. The proportion of wealth controlled by the top 0.1% has doubled in the past couple of decades. The odd thing is the slight tone of shock and disdain. After all, people who are willing to pay tens of thousands of dollars for an upgraded version of what merely well-to-do people pay a few thousand for acts like a subsidy for the latter. If I liked going on cruises (I don’t – I wrote about my one experience a couple of years ago) I would appreciate these people, not despise them. Not only would it be no skin off my back, but it would be saving me money.
What I really wondered was why any super-rich person in their right mind would pay for that when a private yacht would be so much nicer. But then you probably already knew that money can’t buy good taste (see McMansions, Cadillac Escalades, and Trump Tower).
And while society may more economically stratified, money has always bought perks. These are a lot less objectionable than, say, the state of affairs on the Titanic when those in steerage not only had much worse food and sleeping arrangements but died in greater numbers because they couldn’t reach the lifeboats.
There were a lot of predictable comments on the piece (2,086 at last count) whining about executives, taxes, etc, that are such a feature of election season. But plenty of readers wondered about the same things that I did. Artie from Cincinnati wrote:
I find it very curious that someone with the means to drop $30,000 on a room (OK suite) for a week’s incarceration, with very little possibility of escape on one of these ocean-going hotels, would want to do so with 4200 other commoners in such close proximity. Perhaps for some, flaunting one’s wealth is a desirable way to get away from it all. I guess we’re all out of touch in one way or another.
And Lou from Rego Park:
I would venture that almost everyone reading this article, whether they realize it or not, are part of the pampered few when compared to the entire world population. Having a home, food and many of our conveniences is the equivalent of living in the Haven on this earthly ship.
Echoed by JHM from Taiwan:
My heart goes out to couples who can only afford an “ordinary” stateroom for $3,000 a week instead of a room in the Haven for $10,000. Life is tough. What’s that you say; according to the UN half the world’s population survives on less than $2 a day? Come on, don’t bother me with that stuff. Can’t you see? I’m on vacation.
Can you hear that faint sound? It’s the world’s smallest violin.