Although middle-income families don't earn much more than they did several decades ago, they are buying bigger cars, houses, and appliances. To pay for them, they spend more than they earn and carry record levels of debt. In a book that explores the very meaning of happiness and prosperity in America today, Robert Frank explains how increased concentrations of income and wealth at the top of the economic pyramid have set off "expenditure cascades" that raise the cost of achieving many basic goals for the middle class. Writing in lively prose for a general audience, Frank employs up-to-date economic data and examples drawn from everyday life to shed light on reigning models of consumer behavior. He also suggests reforms that could mitigate the costs of inequality. Falling Behind compels us to rethink how and why we live our economic lives the way we do. Copub: Russell Sage Foundation
high-beta rich (hi be'ta rich) 1. a newly discovered personality type of the America upper class prone to wild swings in wealth. 2. the winners (and occasional losers) in an economy that creates wealth from financial markets, asset bubbles and deals. 3. derived from the Wall Street term "high-beta," meaning highly volatile or prone to booms and busts. 4. an elite that's capable of wreaking havoc on communities, jobs, government finances, and the consumer economy. 5. a new Potemkin plutocracy that hides a mountain of debt behind the image of success, and is one crisis away from losing their mansions, private jets and yachts.The rich are not only getting richer, they are becoming more dangerous. Starting in the early 1980s the top one percent broke away from the rest of us to become the most unstable force in the economy. An elite that had once been the flat line on the American income charts - models of financial propriety - suddenly set off on a wild ride of economic binges. Not only do they control more than a third of the country's wealth, their increasing vulnerability to the booms and busts of the stock market wreak havoc on our consumer economy, financial markets, communities, employment opportunities, and government finances. Robert Frank's insightful analysis provides the disturbing big picture of high-beta wealth. His vivid storytelling brings you inside the mortgaged mansions, blown-up balance sheets, repossessed Bentleys and Gulfstreams, and wrecked lives and relationships:* How one couple frittered away a fortune trying to build America's biggest house --90,000 square feet with 23 full bathrooms, a 6,000 square foot master suite with a bed on a rotating platform--only to be forced to put it on the market because "we really need the money". * Repo men who are now the scavengers of the wealthy, picking up private jets, helicopters, yachts and racehorses - the shiny remains of a decade of conspicuous consumption financed with debt, asset bubbles, "liquidity events," and soaring stock prices. * How "big money ruins everything" for communities such as Aspen, Colorado whose over-reliance on the rich created a stratified social scene of velvet ropes and A-lists and crises in employment opportunities, housing, and tax revenues. * Why California's worst budget crisis in history is due in large part to reliance on the volatile incomes of the state's tech tycoons. * The bitter divorce of a couple who just a few years ago made the Forbes 400 list of the richest people, the firing of their enormous household staff of 110, and how one former spouse learned the marvels of shopping at Marshalls, filling your own gas tank, and flying commercial. Robert Frank's stories and analysis brilliantly show that the emergence of the high-beta rich is not just a high-class problem for the rich. High-beta wealth has national consequences: America's dependence on the rich + great volatility among the rich = a more volatile America. Cycles of wealth are now much faster and more extreme. The rich are a new "Potemkin Plutocracy" and the important lessons and consequences are brought to light of day in this engrossing book.From the Hardcover edition.
The rich have always been different from you and me, but this revealing and funny journey through "Richistan" entertainingly shows that they are more different than ever. Richistanis have 400-foot-yachts, 30,000-square-foot homes, house staffs of more than 100, and their own "arborists. " They're also different from Old Money, and have torn down blue-blood institutions to build their own shining empire. Richistan is like the best travel writing, full of colorful and interesting stories providing insights into exotic locales. Robert Frank has been loitering on the docks of yacht marinas, pestering his way into charity balls, and schmoozing with real estate agents selling mega-houses to capture the story of the twenty-first century's nouveau riche: House-training the rich. People with new wealth have to be taught how to act like, well, proper rich people. Just in the nick of time, there's been a boom in the number of newly trained butlers--"household managers"--who will serve just the right cabernet when a Richistani's new buddies from Palm Beach stop by. "My boat is bigger than your boat. " Only in Richistan would a 100-foot-boat be considered a dinghy. Personal pleasure craft have started to rival navy destroyers in size and speed. Richistan is also a place where friends make fun of those misers who buy the new girlfriend a mere Mercedes SLK. "You want my money? Prove that you're helping the needy!" Richistanis are not only consuming like crazy, they're also shaking up the establishment's bureaucratic, slow-moving charity network, making lean, results-oriented philanthropy an important new driving force. Move over, Christian Coalition. Richistanis are more Democratic than Republican, "fed up and not going to take it anymore," and willing to spend millions to get progressive-oriented politicians elected. "My name is Mike and I'm rich. " Think that money is the answer? Think again as Robert Frank explores the emotional complexities of wealth. And, as Robert Frank reveals, there is not oneRichistanbut three: Lower, Middle, and Upper, each of which has its own levels and distinctions of wealth --the haves and the have-mores. The influence of Richistan and the Richistanis extends well beyond the almost ten million households that make up its population, as the nonstop quest for status and an insatiable demand for luxury goods reshapes the entire American economy. From the Hardcover edition.