Hightower: How Poor Yacht Sales Reveal the Hardships of the Mere Millionaires
In this season of mass commercialism, let's pause to consider the plight of simple millionaires.
Why? Because we now share a common cause: Inequality. You don't hear much about it, but millionaires are suffering a wealth gap, too, and it's having a depressing impact on both their level of consumption and their psychological well-being. While it's true that millionaires certainly are still quite rich -- indeed, they're counted as full members of the 1-percent club. But that generalization overlooks the painful and personally grating fact that mere millionaires today are ranked as "lesser 1-percenters." They don't dwell in the same zip codes as the uber-rich few, who comprise the uppermost 100th of the 1-percenters, with wealth starting in the hundreds-of-millions of dollars and spiraling up into multiple-billions.
No doubt you'll be saddened to learn that this divide between The Haves and The Have-It-Alls is widening. Astonishingly, plain old millionaires are being abandoned by retailers that are now catering to the most lux of the luxury market. For example, have you checked out what is happening in the yacht market recently? Sales of your 100-to-150-footers are down by as much as 50 percent from 2008, and that is just one indicator of the hidden suffering being endured by the merely rich.
In the same time period, however, yacht sales of your 300-footers, with price tags above $200 million dollars, are at all-time highs. As noted by Robert Frank, a New York Times wealth columnist (yes, such a rarefied beat does exist), "For decades, a rising tide lifted all yachts. Now it is mainly lifting megayachts.
"Whether the product is yachts, diamonds, art, wine, or even handbags," says the Times' chronicler of American wealth, "the strongest growth and biggest profits are now coming from billionaires and nine-figure millionaires, rather than from mere millionaires." What this reflects is not the widely acknowledged wealth divide between the 1-percenters and the rest of us, but a stunning concentration of America's total wealth in the vaults of the ever-richer 0.01-percenters.
They are the elitest of the elites, an extravagant moneyed aristocracy, sitting so high above our society that they largely go unseen. This exclusive club includes only a tiny fraction of American families, with each holding fortunes of more than $110 million. The riches of these privileged ones keep snowballing -- their outsized share of our national wealth has doubled since 2002, and their holdings are expanding twice as fast as other 1-percenters.
Their growing control of wealth is distorting high-end consumerism, including not just yachts, but private jets as well. Sales of your common millionaire-sized jets are down by two-thirds since the 2008 Wall Street crash. So jet makers have shifted to the billionaire buyers, including some who are spending eye-popping levels of lucre to possess such pretties as their very own Boeing 777-300 -- which normally carries 400 passengers, rather than one gabillionaire.
Imagine how this makes people with only a few million dollars feel. This extreme, obscene concentration of wealth is creating an intolerable inequality that will implode our economy and explode America's essential, uniting sense of egalitarianism. It's important to remember that money is like manure -- it does no good unless you spread it all around.
In the spirit of holiday harmony and good will toward all, I say it's time for you working stiffs (and even those of you who've been badly stiffed and still can't find work in this jobless economic recovery) to extend your hands in a gesture of solidarity with America's millionaires. Let's reach out to comfort our downcast brothers and sisters. Tell them, "We're all in this inequality fight together," and invite them to come to the next rally in your area to raise America's minimum wage above the poverty level.