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Sat, July 20

America’s middle class will storm the Bastille

Laura Hollis

Laura Hollis

Recent news is riddled with proof that America’s soi-disant elites are the most venal, self-absorbed, sybaritic and utterly tone-deaf group since the French nobility of the 18th century. And the comparison is not idly made.

We start with the Met Gala, for which movie stars, musicians, athletes and fashionistas paid upwards of $35,000 a ticket ($200,000 to $300,000 per table) to show up and show off in the most outrageous (and outrageously expensive) clothing and costumes imaginable. It is meaningless, over-the-top indulgence, par excellence.

Perhaps because I was already peeved by the photos of the Met Gala’s vulgar display that were plastered all over the Twitterverse, I found myself further annoyed by promoted commercials in my Twitter feed pitching Coco Crush jewelry from Chanel, and “T” bracelets and other wearable trinkets from Tiffany & Co.

Coco Crush is a line of gold rings and bracelets imprinted with the signature Chanel “quilted” pattern; some are encrusted with diamonds. The ads and taglines promote buying more, more, more, and the beautiful and talented actress Keira Knightley smolders into the camera as she deftly places ring after ring on her lovely slender fingers and fondles the cluster of bracelets on her wrist.

The cheapest piece of jewelry in the collection is $2,400, and prices run up to $55,000.

Hey, kids. Collect ‘em all!

The ads Tiffany & Co. is running on Twitter show model Carolyn Murphy gazing seductively and playing peek-a-boo from behind her own collection of expensive baubles. Kendall Jenner, one of the many omnipresent Jenner and Kardashian offspring, also makes an appearance, presumably to show the appeal of jewelry that runs from $250 to $49,000 to the younger crowd.

Rings on her fingers and bells on her toes; she will have chaos wherever she goes.

All this wretched excess would be just mildly amusing if not for the fact that these are the same people who shake their gilded fingers at middle-class Americans and say, “No more cars for you! No more airplanes! No more straws! No more grocery bags! No more meat!”

Let them eat cake.

Early last month, the online publication Quartz published a brief profile of writer and social critic Anand Giridharadas to promote his new book, “Winners Take All.” In the book -- and the profile -- Giridharadas questions the conventional wisdom that business leaders are truly interested in “doing well by doing good,” suggesting that their true motivation is “more sinister.” According to the article’s author, Ephrat Livni, “Giridharadas discovered ... that there are strict limits to the kind of solutions that powerful ‘change makers’ will entertain. They don’t want to pay higher wages or taxes or make better products or sell only what’s really needed.” They just want to be adored by the public for their charity and generosity.

Giridharadas’ concerns would make some sense if he were to acknowledge their limits. He spent the better part of two years palling around the world with some of the world’s wealthiest billionaires (Jeff Bezos, the Koch brothers, Marc Benioff). But in the cynical conclusions he draws about business and capitalism, he implicates all business owners.

Giridharadas makes the same mistake that so many of our elites do: equating all “business” with the biggest businesses in the world. He utterly overlooks the fact that there are 28 million firms in the U.S., that nearly 80 percent of them are sole proprietorships, that the vast majority of companies that have employees have fewer than 20. The idea that all entrepreneurs are like Mark Zuckerberg, or that all CEOs are like Jeff Bezos, or that all companies are like Goldman Sachs or Twitter, is the kind of inexcusable ignorance that the upper echelons of our society get away with every single day.

This kind of ignorance – and the arrogance that almost inevitably accompanies it – is becoming a dangerous threat to the American middle class.

And they know it.

When a “thought leader” like Giridharadas calls for rethinking the entire capitalist system because of what Amazon or Facebook or Lehman Brothers have done, the uber-wealthy will nod and tweet their approval, safe in the knowledge that the flames they fan won’t consume them but will consume the millions of small businesses unfairly condemned whose resources will not be enough to withstand – or lobby against – the “progressive” solutions proposed thereafter.

A revolution is brewing in this country. The middle class is tired of being America’s beast of burden and whipping boy.

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