As the gap continues to widen between the highly wealthy and everyone else, Nelson D. Schwartz of The New York Times takes a look at a “degree of economic and social stratification unseen in America since the days of Teddy Roosevelt, J. P. Morgan, and the rigidly separated classes on the Titanic a century ago.”
Today, companies have gotten good at identifying their top customers and knowing which psychological buttons to push. The goal is to create extravagance and exclusivity for the select few, even if it stirs up resentment elsewhere. In fact, research has shown, a little envy can be good for the bottom line.
When top-dollar travelers switch planes in Atlanta, New York and other cities, Delta ferries them between terminals in a Porsche, what the airline calls a “surprise-and-delight service.” Last month, Walt Disney World began offering after-hours access to visitors who want to avoid the crowds. In other words, you basically get the Magic Kingdom to yourself.
When Royal Caribbean ships call at Labadee, the cruise line’s private resort in Haiti, elite guests get their own special beach club away from fellow travelers — an enclave within an enclave.
“We are living much more cloistered lives in terms of class,” said Thomas Sander, who directs a project on civic engagement at the Kennedy School at Harvard. “We are doing a much worse job of living out the egalitarian dream that has been our hallmark.”
The top 1% of American households now controls 42% of the nation’s wealth, up from less than 30% two decades ago, according to estimates by Emmanuel Saez, a professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley. The top 0.1% accounts for 22%, nearly double the 1995 proportion.