In the months following the Wall Street meltdown, we've seen a stealth marketing campaign that is profound for its boldness - a marketing campaign designed to make us believe that very wealthy people are suffering the most.
We've seen this campaign in Wall Street spokespeople insisting that a $500,000-a-year salary isn't very big, in a New York Times style section that asserts that it's impossible to live in the city on a half million dollars; in a punditburo that says millionaires are oppressed and can't afford to pay $9,000 a year more in taxes for universal health care; and in a national press corps that seeks to portray any effort to raise taxes on the richest 1 percent as unfair; and a business press that threatens a class war if President Obama moves forward with his promise to mke the payroll tax more progressive. As I said, this is a marketing campaign, and a fairly well coordinated one.
That's why I wasn't surprised to see this audacious Washington Post piece over the weekend which reports - with a straight face - that those making $300,000 a year are "barely squeaking by" in this economy. I shit you not:
Laura Steins doesn't mind saying that she is barely squeaking by on $300,000 a year...
As a vice president at MasterCard's corporate office in Purchase, N.Y., she earns a base pay of $150,000 plus a bonus. This year she'll take home 10 percent less because of a smaller bonus. She receives $75,000 a year in child support from her ex-husband. She figures she will pull an additional $50,000 from a personal investment account to "pick up the slack."
The nanny and property taxes take $75,000 right off the top, but Steins considers both non-negotiable facts of her life and not discretionary. When she bought out her husband's share of the house after their 2006 divorce, she assumed the costs of keeping it afloat -- $8,000 to $10,000 a month. There's a pool man, a gardener and someone to plow the snow from the quarter-mile-long driveway.
As tight as money is, she has decided that living in a 4,000-square-foot house on three acres is the practical thing to do.
I'm not going to take up text space going off about how absurd this all is, except to say (as I have before) that in a country where the recession is obviously most crushing the middle-class, I'm playing the smallest violin in the world for those making $300,000 a year (ie. the top 5 percent of the country) - especially those who whine about their plight while refusing to cut back on their nannys and gardeners.
What's fascinating here is not how incredibly out of touch with Middle American reality the superwealthy are, but how willing the media are to promote the superwealthy's whines as legitimate and justified. The entire economic narrative on Main Street is about how the average family making $50,000 a year is going to put food on the table - and the entire economic narrative in the elite media is about the top 5 percent's concerns that they might have to cut back on mansion expenses.
This is the real "Two Americas" - the elites and the media outlets they control, and the Rest of Us. And clearly, the former doesn't give a shit about the latter.