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“ Jackpot ” examines how inequality is experienced by the very, very rich

If you’ve ever wondered how the ultra-rich live, it turns out you’re ready for it? – they live pretty well. Even in the chaotic early days of the pandemic, they managed as a class to thrive: crouched down in the Hamptons as the values ​​of their stock portfolios skyrocketed, able to procure valuable Covid tests that no were not available to the unfunded and unconnected.

But Michael Mechanic wants us to see just how rich being is not the carefree easy life it is meant to be. Part of his argument in “Jackpot” is that such disproportionate wealth “harms us all” – including the ultra-rich themselves, even though their reality is so far removed from ours that they wouldn’t know it. that “us” was if she came to brandish a pitchfork.

The prospect of being “perfectly liberated” from ordinary economic constraints seems so liberating that “we rarely interrupt our daydreams to contemplate the social, psychological and societal complications that come with great wealth.” It got me thinking: who is responsible for thinking about this idea, and is it really completely counterintuitive? Isn’t that the intrigue of the New Testament?

But Mechanic, editor-in-chief of Mother Jones, shows that as the top 1 percent broke away from the rest of the population, resentment over their plight escalated as the understanding has diminished. I was sometimes not so sure about Mechanic’s insistence that we need to extend a special empathy to the ultra-rich, who seem more than capable of taking care of themselves. But as this readable book progressed, I appreciated its attempt to strike a delicate balance: serving the digestible morality narrative of people spoiling themselves really rotten before digging into the fibrous sociological knot of the system as a whole.

The mechanic chose his title on purpose, being sensitive to the lure of hitting it big himself. He remembers buying lottery tickets while earning a living wage working for The Industry Standard, the dot-com boom magazine, in the late ’90s. He indulged in the get-rich-quick fantasies of the time. There was the recent college graduate who used a trace of the $ 30 million he earned (“won” doesn’t quite sound like the right word) after Netscape went public to fill his tub with it. Silly Putty. “A lottery jackpot is so raw, so disconnected from all that is real,” Mechanic writes. He attributes such deals to “stupid luck,” although it is clear that many of the wealthy people he describes think they are very smart.

Credit…Jen werner

Yes Mechanic allows it, there are some individuals who innovate and take huge risks and put in hours of startup for years and maybe deserve to earn more than others. But economic inequality is now so extreme, he suggests, that there is no way to convincingly explain it in terms of the so-called meritocracy that is heard every time panicked tycoons. mean the words “taxes” and “redistribution”. Mechanic questions the morality of a society that allows individuals to accumulate billions of dollars for themselves. Citing Anand Giridharadas’ 2018 book “Winners Take It All,” Mechanic says relying on this billionaire class for their massive philanthropic spending is a sign that something has gone terribly wrong.

The first third of the “Jackpot” is spent on goodies that money can buy: a car for $ 400,000, a bathtub for $ 21,000, a custom watch so complex that its price is a secret. Sometimes the parade of opulence is so garish that I started to feel numb. The mechanic could say that I, like the people who can really afford such things, had reached my “satiety point”. A psychologist specializing in the mental health of the wealthy says they are actually at a disadvantage when it comes to happiness. The less wealthy among us can still have the hope, even if it is constantly frustrated, that more money would solve all our problems, while “his clients don’t have this mistake to hang on to.”

Yet, as Mechanic concedes, these clients can at least afford to deal with their mental health issues. They can pay for concierge health care in a country where even basic and affordable health care is not afforded. They can easily send their children to the more expensive private schools, where tiny classes provide “intensive education”. I have sometimes felt that Mechanic, despite his generous talk about the need to “empathize with the pain of wealthy people,” felt what some of his readers might feel: the emotions of class rage.

One thing that makes it hard for a reader to empathize is that Mechanic ended up talking to only a handful of these “lucky people.” It wasn’t for lack of trying. As he explains, these people are extremely secretive about their wealth for all kinds of reasons, including the awareness that being honest about their lives would make them possible targets of not just theft and demands. ransom, but also envy – and perhaps provoke feelings in them that flow from it. of shame. Therefore, he mostly interviewed those who feel uncomfortable with their extreme wealth and have dedicated themselves to causes like a fairer tax code.

Also, empathy for the wealthy would seem to be largely irrelevant, since what Mechanic happens to in the final third of the “Jackpot” is an exploration of the structure of so many issues. That the ultra-rich, predominantly white and male bias indicates that something systemic is happening.

Mechanic offers such a fluid study of the vast literature on historical inequalities – indicating that he has not only read this literature, but understood its implications – that I was surprised by his optimistic ending, when he suggests that a transformative change could happen if only wealthier people had a change of heart.

“It’s not necessarily a French-style revolution, the one the rich should fear,” he writes, “but rather a revolution in which they can play a constructive role, taking a fork with the rest and pushing it through. using to squeeze a neighbor. hay in exchange for camaraderie and a hearty meal. Since the lavish lifestyles he described don’t even involve cleaning your own bathroom, let alone pressing anyone’s hay, it’s unclear how it’s going to work.

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