[Paleopsych] NYT: (Class) Letters: The Island of the Really, Really Rich

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Letters: The Island of the Really, Really Rich
New York Times, 5.6.7

    To the Editor:

    Re "Richest Are Leaving Even the Rich Far Behind" and "Old Nantucket
    Warily Meets the New" (front page, "Class Matters" series, June 5):

    I am not proud at the flush of envy that rose in my secure,
    middle-class body while reading your ninth installment on class.

    I tried to interpret my rising indignation as directed solely at the
    decadence and destruction of the super-rich. I shook my head at their
    shallow and selfish behavior and at a society that allows such
    disparity to flourish.

    Yet somehow I managed to read the earlier installments of the series
    with nothing more than a calm concern and benign sympathy. The empathy
    I felt toward those less fortunate, although sincere, did not generate
    this palpable excitement.

    I did not rush off a letter to the editor expressing my outrage.

    It is certainly tempting to locate our own humble position on the
    wealth charts and to stare upward with envy. Rather than denying this
    natural human weakness, I suggest that we direct the passion kindled
    toward the vast numbers of the truly needy.

    This is an opportunity that I do not want to miss. Jonathan Spitz

    Westfield, N.J., June 5, 2005

    To the Editor:

    Your chart about the percentage of income earned by the top 0.1
    percent of taxpayers was fascinating, but "Richest Are Leaving Even
    the Rich Far Behind" failed to draw the obvious conclusions from it.

    The data show that the rich take a rising share of income when the
    economy is booming, such as during the 1920's and 1990's. Their share
    declines when the economy hits hard times, such as during the Great
    Depression and the most recent recession.

    The rich took their smallest slice of the economic pie during the
    1970's - a period when productivity growth was low and unemployment
    and inflation were rising.

    Here's the lesson: If policy makers' primary goal is to reduce income
    inequality, they should put the economy through the wringer. But if
    they want economic prosperity for all, they should avoid focusing on
    the politics of envy.

    N. Gregory Mankiw

    Cambridge, Mass., June 5, 2005

    The writer, a professor of economics at Harvard University, was
    chairman of President Bush's Council of Economic Advisers, 2003-2005.

    To the Editor:

    For many who have known the island, "Old Nantucket Warily Meets the
    New" hits home.

    Nantucket used to be a state of mind: the delicious, tangy aroma of
    privet hedges and wildflowers; ambling down winding, ancient lanes in
    bare feet; tooling around, when you had to, via a rusty Volkswagen or
    Jeep. The moors, now pocked by McMansions, have lost their timeless

    No matter how much money one had, it was about the simple pleasures.
    Ambassadors or writers made the scene not in Armani and Hummers, but
    in torn shorts and rickety, circa-World War I bicycles. They were not
    out to impress, but off to explore, to be boys again. Nantucket was
    about leaving conspicuous consumption behind.

    Most of all, the old Nantucket was about respecting the island. No one
    who loved what this island once was would dream of despoiling it with
    steroidal, 10,000-square-foot palaces, private ball fields and
    Olympic-size swimming pools.

    Ironically, those who find charm in pretentious shops, restaurants and
    outsize houses miss the entire point of what they have destroyed. Call
    someplace paradise, you really can kiss it goodbye. Susan Russell

    Little Silver, N.J., June 5, 2005

    To the Editor:

    There are indeed rich folks who do not want to be isolated with other
    rich folks - they still travel the 20 miles out to sea to visit the
    "old Nantucket" and most decidedly do not flaunt their wealth.

    These are among the very richest, and they can be seen in their old
    jeans driving their battered old trucks - please God they do not
    abandon us! Robert Williams

    Nantucket, Mass., June 6, 2005

    To the Editor:

    I discovered today that my wife and I are wealthy.

    A combined 60 years as teachers nudges us into the top 20 percent of
    American income earners. We also happen to love the island of
    Nantucket, but we could never afford to live there, and we cringe at
    the hit our bank account takes every time we rent there for a week.

    We first became aware of the island while renting on Cape Cod with our
    young daughter some 20 years ago. We made our first visit to the
    island on a day trip.

    We got up before the sun came up and made the two-hour ferry ride
    early in the morning. We spent the day touring the island, going to
    the pristine ocean beaches, walking around the charming town and
    enjoying some terrific local seafood.

    We took the ferry back to the Cape on a clear night when the moon was
    full - we were hooked.

    In the years that followed, we began to add overnight stays and
    debated whether we could afford to stay for a whole week. Eventually,
    we made the plunge and never regretted it.

    After reading how the hyper-wealthy are drawn to the island, I hope
    that on their first visits it was the beauty of this special place,
    and not other wealthy people, that made them return. Paul Azrak

    Queens Village, June 5, 2005

    To the Editor:

    Re Nantucket exclusivity: The rich do have more money, and it buys the
    isolation they desire from those whose labor provides them with the
    ability to live in their chosen, isolated manner, or manor, as the
    case may often be.

    Michael J. Kittredge boasts about his material possessions and
    ascribes his own success to hard work. John Sheehan, the construction
    worker who rises at 4:30 a.m. to catch a plane in order to build homes
    for the super-rich, considers himself to be doing well.

    The fact that neither he nor the local school principal and his wife,
    a nurse, will ever be able to live in closer proximity to the
    community that provides their livelihood says a lot about what we
    really think about the values of hard work (which include labor),
    community, education and opportunity, and about "being" versus
    "having." Lelde Gilman

    Portland, Ore., June 5, 2005

    To the Editor:

    To those who believe that to die with the most toys is life's ultimate
    goal: Let them have their jets, their mega-yachts and their isolated
    castles, but not at public expense in the form of labor exploitation,
    destruction of the environment, the taking of public airways, tax
    loopholes and corporate welfare. Tom Miller

    Oakland, Calif., June 5, 2005

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