During this period, which I would define roughly as the last decade,
the residents of Manhattan embraced an exaggerated, almost ridiculous
adherence to this "bling culture." To live in Manhattan during this
time period was to submit to wealth and celebrity being determinative
of your daily experiences. And even the wealthy were peasants here.
Real estate prices ballooned to unimaginable levels with 1 bedroom
apartments renting at costs that exceeded the average income of U.S.
citizens. Manhattan had become the epicenter of American capitalism,
and Wall Street was without question its Holy See.
Although there were some economic rough patches over the last decade,
in retrospect it seems like a straight shot to the top, at least when
compared to the current situation. The salaries of young professionals
skyrocketed to create a well educated, highly paid, stimulus addicted
sub-culture. And there was nowhere else that young professionals would
care to call home than a four thousand dollar a month closet in one of
the many coveted neighborhoods of Manhattan's downtown area. With
ready access to "bling" that the rest of the hoi polloi could experience only on television, Wall Street's traders, bankers, and lawyers
were the fuel of Manhattan's economic engine. The feigning of celebrity
through wealth was the apparent end. Conspicuous consumption, designer
clothes, and late hours were the means. Without being famous, 6 and 7
figure-earning 20-something professionals could "party like rock stars"
at the city's restaurants, bars, and clubs and burn out every ember
they had left during the 12 hours a week they weren't working.
Wall Street's riches were no secret to the public. Stories of hedge
fund managers receiving compensation in excess of a billion dollars a
year were already old-hat by the time the housing crisis got underway.
But what reports of wealth never focused on was how the money was made.
The story of the rise to wealth was secondary to reports of its present
expenditure. Reality TV shows featuring the wealthy, their homes,
their boats, and their conquests offer little insight into how wealth
is generated. And it seems the public's perception of how wealth is
generated has suffered as a result. The emphasis on the present status
of being wealthy has left gaps in the story, and seems to justify the
presumption that the wealthy are undeserving, that the money just
appeared. But this should not come as a surprise to anyone. After all,
entertainment is a product, subject to competition, and only the most
fit products will survive. So ask yourself, what's more entertaining: a
piece on a 28 year-old banker strung out on uppers at 4AM grinding
through a power point presentation on the cash flows of some
pharmaceutical company; or that same 28 year-old banker drunk out of
his mind spending thousands of dollars on bottle service and a raw bar
at some trendy club with techno music blasting and scantily clad women
dancing on tables? I think we'd all agree that the latter would be an
easier sale to the networks.