Is It Okay for Rich People to Spend Oodles on Kids' Playhouses?

The cocktail arguments for and against a trend highlighted by the New York Times

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"The Times runs yet another heartwarming feature today about rich people finding fulfillment through grotesque spending," tweeted The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg this morning. Today in Times trend pieces: a feature about playhouses of the rich. Let's unpack this one.

America's wealthy are building backyard cribs for their children, which can cost anywhere from $4,000 to $50,000, "Built in the same Cape Cod style as the Schillers' expansive main house, the two-story 170-square-foot playhouse has vaulted ceilings that rise from five to eight feet tall, furnishings scaled down to two-thirds of normal size, hardwood floors and a faux fireplace with a fanciful mosaic mantel. 'I think of it as bling for the yard,' said Ms. Schiller, 40," reports the Times.

Sure, it's amusing to poke fun at Times trend stories, especially when they highlight the off-beat spending habits of our country's top earner--and with so many choice quotes, it's almost a cheap shot. But, if you had a boatload of money, you would probably spend it on a kickass backyard, too, as Kristi Schiller, wealthy mom, explained to the Times, "Some people might consider it 'obnoxious' for a child to have a playhouse that costs more and has more amenities than some real houses, she conceded. But she sees it as an extension of the family home."

While others might feel the need to cut back on children's playthings as the economy worsens, the rich still believe in family values, "'Childhood is a precious and finite thing,' Ms. Butler said. 'And a special playhouse is not the sort of thing you can put off until the economy gets better.'"

Even in tough economic times, the wealthy have money to burn. And by spending, they're only helping kickstart the economy. Or, at least the playhouse economy. Artist/playhouse builder Barbara Butler says her sales are up 40 percent this year, according to the Times. And, really, should their kids of the wealthy have to suffer just because upwards of 9 percent of Americans are unemployed? These parents are only doing what's best for their kids. Doesn't your heart melt a bit reading this quote?

"'I wanted another reason for the grandkids to come over,' said Mr. Burnham, 64. 'Also, I wanted to be able to go up there on Sunday morning and read The New York Times Magazine.'"

But then here's the counterargument embedded in the piece, courtesy of psychology professor and play specialist Steven Tuber: "while 'over-the-top playhouses may do something for the parent's sense of grandeur,' they 'certainly are irrelevant to the child's needs and desires for a play space.'" That one's pretty hard to argue.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.