Goldmine of Hilarity

28 Oct

Whether you’re a religious conservative or an aging punk with an office job and an axe to grind, the New York Times Sunday Styles section is never a bad place to start for those looking for the latest evidence of the downfall of Western Civilization. While the minor annoyances it details are generally amusing–oh look, another socialite started a crust-punk band! Isn’t that darling!–the one article it will truly never be able to live down (at least until hyperinflation truly renders the figure meaningless) is its 2005 pièce de résistanceSix Figures? Not Enough!” In this expose of Manhattan’s almost-rich, various young professionals earning the titular threshold complain about not only the fact that their salaries cannot reasonably support a First World lifestyle, but that said complaint garners them very little sympathy. Regardless of its national distribution, though, and its attempts to position itself as America’s default newspaper, the NYT still writes with a tone designed for New Yorkers, and the Sunday Styles section in particular writes for those with a concept of noblesse oblige–or at least a sense of shame. Fortune feels no such compunction, writing both for those living the dream and for those buying into it. Its spiritual center is not the Upper East Side, but office parks, corporate towers, and exurban developments across America. Its wealth is one that feels no need to explain itself.

And thus we get articles like “Meet The HENRYs,” which outpaces inflation at a rate Ben Bernanke could only dream of. Not only is $100,000 a year not enough for the “High Earners, Not Rich Yet” set, but half a million apparently still leaves some bills short at the end of the month. In it, homeowners with massive cash stockpiles1 lament that they don’t “feel rich.” Even Fortune, that bastion of socialist thinking, points out that HENRYs who complain that higher taxes will disincentivize their hard work might be perhaps a bit disingenuous (or, if they are telling the truth, lazy). Given the current state of the stock market, is it really a good time to be complaining about the capital gains tax? Given the current state of the housing market, can people who own their homes outright, rather than owing more than it’s worth, really complain about property taxes (which, of course, fund the top-notch schools that make their districts so desirable)?

Fortune, for of all of its faults (mainly that it tends to be cheerleader for conventional wisdom without challenging the underlying assumptions, a trait that can be dangerous in cases like the housing bubble), is not run by idiots. Well, it’s not run by complete idiots. With an article like this, one can only assume that Fortune‘s decided to enter the realm of social commentary simply by getting out of the way and letting the HENRYs talk.

1 One couple, even more remarkably, put two daughters through Cornell without them ever seeing a student loan officer.

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