Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There by David Brooks (perverse official orthography: BOBOS* in Paradise) is a bit padded at times, but at other times had me in tears. (Don’t you find that books seem funnier when you’re out in public and you have to stifle your laughter?)

  • The members of the educated elite find they must change their entire attitude first toward money itself. When they were poor students, money was a solid. It came in a chunk with every payche[que], and they would gradually chip little bits off to pay the bills. They could sort of feel how much money they had in their bank account, the way you can feel a pile of change in your pocket.

    But as they became more affluent, money turned into a liquid. It flows into the bank account in a prodigious stream. And it flows out just as quickly. The earner is reduced to spectator status and is vaguely horrified by how quickly the money is flowing through….

    The big money stream is another aptitude test. Far from being a source of corruption, money turns into a sign of mastery. It begins to seem deserved, natural. So even former student radicals begin to twist the old left-wing slogan so that it becomes: From each according to his abilities, to each according to his abilities.
    [p. 38]

    Or you could be me, the only person I know who can wait three to five months for a four-digit paycheque.

  • In fact, the very phrase “sport-utility vehicle” is testimony to the new way Bobos think about tools. Not long ago sport was the opposite of utility. You either played or you worked. But the information-age keyboard jockeys who traffic in concepts and images all day like to dabble in physical labo[u]r during their leisure time.
    [p. 86]

  • Have you ever had an argument, or, say, two continuous years of arguments, that a dishwasher in a two-person household in which one person never does dishes and the other refuses to do so on principle could not be considered a luxury?

    Kitchens this big require strategizing. The architects brag about how brilliantly they have designed their kitchens into “work triangles” to minimize the number of steps [among], say, stove, dishwasher, and sink. In the old kitchens you didn’t need work triangles because taking steps was not a kitchen activity. You just turned around, and whatever you needed, there it was….

    The first thing you see, covering yards and yards of one wall, is an object that looks like a nickel-plated nuclear reactor but is really the stove…. Presiding over the nearby quadrants of the kitchen will be the refrigeration complex. The central theme of this section is that freezing isn’t cold enough….

    A capacious kitchen with durable appliances is a sign that you do your own chores, sharing the gritty reality of everyday life, just as Gandhi and Karl Marx would have wanted you to. It means you’ve got equipment with more power than all but six of the NATO nations…. It means that you have concentrated your spending power on where it matters, on the everyday places you and your family actually use. Spending on conspicuous display is evil, but it’s egalitarian to spend money on parts of the house that would previously have been used by the servants.
    [pp. 86–89]

  • They retire afterward to the hotel bar for $7 martinis and are joined by a consultant from Deloitte & Touche and his wife, a partner at Winston & Strawn – a two-ampersand couple.
    [p. 178]

  • She is suffering from Status-Income Disequilibrium, a malady that afflicts people with jobs that give them high status but only moderately high income…. All [their expenses leave] them about $2,500 a month for rent, food, books, laundry, and living expenses. It feels like they are utterly poor, and of course they are suffering from bracket amnesia; as soon as they reach one income bracket they forget what life was like in the lower brackets and so can’t imagine how it would be possible ever to return there….

    When an intellectual enters a room filled with financial predators, there will be a nagging doubt in the back of the mind: Do they really like me, or am I just another form of servant…? The sad fact is that the moneyed analysts… are plagued by the fear that, while they have achieved success, they have not achieved significance. They suffer from a reverse SID – their income is higher than their status. They have Income-Status Disequilibrium (ISD)….

    Furthermore, the intellectuals are, in effect, paid to be interesting…. At home, this sort of SID sufferer… will congratulate himself on choosing a profession that doesn’t offer the big financial rewards…. He does not mention to himself that, in fact, he lacks the quantitative skills it takes to be, say, an investment banker and that he is unable to focus on things that bore him, the way lawyers can. There was never any great opportunity to go into a more lucrative field, so there was never any real moment of deliberate sacrifice.
    [pp. 180–185]

    You can map this to other unchangeable characteristics, such as an inability not to call bullshit without so much as thinking twice.

  • I was out at the Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, Washington, recently, and everybody there was dressed for a glacier climb, with boots, rugged khaki pants, and carabiners around their belts with cellphones hanging down. It’s like going into a nightclub where everybody is constantly shoving their endurance cleavage in your face.
    [p. 211]

    Finally a place where I won’t feel underdressed! (If I can’t wear Carhartt contractor pants with multiple keitai pockets packed with necessary electronics, I don’t want to serve canapés to the guests at your revolution.)

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2006.12.09 15:56. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

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None. I quit.

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