I’ve said before and I’ll say it again, even though I live in a rural area, I’m blessed by having not one, not two, but three surprisingly good public libraries all within a short drive. Like any good library, they’ve exposed me to books I’d might never have discovered had I not spent many a Saturday morning wandering about their shelves. One such book is Robert Frank’s Richistan: A Journey Through the American Wealth Boom and the Lives of the New Rich. Every weekend for close to two years I’d see Frank’s 2007 book sitting on the shelf before a few weeks ago I finally decided to borrow it. I leisurely made my way through Richistan and upon finishing it concluded on one hand it’s one of those books that won’t make my year-end best list. But on the other hand, it’s one of those decently written, well researched pieces of investigative nonfiction that delivers the goods by serving up a detailed and intimate look at America’s superrich.
These are are not your grandfather’s superrich. Instead of an endless parade of robber barons and blue blood aristocrats in Richistan introduces us a mulitude of highly wealthy indivuals, most of them newly minted. According to Frank, as the world becomes more globalized it creates new oppportunities for financiers, hedge fund managers and the like to create unprecendented wealth. (Governmant deregulation, for good or for bad, both at home and abroad also helps.) Technologically speaking, those who are clever and lucky enough to build a better mouse trap in the Internet driven, high tech dominated world can profit handsomely through not only their inventions, but also if they’re able to start a company, orchestrate an IPO and then at the end sell out to the highest bidder. As a result, the world has never seen so many recently created superrich.
And in many ways it’s changing America. Thanks to the exploding population of superrich there’s a huge demand for household staff to not just cook and serve meals but also pay bills, coordinate family outings and oversee support personnel like gardeners, maintenance people and tutors. Demand is so great there’s now a “butler school” in Denver run by a former military officer who spent years as a personal aid to high ranking Army generals. There’s also support groups modeled after the 12 step variety where the anxious wealthy can come together and commiserate about ungrateful children, underperforming finacial ventures and mid-life crises. For the young adults of the superwealthy there’s even seminars to help them handle everything from freeloading “friends” to prenuptial agreements.
Just as I mentioned at the onset, these aren’t your grandfather’s fat cat idle rich. Many are relatively young and not by any stretch politically conservative. Over a decade ago, four of them in Colorado set out to dethrown the state’s ruling Republican party and were ulitmately successful after a cascade of electoral victories. Many are big Democratic Pary doners and a number are philanthropically active, giving generously in hopes of fighting poverty and disease throughout the world.
Again, this book won’t make my year-end best list. Heck, it probably won’t even earn an honorable mention. But I can say without reservation it’s a decent book. And that my friends is always a good thing.