Monday, June 06, 2005

An Inch is as Good as 0.284 of a Mile

As the jet taxied to the terminal, I could see the four black cars in 45-degree formation on the tarmac, all freshly washed, lights on and engines running. We were home, and there would be no trudging up the concourse, waiting at a baggage carousel, hauling luggage to level Green 4F or swiping the card at the exit booth.

This is how the other half lives, give or take 49.9 percent. The professional athletes. The corporate executives. The Congressmen on a tight schedule.

Eight of us had chartered a plane for a long weekend in Galena, Illinois, dedicated to golf. We played 90 holes in 60 hours, takeoff to touchdown, and in the interim, no cigars were lit, no waitresses were disrespected, no hangovers were created, and no casinos or strip bars were visited.

There wasn't time. And precious time is always a rationale for the exercise of privilege, isn't it?

At the beginning of the trip, I had lounged in an air charter waiting room, accepting the espresso, declining the fresh-baked cookies, and thumbing a glossy bible of consumption masquerading as an executive aviation magazine. I reached page 36 before I encountered the second flying-related ad, across the photo of Pamela Anderson. But everything else at both ends of the charter flight lacked the Vanity Fair flavor, each encounter so understated and attentive it had to be extremely well-rehearsed.

You could get used to this. And you could see why those who are used to such luxuries as private aviation do not plan to give any of it up in their lifetimes.

On the Sunday return, there was an article in the New York Times about the growing gap between the rich and the hyper rich. That is, between the top one percent of income earners and the top one-tenth. It also described how the difference is accelerating between those at the very top, and everyone else:

"From 1950 to 1970, for example, for every additional dollar earned by the bottom 90 percent, those in the top 0.01 percent earned an additional $162, according to the Times analysis. From 1990 to 2002, for every extra dollar earned by those in the bottom 90 percent, each taxpayer at the top brought in an extra $18,000.

I've written about this gap before, perhaps at too great a length. Many of us, I suspect, don't realize where our income ranks compared to the rest of Americans. At first glance, the "bottom 90 percent" seems like a absurd construct. Yet the majority is at bottom when you consider everytime most people gain an inch, the very rich gain more than a quarter mile.


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