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The last bookstore in the Scarsdale downtown was Reading, Writing and Wrapping on East Parkway, which closed eight years ago. In bringing book selling back to the village, Kaplan and Fowler said the social component has been key, amounting to a form of branding in which he and Kaplan — and their dog, Virginia — are an integral part of the browsing and buying experience. We have a few minutes of conversation with everybody.

Teicher said there has been a upswing in the frequency and success of independent bookstores over the last few years. There's one other thing, Teicher said, that may be basic, but can't be ignored when plotting an independent's success. Another early success for the store has been hosting events, such as the Scarsdale Salon, a writers group that typically meets at the Scarsdale library, which is currently under renovation.

Bronx River Books has also hosted two story hours and a poetry reading. How do we feel about doing something no one else is really doing? That's who we are anyway. We gaze upon the 0. As a consequence, we are missing the other big story of our time. How high would you have to jump to make it into the 9. In financial terms, the measurement is easy and the trend is unmistakable. In , you would have needed to multiply your wealth six times. By , you would have needed to leap twice as high—increasing your wealth fold—to scrape into our group.

On this measure, the s look much like the s. That is not a typo. That and another , cups of coffee will get you into the 9. N one of this matters, you will often hear, because in the United States everyone has an opportunity to make the leap: Mobility justifies inequality. In the United States, it also turns out not to be true as a factual matter. The strength of the rubber determines how hard it is for you to escape the rung on which you were born. If your parents are high on the ladder, the band will pull you up should you fall; if they are low, it will drag you down when you start to rise.

An IGE of one says that the destiny of a child is to end up right where she came into the world. Today, it is about 0. IGE is now higher here than in almost every other developed economy. The story becomes even more disconcerting when you see just where on the ladder the tightest rubber bands are located. Canada, for example, has an IGE of about half that of the U.

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The difference is in what happens at the extremes. Here in the land of opportunity, the taller the tree, the closer the apple falls. They wash up together on every shore. Across countries, the higher the inequality, the higher the IGE see Figure 2. But around the world and throughout history, the wealthy have advanced the crystallization process in a straightforward way. They have taken their money out of productive activities and put it into walls. Throughout history, moreover, one social group above all others has assumed responsibility for maintaining and defending these walls.

Its members used to be called aristocrats. The main difference is that we have figured out how to use the pretense of being part of the middle as one of our strategies for remaining on top. Krueger liked the graph shown in Figure 2 so much that he decided to give it a name: the Great Gatsby Curve. It was published in , just as special counsel was turning up evidence that bonds from that company had found their way into the hands of the secretary of the interior. Stewart was running away from subpoenas to testify before the United States Senate about his role in the Teapot Dome scandal.

We are only now closing in on the peak of inequality that his generation achieved, in But it can buy a private detective. Grandmother was a Kentucky debutante and sometime fashion model kind of like Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby , weirdly enough , so she knew what to do when her eldest son announced his intention to marry a woman from Spain.

Grandmother instituted an immediate and total communications embargo. When children came, Grandmother at last relented. Determined to do the right thing, she arranged for the new family, then on military assignment in Hawaii, to be inscribed in the New York Social Register. She did have a point, even if her facts were wrong. Money may be the measure of wealth, but it is far from the only form of it.

Family, friends, social networks, personal health, culture, education, and even location are all ways of being rich, too. They define us. We are the people of good family, good health, good schools, good neighborhoods, and good jobs. We are so far from the not-so-good people on all of these dimensions, we are beginning to resemble a new species.

The polite term for the process is assortative mating. The phrase is sometimes used to suggest that this is another of the wonders of the internet age, where popcorn at last meets butter and Yankees fan finds Yankees fan. In fact, the frenzy of assortative mating today results from a truth that would have been generally acknowledged by the heroines of any Jane Austen novel: Rising inequality decreases the number of suitably wealthy mates even as it increases the reward for finding one and the penalty for failing to do so.

According to one study, the last time marriage partners sorted themselves by educational status as much as they do now was in the s. For most of us, the process is happily invisible. But sometimes—Grandmother understood this well—extra measures are called for. Ivy Leaguers looking to mate with their equals can apply to join a dating service called the League. It is misleading to think that assortative mating is symmetrical, as in city mouse marries city mouse and country mouse marries country mouse. A better summary of the data would be: Rich mouse finds love, and poor mouse gets screwed.

It turns out—who knew? According to the Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam, 60 years ago just 20 percent of children born to parents with a high-school education or less lived in a single-parent household; now that figure is nearly 70 percent. Among college-educated households, by contrast, the single-parent rate remains less than 10 percent. Since the s, the divorce rate has declined significantly among college-educated couples, while it has risen dramatically among couples with only a high-school education—even as marriage itself has become less common.

The rate of single parenting is in turn the single most significant predictor of social immobility across counties, according to a study led by the Stanford economist Raj Chetty. None of which is to suggest that individuals are wrong to seek a suitable partner and make a beautiful family. People should—and presumably always will—pursue happiness in this way.

We may have studied Shakespeare on the way to law school, but we have little sense for the tragic possibilities of life. The fact of the matter is that we have silently and collectively opted for inequality, and this is what inequality does. It turns marriage into a luxury good, and a stable family life into a privilege that the moneyed elite can pass along to their children. This divergence of families by class is just one part of a process that is creating two distinct forms of life in our society. In 19th-century England, the rich really were different. We are reproducing the same kind of division via a different set of dimensions.

Among low-educated, middle-aged whites, the death rate in the United States—alone in the developed world—increased in the first decade and a half of the 21st century. The sociological data are not remotely ambiguous on any aspect of this growing divide. We also have more friends—the kind of friends who will introduce us to new clients or line up great internships for our kids. These special forms of wealth offer the further advantages that they are both harder to emulate and safer to brag about than high income alone.

We prefer to signal our status by talking about our organically nourished bodies, the awe-inspiring feats of our offspring, and the ecological correctness of our neighborhoods. We have figured out how to launder our money through higher virtues.

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Most important of all, we have learned how to pass all of these advantages down to our children. In America today, the single best predictor of whether an individual will get married, stay married, pursue advanced education, live in a good neighborhood, have an extensive social network, and experience good health is the performance of his or her parents on those same metrics. We tend to overlook the fact that parenting is more expensive and motherhood more hazardous in the United States than in any other developed country, that campaigns against family planning and reproductive rights are an assault on the families of the bottom 90 percent, and that law-and-order politics serves to keep even more of them down.

New forms of life necessarily give rise to new and distinct forms of consciousness. In short, Nanny is to have every attribute one would want in a terrific, professional, college-educated parent. Except, of course, the part about being an actual professional, college-educated parent. There is no chance that Nanny will trade places with our busy 5G couple. The ad is written in flawless, 21st-century business-speak, but what it is really seeking is a governess—that exquisitely contradictory figure in Victorian literature who is both indistinguishable in all outward respects from the upper class and yet emphatically not a member of it.

The Gatsby Curve has managed to reproduce itself in social, physiological, and cultural capital. Put more accurately: There is only one curve, but it operates through a multiplicity of forms of wealth. Rising inequality does not follow from a hidden law of economics, as the otherwise insightful Thomas Piketty suggested when he claimed that the historical rate of return on capital exceeds the historical rate of growth in the economy. Inequality necessarily entrenches itself through other, nonfinancial, intrinsically invidious forms of wealth and power.

We use these other forms of capital to project our advantages into life itself. We look down from our higher virtues in the same way the English upper class looked down from its taller bodies, as if the distinction between superior and inferior were an artifact of nature. My year-old daughter is sitting on a couch, talking with a stranger about her dreams for the future. Determined to get something out of this trial counseling session, I push for recommendations on summer activities. If you happen to ride through the yellow-brown valleys of the California coast, past the designer homes that sprout wherever tech unicorns sprinkle their golden stock offerings, you might come across him.

His high-school classmates still remember him, almost four decades later, as one of the child wonders of the age. Back then, he and his equally precocious siblings showed off their preternatural verbal and musical talents on a local television program. Now his clients fly him around the state for test-prep sessions with their year-olds. There is a weekday discount. Some of his clients book him every week for a year.

Then I remind myself that Grandfather lasted only one year at Yale. Today, you have to self-combust in a newsworthy way before they show you the door. Inevitably, I begin rehearsing the speech for my daughter. We love you for who you are. And why would you want to be an investment banker or a corporate lawyer anyway? But I refrain from giving the speech, knowing full well that it will light up her parental-bullshit detector like a pair of khakis on fire. In , 54 percent of students at the most selective colleges came from families in the bottom three quartiles of the income distribution.

A similar review of the class of put that figure at just 33 percent. According to a study, 38 elite colleges—among them five of the Ivies— had more students from the top 1 percent than from the bottom 60 percent. The wealthy can also draw on a variety of affirmative-action programs designed just for them. As Daniel Golden points out in The Price of Admission , legacy-admissions policies reward those applicants with the foresight to choose parents who attended the university in question. Athletic recruiting, on balance and contrary to the popular wisdom, also favors the wealthy, whose children pursue lacrosse, squash, fencing, and the other cost-intensive sports at which private schools and elite public schools excel.

And, at least among members of the 0. Witness Jared Kushner, Harvard graduate.

The 9.9 Percent Is the New American Aristocracy

The mother lode of all affirmative-action programs for the wealthy, of course, remains the private school. Only 2.


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The other affirmative-action programs, the kind aimed at diversifying the look of the student body, are no doubt well intended. But they are to some degree merely an extension of this system of wealth preservation. Their function, at least in part, is to indulge rich people in the belief that their college is open to all on the basis of merit. The plummeting admission rates of the very top schools nonetheless leave many of the children of the 9.

But not to worry, junior 9.

Thanks to ambitious university administrators and the ever-expanding rankings machine at U. The colleges seem to think that piling up rejections makes them special. In fact, it just means that they have collectively opted to deploy their massive, tax-subsidized endowments to replicate privilege rather than fulfill their duty to produce an educated public.

The only thing going up as fast as the rejection rates at selective colleges is the astounding price of tuition. Measured relative to the national median salary, tuition and fees at top colleges more than tripled from to Throw in the counselors, the whisperers, the violin lessons, the private schools, and the cost of arranging for Junior to save a village in Micronesia, and it adds up. To be fair, financial aid closes the gap for many families and keeps the average cost of college from growing as fast as the sticker price.

But that still leaves a question: Why are the wealthy so keen to buy their way in? In the United States, the premium that college graduates earn over their non-college-educated peers in young adulthood exceeds 70 percent. The return on education is 50 percent higher than what it was in , and is significantly higher than the rate in every other developed country.

Not surprisingly, the top 10 had an average acceptance rate of 9 percent, and the next 30 were at 19 percent. For those who made the mistake of being born to the wrong parents, our society offers a kind of virtual education system. It has debt—and that, unfortunately, is real.

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The people who enter into this class hologram do not collect a college premium; they wind up in something more like indentured servitude. One of the stories we tell ourselves is that the premium is the reward for the knowledge and skills the education provides us. Another, usually unfurled after a round of drinks, is that the premium is a reward for the superior cranial endowments we possessed before setting foot on campus.

Behind both of these stories lies one of the founding myths of our meritocracy. One way or the other, we tell ourselves, the rising education premium is a direct function of the rising value of meritorious people in a modern economy. That is, not only do the meritorious get ahead, but the rewards we receive are in direct proportion to our merit.

But the fact is that degree holders earn so much more than the rest not primarily because they are better at their job, but because they mostly take different categories of jobs. Well over half of Ivy League graduates, for instance, typically go straight into one of four career tracks that are generally reserved for the well educated: finance, management consulting, medicine, or law.

Not surprisingly, that is where you will find the college crowd. Lawyers or at least a certain elite subset of them have apparently learned to play the same game. Similar occupational licensing schemes provide shelter for the meritorious in a variety of other sectors. Copyright and patent laws prop up profits and salaries in the education-heavy pharmaceutical, software, and entertainment sectors.

Much of the rest of the technology sector consists of virtual entities waiting patiently to feed themselves to these beasts. Our society figured out some time ago how to deal with companies that attempt to corner the market on viscous substances like oil. Until we do, the excess profits will stick to those who manage to get closest to the information honeypot. You can be sure that these people will have a great deal of merit. The game is more sophisticated than a two-fisted money grab, but its essence was made obvious during the financial crisis.

The financial system we now have is not a product of nature. It has been engineered, over decades, by powerful bankers, for their own benefit and for that of their posterity. Who is not in on the game? Auto workers, for example. Retail workers. Furniture makers. Food workers.

The wages of American manufacturing and service workers consistently hover in the middle of international rankings. The exceptionalism of American compensation rates comes to an end in the kinds of work that do not require a college degree. In , 28 percent of all workers were members of trade unions, but by that figure was down to 11 percent. A genuine education opens minds and makes good citizens. It ought to be pursued for the sake of society.

Instead of uniting and enriching us, it divides and impoverishes. Which is really just a way of saying that our worthy ideals of educational opportunity are ultimately no match for the tidal force of the Gatsby Curve. Across countries, the same correlation obtains: the higher the college premium, the lower the social mobility. If the system can be gamed, well then, our ability to game the system has become the new test of merit. So go ahead and replace the SATs with shuffleboard on the high seas, or whatever you want.

How quickly would we convince ourselves of our absolute entitlement to the riches that flow directly and tangibly from our shuffling talent? How soon before we perfected the art of raising shuffleboard wizards? Would any of us notice or care which way the ship was heading? We see the iceberg. Will that induce us to diminish our exertions in supreme child-rearing? As far as Grandfather was concerned, the assault on the productive classes began long before the New Deal.

It all started in , with the ratification of the Sixteenth Amendment. It also happens that ratification took place just a few months after Grandfather was born, which made sense to me in a strange way. By far the largest part of his lifetime income was attributable to his birth. Grandfather was a stockbroker for a time.

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I eventually figured out that he mostly traded his own portfolio and bought a seat at the stock exchange for the purpose. Politics was a hobby, too. At one point, he announced his intention to seek the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor of Connecticut. What he really liked to do was fly. The memories that mattered most to him were his years of service as a transport pilot during World War II. Or the time he and Grandmother took to the Midwestern skies in a barnstorming plane. My grandparents never lost faith in the limitless possibilities of a life free from government.

But in their last years, as the reserves passed down from the Colonel ran low, they became pretty diligent about collecting their Social Security and Medicare benefits. There is a page in the book of American political thought—Grandfather knew it by heart—that says we must choose between government and freedom.

Aristocrats always prefer the invisible kind of government. It leaves them free to exercise their privileges. We in the 9. Consider, for starters, the greatly exaggerated reports of our tax burdens. The poorest quintile of Americans pays more than twice the rate of state taxes as the top 1 percent does , and about half again what the top 10 percent pays. Our false protests about paying all the taxes, however, sound like songs of innocence compared with our mastery of the art of having the taxes returned to us. The income-tax system that so offended my grandfather has had the unintended effect of creating a highly discreet category of government expenditures.

In theory, tax expenditures can be used to support any number of worthy social purposes, and a few of them, such as the earned income-tax credit, do actually go to those with a lower income. And—such is the beauty of the system—51 percent of those handouts went to the top quintile of earners, and 39 percent to the top decile. The best thing about this program of reverse taxation, as far as the 9. The working classes get riled up when they see someone at the grocery store flipping out their food stamps to buy a T-bone.

The unrealized tax liability on the appreciation of the house you bought 40 years ago, or on the stock portfolio that has been gathering moths—all of that disappears when you pass the gains along to the kids. When the remainder was divvied up among four siblings, Grandfather had barely enough to pay for the Bentley and keep up with dues at the necessary clubs.

The government made sure that I would grow up in the middle class. And for that I will always be grateful. Along the way, you pass immense elm trees and brochure-ready homes beaming in their reclaimed Victorian glory. Apart from a landscaper or two, you are unlikely to spot a human being in this wilderness of oversize closets, wood-paneled living rooms, and Sub-Zero refrigerators. We had to fight just to get the tile guy to show up! The gas guy does, too, and the tile guy comes in from another state.

None of them can afford to live around here. The rent is too damn high. From to , home values in Boston multiplied 7. When you take account of inflation, they generated a return of percent to their owners. San Francisco returned percent in real terms over the same period; New York, percent; and Los Angeles, percent. If you happen to live in a neighborhood like mine, you are surrounded by people who consider themselves to be real-estate geniuses.

If you live in St. In , a house in St. Louis would trade for a decent studio apartment in Manhattan. Today that house will buy an square-foot bathroom in the Big Apple. The returns on the right kind of real estate have been so extraordinary that, according to some economists, real estate alone may account for essentially all of the increase in wealth concentration over the past half century. Yet there is a paradox. The rent is so high that people—notably people in the middle class—are leaving town rather than working the mines.

From to , the San Francisco Bay Area had some of the highest salaries in the nation, and yet it lost , residents to lower-paying regions. It is well known by now that the immediate cause of the insanity is the unimaginable pettiness of backyard politics. Local zoning regulation imposes excessive restrictions on housing development and drives up prices.

What is less well understood is how central the process of depopulating the economic core of the nation is to the intertwined stories of rising inequality and falling social mobility. Real-estate inflation has brought with it a commensurate increase in economic segregation. Every hill and dale in the land now has an imaginary gate, and it tells you up front exactly how much money you need to stay there overnight.

Educational segregation has accelerated even more. In my suburb of Boston, 53 percent of adults have a graduate degree. In the suburb just south, that figure is 9 percent. This economic and educational sorting of neighborhoods is often represented as a matter of personal preference, as in red people like to hang with red, and blue with blue. Gilded zip codes are located next to giant cash machines: a too-big-to-fail bank, a friendly tech monopoly, and so on.

Gilded zip codes deliver higher life expectancy, more-useful social networks, and lower crime rates. Lengthy commutes, by contrast, cause obesity, neck pain, stress, insomnia, loneliness, and divorce, as Annie Lowrey reported in Slate. One study found that a commute of 45 minutes or longer by one spouse increased the chance of divorce by 40 percent. Nowhere are the mechanics of the growing geographic divide more evident than in the system of primary and secondary education. Public schools were born amid hopes of opportunity for all; the best of them have now been effectively reprivatized to better serve the upper classes.

According to a widely used school-ranking service, out of more than 5, public elementary schools in California, the top 11 are located in Palo Alto. Racial segregation has declined with the rise of economic segregation. What better proof that we care only about merit? Beyond a certain threshold—5 percent minority or 20 percent, it varies according to the mood of the region—neighborhoods suddenly go completely black or brown.

It is disturbing, but perhaps not surprising, to find that social mobility is lower in regions with high levels of racial segregation.

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With localized wealth comes localized political power, and not just of the kind that shows up in voting booths. Which brings us back to the depopulation paradox. Given the social and cultural capital that flows through wealthy neighborhoods, is it any wonder that we can defend our turf in the zoning wars? We have lots of ways to make that sound public-spirited. This is what aristocracies do.

Zip code is who we are. It defines our style, announces our values, establishes our status, preserves our wealth, and allows us to pass it along to our children. It is the brick-and-mortar version of the Gatsby Curve. The traditional story of economic growth in America has been one of arriving, building, inviting friends, and building some more. In my family, Aunt Sarah was the true believer. According to her version of reality, the family name was handed down straight from the ancient kings of Scotland. Great-great-something-grandfather William Stewart, a soldier in the Continental Army, was seated at the right hand of George Washington.

My family had to be special for a reason. The 9.

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