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The Velvet Rope Economy: How Inequality Became Big Business

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From New York Times business reporter Nelson D. Schwartz comes a gripping investigation of how a virtual velvet rope divides Americans in every arena of life, creating a friction-free existence for those with money on one side and a Darwinian struggle for the middle class on the other side. In nearly every realm of daily life--from health care to education, highways to home From New York Times business reporter Nelson D. Schwartz comes a gripping investigation of how a virtual velvet rope divides Americans in every arena of life, creating a friction-free existence for those with money on one side and a Darwinian struggle for the middle class on the other side. In nearly every realm of daily life--from health care to education, highways to home security--there is an invisible velvet rope that divides how Americans live. On one side of the rope, for a price, red tape is cut, lines are jumped, appointments are secured, and doors are opened. On the other side, middle- and working-class Americans fight to find an empty seat on the plane, a place in line with their kids at the amusement park, a college acceptance, or a hospital bed. We are all aware of the gap between the rich and everyone else, but when we weren't looking, business innovators stepped in to exploit it, shifting services away from the masses and finding new ways to profit by serving the privileged. And as decision-makers and corporate leaders increasingly live on the friction-free side of the velvet rope, they are less inclined to change--or even notice--the obstacles everyone else must contend with. Schwartz's "must read" book takes us on a behind-the-scenes tour of this new reality and shows the toll the velvet rope divide takes on society.


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From New York Times business reporter Nelson D. Schwartz comes a gripping investigation of how a virtual velvet rope divides Americans in every arena of life, creating a friction-free existence for those with money on one side and a Darwinian struggle for the middle class on the other side. In nearly every realm of daily life--from health care to education, highways to home From New York Times business reporter Nelson D. Schwartz comes a gripping investigation of how a virtual velvet rope divides Americans in every arena of life, creating a friction-free existence for those with money on one side and a Darwinian struggle for the middle class on the other side. In nearly every realm of daily life--from health care to education, highways to home security--there is an invisible velvet rope that divides how Americans live. On one side of the rope, for a price, red tape is cut, lines are jumped, appointments are secured, and doors are opened. On the other side, middle- and working-class Americans fight to find an empty seat on the plane, a place in line with their kids at the amusement park, a college acceptance, or a hospital bed. We are all aware of the gap between the rich and everyone else, but when we weren't looking, business innovators stepped in to exploit it, shifting services away from the masses and finding new ways to profit by serving the privileged. And as decision-makers and corporate leaders increasingly live on the friction-free side of the velvet rope, they are less inclined to change--or even notice--the obstacles everyone else must contend with. Schwartz's "must read" book takes us on a behind-the-scenes tour of this new reality and shows the toll the velvet rope divide takes on society.

30 review for The Velvet Rope Economy: How Inequality Became Big Business

  1. 4 out of 5

    Yun

    The Velvet Rope Economy shows how the ultra-wealthy can pay their way past all the inconveniences in their lives and turn every experience into a luxury. This includes not having to wait in line at amusement parks, getting box seats at sports games that allow for face time with athletes, retaining doctors on-call, donating so much money to an Ivy League school that their children are admitted, and so much more. On the surface, this book seems like a worthwhile read, but it actually left me frust The Velvet Rope Economy shows how the ultra-wealthy can pay their way past all the inconveniences in their lives and turn every experience into a luxury. This includes not having to wait in line at amusement parks, getting box seats at sports games that allow for face time with athletes, retaining doctors on-call, donating so much money to an Ivy League school that their children are admitted, and so much more. On the surface, this book seems like a worthwhile read, but it actually left me frustrated and annoyed, and I'm going to try to articulate why. To begin with, this book conflates two completely different things into one. Citizens of a first world country are entitled to certain things, such as access to quality health care and opportunities to have an affordable education that will lead to middle-class earnings. However, people are not entitled to skip lines, nor have access to famous athletes so they can get their ball signed, nor partake in luxurious air travel or cruises. Yet this book spends the majority of the time complaining about the latter, and only a portion of it talking about the real issues of the former. In terms of the latter, the author just hasn't convinced me with his argument. He's essentially saying that it's bad that people can pay more to have a better experience than those who pay less, and that worsens the divide between the classes. For example, you pay more to sit in first class on an airplane, which comes with more leg room, lounge access, earlier boarding, etc. Then the people who have economy seats look with envy at those in first class, which causes the divide between the classes to expand. I don't know... that seems like many jumps to get to that conclusion. But even if true, I'm not sure how to process that. There is an implied argument here that I'm not sure I agree with, which is that it's wrong for someone to pay more to get more. But that's the basis of any economy. If I pay for a business class ticket, of course I expect to get more service and value than if I pay for an economy class ticket. Otherwise, customers have no incentive to pay more, which then means the airlines would have no incentive to offer more. And if that was the case, the result isn't that every customer would receive first class treatment; rather, it's that the airlines would give everyone the economy treatment. But more odious than that, the book also implies that when people pay more for something, it's because they are "rich" or otherwise privileged, and they don't deserve to be so. There is a tone of both envy and resentment that permeates this section, and it rubs me the wrong way. I think a better question is this: is the tiered system of goods what's worsening the class divide; or is it that in our inter-connected world, where everyone can peer into everyone else's lives, envy becomes more of an issue? Because in one case, the blame is on the "rich." In the other case, the blame is on those who feels envious of others for having what they lack. But realistically, any one person can never have it all. We each have limited resources and must use those up as we see fit. For example, people with kids might see value in spending their money to fast-track the lines at an amusement park, while older and less mobile people might see value in maid service or having a nurse on call. Unless somehow we do away with human nature or we get rid of internet and TV so that people can't see what the Joneses are up to, envy and jealousy are just part of the norm. And everyone will just have to live with the fact that others will have things which they themselves do not have, because they chose to spend their resources on other things. Now we finally get to the part of the book where it addresses the real issues, such as the lack of good health care and quality education for the poor. But even here, the book was a disappointment. It treats each issue superficially and doesn't get to the root of the problems. For example, people with limited means generally have bad or no health insurance because it is tied to their (lack of) employment. Now, people with good private insurance from their employers are free to leave struggling hospitals for better care elsewhere. But the book misses the discussion on why this is even an issue to begin with. It's because we live in a country where a person's health insurance is based on whatever their employer wants to offer or not, versus in every other industrialized country where health insurance is uniformly provided by the government. And the book does not address this crucial point at all. Another example of a miss is around education. The book talks about how money for field trips, teacher's aids, sports/music classes, etc. often comes from parent-led fundraisers. So in a struggling school district, parents often do not have the means to raise that kind of money. But the solution proposed in the book is that the money raised by wealthier districts should partially be given to poorer districts. That might work in an idealized world, but in this actual world, I'd bet that would be a hard sell. And what's not addressed? The reason we are even in this predicament is because recent policy changes have diverted money out of education, which then force public officials to go begging to tax payers every time they need more money to cover the shortfall. And unsurprisingly, people hardly ever want to pay more taxes on an item-by-item basis. The book also spends a large amount of time bashing on parents who set their children up for admission into Ivy League schools by making donations, and offering their kids college-prep, tutoring, and extracurriculars. Sure, that's rather unfair, but harping on it misses other relevant points. For example, Ivy League schools are on a level of competitiveness that is unreal. They accept like 3% of the students who apply, even though every applicant probably has the academic rigor to succeed. So the schools are forced to somehow differentiate between this 4.0 GPA student they accept from these thirty other 4.0 GPA students they reject, and the only way to do so is through standards that have little to do with academic success, such as how well-spoken they are, what community service contributions they've made, and their extracurriculars. But Ivy League schools are private, and can accept/reject using whatever standards they want. The point isn't to force them to accept everybody; that would be impossible and counterproductive. It's to realize that public schools are where funding should go if we want quality education to be accessible to all. But the book also misses the most important point of all when it comes to college education, which is that the school someone gets into is not nearly as important as what major they choose to study. In this day and age, certain majors, such as math, science, and engineering, ensure job opportunities, while others make it almost impossible to find jobs, even for an Ivy League graduate. There is so much potential that this book could have explored, yet it focuses so much energy implying that the rich is out to game the system by paying thousands for first class tickets or the ability to cute in line at amusement parks. In the flying example, it completely glosses over the fact that air travel is now cheap enough for the masses. And to achieve this, airlines essentially had to cut every amenity and pack in as many people as possible. Sure, it's uncomfortable, but compared to the alternative of the past when flying was dignified but out of reach for everyone except the wealthiest, that isn't something I would want to change back. I could go on and rebut almost every topic covered in this book, but taking mercy on the kind souls who actually read my reviews, I must stop. This book left me irritated and dissatisfied. It spent so much time both mooning over and whining about pointless aspirational crap, and missed a real opportunity to address the policy shortfalls in essential services that every citizen should be entitled to. By lumping the two completely disparate issues together, the book makes almost no coherent argument.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Paige

    "The rise of the Velvet Rope Economy marks an end to the great democratization of American life in the post-World War II era." What is the Velvet Rope? The Velvet Rope uses class segregation to help businesses profit. Think of the fast pass systems at theme parks that only certain family groups can afford. Or the better seats at a sporting event. Or even private education. Why are businesses profiting from class segregation? How did we get here? There are several examples for everything this b "The rise of the Velvet Rope Economy marks an end to the great democratization of American life in the post-World War II era." What is the Velvet Rope? The Velvet Rope uses class segregation to help businesses profit. Think of the fast pass systems at theme parks that only certain family groups can afford. Or the better seats at a sporting event. Or even private education. Why are businesses profiting from class segregation? How did we get here? There are several examples for everything this book states. You will be familiar with most of them if you have lived in the U.S. for most of your life. If you have not, this might be a big eye opener. Different treatment, benefits, and price discrimination due to socioeconomic status is proven in airline services, theme parks, sporting events, health care, and education to name a few that are used as examples in this book. "It favors the people who have the money..." The first part of the book is about the super elite that are "inside" of the Velvet Rope (5%-54% on a Kindle), and the second half is about those "outside" of the Velvet Rope (54%-83% on a Kindle). Exclusivity, social brain hypothesis, soft benefits vs. hard benefits, situational inequality, Pareto optimality, and class segregation are used to support the ideology behind the Velvet Rope Economy. "...people will be left out of the economic system as more and more information accumulates." It only focuses on the present and what that looks like right now. It does explain that we are headed to a caste system but goes no further. This is a well researched book that is accessible to the average reader. Thank you NetGalley and the publisher for an advance copy. Opinions are my own.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Donna Hines

    The recent results from a Gallup Poll (Jan 2018) showed that 36% Americans are dissatisfied with the ability to get ahead by working hard! This should not be a surprise for anyone working today for peanuts while exhausting themselves daily for 10c raises as Top Producers/Associate of the Months and whatever other title they wiggle in your face to try to achieve. I know this because like many of you - I went from upper middle- to extreme poverty- now officially 'locked in' to the bottom row. You mig The recent results from a Gallup Poll (Jan 2018) showed that 36% Americans are dissatisfied with the ability to get ahead by working hard! This should not be a surprise for anyone working today for peanuts while exhausting themselves daily for 10c raises as Top Producers/Associate of the Months and whatever other title they wiggle in your face to try to achieve. I know this because like many of you - I went from upper middle- to extreme poverty- now officially 'locked in' to the bottom row. You might ask how? Well, divorce, bankruptcy, no child support for over a year living on credit to raise a family of four, legal/medical expenses, marital/credit debt, student loan debt (by way that MPA never used to raise 3 kids with son med disabled for life since birth.) I mention this once again not for sympathy, not empathy, not compassion as I know that's not the norm today but to show that working hard is a farce as it's a tough competition today with not only the college kids but the low salaries, the stagnant wages, the lack of benefits and cutting hours just below F-T (yes I see you employers), and the work to death motto that leaves you with nothing more than higher medical bills. How should I know as I worked at a factory as top producer in two departments while being video taped by my bosses to show others how it's done. The garbage guy who didn't work off conveyor, allowed to move freely w/o question, never begged for toilet breaks or fresh air circulation from dusty fans overhead made more than me working like a nut. I was paid exactly $7.25 hr w 10cent raise with $25 one time bonuses for associate of the month awards. YIPPEEEE! I would add that same job pays the same wages from when I worked as a teen (now 47 next May.) Is this the 'Make America Great Again' that they all spoke of so beautifully or are we being sold more empty promises and broken dreams (ps. Malignant Narcissist survivor too.) So, yes, when I say the welfare to work is to force others into employment w/o care or concern for safety or survival - I MEAN IT! You see while in extreme poverty my son (19 yo now full time college) was taken off SSI/SSP in March just before graduating high school in May and ironically the same day the welfare to work took effect. Now push forward a few months he then enrolled full time night classes at college (1st yr freshman) and he has his food stamps taken away...and they wonder why colleges now have food banks inside of them? What the hell is wrong with people? You see my family and I were left bankrupt and homeless after divorcing an abusive spouse with an active pfa and violation w his arrest and 3 month probation for enrollment into alcohol and drug and anger management courses. A warrant was issued for his failure to pay and appear for court and child support w 15 k arrears. I had given up career to raise med disabled son w vater syndrome for 19 yrs. I have looked for a job since 2010 (separation) and 2013 (divorce) w 3 interviews this after attending job fairs, networking, referrals, cold calls, begging, placing resumes online after updating at undergrad colleges, with linkedin business accounts, etc... I was just passed up with my 20 yrs volunteering experience and Points of Light Award for a college girl who was basically on the yearbook staff as a content writer even though I currently work unpaid as a national trade blogger with over 9 major publications producing over 1k reviews yearly at Goodreads/NetGalley and having won every award for high reviews and stats. So folks, please do continue with the hard work pays nonsense but it's not what you do it's who you know, how much money you possess, and what your age, race, and other factors like class and credit are in today's world. You see those w/o credit can't get jobs, nor housing, nor will landlords rent to those w kids or past abuse histories. This is fact! You might also not be aware that shelters won't take in women and kids nope just women and they must not be in the facility during the day but seeking work. EBT is not a handout but handup and I know this all too well as I continue to dispose of the myths and misconceptions having had my food insecurities told to every member of Congress in Community Voices. So sure, when those who've been fed the lies approach me I want to rip their heads off because the stories about welfare recipients and the abuse of the system or the character judgement is so off center and made to be a 'catch all or nothing' response. The facts are when you have welfare providing more income than minimum wage employment than you have yourself a huge problem! In Pennsylvania, it's $6.53 more income! https://www.cheatsheet.com/culture/st... Now, if you have to support a family and you can't get paid a 'living wage' to raise a family wouldn't you make the same choice others are now being forced to make? Would you think this is milking or survival? You tell me. What if you needed benefits because your family member was disabled or suffered other lifelong illnesses or ailments? What if I told you employers deliberately pay under 40 hrs to not provide benefits. Would you think less of others for seeking benefits to survive? Or in my case with spinal stenosis causing leg paralysis, raynaud's phenomenon, severe anemia w dyspnea, vater syndrome, and much, much, more. This is reality folks and though the 'GET A JOB' comments are enduring they are not reality for many especially those my age or older who can't get hired from age discrimination. If you think it doesn't exists I ask why would a company wish to hire a LT unemployed homemaker whose overqualified and lacks prior work experience with a family of 4 to support on benefits and flex schedules when they can easily go to greener pastures with a college student that is young and not often seeking such accolades to survive but rather need to get foot in door to start the dreaded loan process or deferment. In fact, you cannot write off those student loans in bankruptcy so good luck with all that debt. The author illustrates a point when he notes, 82% said income inequality is a major problem according to his research from Pew Research Center - Oct 2017. In essence, the middle class is being hollowed out every day as we enter a feudal system for the top 1% rather than a sustainable working class capitalist system. If you want the truth I provide this video from my former boss; President of Al Beech, a local food bank for which I volunteered. Here she puts on full display the myths and misconceptions she herself had which resembled what many now believe and how wrong she was in her own professional words. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HakCA... For more information about poverty, EBT, food insecurities and more please visit my profile or check out these links and then tell me hard work pays: https://www.pointsoflight.org/awards/... https://d3b0lhre2rgreb.cloudfront.net... PG 38 to see my story told by Rose DeLauro (D-Conn) https://www.mfhs.org/?s=donna+hines Blogs on the topics of LT Unemployment and Extreme Poverty: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/why-yo... https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/exposi... https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/exposi...

  4. 5 out of 5

    Sue Fernandez

    Thank you to NetGalley and Doubleday Books for advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. I'd thought I'd start a non-fiction book so I wasn't up too late. This ended up keeping me up! It reads smoothly, transitioning and segueing into different areas without effort. I won't say this book didn't trouble me...a lot. Just this morning we were discussing how Disney has now fallen into this and they are offering "VIP" seating for the parades, "plaid" shirt treatment for a price, etc Thank you to NetGalley and Doubleday Books for advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. I'd thought I'd start a non-fiction book so I wasn't up too late. This ended up keeping me up! It reads smoothly, transitioning and segueing into different areas without effort. I won't say this book didn't trouble me...a lot. Just this morning we were discussing how Disney has now fallen into this and they are offering "VIP" seating for the parades, "plaid" shirt treatment for a price, etc. The book delves into how this came about and how it creeps into areas we wouldn't expect, such as medical care. I'll be thinking about this book for some time to come. Highly recommended.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth Fensin

    First half is an entertaining anthropological look at how the 1% live. The second half is depressing.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Becky Diamond

    The Velvet Rope Economy is a shocking exposé of our continually splintering economy and value system. Schwartz skillfully navigates the playground of the super-rich and their long list of premium experiences from VIP amusement park tours and luxury sports arena boxes to better access to hospitals and educational opportunities. The real-life examples and statistics he reveals invoke a wide range of emotions from bewilderment and envy to anger, disgust, disappointment and even fear. As one very sm The Velvet Rope Economy is a shocking exposé of our continually splintering economy and value system. Schwartz skillfully navigates the playground of the super-rich and their long list of premium experiences from VIP amusement park tours and luxury sports arena boxes to better access to hospitals and educational opportunities. The real-life examples and statistics he reveals invoke a wide range of emotions from bewilderment and envy to anger, disgust, disappointment and even fear. As one very small segment of the population keeps piling on wealth, the middle class struggles harder, becoming more isolated, excluded and fractured. An eye-opening wake up call that something needs to be done to stop the class segmentation before it truly divides us all. Highly recommend.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Ietrio

    Schwartz is having a mid-life crisis. Mommy used to buy him candies when he wanted to. Than mommy got him to a good school. Later mommy helped him get college education so he won't feel stupid when meeting his school friends. Mommy used to get him food and clothing. And now, as an adult Schwartz notices there are so many things mommy can't get him and that is UNFAIR! After all, he is as good as his peers, mommy said.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Biblio Files (takingadayoff)

    Most of the information in the book you probably already know, such as that if you pay extra you can get personalized guided tours of Disneyland and that one of the reasons airlines make economy class so uncomfortable is to encourage you to pay to upgrade. But there were a few things I didn't know such as that public schools now charge students to be on the school teams, and there may even be a charge to try out for a team. So one of the ways that a kid used to be able to break out of poverty, e Most of the information in the book you probably already know, such as that if you pay extra you can get personalized guided tours of Disneyland and that one of the reasons airlines make economy class so uncomfortable is to encourage you to pay to upgrade. But there were a few things I didn't know such as that public schools now charge students to be on the school teams, and there may even be a charge to try out for a team. So one of the ways that a kid used to be able to break out of poverty, even if it was long odds, was to be good at sports and maybe get a college scholarship. Now kids from families without extra cash for team fees in high school may be locked out of that opportunity, which seems outrageously unfair. Maybe socialism isn't such a bad idea after all.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Csimplot Simplot

    Excellent book!!!

  10. 5 out of 5

    Kate Roark

    Interesting account of the "velvet rope" separating the haves and have-nots in the economy. While elites get special access to education, sporting events, travel, etc., others face a lack of access in health care, education, shopping and community. The author ends the book of suggestions of alternatives to the growing catering to the rich and the possibility of a more egalitarian society.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Josh

    The Velvet Rope Economy: How Inequality Became Big Business by Nelson D. Schwartz is somewhat reminiscent of the syndicated TV show, Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous; it provides an insider’s look at the access and privilege that wealth affords in modern day America. Schwartz loosely defines a velvet rope as figurative barrier with relative ease, efficiency and luxury on one side and hardship, struggle and latency on the other. The principal tenet of The Velvet Rope Economy is that the modern v The Velvet Rope Economy: How Inequality Became Big Business by Nelson D. Schwartz is somewhat reminiscent of the syndicated TV show, Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous; it provides an insider’s look at the access and privilege that wealth affords in modern day America. Schwartz loosely defines a velvet rope as figurative barrier with relative ease, efficiency and luxury on one side and hardship, struggle and latency on the other. The principal tenet of The Velvet Rope Economy is that the modern velvet rope prevents the rich from even encountering the less-well off thus eliminating their empathy towards them. The Velvet Rope Economy is written in two parts. The first part of the book describes life inside the velvet rope and the second part outside. While most of the elements inside the velvet rope, first class travel accommodations, skipping the line at theme parks and express lanes on the highway, are perhaps unfair at best, Schwartz highlights a damming consequence of the velvet rope: exclusive access to physicians in public hospitals. While it is unclear that money is exchanged in this arrangement, one detail is certain. Doctors are willing and eager participants in ensuring that the well-to-do receive preferential treatment. The Velvet Rope Economy loses steam in the second half of the book. Schwartz seems to run out of material here and the space would be better served either providing a historical perspective on the velvet rope or engaging academics and policy thinkers on the issue. The Velvet Rope Economy is worth a read and presents an eye-opening account of inequality in America today.

  12. 5 out of 5

    John Spiller

    More like 3.5 stars.

  13. 4 out of 5

    D.L. Morrese

    This book takes a quick contemporary look at the thorny age-old of issues of equality and fairness. The focus is on America, a nation ostensibly founded on enlightened principles of human equality and the rejection of a privileged aristocratic elite. That's a wonderful ideal, except that we haven't actually done that. We have an aristocracy, or at least a privileged class, but it's not based on family history. It's based on money, and it doesn't really care about when or how that wealth was accu This book takes a quick contemporary look at the thorny age-old of issues of equality and fairness. The focus is on America, a nation ostensibly founded on enlightened principles of human equality and the rejection of a privileged aristocratic elite. That's a wonderful ideal, except that we haven't actually done that. We have an aristocracy, or at least a privileged class, but it's not based on family history. It's based on money, and it doesn't really care about when or how that wealth was accumulated. If you have money to spend, you can buy privileges, which can be passed down, along with the wealth that bought them, from one generation to the next, so that what we end up with looks a whole lot like a hereditary aristocracy. Is that fair? Should the wealthy elite enjoy privileges that commoners like the rest of us simply don't have? Is it okay for them not just to cut in line but to ignore lines completely when boarding a plane, visiting a theme park, or going to a sporting event? Bear in mind that this means that the common folks being passed by will have to wait a bit longer and that their seats when they do arrive will be slightly more cramped. The point this book seems to be trying to make is that there is something basically wrong with this. Personally, I think the issue is more complex than that. It seems as if the rich are being treated better than the poor. Except that's not exactly what's going on in these specific cases. The people jumping the line are buying something that those waiting their turn are not. You pay more, you get more. It's not much different from buying anything else. You don't expect to buy a Jaguar for the cost of a Kia, and you don't feel cheated if you order a cup of coffee at a restaurant and it doesn't come with a free stack of pancakes, a cheese omelet, and enough greasy fried animal bits to clog arteries the size of the Panama canal. The simple fact is that people with loads of money can buy more and better stuff than people who have less. (Whether or not it's fair for some people to have a hugely disproportionate mountain of discretionary cash is another subject entirely, and one I'm not about to get into, at least not here and now except to say that I think we're already far beyond the limit for how much wealth disparity is appropriate and sustainable.) But getting back to this book, the author spends an inordinate amount of time and ink discussing professional sporting events and bringing up anecdotal examples of how team owners cater to the rich by building stadiums with private access, and special boxes with comfy seats and minibars or whatever. Not being a sports fan might color my opinion here, but I really don't see much of a problem with this. The commoners waiting in line with basic tickets don't expect and probably won't miss perks like these. Sports are a form of entertainment. Seeing a game up close rather than from the nose bleed seats, or not at seeing it at all, is unlikely to affect a person's life in any significant way. The same applies, to a somewhat lesser extent, to plane tickets. If you want to pay more for a larger seat with more leg room, you certainly may. It may not be fair that some people can afford these things and some cannot, but unless force is exercised to prevent it, that's reality, which is not known for its adherence to human concepts of fairness. As long as there is less of something than there is demand for it, it's going to be rationed disproportionately to those willing to pay. It's an entirely different situation when we look at essential services such as health care, education, fire prevention, and even law enforcement. Or at least I think it should be. Today, in America, those with money can and do spend it to get the best of all these things. A 4.0+ GPA kid still has to compete to get into an Ivy League college, so there's a private company that can help them stand out and above all the other similarly privileged rich kids…for a cost. And there are companies that locate and obtain the best possible medical care for wealthy clients, who can also buy policies from high end insurance companies that will send out firefighters to protect their mansions from oncoming wildfires. And for those charged with a crime, well, that's less likely for the rich to begin with, but it does happen, and if charged, the wealthy can often pay for a program that will drop the charges and even expunge the record. Even if convicted, the well-heeled can pay extra for a nicer prison with a private room. This last, I think, is where we unquestionably cross the line. To my mind, there are some things that money simply shouldn't be allowed to buy. The examples presented, and the arguments the author offers, lead to two conclusions — actually, three, but "It sure would be nice to be rich" is so blindingly obvious, no one needs to highlight the point. The less obvious conclusions are: 1) that the rich almost live in a different world than the rest of us, and 2) because of #1, real world problems are either not addressed or addressed poorly (no pun intended). Looking at #1, consider the people who run the world. It's not the poor. It's not even the middle class, assuming that's still a thing. Business leaders, politicians, entrepreneurs, philanthropists, and others who can "make things happen" have one thing in common. Money. They either own it or they control it, which provides them with privileges that shelter them from the hardships and inconveniences of normal life. Even if they are not born into affluence, once they obtain it, their problems and priorities change. They can quickly lose touch with what passes for normal life in our society. Even if they still drive their own cars, they're likely to pay extra to bypass traffic by using well maintained toll roads and HOV lanes (or for the super stinking rich, helicopters). With VIP access, they don't wait in lines pretty much anywhere. Living in affluent neighborhoods, they never experience what it means not to have a good school for their kids, a local bank, a grocery store, or a nearby hospital. A lack of such things aren't problems the rich and powerful have, so they aren't problems they're likely to think about. It seems ironic that the people best positioned to address societal problems cannot fully understand them. Before I go on (and on and on), let me clarify that I don't think all rich people are scum bags who don't care about anyone else. The rich, on the whole, are not intrinsically scummier than the rest of us. In fact, many use their wealth and influence to try to make the world a better place. Some succeed to an extent. Entrepreneurs occasionally do, coincidentally, perhaps. Philanthropists try to intentionally, sometimes without even an ulterior motive. Every once in a while, even presidents and other politicians attempt to do something helpful. FDR is a good example. Although he suffered character-building hardships due to his polio, he was never poor, but he helped a great many people who were when he created the programs of the New Deal, despite constant pushback. Unfortunately, however, even when these folks do try to help, they often fail due to lack of support from their peers and the inability of the elite to either recognize or fully understand the problems average folks have. Yeah, fine. Rich people don't understand the problems of the poor. So what? It's not their job to. They aren't responsible for making the world a better place for anyone but themselves. That's what capitalism is all about, right? Well, yes and no, and although some may disagree about the responsibilities that common human decency imposes on us, there is a group of people whose job it is to make things better for everyone— politicians, but those with the greatest capacity for change, the ones at the federal legislative level, are members of the elite as well. They may not (all) enjoy personal wealth, but they are treated as elite, they have perks associated with their jobs, and they influence what problems the government chooses to address and how it spends its money to do so. And what problems might those be? Well, the ones they and their biggest political donors have, of course. So, getting back to essential public services —police, fire fighting, schools, hospitals, roads, and things like that. All of these can pose real problems for a great many people if they fail to perform adequately. But for the wealthy elite, none of them are ever a problem because the rich can opt out. If their kids' public school (for example) can't afford field trips, or a sports program, or a band or an orchestra, those programs can be supplemented, either through donations, such as PTA fund raisers, or through additional costs for participation, which is all fine for well off parents in affluent communities. And if that still doesn't satisfy, there are private prep schools. I feel that this is fairly close to how some people, even politicians, often see issues like this. They don't recognize how essential these services can be because the people they hang with have options. Don't like the public schools? Send your kids to a private academy. Your neighborhood doesn't have a hospital? Move to someplace that does. Roads jammed? Too many potholes? Use the toll roads or hire a helicopter taxi. And politicians, believing in the viability of these options, at least for "normal" people like themselves, make public policies accordingly, creating a kind of causal circle. Funding for public schools, for example, is fine and probably worthwhile in principle… unless it has to be paid for with higher taxes, which the wealthy would likely be required to share a large portion of, which would make it more difficult for them and other normal folks to pay tuition for their kids' boarding schools. So, if the purpose of the legislation is to improve education, funding public schools won't work. In fact, it's probably counterproductive because, as everyone knows, a dollar spent on taxes is one that can't be spent on investment in, for example, a corporation that runs private schools, which means fewer dividends and capital gains, which can be used to pay tuition at even better schools. And who cares anyway? Certainly not anyone worth knowing. Even among the not so rich there are those who claim that public services are inherently inferior. Private companies, the mantra goes, always do it better, as if this was a commandment of their capitalist religious faith despite all evidence to the contrary. The proposed legislation fails. Public schools deteriorate, which provides the wealthy with further reasons to send their own kids to private schools, which gives them additional cause to view public schools as even less worthy of support. And so on. So how do we fix this? The author of this book offers some ideas at the end, including the need to recognize that we've let our public institutions deteriorate and that we should strive to create a more egalitarian society. It's all kind of pie in the sky stuff rather than concrete solutions, which I'm not sure anyone can offer. I'm sure I can't. If I were absolute ruler of the world, I might look at raising the minimum wage and tying automatic adjustments to it to the GDP, or something like that. Maybe I'd propose legislation requiring that nongovernmental providers of essential services such as health care, education, law enforcement/detention, and the like operate as non-profits. I haven't really thought about this in great depth because I'm not ruler of the world, and I don't want to be. When I was younger, I'd regularly sit at a cafeteria lunch table with a bunch of friends and discuss how to solve all of humanity's problems. We never did, of course. We were probably wrong, for one thing, and no one would have listened to us anyway. We weren't rich. It's just as well. Being supreme leader sounds like a horrendously hard and thankless job. I'm glad it's not mine. I'm content with being a strange little old man who reads too much and sometime writes rambling reviews and commentaries on books he finds interesting.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Diane Hernandez

    The bad news is that there is a hidden (and not so hidden) Velvet Rope Economy in the United States right now. The author explains that the rich top one-percenters are different. They essentially coast down an EZPass paid express lane through life’s difficulties. Meanwhile, the losers below them struggle with lines at amusement parks and proposed Standing-Room-Only “seats” in coach air travel. So what’s the good news? According to the author, I’m in the Upper Middle Class, which may explain why I The bad news is that there is a hidden (and not so hidden) Velvet Rope Economy in the United States right now. The author explains that the rich top one-percenters are different. They essentially coast down an EZPass paid express lane through life’s difficulties. Meanwhile, the losers below them struggle with lines at amusement parks and proposed Standing-Room-Only “seats” in coach air travel. So what’s the good news? According to the author, I’m in the Upper Middle Class, which may explain why I’m thinking of purchasing the $500 an hour VIP tour at Disneyland despite thinking it was a waste of money only twenty years ago. YOLO, am I right? But truly in California, where a million dollar is a starter condo, I feel closer to the bottom than the top earners. Some of the services available on the other side of the rope are pretty incredible. Access to clinical trials, a hidden park at Seaworld, private firefighters that will save your house but let your neighbor’s burn, and a private Porsche ride to your connecting flight are just a few of the surprising (and probably surprisingly expensive) options. So how will this increasingly large difference between the rich and everyone else end? Per the man smart enough to invest in Amazon at the beginning, “civil disorder or even revolution.” However, according to the author, there is a simpler solution. Vote with your feet. Resist purchasing the Velvet Rope Economy’s premium options. Use egalitarian Southwest Airlines that has only one seat class. I guess there goes my VIP tour idea. I enjoyed this short class in economics and human behavior. If you are interested in topic, the author keeps it entertaining. He also shows both the pros and cons of premium pricing. 4 stars! Thanks to Doubleday Books and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for my honest review.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Miguel

    Service to the ultra-rich have proliferated recently and the evolution of much of these described in this book are a direct outgrowth of the worsening income inequality the US has experienced in the past 40 years. At first glance, one might think they are immune to most of them: if you have no interest in large sporting events involving moving a ball around, consider a cruise more of an earthbound version of purgatory than a vacation, intentionally stay away from (un)amusement parks, or view a m Service to the ultra-rich have proliferated recently and the evolution of much of these described in this book are a direct outgrowth of the worsening income inequality the US has experienced in the past 40 years. At first glance, one might think they are immune to most of them: if you have no interest in large sporting events involving moving a ball around, consider a cruise more of an earthbound version of purgatory than a vacation, intentionally stay away from (un)amusement parks, or view a mega-concert like Coachella a living hell, you might not think that any of this is applicable. However, as these premium services have seeped into virtually every facet of society as Schwartz describes, you realize what kind of damaging and, yes, unfair structures have been erected. Most everyone needs to fly and higher education is in most cases a necessity for advancement. So on the one hand while walking back into coach after viewing the comparable luxuries of first class and enduring being treated like a sardine in a can might be bearable, barriers set up to obtain entrance to top schools is unmeritocratic and stratifies society in deeply unfair ways. Worse still is the overview in the book of how medical care is also being tiered with better care for those who can afford it. The book also discusses some other micro trends such as the death of the American Mall and the rise of the dollar stores. It’s all apiece with the hollowing out of middle class. But again it’s in the discussion of healthcare and insurance that really shows how the system as it exists today is steadily offering more premium services to the wealthy while leaving the less well to do with few options, higher prices for worse care, inferior options and services; all of which are a great recipe for class strife. The US seems to be an aspirational society, one convinced that they are just a future billionaire waiting to strike it rich. In this respect it seems that the treatment described herein won’t be addressed any time soon as the appetite is low to tackle this through legislation is low. Meanwhile the aspirants can gawk at the goods and services they may one day have in their dreams.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Marjorie Freedman

    Important but somewhat depressing book. As I read this during the "shelter in place" I can't help but think that the divide between the haves and have-nots will only widen when we emerge from this pandemic and leadership void. If we, as Americans, want real change, we must understand that this velvet rope economy is real and that we must elect leaders who will address wealth inequality once and for all.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Walter

    I used to joke with my friends that if I were the type of person that paid for 1st class airplane tickets, I would not want to have the "riff-raff" paraded by me, clunking around in their Crocs on their way to their economy seat purgatory, wheeling their gaudy discount Sansonite carry-ons. "By the love of Ghaad Karen! Would you look at these peasants..." Well, it turns out I had it the wrong way around. According to research outlined in this book, "air rage" i.e. instances of angry, unruly behavi I used to joke with my friends that if I were the type of person that paid for 1st class airplane tickets, I would not want to have the "riff-raff" paraded by me, clunking around in their Crocs on their way to their economy seat purgatory, wheeling their gaudy discount Sansonite carry-ons. "By the love of Ghaad Karen! Would you look at these peasants..." Well, it turns out I had it the wrong way around. According to research outlined in this book, "air rage" i.e. instances of angry, unruly behavior aboard airplanes, tends to increase when economy class flyers are exposed to the preferential treatment of 1st-class flyers. This behavior is further exacerbated when the slighted party is not given adequate justification for the favor. So, why do airlines continue to board 1st-class passengers first and then proceed to march economy flyers past them? Cause it's darn good business! Aside from the added value of having to wait less time, it is also because of something called "aspirational envy". Display the wares that are just out of their reach at the moment, and they'll jump at the first whiff of an upgrade. "1/2 inch more legroom for only 200 bucks more? Here, take my money!" Ok, so this book is divided into two sections: those inside the velvet rope, and those outside. The first section outlines the many perks that come from having strong purchasing power in the velvet rope economy: no wait times, guided private tours at amusement parks, access to cutting-edge life-saving treatments, manicured prep for Ivy League universities, private terminals at airports, etc. Fascinating stuff. The second section is a tad more familiar really, as it describes the fate of those industries and communities impacted by the secondary effects of the velvet rope way of doing things: when the wealthy start paying out of pocket for private schools, private roads, gated communities, elite club teams for their rugrats, six-figure doctors at upper-class hospitals, luxury jail cells ("pay to stay") etc. then they have less incentive to contribute to the public coffers that fund the more basic versions of these necessities for the less well-to-do. As a result, they vote down tax initiatives destined for the larger interest, and eventually "the market" deems it unsustainable to keep these things around due to lack of funds. What does this mean for the less fortunate? Well, pregnant women in lower-class communities might have to commute hours for prenatal care due to a lack of local options, parents might have to fork up hundreds and even thousands of dollars to see their kids participate in school sports, you might have to end up going to jail since you cannot afford entry into paywalled programs that defer prison time in exchange for classes, etc. So I guess the commodified, "velvet rope" type class-division is a lot more profitable than I imagined. Also, a lot more insidious, as it veils the tearing down of the structures that sustain healthy communities behind the logic of "fiscal responsibility". In this sense this type of economics is a zero-sum game; my gain is your loss. Recommended!

  18. 4 out of 5

    Scott Wozniak

    Some interesting ideas are buried in this melodramatic rant. With the increase in wealth in America after WWII, there has also been an increase in luxury services. This is inherently bad to the author of this book. He has a deep passion that everyone have the same experience. In some cases, he's reveals some really difficult situations where without money you don't have much chance of a good experience (e.g. healthcare clinical trials and surgery with the elite doctors). But then he goes on to d Some interesting ideas are buried in this melodramatic rant. With the increase in wealth in America after WWII, there has also been an increase in luxury services. This is inherently bad to the author of this book. He has a deep passion that everyone have the same experience. In some cases, he's reveals some really difficult situations where without money you don't have much chance of a good experience (e.g. healthcare clinical trials and surgery with the elite doctors). But then he goes on to demonize the people who are stepping into that gap with services to help people get that done--and it is offensive to him that they want to get paid for that. I think we should solve that problem. But I don't think the solution is to make it illegal for others to offer expert services when the system isn't good enough. And they need to be able to pay their bills, too. And then there are other situations where he is irrationally offended, like how he is upset about Disney World VIP guides that drive you between parks on shortcuts and provide extra fast passes. He compares the "sweaty citizens schlepping in the regular lines" to the "continually cool and calm families" who have a fast pass. Going to a theme park is not a right, it's a luxury in itself. And the regular lines are pretty awesome (I've been using them all my life). He's mad that someone got a better experience--but it didn't hurt anyone to do it. They even keep that elite stuff quiet so the regular guest doesn't even notice. So, if you can handle constant rants, sometimes warranted and sometimes not, then this book has some interesting gems about the layers of services in our economy today.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Casey G

    I really enjoyed The Velvet Rope Economy: How Inequality Became Big Business and would recommend to anyone that is interested in this topic. The term “velvet rope” no longer just applies to night clubs and who gets admitted but it has sadly taken over many facets of our lives where there is a divide between the haves and the have-nots, or as the book referenced, between the haves and the have-mores! The book discusses priority lanes at the airport, fast pass tickets at amusement parks, paying fo I really enjoyed The Velvet Rope Economy: How Inequality Became Big Business and would recommend to anyone that is interested in this topic. The term “velvet rope” no longer just applies to night clubs and who gets admitted but it has sadly taken over many facets of our lives where there is a divide between the haves and the have-nots, or as the book referenced, between the haves and the have-mores! The book discusses priority lanes at the airport, fast pass tickets at amusement parks, paying for Ivy League guidance counselors to help with college admissions, etc... The book was filled with great insight and I found myself highlighting many points throughout the book that made me reflect on my own life, including this discussion about children growing up within the velvet rope, “When children are raised in uniformly wealthy enclaves, Reardon said, “it may limit their understanding and empathy for the life experiences of most of America. When we don’t have empathy, it makes it harder to feel like we have shared problems in society. It’s easy to feel like those are someone else’s problems.” I added this book to my reading list prior to COVID-19, and now fear that the divide will be even more prevalent in the years to come as those greatly effected by the economic impact will be left further behind. How far and into how many new areas will the velvet rope stretch?

  20. 5 out of 5

    Theresa

    Schwartz's take on America's political divide looks at who can pay for the good life and who gets left behind. The first section of the book details how money is used in the realms of envy, exclusivity, ease, access, and security for those inside the velvet rope. The second section looks at the impact of exclusion, division, and isolation on those outside the velvet rope. Using case histories that involve everything from entertainment to healthcare to education, the author details how life is ge Schwartz's take on America's political divide looks at who can pay for the good life and who gets left behind. The first section of the book details how money is used in the realms of envy, exclusivity, ease, access, and security for those inside the velvet rope. The second section looks at the impact of exclusion, division, and isolation on those outside the velvet rope. Using case histories that involve everything from entertainment to healthcare to education, the author details how life is getting better for the upper class while deteriorating for the middle and lower classes. The Isolation section uses Blue Hill, Nebraska for its case study on local grocery stores vs. Dollar General stores. Although the books was published before the current COVID-19 situation, the reader can easily how who gets to self-isolate and work from home vs. those who must work under uncertain health circumstances or not work at all parallels Schwartz's view of today's America.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Staci

    Capitalism exists with the consent of democracy, and the more the vast majority find themselves not just outside the Velvet Rope but treated with disdain, the system itself is threatened. This can be a hard book to read; while I was annoyed with the earlier parts regarding vacationing like the rich, etc. it's the later parts dealing with healthcare and education that really burn -- we tell ourselves that wealthy people's lives aren't worth more than poorer people but then we tend to structur Capitalism exists with the consent of democracy, and the more the vast majority find themselves not just outside the Velvet Rope but treated with disdain, the system itself is threatened. This can be a hard book to read; while I was annoyed with the earlier parts regarding vacationing like the rich, etc. it's the later parts dealing with healthcare and education that really burn -- we tell ourselves that wealthy people's lives aren't worth more than poorer people but then we tend to structure our societies in ways that contradict that belief. The conclusion is the only part of the book where there's ever any "here's what we can do..." and it's not much; this book is definitely more about laying out what the problem is than how it can be fixed.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Paul

    This is a review of how the 1% are catered to and how they have changed the USA economy into their way of living so that they have advantages beyond what they have earned or deserve. I was not aware of the extremes they go to in order to avoid rubbing elbows with commoners or fellow citizens. It is very hard to believe that America has turned into not only a class society but oligarchy. As a retired USN enlisted type I am aware of how Naval officers are treated much better than the workers like This is a review of how the 1% are catered to and how they have changed the USA economy into their way of living so that they have advantages beyond what they have earned or deserve. I was not aware of the extremes they go to in order to avoid rubbing elbows with commoners or fellow citizens. It is very hard to believe that America has turned into not only a class society but oligarchy. As a retired USN enlisted type I am aware of how Naval officers are treated much better than the workers like me. But this blows the doors off even that stratification which is after all inherited from the former colonial England where a monarchy ruled.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Sophie

    This was a very hard book to read because it contains some hard realities about the 1% and how they are essentially living in a parallel existence to us. Their world may as well be an alternate universe with how little it touches ours. Such things happen at the expense of the middle class and beyond, to people who could never even dream of some of this stuff. Certainly, I didn't know that there exists privatized medicine that actually may save a life where regular medicine may not, nor did I kno This was a very hard book to read because it contains some hard realities about the 1% and how they are essentially living in a parallel existence to us. Their world may as well be an alternate universe with how little it touches ours. Such things happen at the expense of the middle class and beyond, to people who could never even dream of some of this stuff. Certainly, I didn't know that there exists privatized medicine that actually may save a life where regular medicine may not, nor did I know about the Disney VIP program.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Joshua McHolland

    This book clearly describes what's happening to our country. A velvet rope is descending, cutting off those who have from those who do not. The rich can't spare an extra dime in taxes because they are paying to fly in private firefighters to put out brush fires around their vineyard or paying good money to not so much as catch sight of someone not with a six figure income or more at a football game. These are just some of the examples you'll come across in this infuriating and scathing critique This book clearly describes what's happening to our country. A velvet rope is descending, cutting off those who have from those who do not. The rich can't spare an extra dime in taxes because they are paying to fly in private firefighters to put out brush fires around their vineyard or paying good money to not so much as catch sight of someone not with a six figure income or more at a football game. These are just some of the examples you'll come across in this infuriating and scathing critique of the new American way. Definitely worth a read.

  25. 4 out of 5

    NonFiction 24/7

    This book makes me think about how I spend my money because it is the last true voice I have in this country. Living in a rural area this was pretty eye opening read about how many things are available to rich people in the city. This book shows how money makes things easier and offers a glimpse of how the elite live. People spend more to fly out of elite terminals than what I can make in a year. This book also shows how the gap is growing between rich and poor.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Carol Hanifa

    Illustrates the evolution of businesses that cater to the wealthiest in society and how this divides flows over into public policy. This book sheds light on why the super wealthy have no organic understanding of those at the lower end of the economy who need public services to sustain quality housing, education, transportation and health, as well as environmental conditions.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

    DNF. This book is an advertisement for all the things money can buy. Having lived on both sides of the velvet rope, I'm very much aware of its existence. I thought reading a book about it would be interesting, but the early chapters of this one are more a detailed listing of available luxury and less a discussion of the psychology of haves vs have nots. Pass.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Sam

    I have mixed feelings about this one. I thought it was well written, with good stories to illuminate the topics. However, in general, the topics made me anxious and depressed. It gives some credence to the Bernie Fever, and the passion of the Bernis Bros.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Seowoo

    Entire book can essentially be summed up as economic inequality in the US is increasing. But still an interesting read as each chapter explores a dif industry and how they are adjusting to this economic inequality. Also several examples set in the Bay Area, which I personally appreciated

  30. 4 out of 5

    Nabeel

    It's amazing how stratified we've become even in industries or services we use all the time but may have never thought of how different the experience is for each segment. A good read providing insights into that and how some companies have managed to strike a balance and still do well.

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