Atlas Shrugsenfreude

Michael Barbaro and Christine Haughney gently explain why New Yorkers who are semi-pleased over Wall Street reversals are a little daft. Too gently, I say.

Andre Anderson, 34, an account executive at, a financial news Web site, would like to buy a Manhattan apartment with his girlfriend, but he said their combined incomes still make it nearly impossible to afford one.

But Andre, would you want to live in a Manhattan devoid of millionaires? I can see how one might. In truth, though, Manhattan is kind of a smelly patch of land, quite literally for four months out of the year, when the ultrarich decamp for sweet-smelling retreats. Brooklyn, with its 19th-century scale (pre-Bloomberg), is more humane and attractive as an urban landscape, including the burned-out, riot-scarred precincts. People like New York because of the bustle, and of course the bustle is driven by some combination of the ultrarich and the strivers, mostly immigrants, who cater to the ultrarich. What happens when the ultrarich are humbled? The service economy retrenches, of course. This means economic dislocation for new arrivals, some of whom will return to their native countries or greener pastures elsewhere.

And account executives at financial news Web sites don’t exactly flourish in this environment either. If this sounds like trickle-down, it is. It’s more than that — it is cultural trickle-down. Even my egalitarian friends should accept New York as an oasis of extreme inequality, an exotic hothouse in which we allow giants and pygmies to scowl at each other. My guess is that Andre enjoys amenities that simply would not exist if the ultrarich weren’t there to subsidize them, thus making them accessible to people at (say) the bottom of the top quintile. All of those repertory theaters, the culinary-industrial complex fueled by the outsourcing of household production that is fueled by the working rich — all of it depends on a base of quantitative nerds who spend vast amounts on luxuries they hardly ever get to enjoy, all so people further down the greasy pole can enjoy long lunches, leisurely strolls, and a a spectacularly dense array of cultural amenities.

“If there is greater good for everyone, is it worth a few people losing their jobs?” Mr. Anderson asked. “I think so. I hate to see people lose their jobs, but prices in the city have become ridiculous.”

Sad to say, New York city is still cheap in euros. So yeah, these guys will lose their jobs — but lowering prices will require a steeper downturn still. And that will mean crime. I for one prefer not getting stabbed to, um, having a hard time getting into restaurants that would be dirty, empty holes if not for the wealth boom. It occurs to me that anarchist squatters have pretty solid objections here, and I have strong sympathies with anarchist squatters, but please note that our friend Andre is not an anarchist squatter. Also, anarchist squatters can always squat in, say, some crumbling rustbelt dystopia. No on ever said squatting should be convenient to enormous multiplexes and fashionable boutiques.

Just as I root for the superintelligent machines that will render me obsolete, I root for the Calvinist middle-class millionaires. Yes, they are often tacky, soulless workaholics — but they will also dramatically drive down the price of my awesome neckband voiceless telephone of the future. My goodness, I can’t wait to not appear to be saying anything while “subvocalizing” to a friend millions of miles away, “Man, I can’t stand these bozos” while the bozos are standing inches away from me! Oh, the thrill will never get old! But first Carlos Slim needs to buy it for 80 bajillion pesos to taunt his fellow Mexican bajillionaires.