What LC Read: Vol. 13

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

"If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to."
T H O M A S  G U T H R I E

The Official Filthy Rich Handbook | Christopher Tennant
I occasionally dabble in a full-fledged fascination with the lives of the 0.001%. The Official Filthy Rich Handbook opens with The Plutocrat's Primer, a profile of the different ways one might arrive at and experience outrageous wealth. My favorite (if only because I know so many of its descendants) was The Hedger, a new-school breed of money that insists "it's not enough to succeed. Others must fail." Educated at UPenn and Goldman Sachs. Fondest memory: Outbidding Paul Tudor Jones at the Greenwhich Country Day School fundraiser. If Annie Braddock of Nanny Diaries had actually published a sociology study on WASP affluence, this would be it in its best possible form. And I guess if you're a social climber/hoping to marry up (no shame in the upper mobility game!), this book is 200+ pages of dirty talk.
A dead-on, deadpan guide to living large in the land of plenty, The Official Filthy Rich Handbook yanks the monogrammed pashmina off a world few mortals ever get to see. Packed with insight and savvy, it brings this rarified universe to scandalous new life, feeding our endless fascination with the tastefully loaded, while offering practical instructions for those who dream of joining them. 

The Devil Wears Prada | Lauren Weisberger
I used to work in luxury fashion (it was a blind interview, okay?) and despite all of the "Devil Wears Prada" references I've made since ("it's exactly like DWP! I too worked for a Miranda!") I'd somehow never read the book. Apparently, I wasn't missing out on much. The movie is just too fucking good, and in a shocking twist of the movie/book paradigm, the book felt like the clunky, embarrassing rough draft of its much better-polished, better-examined screenplay.
THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA gives a rich and hilarious new meaning to complaints about "The Boss from Hell." Narrated in Andrea's smart, refreshingly disarming voice, it traces a deep, dark, devilish view of life at the top only hinted at in gossip columns and over Cosmopolitans at the trendiest cocktail parties. From sending the latest, not-yet-in-stores Harry Potter to Miranda's children in Paris by private jet, to locating an unnamed antique store where Miranda had at some point admired a vintage dresser, Andrea is sorely tested each and every day--and often late into the night with orders barked over the phone. She puts up with it all by keeping her eyes on the prize: a recommendation from Miranda that will get Andrea a top job at any magazine of her choosing. As things escalate from the merely unacceptable to the downright outrageous, however, Andrea begins to realize that the job a million girls would die for may just kill her. And even if she survives, she has to decide whether or not the job is worth the price of her soul.

The Givers: Wealth, Power, and Philanthropy in a New Gilded Age | David Callahan
I almost went into a career in philanthropy consulting until trusted incumbents hissed at me to run away. I realize now that I, with only four years of Economics studies and a starry-eyed, albeit vague, inclination to "do good" would have been completely unprepared for the complexity and scale of philanthropy. Philanthropy, Callahan writes, "shapes the communities in which millions of people live. Much of this gets celebrated without many second thoughts. Parks, libraries, and museums make cities livable; top universities and medical research centers make them great, attracting talent from around the world. What's not to like? Maybe a bunch of things, from who is making choices over public life to who actually benefits from these choices. What's happening in cities like New York and Houston is a microcosm of a broader power shift whereby private donors-- who are both more numerous and more wealthy-- are stepping into a vacuum created by the decline of the public sector."
David Callahan charts the rise of these new power players and the ways they are converting the fortunes of a second Gilded Age into influence. He shows how this elite works behind the scenes on education, the environment, science, LGBT rights, and many other issues--with deep impact on government policy. Above all, he shows that the influence of the Givers is only just beginning, as new waves of billionaires like Mark Zuckerberg turn to philanthropy. Based on extensive research and interviews with countless donors and policy experts, this is not a brief for or against the Givers, but a fascinating investigation of a power shift in American society that has implications for us all. 

What’s more, most Americans don’t attend selective schools like Johns Hopkins. About 75 percent of undergraduates go to a school that accepts more than half of its applicants, and only 4 percent go to schools where the acceptance rate is below 25 percent. Hopkins’s acceptance rate is about 12 percent. Changing things at Hopkins, or even changing things at Hopkins and inspiring other selective schools to do likewise, doesn’t change the situation for the vast majority of college students who won’t attend an elite institution.

I'm probably just naive, but it never occurred to me to critique philanthropy in higher education, particularly if it went to endowments that funded scholarships. I myself attended a relatively elite private university on a donor-funded full scholarship. I've publicly praised and gushed over this. But I realize in retrospect that the quarter million dollars funneled into my little life was a quarter million dollars not funneled into several students attending community or state college whose aggregate returns could have far exceeded mine. It's a tricky one.
The richer schools are getting richer; the poor are getting poorer. Three-quarters of the $516 billion in endowment wealth held by U.S. colleges and universities in 2014 was concentrated in the hands of just 11 percent of schools. When LaGuardia Community College in New York City received a $2 million donation from Goldman Sachs in 2015, it doubled the school's endowment. The gift was unusual enough to make the New York Times. By comparison, Harvard raised an average of $3.1 million a day during 2015. 
Some delicious Asian American/Asian works of poetry/etc. to come.
Love always,

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