Across the Tracks from 'Richistan'

A number of current book releases could be characterized as "money porn": Rich Dad, Poor Dad, about what the super-rich teach their kids; Mergers and Acquisitions, about love among the super-rich; and Richistan, about super-rich high society. Our commentator is reading them all, in the bath of her modest 2,300 square-foot bungalow.

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ALEX COHEN, host:

Speaking of money, if you can't make lots of it, you can at least read about those who do. This summer there are a number of books about the rich. There's "Rich Dad, Poor Dad," about what the super-rich teach their kids, "Mergers and Acquisitions," about love among the super-rich, and "Richistan," about super-rich high society.

Reading them all in the bath of her modest 2300 square-foot bungalow is actress and DAY TO DAY contributor Annabelle Gurwitch.

ANNABELLE GURWITCH: It seems particularly ironic for this plethora of books to come out at a time when so many of us are struggling to maintain even a middle class existence. Robert Frank's Richistanis will be sailing off into the sunset on yachts while nearly two-thirds of employers nationwide are phasing out traditional pension plans.

It seems doubtful that these losses will be offset by increased contributions to 401(k)s, which will make it difficult to imagine that the future holds even a dinghy and a fishing rod for many retirees.

American Richistanis, the top one percent, are raking in a whopping $1.35 trillion a year at the same time that Delphi workers have accepted a concession plan that cuts their hourly rate in half.

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GURWITCH: As I try to soak away my discomfort in my Desert Essence Awapuhi Body Wash bath gel, 3.98 for 10 ounces, I contemplated these Richistanis whose spa service bills average $107,000 per year. Where do they live? Will I ever be one of them? Could I get someone to massage my neck tonight?

Now many of us who live in big cities have noticed the nouveau rich's Bentleys and Hummers barreling past us on the road. But living in close proximity to them can really make you feel left out. Have you found yourself suddenly Richistan-adjacent? Here are a few telltale signs. You know you're Richistan-adjacent when a house in your modest neighborhood is flipped and outfitted with what you consider extravagant features, pink marble bathrooms, a $5,000 Viking outdoor stove and electronically-controlled chrome fence. Priced at over $2 million, you laugh and predict it will languish on the market. And it sells fast.

You know you're Richistan-adjacent when you cross the street to greet your new neighbor only to find you're actually talking to his bodyguard. Yes, you're definitely Richistan-adjacent when the amount that your child's school asks you to donate this year is more than you and your spouse's two incomes combined.

(Soundbite of music)

GURWITCH: For the rest of us who've been left out of the wealth pool, Robert Frank does offer us a sliver of hope. He ends his book noting we could hope that the Richistanis will use their wealth to target society's deepest problems. Well, I'm not so convinced of that.

But as the gap between the uber-rich and the rest of us widens further and further, at least this summer we adjacents can find consolation in reading the cornucopia of money porn, privately lusting after gated estates with indoor basketball courts, personal ice skating rinks and closets with professional dry cleaners-style conveyor belts right in the privacy of our very own, non-professionally staffed households.

COHEN: Actress Annabelle Gurwitch sits on the board of United Professionals, a non-partisan labor advocacy group.

DAY TO DAY is a production of NPR News with contributions from Slate.com. I'm Alex Cohen.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

And I'm Alex Chadwick.

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