Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Bobo lottery

Henry Farrell has a very good post looking at the debate about Barack Obama's first big fee-for-speech engagement, at Cantor Fitzgerald. Since it's oblique and ultimately unverifiable what exactly is being traded in these 6 figure gigs, an alternative sociological explanation for why Obama is doing it may be warranted: it's because he's a Bobo, and like the classic Bobo, he suffers from Status-Income Disequilibrium, as defined by David Brooks --

There are two sides to the status-income equation. On one end is the Monied Class, those with plenty of dough who can use it to acquire status. But I am concerned with the Titled Class. Historically, when we think of the Grand Titles, we think of Prince, Duke, Earl, and Baron. But in the age of meritocracy, the Grand Titles are Senior Fellow, Editor in Chief, Assistant to the Secretary. Or titles that include an employer's name -- the New York Times, the White House, Knopf -- in which case it scarcely matters which position the individual holds. The Titled Class has always resented and secretly envied the Monied Class. But for journalists, writers, and politicos, the pain now is acute. Until recently, a person who went into, say, the media understood that he or she would forever live a middle-class life. But now one need only look at Cokie Roberts or David Gergen to see that vast wealth is possible. Once it becomes plausible to imagine yourself pulling in $ 800,000 a year, the lack of that money begins to hurt. Furthermore, the rich used to be remote. An investment banker went to Andover and Princeton, and a radio producer went to Central High and Rutgers. But in the new media age, the radio producer also went to Andover and Princeton. The schlumps she wouldn't even talk to in gym class are bond traders on Wall Street with summer houses in East Hampton. The student who graduated from Harvard cum laude makes $ 85,000 as a New York Times reporter covering the movie business. The loser who flunked out of Harvard because he spent all his time watching TV makes 1.2 million selling a single movie script.

Barack Obama is in the titled class. All those academic qualifications, plus being an ex-President. But he's in the milieu of the monied class. As Brooks says in another rumination on the same topic, if not treated, that can lead to Sublimated Liquidity Rage. But a couple of these speeches plus a book deal -- problem solved. For him. For the rest of the Bobos, peering through that curtain to the front of the plane while the agitation grows behind them in steerage, the class conflict remains an open wound. 

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