Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Burden of the Superrich

A reader (hat-tip: Ann) forwarded to me an essay by Barbara Ehrenreich (of "Nickel and Dimed" fame) that raises some interesting points of discussion about the changing demographics of Watauga County: the superrich and the merely rich are buying up (or "hogging," if you prefer) all the best places in this wide land of ours.

Ehrenreich writes, "We are used to thinking that poverty is a 'social problem' and wealth is only something to celebrate, but extreme wealth is also a social problem, and the superrich have become a burden on everyone else."

We know some of the burdens well -- particularly the soaring tax values of raw mountain land, driven into the stratosphere by megalomanical developments like Laurelmor and the reluctance of builders to build affordable housing when there are much larger bundles to be made on McMansions -- and Ehrenreich is thoughtful on what happens to the service industries that feed, water, and clean up after the filthy (rich), particularly the workers who must travel longer distances in order to merely survive the "privilege."

Who are in those increasingly numerous stretch limos we see on Hwy 105? They're people who've earned the right to stay hidden from the likes of you and me while impacting our futures mightily.

(Incidentally, a local carpenter tells us there's trouble at Laurelmor, and all the work that was supposed to sprout up for local skilled and unskilled labor has so far not sprouted. Could it be that the down-turn in the rest of the economy has actually caught up with the types who could afford a Ginn mountain lot?)

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