So, exactly how popular are rich people who, in the middle of a tough recession -- which saw another 600,000 jobs lost last month -- flaunt their wealth? You know the type -- the Jimmy Choos shoes, great furs, two or three cars (or planes).
Proving that pride goeth before fall, Merrill Lynch/Bank of America exec John Thain was forced to resign shortly after it was revealed he redecorated his office to the tune of $1.2 million -- while Merrill was racking up a $15 billion loss in the last quarter. That Thain gave bonuses of $4 billion to his executives at the same time is now the subject of a New York attorney general probe.
In any event, conspicuous consumption never plays well -- but especially not in tough times!
So, will that now extend – in the court of public opinion -- to, well, buying people?
New York CityMayor Michael Bloombergis putting that to the test. It's not enough that he spent about $150 million combined in his first two runs; it's not enough that he got a compliant city council to overturn term limits that had been approved twice by the public. No, the mayor has to practically guarantee a third term by purchasing the services of consultants previously in the employ of his potential opponents, City Comptroller Bill Thompson and Rep. Anthony Weiner.
The ex-Democrat/quasi-Republican/independent mayor is still popular among the public -- though the term-limits overturning has caused his personal attributes to take a slight hit. On balance, he's done a reasonable job running the city. But at some point, there may be a case of the straw breaking the camel's back. At some point, the power of one man to buy anything -- and anyone -- his heart desires creates righteous envy. That Bloomberg quickly even dismisses the idea that he should limit his money machine invites even more disconnectedness between he mayor and his populace.
Whether these underlying sentiments are something that Bloomberg's possible opponents can tap into is be something to track as this year goes by. Mayor Bloomberg might take note that it is not unprecedented for someone to have a high job approval rating – and still lose re-election, in a heavily one-party voting area.
Robert A. George is a New York writer. He blogs at Ragged Thots and dabbles in stand-up comedy.