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The rich, as F. Scott Fitzgerald put it, “are different than you and me.”
If you doubt it, go shopping. Specifically, make two outings into the wonderful world of retail. Start with middle-of-the-road and more-downscale stores, such as Beall’s, Wal-Mart, and Target. You’ll find customers, but fewer than normal, and they’re spending less than they would’ve a couple of years ago. Welcome to the real economy, where paycheck-to-paycheck families are barely holding on, worried about their jobs, mortgages, gas and food, and other basics.
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This is not going to get better anytime soon – corporations aren’t hiring, wages are stagnate or actually falling, the price of basics keep rising, and people’s savings are depleted. In response, Wal-Mart officials say they’re not even passing on price increases like they always have, and they’re offering a lay-away payment program this season so their hard-hit customers can still purchase a few holiday gifts. They note that many shoppers are saying they wont even have much in the way of special holiday meals this year.
Now, check the scene at Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue and other upscale stores, where the stock market set goes for stylish shoes, and designer gowns, and the like. Blessed with executive salaries and a good tailwind from the Dow, these high-end shoppers exude confidence in their financial futures. So their shops are bustling with buyers, and no one is rummaging for bargains or even inquiring about discounts. “Full-price selling,” exults the CEO of Saks, “is at record levels.” Trying not to gloat, he adds: “I feel good about the luxury consumer.”
The industry refers to this widening divide as “a bifurcated market.” But it really reflects a bifurcated America, with the hard-pressed many going one direction and the flush few going another. That’s a dangerous divide for America’s democracy and for all of our people – including the rich.
“Retailers See a Split In Behavior Of Shoppers,” The New York Times, November 16, 2011.