If you’re a regular Wall Street Journal reader, or even if you’re not, every Friday you will find a section of that paper dedicated to residential real estate.
We’re not talking mobile homes here. These houses, and, notably, New York high-rise condos, are routinely priced in multimillions of dollars, frequently in tens of millions.
They range from Long Island to Palm Beach to Beverly Hills, and are frequently offered by superstars and Wall Street wizards. They are often disposable second or third or fourth homes and clearly beyond any understanding of life as you or I know it.
Would I like one? You bet, as long as I had the millions necessary to maintain it.
These homes are symbolic of a life without borders. Their owners fly in private jets anywhere they wish, with only minimal hassle or international passport issues.
They socialize with each other in New York or Gstaad or Aspen or London in private clubs or exclusive restaurants. They may well spend long hours making and managing money, but, unless they are a Bernie Madoff type, their lifestyles are not at risk.
They simply possess too much capital ever to be endangered. They are the true internationalists.
This separate society is populated by both liberals and conservatives, who donate to politicians because they want something. The money itself has become irrelevant.
For the Koch brothers, you have George Soros; for Sheldon Adelson, there is Warren Buffet. They may start foundations for very worthwhile causes, like Bill Gates, funded with their own money. They are happy to hang out with Hollywood types and politicians at events of all kinds.
There has always been a culture of extreme wealth separated from the rest of us. From Rome to Russia to England to the Astors and Vanderbilts, the super-rich have always been there.
They may or may not be relatively richer today than ever before — the data is virtually incomparable — and there may or may not be more of them in proportion to the world’s population.
What is clear, however, is that they are now much more public. And accumulation of such wealth is much faster. (See: Clintons, William and Hillary.)
These folks are subject to intense media attention; they may bask in it. They own professional sports teams and build real-estate empires with their names all over them. Yes, Donald.
Their opinions on all subjects are promulgated widely, even with no basis for their authority. Yes, Sean.
The point of describing all this is not jealousy — well, not entirely — but to illustrate that money is indeed its own country. It allows its owners to live in a world apart from the rest of us.
Borders and conventional authorities become largely irrelevant. Actions short of murder, large-scale embezzlement, or some grossly politically incorrect behavior can be ignored or skirted with the aid of talented, well-paid lawyers.
This is the 1 percent, or some even smaller fraction, that we are always hearing about. It makes a big target for politicians thirsting for taxes.
Pay no attention. Not only are the very wealthy perfectly capable of taking care of themselves in any political climate, but the same politicians who call for their scalps are also dependent on their money to fund their campaigns.
While present owners of this wealth are largely safe from whatever taxation may be aimed at them and their own extravagant spending habits, history has clearly shown that the wealth itself is not immune from generational profligacy. It will eventually be spent and diminished by descendants of the current generation, and new billionaires will arise.
Maybe your children or grandchildren will be among them.
Longtime columnist Fred Wolferman recently moved from Southern Pines back to his native Kansas City. Contact him by email at email@example.com.