Status-Income Disequilibrium

(Thanks to Jeff Zymeri for the pointer)

Here’s David Brooks’ “The tragedy of the SID”:

The editor had triumphed. All through a long New York spring evening, it had been John Updike this and Norman Mailer that. He'd kept his tablemates at the Freedom Forum's annual Free Expression Dinner in a state of conversational bliss, and when the meal was over everybody at his table was in such high spirits they decided to go down to the lounge for a few drinks. The Regency Hotel has a little room called The Library, where the martinis are $ 11. The editor was joined by an investment banker from Morgan Stanley and a lawyer from Wachtel Lipton and his wife. And he was just as amusing in the bar, filling the night with publishing tales. Feeling expansive, he decided to pick up the tab, putting it on his expense account, and when the whole group stumbled outside to the corner of 61st Street and Park Avenue, he was seized by his high spirits and called out, "Does anybody want to share a cab?"

The lawyer looked uncomfortably at his wife. "Actually, we're walking distance, just up on 65th," he said, motioning up Park. The investment banker said she lived just a block and a half away, toward 5th Avenue.

The editor decided not to splurge on a cab after all. He caught a cross- town bus at 57th Street and then waited nervously near the token booth for the number 1 subway train at Columbus Circle. A foul-smelling homeless person shouted something at him until the train finally came, taking him up to 103rd Street and Broadway. He walked over to his apartment building, which had a check-cashing place downstairs and a storefront operation offering low phone rates to El Salvador. The elevator (with a bare lightbulb flickering overhead) took him upstairs to his scratched steel door. He opened it and was in his dining room. The people who live on Park and Madison have foyers, foyers so long you're tired by the time you reach the living room. But the editor couldn't afford an apartment with a foyer. He stepped over the threshold and found himself looking across his cluttered table into the kitchen and wondering where he'd left the cockroach spray. Suddenly he was feeling miserable.

Our editor, a composite, was suffering from Status-Income Disequilibrium (SID). The sufferers of this malady have jobs that give them high status but low income. They lunch on an expense account at The Palm, but dine at home on macaroni. All day long the phone-message slips pile up on their desks -- calls from famous people seeking favors -- but at night they realize the tub needs scrubbing, so it's down on the hands and knees with the Ajax. At work they are aristocrats, Kings of the Meritocracy, schmoozing with Felix Rohatyn. At home they are peasants, wondering if they can really afford to have orange juice every morning.

This eventually became his book Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There.

If you’re anything like me, you have a very strong opinion of David Brooks. That’s for another post. And/but this is undeniably a great article.

Middle and upper class malaise gets more airtime than it deserves (you can guess why). But Brooks has his finger on the vapidness and tedium of it.

More to come.

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