The ob­scenely wealthy vs. the ob­scenely poor

The Beacon (Gander) - - Editorial - Rus­sell Wanger­sky Rus­sell Wanger­sky’s col­umn ap­pears in 39 SaltWire news­pa­pers and web­sites in At­lantic Canada. He can be reached at rus­sell.wanger­sky@thetele­ — Twit­ter: @wanger­sky.

There are lots of ways to look at fi­nan­cial in­equal­ity in this world.

You can, like Ox­fam has done, re­lease numbers ar­gu­ing that the rich­est one per cent in the world took in 82 per cent of the wealth made in the world last year. Or, to make the dis­tinc­tion be­tween rich and poor even more clear, you can use their numbers and point out that just 42 peo­ple in the world have as much wealth be­tween them as the poor­est half of the world’s pop­u­la­tion com­bined.

I think of it in a dif­fer­ent way. I just think about the cars. The gor­geous, shiny, ex­pen­sive cars, and the peo­ple who have enough money to toss away on them.

While Ox­fam was re­leas­ing its numbers, and while world lead­ers were pre­par­ing to jet off to Davos, Switzer­land, for the world eco­nomic fo­rum, thou­sands of car en­thu­si­asts were head­ing to Scotts­dale, Ari­zona this past week­end for the mas­sive Bar­ret­tJack­son car auc­tion.

It’s a six-day auc­tion, tele­vised if you have the right chan­nel, where hour after hour, day after day, cars of all ages and price ranges go up on the auc­tion block. Corvettes, Volk­swa­gen vans (“Ger­man doc­u­men­ta­tion ver­i­fy­ing this to be an au­then­tic, turquoise/white 23-win­dow bus with Como Green in­te­rior. Orig­i­nal VIN/data plates. Date­cor­rect 1200cc en­gine, man­ual trans­mis­sion, sa­fari win­dows. Fresh and cor­rect restora­tion to high­est stan­dards.”), Lam­borgh­i­nis and pickup trucks — the list seemed end­less.

The cars, pushed onto the stage by Bar­rett-Jack­son work­ers in dark shirts and wear­ing gloves to pro­tect the paint.

The top se­lec­tions were be­ing sold on what the tele­vi­sion com­men­ta­tors were call­ing the auc­tion’s “seven-fig­ure day.”

That’s when peo­ple can ex­pect to see ve­hi­cles sell in the range of US$1,000,000 and above — the cream of the car auc­tion crop.

Many of the buy­ers were sim­i­lar: late-mid­dle-aged, husky men in golf shirts with wrap­around sun­glasses on the tops of their heads, white lines along the sides of their faces show­ing where the glasses sit when their own­ers are out­side. An­other sim­i­lar­ity? They all had tens of thou­sands, some­times hun­dreds of thou­sands, of dol­lars to toss out on cars that of­ten cost a frac­tion of the new pur­chase price when they were first sold.

Now, I un­der­stand the love of cars. The nos­tal­gia of buy­ing a car you al­ways wanted as a high-schooler, the love of par­tic­u­larly splen­did ex­am­ples of clas­sic ve­hi­cles, the op­por­tu­nity to buy a ve­hi­cle that is ac­tu­ally one of a kind. (One of the cars was lit­er­ally one of a kind: a 1968 con­vert­ible, one of 57 pro­duced with a par­tic­u­lar en­gine, au­to­matic trans­mis­sion and air con­di­tion­ing, and the only one of those 57 with match­ing parts numbers. So, if you bought it, you’re the only one.)

“In­cred­i­ble col­lectible cars top­ping the charts to­day in­cluded a 2015 Porsche 918 Spy­der com­ing in as the top sale of the day and the auc­tion at $1.43 mil­lion. A stun­ning 1952 Fer­rari 212 Europa went to its new home for $1.1 mil­lion, as did a unique 1965 Corvette Cut­away Coupe,” the com­pany said in its pro­mo­tional ma­te­rial.

Talk­ing about this with one of my fel­low ed­i­tors, an editor I’ll just call “Car Guy” had a good point: at least they’re spend­ing the money, and that spend­ing is go­ing out into the econ­omy, build­ing cars, restor­ing cars, em­ploy­ing work­ers. It’s not like the peo­ple who can drop mil­lions on a par­tic­u­lar car are hoard­ing their money and count­ing the ever-grow­ing in­ter­est as it piles up.

And that’s true. True as well, per­haps, is that, if you’ve made that much money, you can spend it any way you like.

I’ll just leave this ar­gu­ment with one thought: ap­par­ently, Shane Pa­trick Boyle died of di­a­betic ke­toaci­do­sis in Arkansas when his GoFundMe cam­paign didn’t raise enough money in time for him to af­ford in­sulin.

Noth­ing shiny there.

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