Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Reprint Reprint: Our Lords, At Play In The Fields

How Brightly They Do Shine
[A Reprint Of a Reprint from July, 2010, just because I'm really in a mood about Our Fabled Elders and Betters, and because I can. Not that anyone cares.)



"It is pretty hard to tell what does bring happiness; poverty and wealth have both failed." —Kin Hubbard, Offered As The "Quote Of The Day", The Big Picture
Barry Ritholtz, whose blog I look at frequently, is an investment advisor whose take on America's class of super-rich occasionally rotates between gently mocking derision and moderate envy.

I've never been able to figure out what prompts him to gravitate in one direction or another, but I think the idea is that in his universe, it's no sin to be rich -- but it is if you were dishonest and rapacious about it.

If the quote above, gracing Barry's website this morning, was posed to him as a choice, Barry wouldn't be voting for Poverty. Quite the opposite. Neither would the poor little guy above (How's Poverty working out for him, by the way?). The happy people above don't have to choose wealth; they're too busy shopping.

While that kind of choice would hardly be news (most persons would choose physical comfort over penury), for the kind of world he lives in, Barry understands it's those with money to invest who butter his bread. Just something to keep in mind.


Barry Ritholtz: Good Head For Da Numbers, Dis Guy

Barry's a smart guy, believes as strongly in free-trade capitalism as one can, believes that business is about psychology and competition; and feels that predicting in advance the tidal shifts of money washing around in the markets is The Great Game, and it's all about Making The Right Call, because that's what other people pay him for: He's a principal in a modestly-sized investment advisory business in New York, and he blogs about the kinds of data, the solid (and suspect) numbers, and utterances and divinations of Big Names in the financial world.

Apparently, Barry and his Firm do rather well (God forbid it should be otherwise), and while I don't like the fish tank Barry's chosen to swim in or many of its other creatures, as a former financial analyst Dog, I can appreciate the idea of making decisions based on the most reliable data, and because he seems more fact-based than not I at least pay attention to his take on things.

It's my guess that Ritholtz feels too much of the Free Markets' decision-making is based on misleading interpretation of data provided by government and business, and poor analysis of the real data that is available -- all of which obscures what is really going on behind the curtain. I can appreciate that.

And, he's been critical of the greed and excess that effectively destroyed America's Middle Class, and has so heavily weighted The Game in favor of our Masters Of The Universe©. Barry was sounding skepticism, and then an an alarm, about the Markets and the underlying derivative/real estate Mambo long before the crash.

He's even written a book about it, Bailout Nation. It's a good book, and I recommend it. It's not a Manifesto, and it focuses on what happened in the last days of the Lil-Boots Bush regime, and the early days of Obama's administration -- and how the U.S. Government has effectively paid taxpayer's money to save failed financial organizations led by greedy, sociopathic losers; hence, the 'Bailout' in the title.

[Please Note: Those are my characterizations of the times and events, by the way, not Ritholtz's. His research is solid and his occasionally acerbic observations are worth the price of admission. Buy the book; you'll learn things.]


Cover Of Bailout Nation (via SamSederShow)

To sum up: I appreciate Ritzholtz' drive for accuracy, and seeking better fact-based methodologies for sussing out market trends: Again, it's what he's paid for. At the same time, I don't much care for the industry he's a part of; it's my right to wrinkle my nose and growl at it, deep in my throat, as much as it's his right to jump in his particular tank and swim.




Barry and his family are in The Hamptons for their Summer vacation. The fact that you may not know or care where the Hamptons are is an indication of your Wal-Mart-shopping, Beer-Swilling, Mall-trolling, Fox-News-believing, worker-bee, Drone-peasant status.


For You: Trip To Cardiovascular Surgeon You Can't Afford, Not Included

The Hamptons are an area that encompasses the eastern end of New York's Long Island, and above that, across the Long Island Sound, the south shore of Connecticut. It's a fabled place of summer fun for the wealthy, and a tradition for the East Coast's Hereditary (and Noveau) Rich -- just like Taking That Second Job, and Wondering How To Tell The Kids We're Losing Our Home are for the rest of us.

The actual Wealthy -- Old-Money Bluebloods and the Mega-Noveau Riche Hedge Fund Managers, Pop-Rock Starz Of The Moment, and Hollywood Mega-producers -- own homes there. There are no McMansions for these people,who manage the architects and designers they hire, and are concerned with "getting it right". They don't have to live within a construction budget imposed on them by a loan officer, and don't have to (Ca-Ching!) refinance to upgrade. They can afford what they want, right away.


The Bright Spot: Rising Sea Levels Will Put These Places Underwater

The less (but still respectably) rich who can't afford a Second Residence (not yet; but we have hopes for them; yes, we do) can lease a home in the area for the three-month Season (for some high-end properties, the cost is over $100K per month), then return to their co-op apartments in the West Seventies or trendy lofts in Soho and TriBeca.


Rich Hamptons Girlz, Partying With Their Kind Until Dawn

And, Barry is there, in the thick of it all. He blogs about it -- as much to proudly announce Je sui Arriveste!, as to report the season's activity an indicator that America's Elders and Betters have started 'living large' once again. The fear of appearing to be too conspicuous in their consumption -- of being heard to grunt too loudly at the trough -- seems to have abated since the 'unpleasantness' of 2008.

Out here in the playground of the rich and famous [Barry tells us], the schism between the two Americas is about as clear as one can ever see.

[Please Note: The photos below are not part of Ritzholtz' blog post. They, and their captions, are part of Before Nine and added as visual counterpoints.]
The slowing economic growth may be what most people are focusing on, but the brutally apparent trend here is on luxe spending. Conspicuous consumption may have had its setbacks the past few years, but it's on full display out here.


For Them: So Pretty, And Softshell Crabs A La Stone Creek;
And, The Best Cardiovascular Surgeons Money Can Buy

We went to several very nice, quite pricey restaurants. In Quogue, the Stone Creek Inn on Tuesday night at 8:30 was jammed. The parking lot was a teenage boy’s wet dream: Bentley GTs, Maserati Quattroportes, Ferrari SuperAmerica (dude, what was with that ugly gray?). Out here, 911s are de rigeur, and MB S550s are cars you give the nannies; they all get parked in the back. The restaurant was filled with beautiful people wearing designer clothes, oodles of jewelry (middle aged white guys should never use the word bling).

Oh, and way too much plastic surgery — everyone had a kinda surprised look on their faces.



2009 Maserati Quattroporte (Top); 2009 Bentley Continental
GT (Bottom); Barely Legal Mistresses, Always Optional

On Wednesday night, Starr Boggs in Westhampton Beach was jammed. It was a different crowd — more family, less “fabulousness.” Perhaps it had something to do with their prix fixe only menu (Sun, Tue, Wed) — both joints are 5 stars, but Starr Boggs cost about half of Stone Creek, where I didn’t get the sense that anyone ordered from the prix fixe menu.

...I found it particularly notable that the mid-line restaurants were only half filled; the action was all higher end places...

At East End Jet Ski, the girl who worked there said they had been reasonably busy. BTW, if you are thinking about dropping $5,000 on a waverunner, spend $75. Its great fun for a half hour, but I am less sure I would want to spend a summer on one . . .

Regardless, whatever disinclination to spend the wealthy may have had in 2008 and early 2009, it has been banished here.
We're defined by our choices and actions. I guess, with all due respect, we choose to invest our lives in what we believe most important -- the wealthy (certainly, those Ritholtz describes) have already done that. It's about, you know -- bread, and butter, and all that.