Monday, July 07, 2008

This Land Is Our Land

With more than just a smidgen of populist flair, Barbara Ehrenreich of Nickel and Dimed fame decrys the usurpation by the wealthy of America's scenic tourist destinations. Or at least, the scenic tourist spots Ehrenreich is partial to.

As someone who just returned from one of the more well off Caribbean islands (Barbados), I just feel compelled to chime in and point out that for the most part, rich people and the luxuries they enjoy are good things- good for the locals, good for jobs, and good for the economy as a whole. Sure, pity the poor locals who find themselves suddenly priced out of their family home, but only pity them so much. Sure it sucks to have to leave, but most people tend to jump when soaring real estate prices offer them a chance to turn their small rural property into a monster profit.

Really though, this whole piece (which seems to be part of her new book?) is nothing more than out and out class warfare. Blah, blah, blah, it's unfair that some vacation spots are too expensive for the working class. Let me chime in again with a "duhhhh." Of course it's unfair! It's also unfair I couldn't afford to fly to Barbados on my own private jet. But that doesn't mean that this is some sort of problem with the world. Quite the contrary. For one thing, the problem of the super rich taking over more and more nice vacation spots, would, to me, indicate that the rich were growing more and more numerous. And that's a good thing, because more rich people means more good paying jobs for working class folk in sectors like service, construction, and even certain types of manufacturing.

While on my honeymoon (and more about Barbados soon) it occurred to me that the difference between an expensive resort and a cheaper working class vacation spot could well be the difference between a service worker who does well for themselves and a service worker who struggles to get by. We ate at some expensive restaurants while in Barbados, many of which had entrees at $30, $40, even over $50. And as I was leaving the tip after our first such meal it occurred to me that the service staff at these restaurants were really making out quite well for themselves. One could make over $100 in tips in an evening just by literally serving 2 or 3 tables. But I certainly don't begrudge that staff, nor do I ever fail to tip accordingly, because, see, that's what you make as a waiter or waitress in an expensive restaurant. The point is that luxury and extravagant spending is good for the economy and good for people. Would that service staff had been better off if their restaurant was a Bennigans and the rich folk of the world had just gone to Bennigans and kept their extra money to themselves? Of course not.

Now, of course, we don't need to get into a discussion of what sort of investments are best. My point here is simply that there are two sides to the luxury coin and while I may have benefited from several delicious meals, I'd wager to be that the service staff at those meals benefited a great deal more.

Now, Ehrenreich mentions the problem of service workers being priced out of certain locations, Key West in particular. For hard-to-get-to regions, this is an issue, and Ehrenreich seems to indicate that the tourism-based economy of Key West is suffering because of it. But for most of the rest of the country ... ehhhh. Ehrenreich pities the service workers who have to drive hours to work, but that's the sort of choice everyone, rich and poor alike have to make. No one's forcing anyone to work hours from home and lots of factors play into such a decision, including finances, family, and one's own relative happiness.

As I said, this is really about class warfare and painting the rich as this uber-enemy intent on co-opting all the scenic spots in the nation for themselves. I for one, am happy for the rich. Not just for everything I've said so far, but because the rich go off in search of these scenic hot spots. That means I can get to the beach in 40 minutes and that means there are still gorgeous locations (like the Pavilion at Rocky Neck State Park) for me to have had my wedding right here in the state.


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