Multinational Monitor

MAR/APR 2009
VOL 30 No. 2


A New Life for the IMF: Capitalizing on Crisis
by Robert Weissman


Burden of Proof: The Precautionary Principle
an interview with Peter Montague

A Carbon-Free Future
an interview with Arjun Makhijani

Green Stimulus
an interview with Robert Pollin

The Green Chemistry Revolution
an interview with Paul Anastas

A Bias to the Local: The Subsidiarity Principle
an interview with Jerry Mander


Behind the Lines

Big Ideas to Save the Planet

The Front
Global Job Meltdown - Prosecution Prognosis

The Lawrence Summers Memorial Award

Greed At a Glance

Commercial Alert

Names In the News


Greed At a Glance

Solidarity, Plutocrat-Style

Timeshare mogul David Siegel and his wife Jacqueline don't particularly care if people call them pretentious. If they did, they wouldn't be building a 90,000-square-foot home off Florida's Lake Butler and naming it "Versailles" after a certain French palace they happen to fancy.

But don't dare call the Siegels insensitive. The couple, Jackie recently told an upscale Florida magazine, understand full well "that the whole country is going through a hard time right now."

To showcase their sensitivity, the couple have cut back on core household staff at the temporary abode they're calling home until they move into their Versailles. They now only employ five nannies - for their eight children - and a housekeeper.

With the "bad economy," says Jackie, the Siegels feel "we should suffer too." Adds the ex-model: "We even have our kids doing chores now. They take out the garbage and stuff like that." The 30-bathroom, 15-bedroom Versailles, once complete, will rank as the largest occupied residence in the entire United States.

The New Executive Suite Prescription for Resting in Peace

First came "golden parachutes," the contract clauses that guarantee top U.S. corporate executives multiple millions in severance bonus should their companies be gobbled up by some bigger corporate fish. Now make room for the "golden coffin," the innovative executive-enrichment maneuver that takes the concept of "retention bonus" to its ultimate final resting place.

Golden coffin contract provisions guarantee big fortunes to the heirs of top executives. The latest CEO to sport one: Verizon's Ivan Seidenberg. His heirs will get up to $35 million in bonus when Seidenberg dials it in.

Climbing the Luxury Lifestyle Ladder

Call them the "New Faux Poor," the label the UK Tatler magazine has affixed to comfortably rich people who feign hard times "by sacking staff and canceling parties." Frugality has become, in certain well-heeled circles, "the must-have social badge of the credit crunch season."

But some psychologists see this anti-bling posturing among "artfully distressed millionaires" as just another stage in the ever-repeating luxury cycle.

In the first stage, the newly rich show off luxury products with flashy labels. In the second, they take a more "considered" approach, rejecting off-the-shelf luxury for handmade. In the third, they nurture niche connoisseurship, going ga-ga over luxuries like rare truffles.

The last stage? "Meditative" luxury, the world-weary wealthy's labored effort to demonstrate they understand that only inner fulfillment really matters.

More than Penthouse Pizza

On Manhattan's posh East Side, the royalty of high finance are finding comfort in these tumultuous times at Sette Mezzo, a small Italian restaurant near the grand apartment co-ops of Park Avenue.

Former PaineWebber CEO Donald Marron calls Sette Mezzo "a great neighborhood restaurant where you'll see friends," and that's not surprising since many of his friends eat there several times a week. The chefs stick to homey fare - breaded veal, for instance - and the prices don't raise eyebrows, at least not for the clientele. A typical dinner for four will run only $500.

A small price to pay for a welcoming atmosphere. Explains Sette Mezzo co-owner Nino Esposito: "If you are in a very powerful position in New York, you don't eat home ever. Those people come here because they don't need a sophisticated meal. They want a simple grilled fish. They want spaghetti with tomato sauce."

The Epoch of the Surreptitious Shopper

Are the wealthy turning stealthy? In high-end retail hotspots from Rodeo Drive to Fifth Avenue, well-heeled shoppers are asking that their luxury purchases be packed in plain white bags - or shipped to their homes so they can exit their favorite luxury haunts sans evidence of their profligate habits.

Rich people, notes Barbara Lazaroff, the business partner of restaurateur Wolfgang Puck, "want to look as though they are respectful that this is a recession."

But not all rich people apparently. In Paris earlier this winter, at the opening of "Couture Week," fashionistas from Dior unveiled 39 sumptuous ensembles, some with price-tags into the hundreds of thousands.

"The demand for very high-end products continues to be very strong," says Dior's Sidney Toledano. "Very rich people are not suffering from the crisis."

- Sam Pizzigati, editor of Too Much, an online weekly on excess and inequality


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