Monday, February 02, 2015

Hey, Jeff Greene, if we want your advice…

When I look upon my list of life’s little disappointments, there’s never being invited to the Aspen Institute, no speaking slot at TED, ix-nay on the MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant, and – first and foremost – no bid from the World Economic Forum (a.k.a., Davos). For this latter slight, I blame my husband. If only he’d chosen to be a BIG NAME ECONOMIST, rather than an oddball little economist, he might have been Davos-bound. And I could have happily played the trailing spouse.

I suppose I could have tried for elite status on my own, by pursuing (and, of equal importance, achieving) a BIG TIME BUSINESS CAREER, rather than settling for the piddling/middling success I did have.

Either way, one of life’s little regrets.

Because being at Davos meant that I could have spent a few late January days swanning around with Christine Lagarde of the International Monetary Fund. I could have done a sing-along with Andrea Bocelli. I could have snow-shoed with Mary Marra of GM.

I could have been interviewed for my insights. Maybe right after they got through with Jack Ma of Alibaba.

And, of course, I could have flown in on a private jet, like most of the other concerned elites who just had to be at Davos for the day when the focus was on the climate. (Fossil fuels? What, me worry?)

I don’t know just whose fossil-fueled jet I would have flown in on, but I suppose if I were elite enough to wangle an invite to Davos, I’d be elite enough to have my own. Or I’d be best buds with Jamie Dimon, and he would invited me to jet over with him.

But the worst thing about not being at Davos was missing Jeff Greene.

The prescient Mr. Green “who amassed a multibillion dollar fortune betting against subprime mortgage securities” did a bit of finger wagging and tsk-tsking aimed at the great American, non-Davosian unwashed.

“America’s lifestyle expectations are far too high and need to be adjusted so we have less things and a smaller, better existence,” Greene said in an interview today at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “We need to reinvent our whole system of life.” (From Bloomberg, via Zero Hedge.)

Because I am the type to notice things like it should be “fewer” rather than “less” things, I’m here writing about Davos rather than pontificating at Davos.  But in any case, I kind of agree with him that we’d be better off if we all kind of downsized and realized that it’s actually possible to live a happy and productive life even without his and her sinks, media rooms, and designer shades – especially if the acquisition of “stuff” means going into hock.

I’m all for any “small is better” movement.

But I’d rather see if coming about grassroots, rather than from some I’ve-got-mine yahoo telling us that we need to “reinvent our whole system of life.”

Our “whole system of life”? (Okay, I would have said entire.)

Maybe some nips and tucks. Some tweaks around the edges.

Like don’t buy a home you can’t afford. Like save for a rainy day (and a rainy old age). Like don’t toss your electronic gizmos aside the nanosecond something cooler comes along. Like don’t borrow money to take a vacation.

Sure, I’d like more enlightened capitalism, and less unenlightened Koch Bros oligarchy.

But I don’t want to see us find ourselves in a country where everyone’s doomed to live in a two-room apartment and have one change of clothing – that is, everyone other than the the Davos gang.

Greene, who flew his wife, children and two nannies on a private jet plane to Davos for the week…

Owns an estate in California that’s supposedly worth $195 million. And a mega-yacht on which he hobnobs with decidedly non-Davos celebrities like Mike Tyson and Lindsay Lohan.

Do we really want to hear from someone living this large that we need to start living small?

Maybe his heart and pocketbook are in the right place to some extent. He’s taken the give-my-money-away Buffett pledge. He’s talking about the stark fact that globalization and technology have sucked a lot of jobs out of the economy, and are going to suck a lot more. (Which is more than most pols do, unless you count Mitt Romney’s recent foray into let’s talk about the poor folks.)

Greene is planning a conference on his own, to be held later in the year in Palm Beach and focused on “Closing the Gap.”

I haven’t quite connected the dots on how widening the gap helps close it, or how telling us hoi polloi to lower our sights is something we want to hear from such an if you’ve got, flaunt it kind of guy.

Then again, I just ain’t smart enough to get me an invite to Davos.

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