As anyone who has seen Paris Hilton strut across a screen, caught a rerun of The O.C. or driven by clubs on weekend nights in the Hamptons knows, America is currently awash in the culture of rich kids. We may be approaching a crossroads in Rich Kid Syndrome, in which things could go either way for the environment.
As New York Magazine reports, Boston College analysis of federal figures projects that inheritances received between 2003 and 2007 will be 50 percent larger than those received between 1998 and 2002, and that's after adjusting for inflation.
In 2000, there were 7,000 American households worth $100 million or more; in 2003, there were 10,000. Today, researchers estimate that there are between 14,000 or 15,000 -- double what it was at the beginning of the millennium. By 2004, the richest one percent of Americans were earning more than the total national income of France or Italy.
It seems America isn't just divided along political lines. Will we see a middle class getting squeezed smaller and smaller, on one hand by astronomical healthcare costs and a soft economy, and on the other by rapidly increasing excess at the top tiers of society? While the privileged classes have always been with us, are they becoming increasingly insulated by their wealth, complete with personal staffs, private jets, elite clubs and other badges of material success?
What does this mean for consumption of natural resources, one of the biggest driving factors of damage to the environment? If excess becomes increasingly seen as the norm, not only can that drive the wealthy to devour more consumer goods, while taking increasingly frequent and opulent vacations (read: carbon emissions), but it could also spur those in lower classes to try to emulate their financial betters. Will it lead to more laziness and apathy in the face of global problems?
Or will those who inherit wealth rise to the challenges before them and invest heavily in charitable and green causes? Unfortunately, research shows lower classes tend to be much more generous in terms of donating their time, energy and money. This fact makes one wonder if we'd more likely pass down to our children a more equitable, and greener, world if there was less disparity among the rich and poor.
Perhaps more of the super wealthy should follow the examples of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, and make sure their children are well provided for, but not meant to inherit unimaginable wealth, which they view as doing more harm than good, both to society and to their children themselves.
If you really want to be disturbed by rich kids behaving badly, check out Anne Hathaway's pre-Prada turn in Havoc.
Enter your city or zip code to get your local temperature and air quality and find local green food and recycling resources near you.