From New York Time's business reporter Nelson D. Schwartz comes an investigation of how a virtual velvet rope divides Americans in every arena of life, creating a friction-free existence for those with money on one side and a Darwinian struggle for the middle class on the other side.
... eye-opening – and at times, outrage-inducing ... Schwartz’s examples are wide-ranging ... The author not only tells fascinating, readable stories, but he explains why they matter, especially now, when our politics and culture seem more polarized than ever ... Perhaps in a discouraging sign of how intractable these caste conditions have become, Schwartz is less effective when it comes to proffering solutions for the problems he so forcefully describes ... these laudatory examples come off strictly as outliers, not as representatives of a growing trend. Reading this enthralling book is not a downer, but its inescapable implication – that we’re fast becoming an even more divided society with an irreparably frayed social fabric – sure is.
... illuminating ... presents convincing evidence of how companies are increasing profits and expanding by identifying wealthy clients, and then marketing and providing tiered products and services to these elite clients ... Economists and business professionals will be well-served by this insightful analysis, as will social activists and all those concerned by the growing separation between rich and poor.
... unrelenting in its assault on the facade of the country’s meritocratic order. But the book has a harder time showing what is new about much of this. The wealthy were perfectly capable of separating themselves from the masses throughout the nineteenth century and for much of the twentieth. Schwartz acknowledges, in a section exploring segmentation on cruise ships, that the Titanic was far more rigidly hierarchical than any ship today. He accepts that the wealthy have long had access to better medical care, to private rooms in hospitals, and to the most admired doctors. But a note of nostalgia seeps through his analysis, as he harks back to an ill-defined age when American life was not as stratified, when the private sector worked in greater harmony with the public interest ... When was that time? Schwartz doesn’t say exactly, though the reader assumes that his elusive golden age maps onto the decades between World War II and the 1970s, when economic growth in the United States was broadly shared among labor and capital ... In his breathless recounting of present ills, Schwartz is probably guilty of misplacing the historical emphasis. Perhaps it isn’t the current economy that is an aberration, but rather the more egalitarian economy that for a short while preceded it, one that was produced by particular material circumstances (the aftermath of World War II) and political will (the desire on both sides of the Atlantic to curb the influence of private interests over the public weal, in part to dampen the appeal of more radical, socialist politics)...Schwartz never demonstrates that the velvet rope economy amounts to a change in kind, rather than just a change in degree or, worse, the logical continuation of two centuries of free-market liberalism ... might have benefited from looking beyond the United States ... what Schwartz offers in admirable detail is a portrait of disarticulation in the United States ... Schwartz’s tour of the modern economy is a study of not just how the market carves consumers into separate tribal groups, but of how it can create countries within countries whose borders—however velvet—are incontrovertibly real.