Spare Change for My Butler
Forget trying to decode the Dow Jones or decipher the pronouncements of Pope Greenspan. Understanding the core state of our economy can be grasped by reading around its edges. Last weeks Hot Property column in the L.A. Times tells all we need to know. At a time when housing affordability in the county is at an all-time low, when the average rent nears $1,500 a month and the median home a half-million, Hollywood Hills writer-comedian Carol Leifer has bought the $1.2 million house next door to her for well above asking but claims she has no plans for it.
Im not sure, was the answer when she was asked what shell do with the house. But she just had to have it.
Then theres sitcom actor Frankie Muniz, who sold a house, bought a house and plopped a third one on the market all in little more than a week. Muniz moved into Leifers hillside neighborhood, by the way, scooping up a $4 million home about the same as the house he just sold. He wants $6 million for the other Westside shack hes just put up for sale. Muniz is 19 years old.
When youre done with the real estate news, click over to the job listings on Craigslist. My young nephew tipped me off to this one. The fastest-expanding category is openings for some sort of Personal Assistant, what comedian Lewis Black derisively calls personal ball-washers. In exchange for running the errands, picking up the dry cleaning, and typing the correspondence of some imperious, self-important snob, hourly pay as low as $8.50 an hour is offered.
My favorite listing, however, came from a Beverly Hills show biz dad and professional wife seeking a Personal Assistant/Family Cook Who Can Travel. Run the errands, do the shopping, feed the 15-month-old baby, feed the two dogs, make a family dinner for the adults, clean the kitchen, make a daily report on petty cash. Only nine hours a day. Only five days a week. And as an added bonus, you get to go home at night (except, of course, for the 14 months a year when you must travel with this delightful family while its shooting on location).
Might as well take the whole four months of travel, because on the skinflint salary being offered by these Bev Hills jillionaires, who could afford year-round housing anyway?
About that salary. The ad notes that the $800 weekly pay is before taxes. That these wealthy employers emphasize those two words speaks volumes. Do you think that the show biz dad, when offered his usual $2 million or $3 million or $5 million per project, is reminded by his employers that its a pre-tax figure? I dont think so. But this wealthy family is, indeed, smart enough to know that a working-class person (unlike them) has to calculate the tax bite to figure out if he or she can actually make it on the money offered.
New York Times reporter David Cay Johnston, one of the best in the business, writes this week that under the Bush tax cuts, the 400 taxpayers with the highest incomes a minimum of $87 million in 2000, the last year for which the government will release such data now pay income, Medicare and Social Security taxes amounting to virtually the same percentage of their incomes as people making $50,000 to $75,000. Let me translate that for you: The person who will take that Chief Bottle Washer job will pay the same portion of his salary in taxes as will a celebrity or a mogul who makes, literally, $100 million a year.
What isnt very funny is how the poor bastard who gets to wait hand and foot on these Bev Hills snobs and their baby, and their dogs will probably wind up paying about the same tax rate as his or her celeb employer.
Johnstons reporting also reveals that not the top 1 percent, but rather the top one-thousandth of income earners (those who report a take of $1.6 million or more), have seen their income grow by two and a half times since 1980. Thats a rise greater than any other income group in America. And in that same time period, this tiny elites share of the nations income has more than doubled to 7.4 percent. In the starkest terms: One one-thousandth of Americans control one-twelfth of the national wealth.
Thanks to the Bush tax cuts (supported, by the way, by a dozen Senate Democrats), Americans earning more than $10 million a year now pay a smaller portion of their income in taxes than those who earn $100,000 to $200,000.
Defenders of this grotesquely unfair system claim that it rewards success and encourages a fiercely democratic and entrepreneurial system. But anyone who thinks this widening gap has anything to do with enhancing democracy is once again, to quote Lewis Black fuckin nuts. This is how you build neither democracy nor even meritocracy, but rather aristocracy (against which, I believe, we lodged some sort of revolution a couple of hundred years ago).
And, by the way, if youre interested in that Beverly Hills servant job, best get in line. Its definitely an employers market. As the want ad warns: The successful applicant must not only be smart . . . organized . . . able to pass a full security background check but must also demonstrate possession of a full-service heart. You wouldnt want to shortchange your generous boss, wouldya? Dont punish his success.
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