For some, this crisis is on another planet

We’re told a global recession of almost Depression proportions is taking place, fragmenting the social hierarchy. At the bottom end there is tragic chaos represented by suicides and rising crime. At the top, there’s divorce, misery and a small effort to be less ostentatious about one’s wealth. Meanwhile, in the middle, according to New York Times columnist David Brooks, it’s just depression.

Well, that’s not what I see around me here in New York, where theoretically the pain ought to be the swiftest and most searing.

Yes, I hear from saplings at banks that they’ve seen all their friends fired and they’re so underused that they’d like to quit. Yes, I hear from wealthy people that their stocks are worthless. But do I see gloom and doom in their faces? Have I noticed people staying home at night? Have I seen, as the surveys claim, that hemlines are turning long and Penthouse models are large, earthy types?

No. Reed-thin models are still on magazine covers. Hemlines are high, as are chins, determined to party like never before – perhaps even harder.

Black-tie charity dinners continue apace, with the women dressed to kill. At a movie premiere recently I heard a media executive brag about his bonus (oblivious, apparently, to how sensitive a subject this is on Wall Street). And a tycoon held a dinner party the other night where the only sign that anything was amiss was that the host – who would ordinarily have his ear attached to his cellphone – is so bored he’s smoking pot. “I preferred it when I was poor and busy,” he said.

Even an economist at the New York Federal Reserve told me he’s been perplexed by the time-lag between the appalling state of the economy and people’s reactions – especially in New York.

If you look hard you see small signs of change. At book launches, people swill wine instead of water and linger instead of leaving. People debate the financial collapse endlessly but as if it were a theoretical scenario far away on another planet not connected to them. Even a retailer I visited was positive. “It’s all about Dubai now,” he told me.

So either we’re all in denial, putting on a desperate fa├žade, or as the brainy man from the NY Fed told me, the market is simply moving faster than us humans, who will soon wake up to our moment of reckoning. Then the party will really be over. But for now we’re squeezing out every last drop. V

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