Saturday, December 25, 2010

 

GIVE AND TAKE

Since I am not a citizen of the United States, it is not for me to offer insight into the wisdom of the Obama Administration giving-in to pressures from Congress to extend Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy.

As a close Canadian neighbour, I can advance a foreigner's perspective on the seemingly widening gap between rich and poor; the have and the have not; the destitute and the wealthy.

Our American cousins are an extremely generous people. Just in the past few days for instance an unknown donor has dropped a total of six gold coins at several Salvation Army Christmas kettles in the Fort Myers area of Florida. It's precisely that generosity and the belief that the streets were paved with gold that at the turn of the last century attracted so many from Europe; and that a hundred years later continue to beckon masses from central and south America. Other than countries of origin, about the only difference is that back then they were described as WOP (with out papers) and now they're the more politically correct "illegal aliens" - I digress.

Indeed over time, some have become quite wealthy, and ever since Henry Flagler opened-up the state with his Florida East Coast Railway a hundred years ago; the wealthiest have flocked to the Palm Beaches to escape winter's rigours. Flagler was John D. Rockefeller's partner in Standard Oil; and a New York contemporary of Andrew Carnegie and Meyer Guggenheim. Palm Beach is America's enclave of "old money": Descendants of Horace Dodge (automobiles); the Lauder family (cosmetics); the DuPonts(chemicals); Marjorie Post and E.F. Hutton...you get the picture.

Congregated somewhat like book ends at either ends of Palm Beach, are America's "nouveau riches." Not so much hard working entrepreneur industrialists who forged the continent -Rather a microcosm of America's new obsession: Fame, instant gratification, entertainment and sports heroes. (Some might suggest: Precisely what is wrong with the country) At the North end, Jupiter Inlet which is home to Rod Stewart, Celine Dion, Burt Reynolds, Tiger Woods et al. And, Boca Raton at the southern tip. The old moneyed of Palm Beach have an expression..."That's so Boca!" for the local wannabee who include tennis champ Chris Evert, "Charlie hustle" - Pete Rose, Maury Povich his wife Connie Chung, and Nascar driver Jeff Gordon.

Yet again; lest I digress: Canadian ex-pats Jean Francois Roy and Marc Issenman made international headlines in their failed 2005 bid to buy-out all 411 residents of the Briny Breezes "trailer park" for $510-Million which (besides making each trailer owner a millionaire) would have bridged the last remaining real estate gap between Boca and Palm Beach. New money itching to mix-in with the old: "That's so Boca!"

Though I suspect just how the hard-earned "moneyed" of the Palm Beaches will react; the "nouveau" moneyed of Boca have something new to brag about: A shiny bank machine that skips cash all-together and spits-out gold bars instead. The "Gold-To-Go" ATM in Boca's ritzy "Town Center Mall" is a first in North America though the German company that owns it says they'll unroll a few hundred of them worldwide in 2011. The company (Ex Oriente Lux), installed its first machine at the Emirates Palace Hotel in Dubai last May. Shoppers insert cash or credit cards and use a computer touch-screen to choose the weight and style they want...the machine spits out the gold in a classy black box. Gold is currently trading at about $1,400 / ounce. Boca's fancy ATM reconfigures it's prices automatically every 10-minutes to reflect market trends and adds packaging, certification and a 5% markup.

Thirty years ago, Ronald Reagan was elected President on the conservative premise that government is always the problem, never the solution. It's not as if the story of America's ongoing financial woes is particularly obscure. It's that the divide between the rich and the poor just keeps getting wider and little of anything worthwhile is being done about it.

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