These days it's not just financial journalists who follow the movements of financiers. So, too, do the entertainment channels and press. Who could have predicted the day would come when OK! magazine would care what mode of transport Ken Lewis, Bank of America's chief, uses? But according to the New York Times, these topics are now considered as interesting to readers as Britney Spears's weight fluctuations.
In other words, the war on the rich is spreading fast. Inevitably the rich (who are still rich, even if their bank statements are a bit depleted) are not amused by this. One billionaire tells me he feels we are living in times where the spirit is akin to the French Revolution. In other words journalists are taking aim indiscriminately, like Robespierre's out-of-control mob.
The analogy is ludicrously far-fetched: as far as I am aware, no Wall Street chief executive or other rich person has been guillotined.
Yet it is true that people with money are being scrutinized in a way they never used to be. Thus some of the Noel family, whose fund Fairfield Greenwich was the biggest feeder into Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme, have finally got the message that it's not seemly for them to be seen rocking out on the dance floor, given that so many of the firm's investors lost up to $7 billion.
What is more astonishing is how long it has taken for the new "tone" to sink in. The truth is that many "society" people are still in denial. They want to pretend that nothing has changed.
I recently received an email from someone on the Westchester Land Trust committee. The committee had discovered that the hosts for its annual gala, Paul and Robin Greenwood, would now be unable to offer their home as a party venue, owing to "recent developments", and could someone else please step in?
The letter did not spell out the "recent developments" - the fact that Greenwood has been arrested and charged with siphoning $500 million from his money-management business for personal use.
Spelling this out would obviously have been considered inelegant - but then so too is making off with someone else's money. Eventually so-called polite society will have to choose whether to see things and people for what they really are.
This article was originally published by the London Evening Standard
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