Saturday, October 10, 2015

An FT Columnist Smacks Down a Rich Guilty Novelist

Lucy Kellaway is the  featured interviewer in the weekend FT series, Lunch with the FT.

She interviews the novelist Jonathan Franzen, who apparently feels guilty about the wealth his success has brought him. Kellaway nicely, in her report on the interview, smacks away at the absurd "logic" he uses to justify the fact that he actually is spending some of his money to make his life easier:
I make some disparaging remarks about the restaurant’s frumpy decor but he declines to join in. For him its unpopularity is an advantage. “There’s a certain sameness to high-end restaurant experiences, at least in New York, I’m kind of nauseated by the clientele. They’re total 1 per centers and they’re doing it every day and there’s something kind of just disgusting and like the pigs in Animal Farm about the whole thing.” 
But since the rip-roaring success of The Corrections 14 years ago, isn’t he a 1 per center himself? “I am literally, in terms of my income, a 1 per center, yes,” he says..
 [H]e goes on: “I’m a poor person who has money.”
Franzen doesn’t spend anything. The fleece he is wearing is 10 years old. He doesn’t like shopping and hates waste. Upstairs in the fridge in his hotel room are the leftovers from meals, all of which he will eat in due course. His only luxury is expensive kit for birdwatching.
“I don’t like to hire people to do work that I can do,” he says. So that means he does his own dusting in the New York apartment he shares with his girlfriend? Franzen looks slightly shifty. “We do have a cleaner, although even that I feel some justification because we pay her way more than is standard and she’s a nice Filipino woman who we treat very well and we’re giving her work.”
In a way this middle-class guilt is sweet. But it’s also absurd. By the same argument he should be employing as many people as possible.


  1. I don't see the problem here, his revealed preference is to eat his leftovers, wear an old sweater, and pay his cleaner an above-market rate. This clearly gives him utility as it allows him to perceive himself as having lower/middle class values even though he earns a substantial income. The logic he uses to 'justify' it is as irrelevant as some other millionaire's reasoning behind choosing to drive a Bentley vs a Honda, or my decision to eat delicious Arbys for dinner instead of McDonalds.

    Of course, when people like this try to force their preferences on others via the state, we have a problem.