by NPR Staff
The High-Beta Rich
How the Manic Wealthy Will Take Us to the Next Boom, Bubble, and Bust
by Robert Frank
Hardcover, 239 pages
"The rich are not only getting richer, they are becoming more dangerous," Robert Frank writes in his new book The High-Beta Rich: How the Manic Wealthy Will Take Us to the Next Boom, Bubble and Bust. The spending binges of the top 1%, he says, are "the most unstable force in the economy."
According to Wall Street Journal writer Robert Frank, for some of the high-beta rich, wealth is a "mirage in the desert," wherein the facade of fancy trappings conceals massive debt.
Read an excerpt
On why the richest Americans are so dangerous
"Before I started this book, I just assumed that wealth was like an escalator in America, that the 1 percent were always just getting richer and the rest of us were not. In fact, when I started to look at both the people and the statistics on wealth, what I learned is that the 1 percent has become the most volatile and unsteady part of our economy; that you have these people crashing in and out of the 1 percent due to the changing nature of the way wealth is created today, but also [due to] the culture of spending and borrowing that we've seen on things like shadow yachts [the boats that follow the yachts of the super-rich, carrying their cars and helicopters] and zombie jets."
On zombie jets
"A zombie jet is a jet that has been purchased by a person that at one point was worth ... $100 million, maybe $200 million, maybe a billion dollars, and they borrowed the money to buy the jet, and then jet prices fell. Their own fortunes fell, and basically the jets were upside down. They were worth less than the actual loan value.
"So the banks didn't want them back. The people who owned them didn't want them back. So as a result, you've got all these [private] jets that are flying around, thousands of them ... that the owners haven't been able to pay for and the banks don't want back."
On how the behavior of the super-rich has changed over time
"When you look back at the 1 percent or the wealthy, however you want to define them, before 1982 they were the flat line on the income scale. They were the most conservative in America. When times were good in America, the 1 percent didn't do quite as well. When times are bad, they didn't do as badly as everyone else.
"Suddenly, in 1982, the year I call the magic year for wealth, the 1 percent, which used to be like the teetotalers of our economy, became the binge drinkers.
"And when times were good, they did two or three times better than everyone else. When times were bad, they did two or three times worse. So if you look at the last three recessions, the top 1 percent lost two to three times in income what the rest of America lost. And, you know, part of it has to do with more and more of today's wealth is tied to the stock market, whether it's executives who are paid in stock or somebody who's starting a company and takes it public with an IPO.