Back in the summer of 2015, I visited Athens just as the European Central Bank decided to ration the amount of Euros Greeks could take out of their own bank accounts. They did this to ‘persuade’ them that even thinking about leaving the Euro was a bad idea. This made Greeks very angry. Americans were, at that time, angry too. I gave an interview when I was in Athens about that topic, and Brexit, that went viral. I discussed in four minutes why the US was so angry, why Donald Trump had this down, and I ended with the line “the Hamptons is not a defensible position. Eventually, they will come for you.”
My point was not to recommend invasion. Rather, I was pointing out that if increasing inequality was behind the anger driving our politics today (it is), then those who benefitted most from that inequality – the famous top 1% – cannot self-insure against its effects with Private schools, Private Jets, Private Estates, and Private Security. History shows that eventually all such strategies fail as the anger in the wider society spills over, and then the folks at the top have a choice. They can either accept a politics that lowers the inequality, or they can face the proverbial pitchforks, even out in the Hamptons, that Long Island enclave long associated with the wealthiest Americans.
Four years later, in the middle of a pandemic, it seems that the folks with the pitchforks have figured out where the Hamptons are and it’s not a defensible position after all. In response, the folks in the Hamptons have done what threatened elites always do in such situations, they hire mercenaries, or as we call them today, more private security. The problem with such a move is that you can’t buy a private solution (build walls) for a public problem (rising anger). Finding Elysium or an island off Fiji run on Bitcoin, are not viable exits. Eventually, those on top need to recognize that their fates are not separable from those of their fellow citizens, and they are your fellow citizens, not a threat to be managed. Throughout history, most elites have failed to recognize this and things get worse before they get better. Let’s hope that the smart money in the Hamptons gets the memo this time around.