“Nice . . . uh, Gig?!?”

In 1998, I was gleaning the want ads and found a position for a Private Chef for a family…. I am presently one of 9 employees who work at their house. The place is huge and it is just the 2 of them. I cook dinner only 6 days a week about 245 days a year. They have homes in others parts of the country and when they are not on island, I am off work. I have flown with them and cooked at their other places in Napa, Chicago, South Carolina, and St Augustine Florida.

My position is quite unique in that I am able to grow my own food.  I live on a working farm as part of my living arrangement. It is over 500 acres and contains an orchard, a vineyard, and a huge garden. There is also a maple syrup “sugar shack” to process maple syrup each spring. In the fall I attend a 4-H animal auction at the county fair where I bid on a lamb and a hog. I will send them to slaughter and butcher them myself. I vacuum pack the meat and place it in the deep freeze. I can and preserve fruits and vegetables from the orchards and garden. I also smoke my own fish and meats in the smokehouse that is on the property.

–“Private Chef:  Life Beyond the Restaurant World”

Could this be what’s Coming Next?

That is, highly trained, “private” professionals who look after the affairs of the super-wealthy in exchange for room & board, job (and physical) security, health care, and sundry other perquisites that people once procured for themselves (with a little backstopping from government)?

Can you say, “21st Century Feudalism?”

Historic Fork in the Road

Previously in American capitalism, whenever the business “foxes” got control of the financial henhouse (the 1890’s, the 1920’s, and again — kind of — before the S&L bust in the late 1980’s), the farmers eventually managed to regain control.

In due course, they evicted the foxes, and set about improving henhouse security.

So, we got the monopoly-busting Sherman and Clayton Anti-trust Acts, courtesy of Teddy Roosevelt; the Securities and Exchange Commission, Glass-Steagall and enlightened securities regulation, courtesy of FDR; and no more S&L industry after the early 1990’s (yes, those cases were brought by a Justice Department under a Republican administration). 

After the henhouse had once again been made secure, society’s leaders set about making a dent in the extant fox population, both to further reduce the threat posed to chickens, and to “send a message” to would-be future foxes.

That included confiscatory civil penalties, lifetime professional banishment, and — where appropriate — incarceration.

Different This Time

This time?

Put it this way:   we’ve yet to throw the original foxes out — never mind the other steps.

Dodd-Frank, which Congress passed one year ago, has yet to be defined, let alone implemented.

And the overwhelming signs are that its rules, once they are drafted, will be very “industry-friendly” (as they say).

Which all poses the question:

Three years after The Crash of ’08, with no signs (yet) of real reform or accountability . . . which way are things going?

(See, “Number of the Week:  $600 TRILLION.”)

$10 million a Year

In the 1950’s, CEO’s made 30 – 40 times what the janitor did, and paid a 90%(!) marginal tax rate on income over $250,000 (in today’s dollars). 


Fortune 500 CEO’s now average $10 million annually, an astounding 500 times what their lowest subordinates make.

Hedge fund managers, who can make much more than that, pay a marginal tax rate of 15% — less than their janitors (or society’s teachers and firemen, for that matter).   

What’s next?

Annual salaries and bonuses that average $100 million?

One billion?

Who’s to say it can’t happen?

And if it did, what would such a world like look like?

Modern-Day Lords & Nobles

Once you’re making that kind of money, you’re really no longer an average citizen.

You’re more like a  . . . medieval lord or noble, with dominion over hundreds — or thousands.

So, you don’t have a home — you have homes.

And they’re really not “homes” — they’re estates.

With staffs and payrolls and farmers and chefs and groundskeepers and bookkeepers and drivers and pilots and (???). 

From there, it would hardly be a leap to add health care, private schools, police, fire and all the other necessities of daily life.

In other words, to assume the role once played by local government on behalf of everyone.

Gated community,” indeed.

The New (Corporate) Sovereigns

So, what’s in it for the serfs uh, “staff?”

Actually, a lot.

In a world of rampant economic insecurity, they’re provided for.

They have a secure job in their chosen field; access to health care; quality housing and lifestyle (they live on estates, for God’s sakes!); and retirement benefits.

None of those things can credibly be promised by the old sovereigns — countries like the U.S., Great Britain, and Japan — that are now morally and financially broke.

Who can fill that vacuum?

Enter the corporate sovereign — entities such as Google, Apple Computer, ExxonMobil, Coca-Cola, and Johnson & Johnson, which combined even have more cash than the U.S. government (or in Apple’s case, all by itself!).  

In such a world, the titans of business and finance are the new lords, and their personal employees today’s serfs.

Back to the Future

Which just leaves one question:  is that a world we want (to go back to)?

If so, perhaps The Conference Board, The Business Roundtable and others are right; society’s wealthiest need to make (still) more, and pay (still) lower taxes.

After all . . . how else can they afford to employ the rest of us?

P.S.:  Just remember history’s name for this period:  ‘The Dark Ages.’

Also:  for anyone who follows the link in the opening quote — the chef Ross Kaplan and yours truly are not the same individuals!

I can’t even make scrambled eggs (or so my kids tell me).

About the author

Ross Kaplan has 19+ years experience selling real estate all over the Twin Cities. He is also a 12-time consecutive "Super Real Estate Agent," as determined by Mpls. - St. Paul Magazine and Twin Cities Business Magazine. Prior to becoming a Realtor, Ross was an attorney (corporate law), CPA, and entrepreneur. He holds an economics degree from Stanford.
1 Response

Leave a Reply