A more nuanced view would suggest that the problem originates in how the current elite made its money: largely in either finance or Silicon Valley. Indeed, Farrell suggests as much, lamenting the financialization of the economy and tax policies that allow the rich to keep an increasingly large share of their income (though Farrell notably does not explore issues outside of tax policy, such as the link between monetary policy and the inflation of financial asset values). These industries typically don’t have to deal with large, working-class labor forces, and physical capital investments in specific localities are of relatively little importance to their business models.
For these and other reasons, in contemporary American society the working class and the elite no longer mix. Mid-twentieth-century America was much less class-segregated; people used to mix at church or through the other “little platoons” of civil society, like the Rotary Club or the Lions Club. In most parts of America today, however, those days are gone. As a number of prominent studies have observed, contemporary American society is increasingly isolated and segmented, the social capital that used to bind communities together is depleted, and the population is atomized even within their respective social classes.26 Without any real cross-class social interaction, the rich are less likely to develop a sense of empathy toward the middle and working classes. It is possible that they simply do not understand these people.
Our current elite’s lack of true community also explains, in part, their default posture in favor of globalism: they are placeless. History and geography mean much less to them than they do to the Wyoming rancher whose family has lived on and worked the same tract of land for four generations. Many of the wealthy profiled by Farrell are the products of elite enclaves in “global cities” on the East or West Coasts; in Jackson Hole they seem to be searching for some lost sense of community, but in a haphazard way.
The elite aren’t just disconnected from the working class, community, and geography; they are disconnected from tradition. Elites interviewed by Farrell often expressed a sort of pantheism—or even neopaganism—seeking “spirituality” in the mountains as an ersatz substitute for traditional religious belief.27 One woman profiled expressed the vague and noncommittal faith of her class: “I think religion here is probably more like ‘I’m going to go climb a mountain today, that’s my religion, spirituality, we come here for that.’ You know, to each his own.”28 Similarly, a wealthy medical executive from the East Coast, who says he had previously lacked faith altogether, claims to have become more religious in the Tetons and to have found a new house of worship: “my cathedral is the mountains.”29
This religious devotion to the natural world colors how Jackson Hole’s residents view their time and money—and where they spend it. Elites routinely confessed to Farrell a sense of guilt over the wealth they have accumulated and the long hours they have spent in their careers. To make recompense, they speak of “giving back”—but to nature, rather than to God or neighbor. They give back to the earth on their own terms: by spending time in the outdoors, or being involved in environmental nonprofits.
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