Crass Struggle

Crass Struggle: Greed, Glitz, and Gluttony in a Wanna-Have World

Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 494
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Crass Struggle
    Book Description:

    A critique of the lifestyles of today’s ultra rich bolstered by old-fashioned muckraking, Crass Struggle provides a sharp, original, and often humorous commentary on "the bad side of the good life, the underbelly of the potbelly." Taking the reader inside today's luxury trades, R.T. Naylor visits gold mines spewing arsenic and diamond fields spreading human misery, knocks on the doors of purveyors of luxury seafood as the oceans empty, samples wares of merchants offering top-vintage wines (or at least top-vintage labels), calls on companies running trophy-hunting expeditions and dealers in exotic pets high on endangered lists, and much more. What stands out is that so many high-priced items glitter on the outside, but have more than a spot of rot at the core. Through a series of outrageous but all too true stories, Crass Struggle reveals the appalling consequences of consumerism run amok and its links to repetitive financial swindles and the alarming degradation of the biophysical environment.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-8652-9
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-2)
  3. Preamble: Bacchanalian Adventures with the Ultra-Rich
    (pp. 3-20)

    This is a book about big money, the kind that today just about everyone finds gratuitously shoved in their face but rarely in their wallet, unless they work for Goldman Sachs. However, it is a book about big money with a difference. Rather than worrying about how people at the top of today’s income-and-wealth heap “earned” their oodles of boodle – although a little of that is also essential to the story – this book deals primarily with how those who have megabucks spend them and, more importantly, with the costs to everyone else.

    This book investigates how the steady growth of...

    • 1 The Gold Diggers: Precious Metal, Poisoned Chalice
      (pp. 23-51)

      Imagine a City of London hedge-fund manager en route to work one morning in the back seat of his chauffeured Rolls-Royce Phantom. It’s actually a modest car, only $450,000. To maintain appearances in difficult times, today the financier decided to leave at home the Bugatti Veyron (sold by invitation only) that, at full throttle, will empty a 100 litre tank in a little under twelve minutes. As the cityscape rushes past the side windows, he seems to take no heed of all the history embodied in the old buildings, so attentive is he to numbers flashing on his 24 karat...

    • 2 Vulgari: Flawed Beauty in the Gemstones Business
      (pp. 52-79)

      Queen Elizabeth II is reputed to have so much jewellery that she keeps her personal trinkets in a special room the size of an indoor skating rink forty feet below Buckingham Palace. That’s in addition to the Crown Jewels – those, being state property, are housed separately in the Tower of London.¹ Although that division of the royal spoil dates back centuries, its wisdom was perhaps confirmed recently by the queen’s attempt to dip into public funds intended for poor relief to heat her palaces, rather than drawing down her enormous personal wealth for such mundane purposes. Pinching and pawning a...

    • 3 Icecapades: The Diamond’s Darker Facets
      (pp. 80-110)

      The most expensive diamond engagement ring in the world, declared ex-gambling czar turned luxury real-estate promoter (and recent US presidential hopeful) Donald Trump when he gave a $2 million 12-carat rock to supermodel Melania Knauss – who was also honoured with the task of ringing the closing bell for NASDAQ to celebrate the Fifth Annual National Love Our Children Day.¹ She may have gotten her ring in the nick of time. When the big crisis hit, Trump, facing insolvency – his serial bankruptcy record may be his best preparation for the US presidency – pleaded in court that his inability to pay off...

    • 4 Sketchy Business: On Art Connoisseurs and Con Artists
      (pp. 113-143)

      Some paleolithic troglodyte may have invented visual art about 38,000 years ago.¹ However, it took more than 37,000 years for that first artist’s descendants (an apt phrase given humanity’s current condition) to create a truly international market in which to sell the stuff.² Although some trade in art dates back millennia, the usual pattern in post-classical times was for artists to put their talents directly at the disposal of a wealthy patron who sought to bask in the reflected glory of spectacular works. Only after the Renaissance did independent artists operating under their own name become the norm in Europe....

    • 5 The Chiselers: From Tomb-Raider to Curator
      (pp. 144-180)

      During the Cold War (and after) the “free market” probably ranked in importance as a strategic weapon just behind the intercontinental ballistic missile – and did a lot more damage. It was the battering ram to smash open weak economies for looting, the wrecking ball to crumble social support programs in the name of “efficiency,” and the heavy artillery to blast away any value except “market price.”

      Yet most countries still persist in regarding archeological relics and vintage artworks as collective property to guard for posterity. They face no lack of advice to the contrary. It comes from battalions of academic...

    • 6 The Numismaniacs: When Big Modern Money Chases Little Old Coins
      (pp. 181-204)

      Today enormous progress has been made toward the fundamental goal of postmodern capitalism: creating a “market price” for just about anything while trashing the intrinsic value of just about everything. In that spirit, “securitization,” something that worked magic in the mortgage market recently, has spread beyond conventional art forms to embrace at least tentatively other types of collectibles.

      Today the stress is less on the appearance and more on the asset value of high-end collectibles. For example, one vendor of Persian carpets advises that “Even those indifferent to the aesthetic qualities of antique rugs can see the financial advantage ......

    • 7 The Winophiliacs: Uncorking the Secrets of the Wine Trade
      (pp. 207-235)

      Few things can cause someone’s cup-of-life to brim over like descending into a cool, dark cellar, perhaps carrying a sputtering beeswax candle, to haul from a set of cedar racks a dusty old bottle with a label written in a language sufficiently foreign to convey an air of sophistication but not alien enough to risk a visit from their country’s security and intelligence service. After extracting the cork and allowing the contents to breathe revitalizing air, hastened perhaps by a deft swirl of the wine in the glass, the eager epicure takes that exploratory sip, feeling a littlefrissonof...

    • 8 Puff Artists: Behind the Smokescreen of High-End Cigars
      (pp. 236-258)

      Centuries before Cristóbal Colón (slightly misspelled in its English translation) discovered the Americas, much to the surprise of up to a hundred million people already living there, aboriginals smoked tobacco, ironically enough, for medicinal purposes. They appreciated it, too, for its ability to induce hallucinations. Their respect for the plant’s powers led natives in what is now the Bahamas to offer a gift of dried tobacco to their Spanish visitors, who reciprocated by enslaving or murdering them all.

      Probably the gift was unnecessary. For in the hallucinations department, Christopher Columbus hardly needed help. Sailing under the cutting-edge geophysical theory that...

    • 9 Afishionados: On Fishy Business in the Fishing Business
      (pp. 259-288)

      Some rave about chocolate-covered ants; others champion bird’s nest soup. Those gastronomes who fancy sea food, though, might try London’s Fat Duck Restaurant, a Michelin three-star-rated establishment renowned as a world innovator in “molecular gastronomy.” Fat Duck’s fare included, apart from delicacies like “nitro-scrambled egg and bacon ice cream” and “snail porridge,” a “Sound of the Sea” concoction of seafood, foam, and “edible sand” served in a conch shell along with an iPod playing the cadence of waves and seagulls – until the place suddenly shut itself down to figure out why so many of its clients were sending back their...

    • 10 Jailbirds: If Parrots Could Really Talk ...
      (pp. 291-314)

      For some people a goofy cocker-spaniel pup, pink tongue lolling out of its cheerfully panting mouth as it drools in anticipation of a doggie biscuit, is strictly nerdsville – compared to a Komodo dragon whose sharklike teeth lie hidden in thick gums until it bares them to chow down on a water buffalo. No doubt some people take pleasure from getting up close and personal with nature’s more unusual creations – especially if they can pull it off without any danger of having their blood infected by dengue-bearing mosquitoes while trekking through a tropical rainforest or sucked by leeches while wading through...

    • 11 The Hunter-Gatherer Society: From Law of the Jungle to Maw of the Market
      (pp. 315-342)

      In the late 1950s, a five-minute sequence tagged onto the end of a Walt Disney nature film showed lemmings supposedly in their millions (a camera trick) rushing relentlessly over a cliff and into the sea, an image since embedded irrevocably into the public mind by endless iterations.¹ Of course, the lemmings, specially imported into northern Alberta for the stunt, rather than displaying remarkable stupidity, may have actually shown awesome prescience by anticipating how development of the Athabasca tar sands would convert the region into one huge toxic dumpsite.² And the scenario had a more fatal flaw – lemmings do not behave...

    • 12 Goring the Tusk Trade: Mammoth Task, Toothless Law?
      (pp. 343-365)

      The prospect of ending up as the main course at dinner is also a threat to periodically hang over the head, and choicer parts, of the most charismatic of megabeasts – as if the elephant needed more things to prey on a mind that, at least among elder matriarchs, is already exceptional for its long-term memory.¹ A single, mature male of three tons can yield 1,300–1,400 pounds of edible meat. Even the vascular organ weighs in at nearly 50 pounds. That much heart would put to shame a whole army of politicians, sporting cheese-cake smiles and shedding crocodile tears, whose...

  8. Coda: From Class Struggle to Crass Struggle
    (pp. 366-376)

    Spare a tear for the world’s ultra-rich in these turbulent times. Take, for example, Australia’s former chart-topper, James Packer, who inherited megabucks from his father, a media tycoon, then saw his $6–7 billion stash slashed in half during the 2008 market meltdown. The debacle forced him to put up for sale his $50 million nine-bedroom yacht equipped with its own Aston Martin (in case of icebergs?), to defer delivery of his Boeing Business Jet (lest it, too, crash down in flames?), to sell off a company that operated seventeen cattle-grazing stations (to search for greener pastures elsewhere?), and to...

  9. Acknowlegments
    (pp. 377-382)
  10. Notes
    (pp. 383-472)
  11. Index
    (pp. 473-487)