Notes from the Recession

Buck up, there's still billionaire butlering


D oes mounting economic stress have you reaching for the Nytol? No need to fret. A new glossy is here to help. Celeb Staff magazine knows you’ll never be a billionaire, so the pub glamorizes and promotes working for one instead. Celeb Staff is all about helping others fulfill lifelong dreams to be the “butler, personal assistant, nanny, manny, estate manager, personal chef, personal trainer, housekeeper, house manager, bodyguard, stylist, nutritionist, event planner, etc.” for some master of industry or lucky offspring. What’s more, Celeb Staff’s home page guarantees a Stepford-like transformation, insisting that upon joining the ranks of faithful domestics, you too will “have one objective—to provide top of the line services to (your) SUPER wealthy bosses.”

Celeb Staff is published in Beverly Hills. Makes perfect sense. The Golden State harbors more than one-tenth of the world’s billionaires. But nowhere in California will you find a higher concentration of wealth than right here in the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area. According to Wells Fargo, about 180,000 households in the Bay Area have at least a million dollars in assets. Given land-value assessments, that’s mere pin money. According to Forbes’ 2007 survey, 44 of the world’s 946 billionaires call the S.F. Bay Area home. These fab 44 boast a combined worth of $150.2 billion, up six billionaires and $53.8 billion from just two years earlier.

Naturally, these über-rich folk have spreads requiring lots and lots of help, which means burgeoning job opportunities for the peasantry. According to Celeb Staff , mansion size directly correlates to job opportunities. Mansions sized 5,000&–10,000 square feet typically require housekeepers, a personal assistant, nannies and a household manager. For residences 30,000 square feet and up, look for maintenance costs running a cool $3 million a year or so. Celeb Staff suggests these households employ 10 butlers, 12 laundresses, 20 security personnel and 30 housekeepers. Who said we’re on the verge of a recession?

According to Richard Weil of San Francisco’s Hill & Co. Real Estate, luxury patrician properties above $6 million “have been largely unaffected by the downturn affecting the rest of the housing market.” And a press release published Feb. 25 by the First Republic Prestige Home Index notes that “in Marin County, the upper tier is stronger than the lower end of the luxury market.”

In other words, while homes once valued at a million dollars or less drop down the rabbit hole, and even so-called prestige homes clocking in at four or five mil tilt slightly, estates priced at $6 million or more are both in demand and skyrocketing in price. Says Coldwell Banker’s Sue Crawford, “In the past few weeks, we have had some phenomenal sales in Atherton and some very large sales in Woodside. People with money aren’t as impacted by what’s happening with interest rates.”

No kidding.

As an antidote to Celeb Staff , there’s the website Too Much: A Commentary on Excess and Inequality. Too Much is published by the nonprofit Council on International and Public Affairs and offers such fascinating tidbits as the fact that “an $80,000-a-year software engineer would have to work over 10,000 years to bring home as much as [Oracle’s Larry] Ellison did in five.” Ellison, of course, is the $21.5 billion South Bay sweetie attributed with the quote, “Winning is not enough. All others must lose.”

Stop it. Enough rich-bashing! Aren’t unfettered monetary accumulations the very philosophical underpinning of the American dream? Isn’t this how it’s always been here in the Land of the Free?

Well, no.

At its inception, this country was largely agrarian, and while class and wealth were issues, disparities between the wealthy and the poor were slim by today’s standards. All that changed with the aptly named Gilded Age following the Civil War. The Gilded Age gave rise to Eastern-based robber barons. Meanwhile, here in the West, plunderers like the Big Four and the Silver Kings continued the inexorable greed-grope that began with James Marshall’s discovery of Sierra gold in 1848.

Some of these plundercrats met their match in the first of two Roosevelt presidents. Teddy broke up their corrupt monopolistic “trusts.” But it was Teddy’s cousin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who firmly established America’s middle class in the wake of our nation’s worst economic calamity, the Great Depression.

It’s no wonder today’s greed-is-good crowd revile FDR. Roosevelt, among his many contributions to level the economic playing field, actually wanted maximum-wage legislation in 1942. Had FDR succeeded, all personal income over $25,000 a year would have been subjected to a 100 percent tax. That would be equivalent to allowing anyone to make $300,000 a year in today’s money and not one penny more . Though the 1942 bill failed to pass, Congress agreed on a 94 percent tax on incomes over $200,000 just two years later.

Last December, Gov. Schwarzenegger was obliged to reveal “the millionaires and billionaires who pay to send him on lavish overseas trips,” according to Aaron C. Davis of the Associated Press, “offering a glimpse into the elite business and social circles critics say have unfair access to his power.”

Since then, the issue of a $16 billion shortfall in the state budget has provoked a Sacramento battle royale. The governor and his Republican cronies demand 10 percent across-the-board cuts in state services. Democrats want new taxes enacted and such subsidies to the wealthy shuttered as the “sloophole” allowing yacht buyers to avoid state taxes by stowing multimillion dollar acquisitions elsewhere for 90 days before sailing them into California, gratis. Schwarzenegger, while actually bucking fellow Republicans by favoring closing the sloophole, still counters tax-friendly Dems.

Thus far, Schwarzenegger has approved close to $2 billion in state service reductions. These cuts consist largely of penciling out school programs and healthcare for the poor. Brace yourselves for the $14 billion in cuts yet to come, and then ask, are the state’s 95 billionaires ponying up their fair share? Should we care if the Guv’s fab 44 Bay Area buds padded their bank accounts to the tune of $53.8 billion in the last two years alone, but won’t pay taxes on newly acquired yachts? That said, perhaps it’s best to just clam up and be thankful for the many butlering opportunities these billionaire windfalls afford us.

Like Celeb Staff says, “For the average Joe, this type of lifestyle is unimaginable . . . but those who live it will have it no other way!”

Sonoma County Library