May 07, 2014
The usual solutions were to first auction off the art collection, then marry American heiresses, as in Downton Abbey, where Countess Cora, played by Elizabeth McGovern, is from the Chicago Levinsons. Winston’s mother Jenny was from the Jeromes of Wall Street.
The most famous English-American union of the era was the loveless marriage of 1895, between Churchill’s cousin, the 9th Duke of Marlborough, and the beautiful Consuelo Vanderbilt, the New York railroad heiress, whose suffragette mother was ravenous for a title for her obedient daughter. The Duke received $2.5 million from his new American father-in-law, which sufficed to refurbish Blenheim.
Another problem faced by the latter-day rich was that corruption was less well tolerated. The 1st Duke of Marlborough had been allowed by Queen Anne to skim 2.5 percent off the top of the wages he paid his soldiers during the decade-long war with King Louis XIV, for a total of £280,000. The only thing unusual about this arrangement was that the British public got decent value for their money from the Duke, who repeatedly trounced the French.
Latter-day leaders weren”t as lucky. Dwight Eisenhower was roughly as successful a general and politician as John Churchill had been, but the farm Eisenhower retired to in Gettysburg doesn”t look anything like Blenheim.
Winston Churchill inherited the aristocratic tastes of his ancestor, but not his opportunities for graft. He tried to maintain his 19-bedroom house, Chartwell, and his much put-upon staff of 25 upon his journalistic earnings. In 1938, Churchill put Chartwell up for sale to meet his debts, but Sir Henry Strakosch secretly gave him the value of the house.
Servants had steadily become more expensive in England. One reason was the increase in jobs elsewhere in a modernizing economy. On Downton Abbey, to illustrate, a maid applies for a job in town as a secretary, which is a much better post.
A forgotten reason, though, was that the massive emigration from the British Isles reduced the supply of workers and thus raised their wages. While Tony Blair’s Labor Government liked to claim that Britain had always been a nation of immigrants, it was in truth a nation of emigrants. Today, there are perhaps two or even three times as many people descended from the British Isles living in the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and Argentina as there are in Britain and Ireland. Without all that outflow, wages in Britain would be lower and land prices astronomical.
The most obvious example showing that Piketty is right about the ability of the rich to impose their prejudices upon the political process is this: Billionaires such as Mark Zuckerberg and Carlos Slim, who bailed out the New York Times in 2008, have largely succeeded in shutting down open debate over immigration policy in America.
Billionaires want more immigration so they can pay lower wages, but anybody who mentions that is an evil person, unlike, say, the Mexican oligarch who profits exorbitantly on calls placed between illegal immigrants and their loved ones in Mexico.
It’s a spectacularly obvious version of what Piketty is talking about, but of course he doesn”t dare bring it up.