The other day Paul Krugman, New York Times columnist and Nobel Prize winning economist, expressed his (and my) puzzlement as we approach the holidays.
His complaint was this: Are we supposed to save or spend? On the one hand we are told that Americans have been way too profligate, borrowing and spending and consuming resources like there was no tomorrow – consumerism gone wild – and that this was fundamentally unsustainable.
While on the other hand, we are being told that the current plunge in consumer spending, in “consumer confidence,” is itself a mighty contributor to the downward economic spiral, a kind of self-fulfilling depression mindset.
So, which is it? Do we best help ourselves and the economic future by paring down and saving or by overcoming our cautious instincts, go out and spend money to bolster a shaky Main Street and maybe, possibly, keep the recession from deepening further?
I’ll tell you one thing I won’t be doing. I won’t be shopping from the Gift Guide in the holiday issue (The Style Issue: Cool*Hot*Chic) of Aspen Magazine.
Editor-in-Chief Janet O’Grady writes in her Editor’s Letter that, “Great magazines should reflect the times they are published in.” But apparently that doesn’t apply to her own glossy. At a fat 300 pages and nearly two pounds, Aspen the magazine seems as inoculated as ever from the real world.
There are the usual 50 pages of real estate ads. And the spreads for Gucci and Prada and Dennis Basso furs. There are at least six ads for jet card/fractional ownership/private jet charter companies. Then there is the back cover with its picture of a 20-carat diamond and the words “just a little something” in fine script below it.
But what really convinced me that Aspen has drifted completely free of humanity’s ice shelf was the section titled Gifts for Family and Friends. The subhead reads: “Conspicuous consumption is out. But things, large and small, and special experiences, are in this holiday.”
Here are a few of the small things. A Cartier “Ballon Bleu” white gold and diamond watch for her: $41,925. A pair of Fendi white knit mittens for $285. Or a pair of Alaia folding zebra-stripe slippers for $1,340.
For him, how about a Lange & Söhne watch, rose gold with a silver dial and brown crocodile band: $52,700. Or a pair of “vintage” (as in “used”) cowboy boots from Ralph Lauren for $1,175. But maybe he’d rather have the Vertu white gold cell phone for $39,000.
There are pages and pages of these things. Enameled pens for $1,000. Cognac for $1,450. A Henry Beguelin pony-hair weekend bag: $2,485.
The “special experiences” that Aspen Magazine deems somehow to have escaped the tarnish of conspicuous consumption include a two-hour private cooking class in New York City for $8,999, a private jet tour of India (“prices vary”), and my favorite, an invitation by cellar master Hervé Deschamps of Perrier-Jouët to join him for lunch at the brand’s private guest house, there to “create a truly personalized batch of 12 bottles based on your ‘Champagne personality.’” Price upon request.
I don’t know. Maybe Ms. O’Grady has decided that the truly patriotic thing for Aspenites to do is to whip out the old AmEx Platinum and shove the faltering economy upward in one fell swoop. Who better than Aspen to do the stimulating, I say. (Although taxing the rich would probably spread the wealth better than just transferring it sideways to Cartier.)
Or maybe she’s got her head stuck in the Perrier-Jouët ice bucket and she actually believes what she told USA Today in a story about “the scary economic times.” O’Grady quotes herself, having told the newspaper that Aspen would weather the downturn just fine. “I call it stealth wealth,” she writes. “Aspen has always been a bastion of old money and quiet money.”
My money is pretty quiet right about now. I wonder if any of Aspen’s readers might be interested in a private, by-invitation weekend at Boulder Rock overlooking rustic Colona. I could fashion lunch, of course. But more important, I would create a truly personalized column about his or her special experience here. It would be inconspicuous and help stimulate the economy at the same time. Price upon request.