The Velvet Rope Economy: How Inequality Became Big Business (Hardcover)

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From New York Times business reporter Nelson D. Schwartz comes a gripping investigation of how a virtual velvet rope divides Americans in every arena of life, creating a friction-free existence for those with money on one side and a Darwinian struggle for the middle class on the other side.

In nearly every realm of daily life--from health care to education, highways to home security--there is an invisible velvet rope that divides how Americans live. On one side of the rope, for a price, red tape is cut, lines are jumped, appointments are secured, and doors are opened. On the other side, middle- and working-class Americans fight to find an empty seat on the plane, a place in line with their kids at the amusement park, a college acceptance, or a hospital bed.
     We are all aware of the gap between the rich and everyone else, but when we weren't looking, business innovators stepped in to exploit it, shifting services away from the masses and finding new ways to profit by serving the privileged. And as decision-makers and corporate leaders increasingly live on the friction-free side of the velvet rope, they are less inclined to change--or even notice--the obstacles everyone else must contend with. Schwartz's "must read" book takes us on a behind-the-scenes tour of this new reality and shows the toll the velvet rope divide takes on society.

About the Author


NELSON SCHWARTZ has worked as a business reporter at The New York Times since 2007 and currently covers economics.

Praise For…


“If you’ve wondered how today’s rich live—why they speed past us at ball games and amusement parks, how a select few never have to wait to see top doctors—you need to read The Velvet Rope Economy. You’ll never look at boarding a plane—or privilege and polarization—the same way.”
—Charles Duhigg, bestselling author of The Power of Habit

“Schwartz’s tour of the modern economy is a study of not just how the market carves consumers into separate tribal groups, but of how it can create countries within countries whose borders—however velvet—are incontrovertibly real.”
—Kanishk Tharoor, The New Republic

“Everyone has heard that America is suffering through a second Gilded Age of economic extremes and new levels of privilege and inequality. But very few people are aware of the detailed architecture that builds inequality into daily life. That is what makes Nelson Schwartz’s account of the hidden history of privilege so revealing and fascinating—and so important."
—James Fallows, winner of the National Book Award and author of Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey Into the Heart of America 
 
“Timely and essential . . . Through careful reporting and entertaining storytelling, Schwartz unpacks the degree to which wealth insulates the privileged, as well as the dangers of our free-falling transformation into a caste-based society.”
—Esquire

“A masterpiece of beautifully written, carefully reported social commentary. Schwartz is able to take everyday things we already know—like the fact that the rich get to live a life entirely distinct from the rest of us—and shows, through colorful tales and great storytelling, that this is no curiosity. It is an indictment, a warning, a prediction, and a nuanced vision of our society. This book will become essential reading to understand this moment. But don’t let the grandness of his work scare you: it’s a fun, surprising read filled with unexpected peeks into the perquisites of superwealth.”
—Adam Davidson, co-founder of Planet Money and author of The Passion Economy: The New Rules for Thriving in the Twenty-First Century
 
"Explains how everything Americans purchase—travel, leisure, education, and health care—suddenly got really good for the wealthy and a lot worse for the rest of us . . . This is a book that will likely make you very, very mad. It will also, however, provide some context on why you feel so mad, and perhaps give a sense of clarity about what it all means and how to fix it."
—Vox.com

“Sometimes it takes real insight to understand what is staring you in the face. How often have you gritted your teeth as someone strolled past you to the front of the line? Or watched the curtain close to block your view of the passengers in first class? Schwartz decided not just to document all the ways our business culture has learned to cater to the rich at the expense of the rest of us, but to explain why it matters. It's an eye-opening exploration of a trend with many consequences, none of them good.”
—Joe Nocera, Bloomberg opinion columnist and author of A Piece of the Action: How the Middle Class Joined the Money Class

“Schwartz vividly portrays the way inequality plays out in the thick of daily life. The visceral divides between us are brilliantly—and painfully—brought to life. From airplanes to physicians to theme park queues, he uncovers a disturbing truth about how much money matters in America.” 
—Richard V. Reeves, Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution and author of Dream Hoarders

“Through vivid illustrations and systematic analysis, this brilliantly argued book demonstrates the corrosive impact of growing inequality on society. Almost everywhere one looks—amusement parks, stadiums, planes, college admissions, and health care—we are being segregated into castes. A must read.”
—Emmanuel Saez, Professor of Economics, University of California, Berkeley
 
“Nelson D. Schwartz’s book uses vivid and detailed reporting to advance an important, novel, and ultimately scary argument about the ways that inequality is changing our economy. Anyone interested in the topic of inequality should read this book.”
—Jason Furman, former Chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers


Coverage from NPR

Product Details
ISBN: 9780385543088
ISBN-10: 0385543085
Publisher: Doubleday
Publication Date: March 3rd, 2020
Pages: 352