S-Space Researcher Institutes (연구소) American Studies Institute (미국학연구소) 미국학 미국학 Volume 33 Number 1/2 (2010)
‘As Rich as Rockefeller’: Wealth and Worthiness in New York City
- Slethaug, Gordon E.
- Issue Date
- 서울대학교 미국학연구소
- 미국학, Vol.33 No.1, pp. 143-166
- Democratization of Wealth; Economic Elite; Rockefeller; Robber Baron; Providence; Aristocracy; Social Approval; Worthiness
- In commenting on the huge accumulation of wealth in America, Larry Samuel (Rich: The Rise and Fall of American Wealth Culture) marvels that, even with the current Great Recession, there has never before been so much real wealth in the world and so many rich people in America. In 1861 there were only three millionaires in the USA, but by 2007 “there were 9.9 million millionaire households.” With that fantastic increase, “the democratization of wealth in America has diluted the social signifiers or markers of elitism－sense of privilege and entitlement, discreetness, understatedness, noblesse oblige, snobbery－that once were assigned to the rich.” Rich calls this a “social downfall” of the current wealthy elite because they are no longer respected the way their rich forbears were. However, the wealthy elite in America always had to take an extra step to demonstrate that they were not merely rich, but deservedly wealthy. Early members of the Puritan community needed to demonstrate that getting wealthy was part of God’s providential plan. In the 18th- and 19th centuries, the wealthy needed to show that they were well connected with good breeding. Unconnected, upstart members of the Gilded Age like the Vanderbilts and Morgans needed to show that they had social graces and could mingle with and marry aristocrats. Other robber barons such as John D. Rockefeller. Sr. who bridged the 19th and 20th centuries and who were regarded as unscrupulous pariahs needed to demonstrate that they could attain special worthiness.
This presentation, using the example of John D. Rockefeller. Sr. and his children and grandchildren in New York City, explores the ways that rich elite have always needed to prove themselves rightful beneficiaries of wealth and worthy of social approval.
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