Institute President Rob Johnson interviewed by the New Yorker on hedge-fund managers and the market for air strips in New Zealand
Interviewed as part of an extraordinary New Yorker investigation into growing anxiety among America’s corporate elite over the potential for anarchic social collapse, Institute President Robert Johnson saw his peers’ talk of bolt-holes in New Zealand as reflecting a deeper crisis.
Johnson told writer Evan Osnos of the mounting anxiety he had encountered among hedge-fund managers and other wealthy Americans he knew. “More and more were saying, ‘You’ve got to have a private plane,” Johnson said. “You have to assure that the pilot’s family will be taken care of, too. They have to be on the plane.’ ”
Osnos writes: “By January, 2015, Johnson was sounding the alarm: the tensions produced by acute income inequality were becoming so pronounced that some of the world’s wealthiest people were taking steps to protect themselves. At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Johnson told the audience, ‘I know hedge-fund managers all over the world who are buying airstrips and farms in places like New Zealand because they think they need a getaway.’ ”
Johnson bemoaned the lack of a “spirit of stewardship” and openness to more aggressively redistributive tax policy among the wealthy.
“Twenty-five hedge-fund managers make more money than all of the kindergarten teachers in America combined,” he told the New Yorker. “Being one of those twenty-five doesn’t feel good. I think they’ve developed a heightened sensitivity.”
If anything, Osnos wrote, inequality is widening, noting recent statistics from the National Bureau of Economic Research that showed that while incomes for the top 1 percent of Americans have nearly tripled, half of the population was earning at the same level they did in 1980, comparing America’s wealth gap to that seen in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“If we had a more equal distribution of income, and much more money and energy going into public school systems, parks and recreation, the arts, and health care, it could take an awful lot of sting out of society,” Johnson said. “We’ve largely dismantled those things.”
He saw elite anxiety as an indicator America’s social crisis.
“Why do people who are envied for being so powerful appear to be so afraid?” Johnson said. “What does that really tell us about our system? It’s a very odd thing. You’re basically seeing that the people who’ve been the best at reading the tea leaves—the ones with the most resources, because that’s how they made their money—are now the ones most preparing to pull the rip cord and jump out of the plane.”