A noted political scientist Sam Bowles (The Santa Fe Institute) has estimated that one third of employed Americans are working to protect private property and that means, inevitably, of the very richest Americans. June 12 the New York Times (“For Executives with Everything…”) reported just how arcane and extreme this protection business can get. Harrison Prather trains very high end guard dogs, so high end that top price can go to $230,000, which is what Julia, one of his German shepherds, sold for. Julia is now guarding John Johnson in his Minneapolis and Arizona homes (he has five other protection dogs). Johnson was, until recently, the CEO of the Northland Group, a debt collection company in Minneapolis. Julia now has a part time trainer, Jeremy Norton. Norton, also works as a firefighter, and ruefully admits Julia cost half the value of his house.

If he were alive, Charles Dickens would no doubt have rubbed his hands in glee at the idea of “Mr. Johnson” for a novel: just how well you could make out with a business built on squeezing those poor, or the about to be poor; just how to teach government employees like firefighters know how little they count for their public service. Training killer dogs, yes, saving people, no.

Also on June 12, the Times Magazine carried an article on the extreme upscale Las Vegas mall, “Crystals”, and on its eerie emptiness, the reporter being one of three humans in a 23,000 square foot Prada store (the other two being a security guard and a saleswoman). The reporter was assured that the fact that the store was empty didn’t mean no one was buying. Personal shoppers for the very rich were sent before the store hours to scoop up, say, a $21,500 chinchilla bolero shrug. The saleswoman shows off some $8,000 gowns to the reporter: “The casino owners buy (them) for their wives”.

In his research and writing Bowles concludes reducing inequality does not compromise efficiency or economic growth. Also against conventional wisdom, the religion of self interested action does reduce the altruism of the individual which Bowles says, on the contrary, must be harnessed and recognized. We don’t know whether Sam Bowles has done research on the gaming industry as a percentage of GDP. But we would not be willing to bet against the chinchilla shrug. The empowered rich show every sign of bidding up the guard dogs.

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