Friday, December 12, 2008


Peggy Noonan thinks Americans are changing their ways:

Is this the last Christmas of the old era, or the first Christmas of the new? Will people spend in a way that responds to what's around them (Nothing seems changed!) or to what they know is coming (Did you see this week's jobless numbers? Highest in 26 years!)? Will they go for some last big-ticket items, sliding the platinum card along the counter with a "We who are about to die salute you" flair, or will spending reflect a new prudence, and the new anxiety? Assume the latter. There's a new mood taking hold....

There's ... a new or renewed sense of national shame. Or communal responsibility. Or a sense of reckoning....

Economic collapse concentrates the mind. Some of it is maybe "agenbite of inwit," the Middle English phrase meaning remorse of conscience. The new mood seems to involve a new modesty, and something a little more humane....

Oh, yes, indeed -- all around us, pangs of conscience and a becoming modesty.

Which, for the rich, according to yesterday's New York Times, means spend as much as you always did, but do it where the rabble won't see you:

ONLY a year ago, Maggie Buckley might have indulged a craving for, say, satin opera gloves or python sandals with a quick trip to Saks or Bergdorf Goodman. But now, in these recessionary times, she tends to avoid such public sorties.

"Shopping is almost embarrassing, and a little vulgar right now," said Ms. Buckley, an editor at Allure magazine. Loath to be seen loading freezer-size parcels into the back of a waiting cab, she finds herself shopping at under-the-radar soirees in the homes of her friends.

Ms. Buckley is one in a coterie of shoppers turning their backs on conspicuous consumption but trawling for treasures nonetheless at invitation-only shopping events springing up in hotel suites, at private showrooms or in the well-appointed parlors of their peers. Feeling the pangs of conscience, they are shopping on the down-low, finding deals in places that are the retail equivalent of a safari on a private game reserve.

... "We're like a little secret that people want to share, but not with just anybody," said Eve Goldberg, an owner of William Goldberg, a diamond dealer in Manhattan. Ms. Goldberg's company recently opened a salon that caters to clients who prefer to shop discreetly.

"People are saying: 'It's that time of year; I want to buy something, but I feel a little weird,'" Ms. Goldberg said. "Often they tell me, 'I don't want to be out there making an announcement with a big bag that says Harry Winston.'" ...

The good thing is that some of the people who run these exclusive invitation-only secret shopping soirees give some of the take to charity. The not-so-good thing is that these people are buying diamond dog collars. (I thought these were Tom Wolfe-ish types with wealth and taste. Isn't a diamond dog collar something you'd buy for the pit bull of a pimp?)

Oh, and a business-school professor and "consumer psychologist" who's quoted in the story refers to the desire of these rich people to "get their shop on." That high-pitched sound you hear is the English language screaming in agony.

So, yes, Peggy that "agenbite of inwit" is really inspiring the rich to live in a new way: doing what they always did (and apparently will always be able to do), but making sure the struggling peasants don't notice.

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