Sunday, April 06, 2008


Bus Blogging

I'm so pleased to be guest blogging here at RT. I will do my best to embarrass Robert for giving me the opportunity.

I'm writing this entry from a remarkable place -- a WiFi enabled luxury bus, running express from NYC to DC. I popped out my laptop, turned on the wireless, and voila! Mobile Blogging on the Jersey Turnpike.

What's particularly interesting about this trip is that it costs a mere fraction of Amtrak or the airlines. I am paying a discounted introductory rate of $26 round trip. And sitting in a damn comfortable seat as well.

My intention today is to blog a little about the economy (which RG studiously avoids, since he can't even balance his checkbook). Discount luxury buses are, I think, a sign of some interesting economic trends, ones that will have a real bearing on the November election. Stay with me here for a moment...

Despite the John Edwardsian rhetoric that spills forth from Democratic pols these days, there are not two Americas -- economically speaking, there are many, many Americas. As I scan the bus ridership, I see mostly college students or recent graduates, a few elderly folks, a mother and 20-something daughter traveling together. It looks like the split is 50-50 white and Asian Oh, and one middle-aged entrepreneur hammering away on his laptop.

Two observations from this: One: while we can safely assume that everyone on here is suitably cash-strapped to be enticed by the cheap fares, beyond that it's virtually impossible to generalize anything about their true economic condition. And two, enough Americans are feeling the economic squeeze that new businesses like this are springing up to cater to us. Like designer label items sold at Target, we can keep up the trappings of modern American luxury at a fraction of the cost.

In my view, this paints a far more complex economic picture than the Democratic caricature of haves versus have nots, but also reveals the reality behind the GOP's simplistic "opportunity society" creed. In today's New York Times, there is a special magazine section with real estate articles and ads. Next to an interesting piece on first-time home buyers around the country, I spied an ad for new $4.5 million condo's near my old apartment on Manhattan's Upper West Side -- until a few years ago considered largely a middle class neighborhood. And at the same time people are building and buying grand apartments, new companies are offering $26 luxury buses. What gives?

I think what we're seeing is that for most Americans, this remains an aspirational economy. In other words, people have hopes for their own economic improvement; they still desire top quality goods and amenities; and they are willing to seek these out for a price which they can afford -- even while watching the super-rich continue to prosper.

I'll weigh in with a follow up post of what this means for November 2008.

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