Kevin Roose gets to live in a way that most people can only dream about… for a day, at least.
[F]or the next 24 hours, my goal is to live like a billionaire. I want to experience a brief taste of luxury — the chauffeured cars, the private planes, the V.I.P. access and endless privilege — and then go back to my normal life.
The experiment illuminates a paradox. In the era of the Occupy Wall Street movement, when the global financial elite has been accused of immoral and injurious conduct, we are still obsessed with the lives of the ultrarich. We watch them on television shows, follow their exploits in magazines and parse their books and public addresses for advice. In addition to the long-running list by Forbes, Bloomberg now maintains a list of billionaires with rankings that update every day.
Really, I wondered, what’s so great about billionaires? What privileges and perks do a billion dollars confer? And could I tap into the psyches of the ultrawealthy by walking a mile in their Ferragamo loafers?
He interviews a real billionaire while taking a spin in a private jet, dines at an exclusive restaurant, gets a personal security guard, works out a fitness club for the ultra-rich. Along the way, he notices a curious side effect:
One thing I’ve noticed so far is that when you’re a billionaire, you’re never alone. All day, your life is supervised by a coterie of handlers and attendants catering to your whims. In the locker room alone after my workout, I feel unsettled. Where’s my bodyguard? Where’s my chauffeur? Why is nobody offering me an amuse-bouche while I shampoo my hair?
I asked Dr. Grubman, the psychologist to the wealthy, if a billionaire’s lack of privacy eventually becomes second nature. “For these people, being able to be alone and relaxed with those people who are around you is rare,” he said.
I feel bad admitting it, but my billionaire day has been stressful. Without an assistant, just keeping up with the hundreds of moving parts — the driver, the security detail, the minute-by-minute scheduling — has been a full-time job and then some.
When my night ends well after midnight, after a performance of Macbeth at the Metropolitan Opera and a raucous trip to a burlesque-themed nightclub called the Box, something funny happens. I realize that I’m experiencing the sensation that psychologists call “sudden wealth syndrome.”
The feeling is one of cognitive dissonance, a quick oscillation between repulsion and attraction. I’m drawn on one level to the billionaire lifestyle and the privilege that comes with it. But the lifestyle is so cartoonish, so over-the-top flamboyant, that I’m not sure I could ever get used to it.