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Checkbook Chic

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Do your philanthropic clients get more of a charge out of the size of their foundations than out of their SUVs? Do they seek one-upsmanship in the area of doing good, rather than in the cost of their latest sports car or the output of their home stereo system? Do they keep score of how many charities they support instead of how many country clubs they belong to? Maybe you should take a look at Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There, by David Brooks (Simon & Schuster, 2000).

What’s a bobo, you may ask? Brooks defines it/him/her as a Bohemian bourgeois, the fusion of the liberal sixties hippie with the conservative bourgeois in a gray business suit who was the original “capitalist tool”. Bobos personify the fusion of wealth and liberality; they are hedonistic and self-gratifying, wealthy and not ashamed to show it–as long as it’s in a socially acceptable manner. And what’s socially acceptable? Well, there are rules. . . .

Brooks takes a merciless but vastly amusing look at this “new upper class,” which he says is preoccupied with “natural” vistas and will rip up acres of wilderness to get it while they run in the power lines for their new mansions at the foot of mountain ranges. You will find them in pursuit, he says, of simplicity: drinking the ultimate cup of coffee (at $4 or more a cup) while sporting “hemp sandals that cost $59 from Smith & Hawken” or hiking boots meant to tackle the Himalayas, not the pavement in the trendy section of town. Bobos take the simple and raise it to a new level–of refinement and of expense.

One of the most amusing differences he cites between bobos and the rest of the population is their spending. “It’s decadent,” says Brooks, “to spend $10,000 on an outdoor Jacuzzi, but if you’re not spending twice that on an oversized slate shower stall, it’s a sign that you probably haven’t learned to appreciate the simple rhythms of life.”

Are you a bobo? Are your clients bobos? You can learn the answer to this burning question and have a good laugh at the same time.

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