Jamie Johnson Understands, But Pities, Social Climbers

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Before the recession, he used to keep candy for them in his coat pockets. Now, all they get is lint and scorn.
Photo: Getty Images

Recently, baby-powder heir Jamie Johnson received an odd text from a friend. "In this post-Madoff era, I am re-evaluating everyone. It is difficult for me to trust, or like, anyone I haven't known for a very long time, or have worked with closely," the friend warned. "I was recently asked to write a letter for someone I didn't know that well for consideration as a summer member at my club. Needless to say, I declined." Jamie took this to mean that "many of the people I think of as rich may no longer have any money." We're not sure that's exactly what it meant, but we like that this is the interpretation that Jamie made. Had we received this text, we would have interpreted it to mean: "Someone should inflate my colon and use it to make balloon animals for needy children. ASAP, pls."

Needless to say, this got Jamie Johnson thinking.

See, Jamie Johnson has made something of a career of thinking about what other rich people think. Do they secretly like recessions? Are Wasps back? And what do they think of Jews? In fact, his entire series of online columns will seriously keep you up at night, your head filled with wondering. Or maybe world-loathing. Listen, it could be worse — he could be thinking about what rich people think about sex.

This week, Jamie is pondering social climbers, who are in a bit of a pickle over this whole bad economy thing:

Hobbnobers [sic] of all kinds are terrified over what their associations might have come to mean. Friends who were previously valuable assets could suddenly function as dangerous liabilities. In affluent communities, where each member is keenly aware of his or her place within the Byzantine order, attracting the right friends is a blood sport. Chumming up to influential figures who are in a position to help can determine the course of an entire life. A high-paying job, membership at the most exclusive clubs, enrollment for children at the best private schools—these rewards are granted almost exclusively to winners at the game of making friends.



Recently, though, the instability in the financial markets and the outright collapse of several venerable investment houses have befuddled even the most talented social climbers and left their compasses spinning. The blow is especially damaging to people on the periphery of affluent circles. As the least established elites, they are more dependent on high-status affiliations than anyone.


Phew! We're glad we're not rich, because if we were we'd have to worry about the plight of people we're worried might want to be our friends for the wrong reason. It's just so stressful! Also, apparently, we'd think that the entire course of our lives would depend upon fake friendships, and that we were incapable of getting good jobs or educations without them.

It's Hard Out There for Social Climbers [One Percent/VF]