How should the super-rich use their money? Touring the famous mansions of Newport, Rhode Island, recently, half of me screamed, “You people spent your money on THIS?! Think of the world problems you could have solved with all that loot!” But my other half shyly whispered, “Sure, but it’s awesome that this sight exists. My eyes are happy!”
Tourists aren’t allowed to take photos inside the Newport mansions, but the innards are a million times more shocking than the exteriors. Curlicues of real gold swirl around imported marble, silver, gems, and precious wood in every corner of the rooms. Think Great Gatsby times fifty. So… was it worth it?
In terms of tourism, I’m sure Rhode Island is thrilled about this financial allocation. The Cliff Walk of Newport between the mansions and the ocean is one of Rhode Island’s most beloved attractions, and brings visitors from around the world. Heck– I’ve done the walk more times than I have fingers, and each time it makes me as happy as a pregnant woman finishing her annoying first trimester!
I might add that the super-rich Newport mansion families like the Vanderbilts did also donate a good deal of their wealth to positive community causes that we still benefit from today, such as Grand Central Station in New York City, and women’s voting rights. Does philanthropy like that give the super-rich license to blow the rest of their fortune on overt luxury beyond belief?
In fact, these unbelievable demonstrations of wealth expand a visitor’s view of what is possible for humanity. Yes, it IS possible to create a house with 75 rooms that you only live in for two months of the year. Yes, it IS possible to make an entire house out of marble. Yes, it IS possible to re-create a Chinese tea house on the side of an American cliff. Exhilarating!
I had similar ethical questions several years ago when I reviewed several of Spain’s 5-star hotels after three months of living in a poor town in Ghana, West Africa. Maybe you won’t go so far as condoning mansion building, but how do you feel about people who can afford to, and do, pay $1,000 a night for a hotel room? Should such lavish hotels even exist?
At the end of the day, methinks these gorgeous and crazy displays of wealth are going to happen, whether they are logical, ethical, good, or not. They cause too much titillation to ever be seriously limited: titillation of the eyes and that thrill of the spirit that asks, “Might I ever be rich enough to indulge in something like this, too? Maybe!” The side philanthropic pursuits also add enough benefit to society to keep the masses from rebelling against the screaming luxury.
So what are YOUR thoughts, readers? Should shockingly grand mansions like these in Newport even have been built? Have you enjoyed or been repulsed by such grand architecture, be it in the form of palaces or luxury hotels? Do share!
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