“Econocide,” suicide due to the poor economy, is the latest financial buzz word.
As a segment on tonight’s CBS Evening News showed, once wealthy people are throwing themselves under trains, blowing out their brains, slitting their wrists. Others are faking their deaths by crashing their private planes and acting like they jumped off bridges. They can’t deal with being penniless or worse yet, having caused their clients’ fortunes to evaporate in this economic meltdown.
I know some rich folks, more comfortable people and a fair share of working poor. This is when being less fortunate has its advantages. We know how to get by on less. We don’t have to worry what it’s like to run into Muffy at our regular spa session and wonder if she knows our yacht is up for sale, that we fired the nanny, that we’re cooking our own meals because the personal chef had to go too and that the kids are, gulp, enrolling in public school next fall.
I remember a conversation several years ago with an Italian journalist in Florence. He was very worried that his new boss wouldn’t renew his contract. I jokingly told him that his wife might have to get a job. “She would kill me,” he said. “Then she would kill herself.”
Two-family incomes may be a way of life for many American families but in Italy it’s an embarrassment. In some circles, a wife working is a reflection of a husband’s manhood. It translates to the husband’s salary being insufficient to take care of his family. And don’t even think about cleaning your own home. As I was told when I moved to Florence, either you have help or you are the help. I got suckered into that thinking and hired a Filipina to clean my three-room apartment. I’m home all day drinking Chianti, struggling to find freelance work, living off my savings and yet I hire someone to clean a small apartment? Something was wrong with that picture and I never brought the cleaning woman back. (Yes, I used one on occasion in L.A. but my house was much larger and I was VERY busy working a full-time staff job, which meant a regular paycheck and little time to clean.)
There’s such pressure to live at a certain standard and the well-off feel it more than any other group. Personally, I don’t mind saying I can’t afford something. I’d rather be honest than afraid to answer the telephone because a bill collector might be on the other end. Those of you who know me know I’ve downsized over the years. I didn’t stay at my usual Le Byblos when I went to St. Tropez in 2008. I opted not to bring in 2009 skiing in Utah. I moved from the Upper East Side to Harlem last spring. It’s called sacrificing, which I’ve done plenty of as a freelancer and have grown tremendously for doing so.
I feel for New York artist Alexandra Penney, the former editor of Self magazine and best-selling author who gave ALL of her hard-earned money to accused King of the Ponzi scheme Bernie Madoff to invest. You know how that turned out. In the first of her ongoing series “The Bag Lady Papers” chronicling her fall from grace in The Daily Beast, she writes about taking the subway for the first time in 30 years, having to let her Colombian maid Yolanda go and googling the Hemlock Society because she wants to know a painless way to die. Alexandra says she has enough money to live off of for the next three months. She’ll be OK. I’m sure in time she can write another best-seller and freelance write just like me, though she will probably earn more per article than moi and I bet her invoices will be processed quicker than moi. There aren’t a lot of openings for high-powered financiers and investors but I’m sure they can put their skills to good use. I hope those in finance learn how to cut back because suicide isn’t the answer. Unless the insurance policy covers self-killing, which I doubt.