When thin fat cats get pudgy and sell their Picassos | AspenTimes.com

When thin fat cats get pudgy and sell their Picassos

Andy Stone
Aspen, CO Colorado

Can you hear those thundering hoof-beats?

I think it’s a stampede. Something’s spooked the herd.

The fat cats are beginning to panic.

I read about it in The New York Times ” and whatever you might think of the NYT, I believe that we can trust that old Gray Lady when it comes to fat cats. After all, New York is their natural home. As the bond traders sing, gathered around the bonfire (of the vanities), “Home, home on the Upper West Side/Where the trophy wives and the old fat cats play …”

The article in the Times reported that the recent downturn in the economy is causing a bizarre panic in people who have found their net worth tumbling from, say, $150 million to a mere $90 million.

Most of us, of course, would consider $90 million a nice sum to have in the bank ” but apparently, once you’ve broken the nine-figure mark, it’s tough to handle the embarrassing drop to a mere eight figures.

And, according to the Times, embarrassment is a major factor. People are ashamed that they’re only going to bring home $5 million this year. They don’t want anyone to know that they can’t afford that new $50 million condo ” or that they’ve been forced to cut back on their private planes … switching from Gulfstreams to (shudder) Beech jets.

Some are afraid that if word gets out, their offspring won’t get invited to the best birthday parties. (Who, after all, wants their children hanging out with the “poor kids”?) Some are afraid their spouses will leave them once they realize the gravy train has been shunted off onto a track whose glitter is gold plate instead of solid gold.

Stop snickering! We need to show some pity for these poor people.

And here’s the saddest part: The fat cats are getting fat.

Once upon a time, fat cats were supposed to be fat. The wealthy robber baron’s bulging belly testified to his bulging bank account.

But in the 21st century, when it comes to fat cats, thin is the new fat.

These days, poor people are fat. Rich people can afford personal trainers and diet consultants (and, if need be, stomach stapling). Whatever it takes to stay thin.

But now, the Times reported, the rich (still rich, but not as rich as they were last year) are indulging in “stress eating.” They’re skipping the $165-an-hour sessions with their private trainers. They’re drinking more. They’re getting pudgy.

Who knows, maybe they’re even eating at McDonald’s. (Ha!)

What does this have to do with Aspen?

Oh, I don’t know … maybe everything.

Face it, folks, people who are reduced to selling the Picassos off their walls (the minor Picassos, of course ” not the major ones) are probably not going to buy that cozy little $10 million fixer-upper in the West End. If they’re embarrassed to be flying in a Beech jet, do you think they’re going to humiliate themselves by taxiing that pathetic little thing into the lineup in Aspen on the Fourth of July?

Of course not.

I confess, I’ve been one of the people who figured Aspen was recession-proof, because even when things get shaky, someone who has $2 billion and loses half of it would still have a billion ” and will still be coming out to his second (third? fourth?) home in Aspen.

What I hadn’t counted on was that the psychology of losing half your fortune leaves you feeling poor, even if half your fortune is still a billion dollars.

(Actually, I admit, I have wondered about Bill Gates and how he’s felt over the past few years as Microsoft stock has ricocheted back and forth ” up to $30, down to $20, up to $40, down to $30 ” taking his personal net worth up and down by billions of dollars in the process. I’m no Bill Gates fan, but I sure hope he doesn’t care.)

So maybe Aspen isn’t immune. Maybe the lineup of Gulfstreams will have a few gaps in it in coming seasons. Maybe some of those $20 million houses will languish on the market.

And maybe Aspen’s “billion-dollar-plus economy” ” the one that’s based on real estate deals and construction ” will face a few unsettled years.

But one still has to wonder how that will affect Aspen’s real (I hope) economy ” the one that’s based on restaurants and bars and lift tickets and lodge rooms.

Do the billionaire fifth-home owners really leave all that much money here in town?

When another 15,000-square-foot house is built on Red Mountain, the construction workers drive here from Rifle ” and take their paychecks back to Rifle to spend.

And when that house sells for $15 million, the Realtor gets a nice cut, which does stay here in town (and, yes, The Aspen Times gets to sell some more real estate advertising). But you have to hope that’s not really all there is to this town.

You have to hope that skiers in the winter and music-lovers in the summer are the ones bringing the money into town ” and spending it here.

One of my usual critics recently pointed out to me that (I’m quoting roughly here), “You no-growth, hate-everything-new people may not like the new Limelight ” the building or the construction mess ” but Aspen desperately needs some new rooms.

Or we’ll all go out of business.”

Well, I hope she was right ” not right that we would all go out of business without the new lodge rooms, but right that those new rooms will keep us alive.

Let’s hope that there really is more to this town than a real-estate investment.

And that those newly pudgy fat cats will at least be able to afford an Aspen ski vacation.