Felix Salmon

Adventures with the new plutocracy, wealth-beta edition

Robert Frank — the WSJ writer, not the Cornell economist — had a fascinating column about what he calls “wealth beta” this weekend. If you’re a member of the 1%, it turns out, you don’t just have a lot of money; you’re also likely to be seeing a huge amount of volatility in your wealth and your income. And this volatility has been measured according to the familiar scale where the broad stock market has a beta of 1:

How Alice Walton has improved America

Jeffrey Goldberg is on something of an anti-Walmart campaign — and there’s nothing particularly wrong with that. There’s a lot of things to dislike about Walmart, including the fact, as Goldberg notes in his latest Bloomberg View column, that its stores don’t have windows. But having decided that he doesn’t like Walmart, Goldberg is attacking the company and its founding family on grounds which don’t stand up to scrutiny.

How to buy political access, charitable-donation edition

Eric Lichtblau has a depressing, must-read story today detailing how strong government regulation of the for-profit eduction sector was diluted into toothlessness by effective lobbying. Lobbyists, of course, trade on their access to politicians. And one way that they obtain that access surprised me — although it clearly didn’t surprise Lichtblau, who dropped it into his story in a subordinate clause with nary a raised eyebrow. Here it is with my emphasis:

The problematic charitable-donation tax deduction

David Kocieniewski has a long article about Ronald Lauder as sophisticated consumer of tax-avoidance advice, who has managed to become worth somewhere north of $3 billion even as he’s given away hundreds of millions of dollars to charitable causes. (In 1988 he was worth less than $250 million; he inherited a lot of money from his mother in 2004, but today his stake in Estee Lauder constitutes only about one fifth of his net worth.)

Media buyer of the day, Gates Foundation edition

I’ve been thinking a lot of late about brands and media — as have people like Noah Brier. If you want to build your brand online, the best way of doing so is not to rent media, but rather to own it. To use Noah’s distinction, you want a sustained product, rather than a temporary campaign. Here’s Noah:

Cooper Union’s murky finances

In the immediate wake of the greatest financial crisis in living memory, Cooper Union looked like a genius. Remember this article by John Hechinger? Here’s the headline, if you don’t:

Ego du jour, John Thain edition

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David Dunlap took a visit to the Bronx, and came back with a 13-page slideshow of John Thain’s self-aggrandizement:

Steve Jobs’s philanthropy

Andrew Ross Sorkin takes a look at the private life of Apple’s chairman today, passing on rumors about activity he clearly doesn’t want publicized, in the face of stony silence from Apple. But hey, Sorkin’s a journalist, I guess that’s what journalists do.

Where Haiti’s money has gone

What happens when you drop billions of dollars onto a country like Haiti? Immediately after the earthquake happened, in January 2010, I said that “one of the lessons we’ve learned from trying to rebuild failed states elsewhere in the world is that throwing money at the issue is very likely to backfire”. But that’s exactly what we did — with predictable results.