The Wall Street Journal’s “Mansion” section, a weekly standalone segment of the newspaper launched last October to cover luxury real estate, is looking to hire a reporter.
“The successful candidate will be expected to break news on real-estate deals each week in Mansion’s Private Properties column and to write ambitious feature stories for Mansion’s cover and inside pages,” the job posting says. Examples of the Mansion section’s ambitions include “an analysis of the market for the homes of college football coaches” and “an exclusive look at Larry Ellison’s plans for the island of Lanaii.” Ellison founded the software firm Oracle and is the fifth-richest person on earth, according to Forbes, though perhaps reporters who didn’t recognize the name instantly need not apply to Mansion.
A newspaper section dedicated solely to luxury homes and spawned in the midst of an unprecedented wave of often-wrongful foreclosures on working-class homeowners may seem like a marker of the increasingly aloof uber-wealthy of a new gilded age. As wealth and income inequality spiked over the past three decades, so did the pressure among the wealthiest to buy more square feet, or a flashier caliber of sports car, or a private jet. The book “Richistan,” written by the Journal’s one-time wealth reporter Robert Frank, explores the country-within-a-country where a Mercedes just means you’re not rich enough to drive a Maybach. There were 13 billionaires in the country in 1985, but by the time Frank wrote his book there were over 1,000.
The Journal’s Mansion section doesn’t see itself as the tribune of Richistan, though. NewsCorp intends the section as an aspirational vehicle. “We all like to think of our home as a mansion, even if it is a humble abode,” said Robert Thomson in the press release announcing Mansion last fall, “and we all have the license to aspire, so we have created Mansion to be the home of both aspiration and real estate realization.” Thomson was managing editor of the Journal at the time, and is now chief executive of NewsCorp.
The line between aspiring to great wealth and living beyond one’s means in the name of demonstrating a high-status lifestyle can be thin. The same year that “Richistan” came out, a different Robert Frank penned the book “Falling Behind: How Rising Inequality Harms the Middle Class.” Frank’s survey data on “positional goods” demonstrated that consumers value relative prosperity over absolute gains – that is, they care more about beating their neighbors than about being better off than they were last year. That creates what one reviewer called a “societywide arms race for goods” where “the top 1 percent are armed to the teeth and everybody else is scavenging for ammunition.”