Unconspicuous consumption is the hot new thing. That $300 million megayacht? Tacky, what with the layoffs. Private jet? Forget about it, after Detroit's debacle. Even the celebrity goodie-bag business is endangered.
Dick Fuld, the Lehman Brothers CEO who oversaw the Wall Street bank's crash into bankruptcy, has been spotted flying commercial twice in the past month, even though he's still worth an estimated $100 million. (He took JetBlue, the preferred airline of parsimonious rich people.)
Billionaire Ron Perelman, who was wise enough not to get caught up in the Madoff Ponzi scheme, is nevertheless selling the $67 million yacht whose jacuzzi once bathed the loins of actress Gina Gershon.
And actors attending afterparties at next week's Golden Globes will find less swag in their giveaway bags. The goodie-bag scheme, in which marketers shower Hollywood types, with free stuff in the hopes that they'll later be photographed using it in celebrity weeklies, is meeting resistance from marketers who are slashing budgets and celebrities who worry that the sight of millionaires getting freebies will rub fans the wrong way.
All in all, it's hard to be wealthy these days. No, scratch that — it's hard to look wealthy. The obvious solution: a growth industry of downwardly mobile image consultants, who can advise these unfortunates on how best to feign poverty. (Penney, the author bankrupted by Bernie Madoff, has been doing a terrible job faking it on her own.) It's the least the rich can do for the economy.