Conspicuous Consumption Datapoint of the Day, Private Jet Edition

Times have changed over the past ten years when it comes to attitudes to

private jets. In October 1998, Nathan Myhrvold famously wrote a lavishly-illustrated paean to his Gulfstream V in Vanity Fair, and even appeared in a Gulfstream ad in the same issue. Fast-forward ten years, however, and William Langewiesche is much less sympathetic to the conveyances of the super-rich, or to those who write glowingly about them:

The Legacy occupies a position toward the high end of private jets–among airplanes like Gulfstreams, Challengers, and Falcons–which by political, ethical, and environmental measures are abhorrent creations, but which nonetheless are masterworks of personal transportation. The Legacy weighs 50,000 pounds fully loaded, and is powered by twin Rolls-Royce turbofan engines mounted aft against the fuselage, delivering a total of 16,000 pounds of thrust at a price to the atmosphere and global oil reserves of about 300 gallons an hour…

Along for the flight was Embraer’s North American sales representative Henry Yandle and a New York Times contributor named Joe Sharkey, who writes a business-travel column for the newspaper and was doing a story for a U.S. magazine called Business Jet Traveler… Sharkey seemed a decent sort, and unlikely to delve into the airplane’s dark side–the fuel burn per passenger-mile, the expense to company shareholders, the disproportionate use of public resources like air-traffic control and landing slots. No, it was a safe bet that Business Jet Traveler would not be publishing that.

Myhrvold appeared in the October 1998 issue only as "Anonymous", but was outed soon thereafter by the Wall Street Journal. Even then, it seems, there was a certain amount of shame associated with such profligacy. Today, it’s more obvious why private jets are shameful things, and why it was idiotic for Detroit’s CEOs to take three of the the things to the initial Washington hearings on the fate of their industry.

Still, I do wonder how much their combined wristwatches were worth. Maybe the gilded few are still burning through money, just more quietly than before. The tick of a second hand is so much more understated than the roar of a jet engine, after all.

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