In effect, the marine industry is experiencing the same marketplace dynamics that sooner or later start distorting every sector of an economy growing significantly more unequal. Analysts like Cornell University economist Robert Frank and Columbia Universityâ€™s Moshe Adler have been exploring these dynamics for some time now. The more wealth tilts toward the top, their research shows, the more companies tilt their businesses to serving that top.
In a relatively equal society with little difference in income between the rich and everyone else, Adler points out, companies have â€ślittle to gain from selling only to the rich.â€ť But that all changes when wealth begins to concentrate heavily at an economyâ€™s summit. Businesses can suddenly charge more for their wares â€” and not worry if their less affluent customers canâ€™t afford the freight. They start loading their products, Robert Frank relates, with luxury extras that only the rich can easily afford.
What impact have these sorts of dynamics had on boating? Potential boat buyers, one dealer has complained to Soundings Trade Only, are finding prices climbing 5 to 7 percent every year.
â€śBoating,â€ť the dealer laments, â€śhas now priced out the middle-class buyer.â€ť
The rich, to be sure, donâ€™t yet totally rule the waves. But they appear to be busily fortifying those stretches of the seas where they park their vessels, as Jim Dobson has just detailed in a Forbes feature on superyacht security. Deep pockets have realized, Dobson explains, that people of little means may not take well to people of ample means, â€ścocktails in hand,â€ť floating â€śmassive amounts of wealthâ€ť into their harbors.
In 2019â€™s first quarter alone, the International Maritime Bureau reports, unwelcome guests boarded some 27 vessels and shot at seven. Anxious yacht owners, in response, are outfitting their boats with the latest in high-tech military-style hardware.
One â€śnon-lethal anti-piracy deviceâ€ť climbing up on yacht-owner wish lists emits pain-inducing sound beams designed to drive away the unwelcome. Even more sophisticated superyacht â€śdrone detection and defeat systemsâ€ť can spot all incoming drones within a 20-kilometer radius and then set up electronic â€śexclusion zonesâ€ť that can stretch for over 500 meters around each outfitted vessel.
Any drone that ventures into one of these exclusion zones will lose its control signal and either have to immediately land â€” not a good idea on the water â€” or return to its operator.
Should all else fail, the yachting crowd can turn on a â€ścloak systemâ€ť from Global Ocean Security Technologies. The â€śGOST cloakâ€ť will fill the area surrounding any yacht with an â€śimpenetrable cloud of smokeâ€ť that â€średuces visibility to less than one foot.â€ť The resulting confusion, the theory goes, will give nearby authorities the time they need to come to the yachtâ€™s rescue.
But who will rescue the boating middle class? Maybe we need an â€śanti-cloak,â€ť a device that can blow away all the obfuscations the rich pump into our national political discourse, the mystifications that blind us to the snarly impact of grand concentrations of private wealth on land and sea.
Or maybe we just need to roll up our sleeves and organize for a more equal future.
Sam Pizzigati co-edits Inequality.org. His latest book: The Case for a Maximum Wage. Among his other books on maldistributed income and wealth: The Rich Donâ€™t Always Win: The Forgotten Triumph over Plutocracy that Created the American Middle Class, 1900-1970. Follow him at @Too_Much_Online.