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Sufferin’ on a Jet Plane

While we at Wagemark are by no means mind-readers (yet), we’re willing to wager that many of you spent time on airplanes in the past week. The last days of December routinely beat out those notorious dates bookending American Thanksgiving for peak airline travel in North America, and while we don’t have the numbers to prove it, it’s likely Holiday Season 2014 wasn’t the exception. Which means, according to the New Yorker, you likely incurred some variety of benign trauma up a mile high in the sky—just as Big Air intended.

In case you missed it, flyer-friendly airline JetBlue finally entered its competitors’ realm of requisite customer ambivalence this fall, following accusations by Wall Street analysts of being (to paraphrase) insufficiently horrible to the people it purports to serve. Forget leg room and complimentary WiFi—airlines now are all about those fees, not service.** How do they get away with it, you ask? By deploying, as writer Tim Hu argues, an ethos of “calculated misery” that establishes a baseline flight experience so actively punishing to its average economy class ticketholder that people will grudgingly opt to pay extra as a means of softening the blow. And, while these fees might increasingly coincide with fare decreases that ultimately allow for more people to fly to more places, the consequence is a steerage class experience of sorts for the bottom tier of flyers.

Hu concludes:

Ultimately, the fee models and the distinctions they draw make class inequality, which may be felt less in other places, painfully obvious. The conditions of carriage may lack the importance of other, more pressing social issues. But when an airline like JetBlue is punished for merely trying to treat all of its passengers decently, something isn’t right.

Meanwhile, a different kind of inequality showcase recently took place at Midtown Manhattan’s St. Bart’s Church, where Park Avenue elites enjoyed a $100-per-plate sit-down dinner with over 200 homeless New Yorkers, which…nice? Performative? Unhelpful? Maybe all of the above, but moreover, the event served to underline its own futility.

We promise, this makes sense.

As New York University history professor David Huyssen points out, 2014’s St. Bart’s dinner was not without historical precedent; similar feel-good charity dinners were hosted on Christmas 1899 and 30 years later at the onset of the Great Depression. Homelessness in New York has, meanwhile, reached an historic high that actually surpasses rates that coincided with those charity dinners of yesteryear. Some St. Bart’s dinner attendees even faced police harassment on their way to partake in their holiday supper. The irony of the dinner, then, was precisely in how it demonstrated the need for structural overhaul to combat inequality to any measurable long-term effect. As Huyssen writes, “If history is any guide, private charity will never suffice to meet basic needs in America.” It’s likely this dawned on some of the St. Bart’s diners as they returned to their respective chandeliered drawing rooms and makeshift sleep sites.

Finally, Suzanne McGee at The Guardian summed up “the five major things we screwed up in inequality in 2014.” One key pain point: Income Inequality.

“While everyone this year seemed to walk around clutching a copy of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century and to have an opinion on its contents, and the phrase “income inequality” at least became a buzzword, nobody seemed to agree on what could or should be done,” McGee writes, adding that while even millionaires echoed the prevailing concerns, few seemed willing to actually support more equitable income distribution through progressive taxation models or—heaven forbid—pay caps. Private charity (sound familiar?) seemed to be the wealthy’s inequality solution of choice. Which, fine. But maybe, McGee counters, inequality is a serious enough policy concern to grab by the horns in the New Year, and “one we can’t afford to leave to the personal whims of wealthy individuals.”

And there you have it.

**Life Hack: Superimpose grim points of information onto kicky pop hits!

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