We know very little about the ultra-wealthy and we all want to know about the real rich people. The glamour around the millionaires and billionaires attracts everybody. One of the reasons behind the lack of knowledge about the ultra-rich people is that this powerful social group is extremely difficult to access for close study. That is why this social and economic group is shrouded in mystery and popular myths and stereotypes. Our knowledge about the wealthiest class is generally based on reports of national economic trends. There is little empirical knowledge about this small community. In Billionaire Wilderness by Justin Farrell offers a rare look inside the world of the ultra-rich, focusing on their increasingly significant relationship to the natural world. Justin Farrell spent five years in Teton County, Wyoming, the wealthiest county in the country. He shows how the ultra-rich use nature to resolve key predicaments in their lives. He reveals the surprising ways in which nature and wealth intersect in the United States, and the growing impact of these relationships on the nation’s social and environmental landscapes.
Farrell says that the first set of problems the rich seek to resolve are rooted in economic concerns: how best to enjoy, share, protect, and multiply their wealth. The second set of problems are more social in character — how to deal with and respond to the social stigma and personal guilt that are sometimes associated with great wealth. Farrell says that nature comes to play a unique role in their struggles to deal with these ongoing financial, political, moral, and existential dilemmas. This makes investigating the ultra-rich a little complex as it requires a wide-ranging look into a number of compelling puzzles about money, nature, the meaning of authentic community in the twenty-first century. Farrell asks and answers very pertinent questions: Why did their lives turn out the way they did? Does great wealth actually make life more difficult? Why do they love and emulate the rural working poor? Why do they love Wrangler jeans? How do they define “community”? Are they aware of the fast-growing gap between the ultra-rich and everyone else? Do they feel criticized or have trouble sleeping at night?
Justin Farrell argues that nature takes on unique power for the ultra-wealthy, allowing them to confront the urgent economic and social problems they face such as how best to enjoy, share, or multiply their money, and how best to respond to social stigmas and feelings of inauthenticity or guilt. They reserve these dilemmas in two corresponding ways, each of which has a sizable impact on themselves, the environment, and the wider community.
First, whatever their good intentions, those at the very top of the socioeconomic pyramid leverage nature to climb even higher. Ironically, environmental conservation becomes an engine for multiplying wealth and gaining social prestige for wealthy people and wealthy institutions. Farrell argues that seeking to enjoy their wealth, landscapes and wildlife are transformed into ultra-reclusive enclaves, where money ensures private access to the healing tonic of nature and a sanctuary from crass capitalism. Second, burdened by social stigmas, status anxiety, and feelings of inauthenticity or guilt, the ultra-wealthy use the nature and rural people as vehicle for personal transformation, creating versions of themselves they view as more authentic, virtuous, and community minded. Farrell argues they model their personal transformation on a popular idea of the working poor in rural, outdoors-oriented places in the West — people who, despite their low-status careers and lack of material comforts, seem free from the snares of wealth and power, and are thought to live in a noble life of contentment, frontier authenticity, pastoral simplicity, community cohesion, wilderness adventure, and kinship with nature.
Billionaire Wilderness is a myth-busting study which takes you into the mysterious and mythic world of the ultra-wealthy in America’s West. Justin Farrell spent five years in Teton County, Wyoming, where he empirically studied how the richest people use the nature and environment to solve their existential issues. If the Teton County is the richest in the nation, the gap between the rich and the poor is also wide. Farrell also studies the contrast between the rich and the poor and unveils the ugly face of the American West. He argues that there is no point in romanticizing the rural poverty which can be as lucrative as conserving nature and environment. He also argues that it is also one of the ways the rich fight their sense of guilt. Farrell has combined his scholarship with his storytelling gift in this well-researched book.