Jan 8, 2014
Free and Open to the Public with a panel discussion following the film.
This screening is sponsored by the UMKC Economics Club, the Jobs Now! Coalition, and the Friends of Community Media.
More information about the film: http://www.whypoverty.net/en/all-about/park-avenue/.
740 Park Ave, NY is home to some of the wealthiest Americans. 10 minutes to the north, over the Harlem River, is the other Park Avenue in South Bronx, where more than half the population needs food stamps and children are 20 times more likely to be killed. In the last 30 years, inequality has rocketed in the US – many Americans now think the American Dream only applies to those with money to lobby politicians for friendly bill on Capitol Hill.
New York’s Park Avenue runs the length of Manhattan before crossing the river into the Bronx. The long stretch between Grand Central Terminal and 96th Street is home to some of the most expensive real estate in the world. One of the most exclusive of these addresses is 740 Park.
Built by James T Lee, Jacqueline Kennedy’s grandfather in 1929, 740 Park is home to ‘the 1% of the 1%’ and has, over the decades, harboured generations of ‘Masters of the Universe’. The building’s 31 apartments sell for thousands of dollars per square foot. “The World’s Richest Apartment Building” houses more billionaires than any other building in the United States.
“These guys just rule the world, you know? They are multibillionaires, the CEOs of the major corporations in the world”, states a former 740 Park Doorman “it’s not a lot of residents but they’re high-tempered and, you know, you have to have thick skin to work there. You’re going to be dealing with detestable people and you’re going to be dealing with billionaires”.
Ten minutes to the north, over the Harlem River, Park Avenue enters the South Bronx. Here, more than half the residents receive food stamps, unemployment has reached 19% and children are 20 times more likely to be killed than their neighbours to the south.
“There’s always been a gap between the wealthiest in our society and everyone else, but in the last 30 years something changed. That gap became an abyss.” says filmmaker Alex Gibney. “As of 2010, the 400 richest Americans controlled more wealth than the bottom half of the country. That’s 150 million people. The question is what are they going to do with all that money?”
Jacob Hacker, a political scientist at Yale, argues that all this wealth has been used to buy out the American Dream. “As more and more income goes to the very top, that changes the way our politics work; it changes the way our society looks. There’s been a reinforcing cycle. Those at the top have done well. They’ve invested in policies that are favourable to them, and they’ve done even better, and then they’ve churned a lot of that money back into politics.”
In the palatial apartments of 740 Park, the wealthy are visited by presidents and senators, who are promised millions of campaign dollars in exchange for lower taxes. Men like Steve Schwartzman from the Blackstone group, who raised $1.2m in 15 minutes for George W Bush at a home fundraiser, or David Koch, who has contributed an estimated $200m to the campaign funds of one third of the House of Representatives.
Residents of the Park Ave in Bronx can’t influence presidents and suffer cuts in public spending thanks to reduced tax revenue from the rich – even though they still have the vote, has the door to social mobility now closed on them?
Paul Piff, a psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley studying the psychology of wealth and the consequences of inequality likens social mobility in the US to a rigged game of Monopoly “The idea of the American dream is that every one’s got an equal opportunity. You’ve just gotta decide to play. But in fact, there are large groups of people that experience the game as unfair. The opportunity’s not there. All the rules have been decided. The property’s already been bought up and the money is already in the hands of the other players.” But, it seems, even those who play the rigged game with one dice and little money in the bank still think it is possible to beat the odds.
Through the story of the two Park Avenues, Alex Gibney’s remarkable film puts forward an eloquent argument that the extreme wealth of a few has been used to impose their ideas on the rest of America. As New Yorker writer Jane Mayer explains “They’ve managed to take the resentment of the middle class, which has been quite economically squeezed over the last couple decades, and turn their resentment against the people beneath them…rather than having it point upward to the people on the top of the one percent who are really walking away richer than ever.”
Parents in the Bronx would be happy for their children to have health, safety, playing space and an education but the opportunities are ever diminishing, whilst the children at the top of the social ladder are being prepared to inherit the earth, as the former 740 Park doorman notes “It seemed that kids between 12 and 15, they realized that they were billionaires. Up until that age, they would come in from soccer practice, you would have specific high-fives that you would give them. You’d be their buddy. But when they get older, the kids would suddenly come down to the lobby and they’d just be different people. You know, they’d walk past you and they had a different walk. They walked like their dads suddenly. Their parents must have sat them down and said you know, ’this is how your life is. You’re a billionaire and they’re your doormen and they’re your housekeepers and they’re your drivers and they’re not important, you know.’”
Park Avenue: Money, Power & The American Dream is inspired by the book 740 Park - The Story of the World’s Richest Apartment Building by Michael Gross.