Gentrification Now Has More than Landlubbers Worried

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

We typically think urban neighborhoods when we think gentrification. We think places where modest-income families have thrived for generations suddenly becoming no-go zones for all but the affluent.

The waters around us have always seemed a place of escape from all this displacement, a more democratic space where the rich can stake no claim. The wealthy, after all, can’t displace someone fishing on a lake or sailing off the coast. Or can they? People who work and play around our waters are starting to worry.

Local boat dealers and bass fishing aficionados alike, reports one leading marine industry trade journal, are all now “expressing concern about the growing income disparity in the United States.” That journal, Soundings Trade Only, is even highlighting stats that show America’s top 1 percent holding more wealth than “the bottom 90 percent of the population combined.”

What has boat dealers so concerned? The middle-class families they’ve counted on for decades are feeling too squeezed to buy their boats — or even continue boating.

“Boating has now priced out the middle-class buyer,” one retailer opined to a Soundings Trade Only survey. “Only the near rich/very rich can boat.”

Mark Jeffreys, a high school finance teacher who hosts a popular bass fishing webcast, sees a bubble close to bursting. His pastime is getting too pricey, and he wonderswhen bass anglers are “going to get to the point where they’re not going to pay $9 for crankbait.”

Not everyone around water is worrying. The companies that build boats, Jeffreys notes, seem to “have been able to do very well.” They’re making fewer boats but clearing “a tremendous amount” on the boats they do make.

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 University’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 “little to gain from selling only to the rich.” But that all changes when wealth begins to concentrate heavily at an economy’s summit. Businesses can suddenly charge more for their wares — and not worry if their less affluent customers can’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.

“Boating,” the dealer laments, “has now priced out the middle-class buyer.”

The rich, to be sure, don’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, “cocktails in hand,” floating “massive amounts of wealth” into their harbors.

In 2019’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 “non-lethal anti-piracy device” climbing up on yacht-owner wish lists emits pain-inducing sound beams designed to drive away the unwelcome. Even more sophisticated superyacht “drone detection and defeat systems” can spot all incoming drones within a 20-kilometer radius and then set up electronic “exclusion zones” 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 — not a good idea on the water — or return to its operator.

Should all else fail, the yachting crowd can turn on a “cloak system” from Global Ocean Security Technologies. The “GOST cloak” will fill the area surrounding any yacht with an “impenetrable cloud of smoke” that “reduces visibility to less than one foot.” The resulting confusion, the theory goes, will give nearby authorities the time they need to come to the yacht’s rescue.

But who will rescue the boating middle class? Maybe we need an “anti-cloak,” 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.


Reposted from

Sam Pizzigati edits Too Much, the online weekly on excess and inequality. He is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C. Last year, he played an active role on the team that generated The Nation magazine special issue on extreme inequality. That issue recently won the 2009 Hillman Prize for magazine journalism. Pizzigati’s latest book, Greed and Good: Understanding and Overcoming the Inequality that Limits Our Lives (Apex Press, 2004), won an “outstanding title” of the year ranking from the American Library Association’s Choice book review journal.

Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

Get to Know AFL-CIO's Affiliates: National Association of Letter Carriers

From the AFL-CIO

Next up in our series that takes a deeper look at each of our affiliates is the National Association of Letter Carriers.

Name of Union: National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC)

Mission: To unite fraternally all city letter carriers employed by the U.S. Postal Service for their mutual benefit; to obtain and secure rights as employees of the USPS and to strive at all times to promote the safety and the welfare of every member; to strive for the constant improvement of the Postal Service; and for other purposes. NALC is a single-craft union and is the sole collective-bargaining agent for city letter carriers.

Current Leadership of Union: Fredric V. Rolando serves as president of NALC, after being sworn in as the union's 18th president in 2009. Rolando began his career as a letter carrier in 1978 in South Miami before moving to Sarasota in 1984. He was elected president of Branch 2148 in 1988 and served in that role until 1999. In the ensuing years, he worked in various roles for NALC before winning his election as a national officer in 2002, when he was elected director of city delivery. In 2006, he won election as executive vice president. Rolando was re-elected as NALC president in 2010, 2014 and 2018.

Brian Renfroe serves as executive vice president, Lew Drass as vice president, Nicole Rhine as secretary-treasurer, Paul Barner as assistant secretary-treasurer, Christopher Jackson as director of city delivery, Manuel L. Peralta Jr. as director of safety and health, Dan Toth as director of retired members, Stephanie Stewart as director of the Health Benefit Plan and James W. “Jim” Yates as director of life insurance.

Number of Members: 291,000 active and retired letter carriers.

Members Work As: City letter carriers.

Industries Represented: The United States Postal Service.

History: In 1794, the first letter carriers were appointed by Congress as the implementation of the new U.S. Constitution was being put into effect. By the time of the Civil War, free delivery of city mail was established and letter carriers successfully concluded a campaign for the eight-hour workday in 1888. The next year, letter carriers came together in Milwaukee and the National Association of Letter Carriers was formed.

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There is Dignity in All Work

There is Dignity in All Work