Monte Carlo: The Yacht Epicenter of the Upper 1%

The sky was a refreshing azure blue that the French Riviera claims as its very own color. The waves lapped at the sides of the yachts lounging by a stretch of harbor clinging to the sharp incline from the Mediterranean Sea that goes by the name of Monte Carlo, a part of the Principality of Monaco. Perched on the hillside and jutting into my line of vision was the Monte Carlo Casino, one of the main attractions of the area, and it commanded a presence for all to see. Just the name Monte Carlo conjures images of irresistible allure, glamour, and the fruits that only the very, very wealthy can possess. In fact, it looked as rich as it really was

img_0164As I gazed at the landscape before me, I was mesmerized by the beauty and tranquility of the scene. It was the first stop on my new gig as an occasional cruise-ship lecturer and I was having breakfast on the upper deck of the ship aptly named Riviera. My mind started racing about all kinds of thoughts that the images below were channeling to me. The first image was serenity and peacefulness, since it was a perfect late autumn day, and the cool breeze only hinted at the sharp, damp winter ahead. But more complex thoughts about the incredible wealth I was witnessing soon clouded my view and the beauty of the surroundings took on a more somber tone

img_0165Wealth intrigues me, like many people I imagine. Since wealth can afford one a life of many diverse and interesting experiences, it is appealing to me. But the trappings of wealth, such as beautiful clothes, expensive jewelry, luxury cars, the best food, or even luxury yachts, doesn’t interest me. I find that many of these coveted objects are actually distractions from living a rich, full, and meaningful life.

I am not against acquiring wealth, in fact, I am happy that through my life I was able to save enough for a comfortable retirement and to give me the means to modestly help support our nonprofit organization, the Center for Global Awareness. But I do question and I am more and more disturbed by the increasing gulf between rich and poor that I witnessed at the harbor in Monte Carlo. Just how much difference in wealth is too much? Well, that is a difficult question.

If we measure the “too much wealth” by the sale of luxury yachts over the last few years, we can say that the gap is too much. The French Riviera is a major yachting and cruising center with several marinas, including Monte Carlo, along its coast. Each year the French Riviera hosts 50% of the world’s superyacht fleet, with 90% of all superyachts visiting the region’s coast at least once in their lifetime.

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According to Boat International, a luxury yacht is “a crewed yacht, most often owned by the richest people in the world who enjoy the unrivaled luxury and exclusive privacy of these floating abodes.” The popularity of luxury yachts continues to grow, with over 700 luxury yachts for sale in 2015 and over 700 new yachts on order in 2016. And you will be happy to know that the world’s largest yachts keep on growing in size. In 2016, there is a record number of new yachts, currently 50, being built that surpass the 100-meter barrier (328 feet).

Who owns these massive beasts? One name that caught my eye was Larry Page, the founder of Google. He was the inventor of the technology that was supposed to democratize information, but he seems to have profited mightily from his invention.

img_0169Yacht sightings and the increase in yacht sales is just one indicator of the yawning gap between rich and poor, a disparity that has detrimental and far-reaching consequences throughout the world. I will not flood you with facts supporting this claim, since facts alone only go so far in conveying the disheartening feelings that accompany this growing gap, and often numb us into despair at the enormity of the problem. We all know it is occurring in a myriad of ways that affect our everyday lives and those of our communities, nation, and world. Perhaps these images can serve as a reminder that inequality still exists and is growing, and will not be resolved by a political leader who is long on promises and short on policy. Remember, a rising tide can lift all yachts, but it can also give rise to a full-throated resistance and rebuttal to the policies and actions that sustain the yacht-class.

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