Invidious Comparison

For pre-industrial predatory barbarians, it was pretty clear who stood where: you just counted slaves and acres. For industrial society, though, there is no obvious way to rate predatory barbarians except to see where they shop and what they buy. Since you can’t count the slaves or acres of the stranger on Madison Avenue, the only way to know where he stands is to see how much he pays for his cappuccino.

– “Display Cases”, Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker, April 1999.

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