Sunday, February 19, 2006

Another gilded age

LADY LAKE, Fla.—This is not the first bout of histrionics over the evils of lobbying to infect Washington," the Chicago Tribune's Michael Tackett reports today on the Abramoff scandal. His time horizon is much too short: Some of the most delicious satire In Mark Twain's The Gilded Age involves the amount of bribery required to secure the favor of congressmen—"the high moral ones cost more because they give tone to a measure."

Congressional pork and financial legerdemain are the grist for The Gilded Age, written with Charles Dudley Warner in 1873. I had expected the age of Ulysses S. Grant to have its share present-day parallels and was not disappointed. When one of its members is charged with taking bribes, the Senate preserves its good name by investigating the whistle-blower. A lobbyist cleared of the only slightly more notorious charge of murder attempts to cash in on the lecture circuit. And land speculators hoping to make a killing get dragged in the deeper undertow of the their bankers' schemes.

Such plot lines resonate in boom-town Central Florida. An online real-estate ad reads: "Perfect for the investor wanting to break into Florida's Hot Market!" This for a five-unit apartment building. The Villages, a Sun City-style seniors development, rose quickly from the palmetto scrub but has doubled again in size and scattered copycat retirement villas 10 miles in every direction. Stores and schools followed, and finally a hospital. (When I retire, Ground Zero of my condo search will be Northwestern Memorial Hospital.)

No comments: