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TRIUMPH OF THE YUPPIES: America, the Eighties, and the Creation of an Unequal Nation, by Tom McGrath


In 1967, a bushy-haired Jerry Rubin walked onto the balcony of the New York Inventory Alternate with just a few buddies and flung greenback payments all the way down to the buying and selling ground. Rubin, a co-founder of the activist group the Yippies, was delighted when the merchants on the ground piled on prime of each other to seize the cash.

A decade and a half later, Rubin went again to Wall Road — as a securities analyst. “Politics and rebel distinguished the ’60s,” Rubin wrote in a New York Occasions opinion piece saying his shocking new job. “Cash and monetary curiosity will seize the eagerness of the ’80s.” Rubin had gone from Yippie co-founder to yuppie elder statesman.

In his breezy historical past, “Triumph of the Yuppies,” Tom McGrath units out to clarify the social and cultural transformation that Rubin embodied. What occurred within the Eighties? Why did america immediately fall in love with finance whereas inequality skyrocketed? And what, McGrath asks, did the yuppies must do with it?

Yuppies — the younger city professionals who flocked to cities to renovate outdated townhouses, eat at attention-grabbing eating places and make numerous cash — have been a fraught psychographic from the bounce. The phrase confirmed up in print as early as 1980, in a Chicago journal story questioning the notion {that a} yuppie-led “city renaissance” was underway in cities throughout the nation.

However one thing was occurring. Current school grads have been selecting cities over suburbs. And, because the journalists who saved writing articles about them saved stating, the yuppies weren’t even pretending that they didn’t care about cash.

McGrath, the previous editor in chief of Philadelphia journal, makes this open pursuit of wealth his central theme as he alternates amongst snapshots of yuppies, the nationwide political scene and main figures in American enterprise.

These figures embrace Jack Welch, the chief govt who turned Normal Electrical from a stodgy industrial agency right into a finance-driven (however finally unsustainable) juggernaut, and Michael Milken, the “junk bond king” who rode the ’80s financialization wave first to extraordinary wealth after which, after pleading responsible to prices of securities fraud and conspiracy, to jail. (President Donald Trump pardoned Milken in 2020.) These profiles are competently sketched, however readers who’re conversant in the broad outlines gained’t study a lot.

The snapshots of yuppies are extra enjoyable. Within the late ’70s, Richard Thalheimer, a younger entrepreneur who bought copier merchandise, began pitching a flowery digital watch to the brand new runners sweating alongside America’s sidewalks. The watch bought so nicely that Thalheimer launched a complete catalog of grown-up toys that no one wanted however all people, or not less than each yuppie, needed.

Inside just a few years, the Sharper Picture (the title dated to his copy machine days) was bringing in almost $100 million a yr promoting family necessities like a safari hat with a solar-powered fan ($59), a pillow formed like a BMW ($42) and a swimsuit of armor ($2,450).

Because the merchandise, individuals and catchphrases pile up, “Triumph of the Yuppies” can really feel, for higher and worse, like a misplaced verse of Billy Joel’s boomer anthem “We Didn’t Start the Fire”:

Häagen-Dazs, Perrier, Cuisinart, M.B.A./Milton Friedman’s “Free to Select,” Jane Fonda, trainers/Gary Hart, Youngstown, Ivan Boesky, trickle down/Wall Road job, Turbo Saab, Sharper Picture catalog.

Fortunately, there are some by traces, like Rubin, the previous Yippie provocateur who by 1983 was renting out Studio 54 within the early evenings for skilled networking occasions that he known as, in a second of peak cringe, “enterprise be-ins.”

A number of years later, he went on the school lecture circuit to debate one other Yippie co-founder, Abbie Hoffman, who had pranked the New York Inventory Alternate alongside Rubin.

Hoffman was in search of a brand new crop of protesters, however he wasn’t discovering it. “The place is the Woodstock Nation of this era?” he asked an viewers of scholars in 1985. “The campuses have turn into hotbeds of social relaxation, about as thrilling as hospital meals.”

Rubin rejected protest altogether. “Why outline ourselves as protesters,” he requested, “once we can turn into the individuals in energy?”

The best way to energy, Rubin mentioned, was to start out companies. And the individuals beginning the companies have been “the yuppies, the newborn increase era that challenged the federal government within the ’60s,” and was turning America from “an industrial nation” into “an data nation.”

Hoffman gained over the viewers, however Rubin was proper in regards to the future.

No second is a monolith. Within the ’80s, some college students protested funding in apartheid-era South Africa whereas others skipped the demonstrations in favor of internships at funding banks. This spring, most of the college students graduating amid a brand new wave of protests will head straight to Wall Road.

Actually, graduating from an elite school and shifting to the town to attempt to get wealthy has turn into so frequent that we barely discover it. The final word triumph of the yuppies is that we don’t even name them yuppies anymore.


TRIUMPH OF THE YUPPIES: America, the Eighties, and the Creation of an Unequal Nation | By Tom McGrath | Grand Central Publishing | 325 pp. | $32

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