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How Whole Foods, yoga, and NPR became the hallmarks of the modern elite

Elizabeth Currid-Halkett explains why today’s rich are far less materialistic, but a far greater threat to equality.

Whole Foods Market store front at Union Square... Photo by Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images

If you’re anything like me, today’s episode of The Ezra Klein Show will make you think about the way you shop, learn, eat, parent, and exercise in a whole new way.

My guest is Elizabeth Currid-Halkett, a professor of public policy at the University of Southern California whose most recent book, The Sum of Small Things: A Theory of the Aspirational Class documents the rise of a new, unprecedented elite class in the United States. Previously, the elite classes differentiated themselves from the rest by purchasing expensive material goods like flashy clothes and expensive cars. But, for reasons we get into, today’s elite is different: We signify our class position by reading the New Yorker, acquiring elite college degrees, buying organic food, breastfeeding our children, and, of course, listening to podcasts like this one.

These activities may seem completely innocent — perhaps even enlightened. Yet, as we discuss here, they simultaneously shore up inequality, erode social mobility, and create an ever-more stratified society — all without most of us noticing. This is a conversation that implicates us all, and, for that very reason, it is well worth addressing.

You can listen to this conversation — and others — by subscribing to The Ezra Klein Show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts.

Elizabeth Currid-Halkett’s book recommendations:

Just Kids by Patti Smith

Art Worlds by Howard S. Becker

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

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