But come next month, some fabulously wealthy watch wearers will trade in their handmade timepieces containing thousands of perfectly calibrated moving parts for a far more useful $349 Apple Watch that was mass produced in a factory in China. We'll find out a lot more about this new device when the Cupertino-based tech giant unveils new details at its "Spring forward" event later today. It's already been reveale
d that there will be an 18-karat gold version, which may go for as much as $10,000, so rich people will still be able to differentiate themselves. But the gold version will have the same innards and functionality as the basic version. The bottom line is that the Apple Watch is part of a trend in which the lifestyles and accouterments of the super wealthy increasingly look a lot more like yours and mine.
As the technology analyst Benedict Evans has noted, we already live in a world in which teenagers and billionaires carry the same mobile phones. Even if the bank accounts of the super rich are ticking up at a faster rate than those of middle-class Americans, all that extra dough is only good for buying goods and services that improve their lives in ever more marginal ways.
The narrow lifestyle differences between the rich and middle class was a theme that Patrick Byrne, the libertarian CEO of Overstock.com, touched on in a fascinating onstage interview with Nick Gillespie (coming soon to Reason TV) that took place over the weekend at the New Hampshire Liberty Forum, an annual conference for libertarians held in Manchester. In response to a question from an audience member looking for career advice, Byrne quoted some wisdom he once heard his mentor, Warren Buffett, impart to a high school teacher.
The teacher was considering abandoning the profession he loved to try and earn more money. Buffett pointed out that these days super rich guys like him mostly eat the same food, wear the same clothes, and do all the same things as the middle class, so why make himself miserable at work just to travel better? Granted the Omaha billionaire is known for his frugality—Buffett continues to reside in the house that he purchased for $31,500 in 1958—and yes, even at $349, the new Apple Watch will be out of reach for most Americans. But if the new device is a runaway success, one day the poorest people in the world will be able to supplement the super computers already in their pockets with an accompanying device strapped to their wrists.