In the second Gilded Age, the mansions get bigger, and the homeless get closer


When she became president of the Beverly Hills/Greater Los Angeles Realtors Association, Robin Greenberg wanted to do something for people who couldn’t afford any home, much less one like hers in the golden hills of Bel Air.

So every month for eight years, she and colleagues went to Skid Row or elsewhere downtown to feed the homeless.

Then, last December, she learned the homeless had come to her.

Before dawn on Dec. 6 a wildfire raced out of a parched ravine in Bel Air, scorching 422 acres, destroying or damaging 18 homes and forcing the evacuation of about 700 others — including Robin Greenberg’s.

Even more shocking than the fire’s damage was its cause: a portable stove at a homeless encampment right there in Bel Air.

The wildfire is an instructive tale of America’s second Gilded Age, a time when the kinds of excesses and extremes that once seemed to have been consigned to U.S. history have come roaring back.

In this Gilded Age, like the one at the end of the 19th Century, the gap between rich and poor is widening; monopolies have more power over business, business has more power over politics and politics are close-fought and hyper-partisan. The pace of change — technological, cultural, social — is dizzying.

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