To get rich is to magnify the marginal utility of your consumer preferences, if we might be permitted a clinical paraphrase of Deng Xiao Peng (or some nameless Deng functionary). So if you’re going to commute to Wall Street from this or that tastefully cloistered suburb, you should forgo the seedy bus-ferry-subway nexus in favor of a helicopter. And if you’re trying to kick an inconvenient addiction or two, you can bypass the coffee urns and church basements of your standard A.A. meeting in favor of a horse-equipped spa (with, yes, helicopter-assisted field trips).
And if you’re a clutch of Japanese alpha earners going from Point A to Point B in the throes of an extended midlife crisis, why, you form a monotonous red convoy of six-figure sports cars, which combined to create the world’s most expensive auto accident on a wet stretch of highway between Kyushu and Hirsohima. With damages running to some $3.85 million, the wreck involved 14 vehicles—with eight Ferraris, a Lamborghini, and three Mercedes Benzes among the totalled casualties. The aftermath inspired Mitsuyoshi Isejima, who works at the Expressway Traffic Unit of the Yamaguchi Prefecture to offer this terse bit of rainy-day social criticism: “It was a gathering of narcissists.”
Isejima also provided a more mundane anatomy of the crash: “The accident occurred when the driver of a red Ferrari was switching from the right lane to the left and then skidded.” The chief culprit, he explained, was a 60-year-old self-employed man behind the wheel of a red Ferrari F430 Scuderia, which goes for a cool 18 million yen, or a smidge under $200,000.
Still, the real mystery of the whole costly crack-up is why a group of 20 luxe motorists—all between the ages of 37 and 60, according to area law enforcement—were driving two cars abreast at speeds north of eighty on a rain-slicked expressway. Oh sure, they could have been joyriding, in the great tradition of American Graffiti or Rebel Without a Cause. But really, that would represent some serious regression for drivers in that age demographic—even if they are the type to spend a couple hundred grand on a red Ferrari in the first place. No, the point to some more sinister social dysfunction afoot: a predatory Ferrari gang, for instance, seeking to recruit impressionable youngsters into their fast and furious lifestyle. Or they could, of course, be jaded sybarites, seeking the last potent link to recognizable human sensations in the abrasive thrills of auto crashes.
But ever hopeful about the human experiment, I prefer to think they were, in fact, being chased. Japan has lately been rocked by revelations about the national economy’s thrall to crony capitalism—with the flailing tech-and-photo colossus Olympus on the verge of delisting on the nation’s stock exchanges in the wake of a scandal involving roughly $1.3 billion in bogus reported profits, and quite possibly the Yakuza for good measure. And in a society that already comfortably boasts a 50-percent tax rate on top earners—while quietly passing a bevy soak-the-rich tax legislation to fund recent tsunami relief—class warfare sentiment may have just spontaneously spilled out into streets, just like stateside political observers continually predict will happen here. So what are besieged masters of the Japanese universe to do but repair in a panic to their armada of Ferraris and Lamborghinis? It’s high time they had a lost decade of their own, after all.