New Book Studies Sociological Impacts Of Super Wealthy In The West

Mar 12, 2020

Credit Princeton University Press

Compared to elsewhere in the country, the disparity between the rich and the poor is widest in Teton County, and a new book takes a sociological look at the problem.

Author Justin Ferrell grew up in Cheyenne, and his mother worked in the service industry. For his book, Billionaire Wilderness: the Ultra Wealthy and the Remaking of the West, he said he interviewed numerous billionaires in Teton County.

"There's not a lot of work on the ultra-wealthy, in terms of from the inside. And actually, [there isn't] rigorous research over many years spending time with them, and trying to understand how they think, to try to dig beneath all the numbers that we have about income inequality and wealth in the U.S.," said Ferrell.

Ferrell said he discovered that the wealthy prefer not to know about poverty because they've moved here to find their idea of paradise and to escape the pressures of high-stress careers.

This motivates them to protect the pristine nature of the West, but Ferrell said mostly they stick to non-controversial issues.

"I think climate change has been so politicized in the national conversation that for maybe more conservative, ultra-wealthy people that it's not really something that they're concerned with," he said. "But it's the fact that a lot of the issues that they're interested, they're very localized. It's, 'what's the moose population in Wilson?'"

Ferrell said Teton County is symptomatic of how the ultra-wealthy are changing dynamics around the American West. To hear the full interview with Ferrell, tune in this week to Open Spaces.

Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Melodie Edwards, at medward9@uwyo.edu.