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I remember when I first started dating my wife, I encountered a number of people she knew from the same immigrant community (South Korean) who were driving expensive cars and living in nice houses despite working fairly low-end jobs. I asked her about it and she explained that basically these folks were either:

a) up to their eyeballs in debt with no savings of any kind

b) involved in some kind of "scam"

c) were being floated by rich relatives or friends somewhere else, but the story there was complicated

My wife has always been very frugal so I found this curious, but she explained that having a "rich" appearance was very important in the tight night social community that most South Koreans found themselves in. These three versions of what was happening were often occurring at the same time. An example true story:

A person she knew, despite working two jobs as a cashier at a grocery and a dry cleaners, owned an expensive house and drove around in a luxury SUV. This person took payment, in part or in full as cash and often simply didn't pay taxes. At church, they'd chat up friends looking for business opportunities. When one was finally spotted (an investment opportunity), it was realized they didn't have any cash to participate. They then convinced a close friend to loan them basically their life savings upon which the investment was made with "a few percent" skimmed off the top as a finders fee to purchase a few luxury goods to keep the game going. There were multiple investors, and eventually somebody ended up stealing somebody else's identity, drained their bank account and fled the country. The investment ended up buying a large inventory of very poorly made products that were unsalable and it failed. The person she knew ended up with no serious money lost and just moved on to the next strike-it-rich plan.

The house was mortgaged under somebody else's identity who had good credit and income as a "favor". The main floor was furnished elegantly for parties and after church activities, the rest of the house was entirely devoid of furniture. The SUV was a car they bought from a mechanic friend after it had been totaled by the previous owner and had new bodywork and some engine work done at extreme discount -- it barely ran day-to-day.

This wasn't a rare story. It seemed to pervade a large portion of the community and everybody was inexplicably blind to it, and fell for the same money-lending, identity theft scams over and over again.

When the Russell Crowe movie "Cinderella Man" came out, there's a scene where his manager, played by Paul Giamatti, is confronted by the main character's wife at his apartment. It's revealed that the apartment, and fancy lifestyle are all a display to give him credibility. https://youtu.be/e4fb7N_ICj0

It was then that I really understood what the success signaling and veblen goods in my wife's immigrant community was all about.




I've seen this in the Persian community as well. I was dating a Persian woman and she was telling me how proud of her brother she was-- he had become a bank vice president and bought a home (at the absolute height of the first housing crisis, think 500k condo in Anaheim), and even purchased a Nissan GT-R (100k give or take). Eventually, it got out that he was making 80k, which I was making a multiple of and wouldn't even CONSIDER these extravagances.

I also have several Persian friends who seem to piss away money like it's not a thing, but that's the most egregious example. Still, love them to death :)




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