The strange desire for ostentatious wealth

When I first read news headlines that a yacht belonging to secretary of education Betsy DeVos had been deliberately unmoored by someone and had drifted away causing thousands of dollars in damage, I did not bother to go into the story because I simply do not care about the lifestyles of the wealthy, though the idea that this was a small act of vigilante retaliation against rapacious elites was noteworthy.

But this article in Buzzfeed caught my eye, because it revealed that her family actually owns ten yachts.

The yacht, called the SeaQuest, is one of 10 yachts owned by the DeVos family. It sustained between $5,000 and $10,000 worth of damage in scrapes and scratches, police said, from hitting the dock at Huron Boat Basin.

DeVos, who was born into the wealthy Prince family, which runs the Prince Corporation, is married to Richard DeVos Jr., whose family founded multi-level marketing company Amway Corporation. Her brother is private military contractor owner Eric Prince.

These people are fully committed to the belief that resources should be taken away from those who need it and given to those who already have it.

DeVos has been harshly criticized by public education advocates for her work as secretary of education. In this role, she’s slashed student debt relief, rolled back rules designed to help students defrauded by colleges, rescinded protections for transgender students, and stated her support for policies to direct federal funds away from traditional public schools and into charter schools, private schools, religious schools, and online charter education.

DeVos is a truly awful person from a truly awful family. Her brother Erik Prince is a notorious mercenary and the founder of the security company formerly known as Blackwater that was charged with all manner of abuses as a government contractor in Iraq and elsewhere.

However wealthy one may be, why would you want to own 10 yachts? The only reason I can think of is to simply show off their wealth to their fellow wealthy people. These are not items purchased for actual use. They are ostentatious markers of wealth.


  1. Reginald Selkirk says

    1) If your favorite yacht is in the shop for repairs due to vandalism, you will have a spare.
    2) Yacht racing at family reunions.
    3) Bulk discount

  2. cartomancer says

    It looks like we have a challenge cooking! Can we find and wreck all ten before the summer is out?

  3. cartomancer says

    Though the strange desire is a truly ancient one. Aristophanes’ last play, Wealth, of the 380s BC, makes much the same point.

    “But of you [Wealth] they never tire. If a man has thirteen talents of gold, he has all the greater ardour to possess sixteen; if that wish is achieved, he will want forty or will complain that he knows not how to make both ends meet.”

  4. suttkus says

    A reason to own ten yachts would be that you regularly go to ten different cities and want to have a yacht available in each one. I mean, still, ridiculously ostentatious, but at least it’s a reason that isn’t purely about displaying one’s wealth.

  5. stumble says

    I can’t stand the family, but the DeVos family not only owns Amway they also own one of the largest sail lofts in the world (Quantum Sails). Many of these boats are not luxurious yachts, but stripped down serious racing vessels with a lot of world championships and huge budgets behind them. The secretary of education owning 10 yachts may sound strange, but a scion of one of the most well known sail boat manufacturers in the world really isn’t.

    They are a prime funder of the US Sailing Olympic team, are funding a current campaign for the America’s Cup, and have one of the most storied programs in all of world sailing. This article is much like criticizing the owner of the Kentucky Derby swimming horse for owning a bunch of horses.

  6. says

    Good morning Mano,

    DeVos is a truly awful person from a truly awful family.

    Since I had just finished reading The problem with liberals, your statement above gave me pause.

    The DeVos family is insanely rich, insanely privileged and quite possibly insanely self-assured in the rightness of their reality, but I’m not sure about the truly awful bit.

    I think this might have made a really good question for a Socrates Cafe session.



  7. blf says

    I don’t know what sort of yachts the family owns, but (non-racing?) larger(?) yachts are a serious big business. With some exceptions, many of the zillionarie-class superyachts can be hired, for events or voyages, in part because the amount of time the owner actually plays with their toy can be surprisingly minimal. (Yachts of that sort tend to be substantially crewed much of the time, even during long port stays, so the costs quickly add up.) Also, some superyachts are owned — not necessarily by zillionaires (albeit that is apparently not the case here) — specifically for the purpose of being hired out. (It would not surprise me if there are various tax dodges and similar involved as well.)

  8. stumble says


    To the best of my knowledge the DeVos family has at least seven racing ‘yachts’ spread around the world, including two that are currently mothballed and for sale (older generation boats, these race boats have a competitive life of about 2 years btw). They have one actual yacht that is kept in the Med and is used as a mobil hotel for the owner of the racing team, the yacht this article was about, and apparently one other I don’t know anything about.

    Like I said, I am not a fan of the family, but the foundation of their ‘yacht’ fleet are the TP-52 race boats they own and spend millions a year in crew costs (I have a couple of friends who work for them). Most of their boats are about as comfortable to be on as a Greyhound bus with the seats ripped out. Sure racing sailboats is a rich mans game, but their boats are used, and used heavily.


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