Why are Americans so much richer than us?

On the US-based podcast How Long Gone, the hosts and guests are creative types. But unlike in the UK, they have real money to spend

November 30, 2023
Just for laughs? Chris Black (left) and Jason Stewart of How Long Gone. Image: Sarah Lee
Just for laughs? Chris Black (left) and Jason Stewart of How Long Gone. Image: Sarah Lee

I’m in Mayfair, in my expensive menswear, in a queue with other youngish men in creative-ish careers, who are all in their expensive menswear. It’s January, and I’m queueing for the first UK live show of How Long Gone. How Long Gone is a podcast hosted by Jason Stewart and Chris Black, two Americans in their early forties. “Dumb content for smart people,” is how they accurately describe the premise. I don’t watch reality TV or Marvel movies. Instead, I listen to Black and Stewart review $22 smoothies while I lie in the bath. Other topics, as itemised in each episode’s accompanying description, have included “big salads”; “goat consummé”; “Chris realises he’s staying at a Republican hotel”; “dessert plating through the decades”; “Daniel Day-Lewis spotted in a new look”; and “exactly how much dogsitting costs”.

The pair self-identify as “bi-coastal elites”, and their show is full of in-jokes and references to their arty, media-flavoured social circle (Black used to manage a band, and now does creative consulting for fashion brands; Stewart is a DJ and occasional food writer). Though some of the guests are big celebrities, like Charli XCX and Matty Healy, more often they’re semi-famous journalists or chefs. Listening to How Long Gone is like eavesdropping on the best table at a restaurant you barely got a booking for.

Black and Stewart launched the podcast in 2020; more than 560 episodes later, they’re signed with a talent agency, reach half a million listeners a month, and do shows as far afield as Australia. The UK date earlier this year was hosted by Matches Fashion at its central London townhouse. Alexa Chung was the special guest, and afterwards, everyone drank free champagne and martinis while trying to talk to the two hosts without seeming weird. Because the thing about listening extensively to a podcast, particularly one centred on people’s personal life, is that you develop what’s been termed a “parasocial” relationship: you know all about them, but they don’t know anything about you. It leads to the deeply odd experience of introducing yourself to someone who feels the furthest thing from a stranger.

And in the case of How Long Gone, it turns the abstract numerology of GDP charts into tangible reality. By now, the facts of Britain’s relative poverty are like a catechism: we are the poorest country in northwestern Europe, and, at purchasing power parity, 20 per cent poorer than America. Take away London, and we’re poorer than every single US state. Londoners themselves have roughly 20 per cent less purchasing power than New Yorkers. Black and Stewart live lives that creative types in the UK could never afford. Extensive portions of How Long Gone are given over to the finer points of non-economy air travel, or the merits of Los Angeles salad bars where you’d be lucky to get change from $50. Even the writers they have on seem to be, if not outright affluent, at least materially comfortable. 

Of course, America has long been mythologised over here as a land of riches: of Dallas’s aristocratic oil men; of diamond-drenched rappers; of endless sunny suburbs that host sitcoms like Modern Family. We also know, consciously or not, that it’s all art—it’s for show. But listening to real people describe their real lives—people who do similar things to you but live so much better—is almost uncanny. Those who watch Americans talk about their shopping habits or everyday routines on TikTok will get a similar feeling.

When the musician Caroline Polachek appeared on How Long Gone, she talked about living in London for a period, and how she felt more alien there than she did in other European capitals—speaking a foreign country’s language means you can better understand how you differ from its people. And while Black and Stewart style themselves as Anglophiles, listening about their visits to London gives the impression of rich GIs rolling into town in 1942. Stewart went to the River Café but didn’t rate it. Black went to Selfridges “and got high as hell on the vibes”, then took his first ever public bus (“A-plus”, so well done TfL) to Broadway Market, which sells “fire sandwiches”. For a break from “weird food with sauce on it”, he also had a quick solo lunch at Ottolenghi Marylebone. 

Maybe this sounds a bit sour. There are plenty of rich people in London, after all. But they tend to be bankers or oligarchs’ kids. Their wealth can be batted away with cultural superiority. Being rich and cool is far more unnerving, for Brits generally have to choose one or the other. So when I’m in the bath, listening to How Long Gone, and hearing about fancy grocery shops and exclusive parties, I’m also thinking about Britain—and why we put up with being so broke.