'Rich Kids' Draws Attention to Conspicuous Consumption in Iran

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TEHRAN — The Instagram account "Rich Kids of Tehran" has drawn fresh attention to wealthy Iranians’ conspicuous consumption and their need to flaunt it.

After it garnered widespread publicity in the Western media this month, the account -- which has more than 100,000 followers -- was shut down due to what the administrator said was a “high amount of false publicity.” (Some of the photos can be seen on Facebook.com/richkidsoftehran and it also spurred a reaction Instagram account PoorKidsofTehran, aimed at highlighting the life of the poor.)

But it shouldn’t be a shock, said Hamid, 32, who was educated in the U.S. and is now working for his father who owns a plastics factory in Tehran. “I don’t know why people are so surprised; when I lived in the States I remember watching programs like ‘Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous;’ people who have it like to flaunt it, so why should it be any different in Iran?” Although Hamid chose not to flaunt his wealth on the account many of his friends did and he supports them.

“It is the society we live in, these are our lives and we like to share it on social media like anyone else in the West,” said Mohammed Reza, 30. “It just so happens that our lifestyle happens to be a privileged one.”

There is a lot of money in Iran; and Tehran’s nouveau riche have an insatiable appetite for the finer things in life, whether it’s a new Porsche or Maserati, a gold Rolex or the latest 70-inch flat screen TV. All are available – often through the black market -- if you have the money as luxury goods can cost three times as much here as in the United States, due to the sanctions and import taxes.

"Some people in Iran have become very wealthy due the dollar becoming more expensive and by bypassing sanctions over the last five years,” economist Ali Shams Ardakhani said. “They have spent roughly $600 million on the import of luxury cars; we don't know how they made this money but it does not reflect well on the country."

For many Iranians, it’s become a badge of honor. At one of North Tehran’s many art galleries one young man was overheard recently boasting to his friends that he had just bought a brand new Porsche jeep. “It is like buying three Porsches in America,” he said.

But inequality is equally conspicuous. Although one of the pillars of the Islamic revolution in 1979 was reducing the gulf, the majority of Iranians can’t even dream of acquiring the expensive toys of the elites.

Javad lives in a poor neighborhood in southern Tehran. He wears trendy jeans, but he works during the day delivering pizzas and moonlights as a cab driver at night. “Look, we all want to have a bit of fun in the country, the difference is the rich kids cruise around in a Porsche and we do it in a ‘Pride’,” the Kia-manufactured car and the cheapest option in Iran.

Sarah 26, who works in a pastry store downtown, was not as understanding. “I think it is disgusting that these people show off their wealth like this, especially when we don’t even know how they made their money. In a country with serious economic problems and lots of poor people who do these kids think they are showing off like this, don’t they have anything better to do? Don’t they have jobs? I guess not!”