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Reality Cameras Roll in on Shale Patch Parvenu

The rich are different, and the nouveau riche are different still. Newly premiered reality television show "Bayou Billionaires" demonstrates that it's a long way from the fictitious East Egg of The Great Gatsby to Shreveport, LA, where Gerald and Kitten Dowden and kin have struck it rich in the Haynesville Shale. Now they want into the country club.

After the "hardworking family of modest means" found out "their home sits on the fourth-largest deposit of natural gas in the U.S.," the camera crew from Country Music Television (CMT) rolled in. During the show's premiere last Saturday the Dowdens "put the country in country club."

Gerald Dowden allowed that "we didn't much care for it at the time" when the gas drilling rig went up on their property. He and his wife have adjusted, though, and the show documents their coming to terms with upward mobility.

"We're going to make a lot of money, and we're going to spend it," said Gerald, the owner of 50 hounds ("I have one horse, but my wife has nine.") Gerald and Kitten -- who claimed to have warn the same pants for five years prior to the windfall -- and their family have since been buying pickup trucks and jet skis the way the Kardashian sisters buy shoes.

"We're spending it. That's what it's for," said Gerald.

The show joins a CMT program roster that includes "My Big Redneck Wedding" and "Swanderosa." It's obviously meant to be entertainment, but the Dowdens might unwittingly give economists some needed insight into the behavior of the newly monied.

Conventional wisdom among economists is that households spend the equivalent of about 5% of their wealth per year, based on traditional measures of wealth such as home values, savings, etc.

"The studies do not contemplate massive increases in a household's wealth due to royalties and lease payments (equivalent in this case to winning the lottery)," according to a 2009 report on Haynesville wealth by consultancy Loren C. Scott & Associates of Baton Rouge, LA. "Unfortunately, we are not aware of any studies that measure the amount of money that households spend from lottery winnings, so we use the 5% value to calculate the impacts on sales, earnings and jobs...The actual impacts are likely to be substantially higher."

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