In early June 2018 the Financial Times travel editor e-mailed to ask if I’d like to review London’s most expensive hotel suite. The Mandarin Oriental, he said, had just spent £100m tarting itself up and its new penthouse suite was available to anyone with £42,000 to spend on a night’s shelter. The very next day, long before I had got used to the idea that a 24-hour stay in a hotel could cost twice my annual gross salary as a trainee teacher, I saw the news on the BBC website: “Mandarin Oriental — Huge Blaze at Knightsbridge Hotel”. My night in luxury might have gone up in flames, but all was not lost. Even without having set foot in the place, I had a perfect case study for my year-9 economics class. I was trying to explain the concept of Giffen and Veblen goods, which flout the most basic law of economics that says a rise in price is met by a fall in quantity demanded. With a Veblen good, the pricier the item, the more people lust after it — and this suite was the best example I’d ...

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