I am the 99%

By Felix Salmon
October 26, 2011


The latest CBO report on income trends says nothing particularly surprising, although it does underline quite emphatically what we already knew about the 99% and the 1%. In particular, the key message, both in charts and text, is all about the 1% and how they’ve torn away from the rest of the population in the past 30 years.

And in the wake of the 99% getting tear-gassed in Oakland by their own municipal government, I’m going to get personal for a minute here: I am the 99%. I have an absolutely wonderful life in my favorite city in the world, protected by a large and prosperous centuries-old democracy. I have enough money to eat and to travel just about anywhere I want. My home is filled with fabulous art and features a small collection of equally fabulous wine; I suspect it might even be worth more than I paid for it. I love my job, which pays extremely well, and affords me a huge degree of professional freedom. I have the kind of transferable skills which are in demand by multiple potential employers. I get to wonk out with some of the most interesting people in the world, and I also get to ignore the bores. I have a gorgeous wife, we’re both in good health, and we’re blessed with wonderful friends. In short, I have the kind of life which would be the envy of well over 99% of anybody who’s ever lived, and well over 99% of anybody alive today.

And yet — I’m still in the (upper quintile of the) 99%, and if you boil things down to just their income and wealth numbers, the 1% is as far away from me as I am from a struggling working family with an onerous mortgage and a highly uncertain employment outlook. And there’s no need for them to shower themselves with that kind of money. From me on out, it’s pure avarice. Which is human, and natural, and probably even helps in terms of economic growth. But given the amount of misery and poverty in America, it’s simply unconscionable that I and the people earning vastly more than me — including all of the 1% — are getting such an enormous share of the income and wealth so desperately needed elsewhere.

All of which is to say that my taxes are too low. If my taxes went up and the money was used to reduce poverty and unemployment in America, my standard of living would still be glorious — and millions of lives would be improved. And as for the 1%, their taxes could double and they would still be fabulously well off. I’m not proposing that as a policy solution. But I am trying to put things in perspective here. I’m not in the 1%, and I can and should be giving back much more to the society which is supporting me and making my lifestyle possible. The people who are in the 1% are the most fortunate of the fortunate. The least they can do is pay as much in taxes as, say, I do.

More From Felix Salmon
Post Felix
The Piketty pessimist
The most expensive lottery ticket in the world
The problems of HFT, Joe Stiglitz edition
Private equity math, Nuveen edition
Five explanations for Greece’s bond yield
52 comments so far

FallingRock and others have made an excellent point that needs to be emphasized — the 1% may hold a DISPROPORTIONATE amount of the income and wealth in the country, but they do not hold a MAJORITY of either.

While I am concerned about growing income inequality, a better characterization is offered by the counter-movement — the 53% who earn enough to pay income tax. This group controls essentially all the wealth in the country (either directly or indirectly) and (if I remember correctly) some 80% of the income. You could subtract the 1% from the 53% and STILL include the demographic that drives the economy.

We ought to encourage policies to expand the 53% (or 52%), both by increasing middle-class wealth and by distributing the tax burden more broadly. But the focus on the 1% is perhaps unhealthy. We cannot solve our economic problems by focusing exclusively on a small minority. Any real answer must necessarily target a broader group.

Posted by TFF | Report as abusive

We have observed the fall of communist economic system in Rusia. Now capitalist system is shacking all over the world, because this system disobey economic justice.
China with communist economic system show it can stand in more competitive world, but how long ?
The fall of communist economic system cause by its people that can not stand its economic system. If capitalist system also fall, its also because its people can not stand the system, which is un justice system of economics, where most of the nation wealth embrace by aview people.
So let us together find a new system of economic which is more human, more justice, where all the wealth distribute among most of our people.

Posted by OKTA | Report as abusive
Post Your Comment

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/