With all of the recent Place Occupying (although currently off the front pages), the United States has been introduced to a question which will remain in the public consciousness for a long time: “Who are the one percent?“
Where the phrase “The One Percent” came from is hazy; a 2006 Documentary bears the name The One Percent, but for many it will remain associated with the winter of 2011. Picking a dividing line in the battle for America’s consciousness was no doubt an attractive call to arms for the first people in the Occupy Wall Street movement who used the phrase. Encouraging class divisions – us versus them, the 99% versus the 1% – is an enticing goal for any populist movement. If the Occupy protests have a lasting legacy it will be, for better or worse, drawing the public’s attention away from Kim Kardashian for just long enough to read about the “unfair” gap between the one percent and the rest of us.
The One Percent and the Deliberate Use of Scare Quotes – Oh, and Class Warfare!
Object to anything I just wrote? Perhaps my deliberate usage of “unfair” in scare quotes? Good. I’m here to do a little class uniting, and I’m going to do it on the back of all of the class dividing that has happened in the last few months.
The truth is, who the one percent are doesn’t matter one bit. The class warfare rhetoric on both sides (the 53%, the 99%) is a deliberate attempt to create warring factions among a United States population still struggling from our last recession. If you take one thing from this article, let it be this: all of us – “the 1%”, “the 99%”, “the 53%” and even the “47%” – are better off in the present than at any time in the history of the world. Yes, the 1% have gotten richer. However, in the United States (and much of the world), so has everyone else. The assumption that total income earned is a fixed pie that the rich are slicing bigger and bigger pieces from is ridiculous – the pie is growing so fast not even the rich can eat it all.
Stop worrying about who the one percent are and what they are doing and start worrying about how the rest of us are faring in our current economy. There’s plenty of pie for all of us. (Tom Friedman eat your heart out – I carried that metaphor across two paragraphs!)
What Countries are the One Percent?
When pundits talk about American Exceptionalism, they usually are either claiming a politician is wrapping him or herself in the flag, or praising a politician for recognizing that in the United States “It’s Different Here.” Enough of that. Let’s talk about the top 1% of countries. The World Bank recognizes 216 sovereign states, so let’s call out the first three – the 1% of the world’s nations. Let me introduce you to the United States, China, and Japan. First, be amazed as I anger you with statistics – just imagine that the United States, China, and Japan are people and not sovereign nations. This chart will really get you going!
Is the United States Unequal?
There are lots of ways to take a guess at ‘inequality’. Let’s look at just two – the gap between median and mean income and the Gini Coefficient. Here is your data presented in a nice format for the World and for the United States. (US Data from 2010 Census Data)
|Median GDP as a Percentage of Average||6.13%|
|United States Indicators|
|United States Median Income||$26,197.00|
|United States Average Income||$38,337.00|
|Median Income as a Percentage of Average||68.33|
I hope you realize that what I’m showing you is pretty ridiculous. Inequality isn’t the issue – the issue is improving conditions for everyone (or every country). To show you that these inequality measures are a huge waste of time, let’s flip back to the World for one second. We know that the United States, Japan, and China control an inordinate amount of world income in the form of Gross Domestic Product. Who cares – we only care if the world, in general, is better off. Here’s a chart, in constant 2010 dollars, of how the world has done in the last 50 years (again, from the World Bank).
Despite population only increasing from 3,027,185,898 to 6,840,507,002 GDP shot up massively from $1.3 Trillion 2010 Dollars to $63.0 Trillion. That’s a lot of people leaving poverty – and considering only around $26 Trillion of that GDP in 2010 was from the top 1% of countries, it’s also not just the US, China, and Japan doing all the lifting. The whole world is better off.
Are We Better Off Today Than We Used to Be?
The next time you hear people coming up with new ways to divide us, I hope you think back to this article. The top 1% may have gained a seemingly disproportionate share of the nation’s income. However, the nation’s income is so much more than it used to be (1960: $520,531,181,568 for 180,671,000 people; 2010:$14,582,400,000,000 for 309,050,816 people, both in 2010 Dollars) that the entire argument is silly. The truth is, we are better off as a whole than we used to be. Join the 100% today!
Do you care who the one percent are?
Do you think we are better off than we were in the 1960s when income was “more equal”?
Should the 99% countries be mad that the 1% control >40% of the wealth?
Am I throwing gasoline on smoldering embers?