A Conversation on The One Percent

How a society views wealth is also how they view the wealthy. Herein lies the foundation for the complicated relationship America has with its one-percenters. In almost every other corner of the world, wealth is a limited resource. As a result, those who have vast quantities of it are hoarders; they stockpile what is available and then suffocate all who encroach on what is stored. Our doctrine is that of wealth, limitless. We are the land of opportunity- “where money grows on trees.” In this understanding, the rich put in outstanding effort to accumulate while the rest of us are too lazy to get out of bed and go pick off the trees for ourselves. Even worse, when we make our move, the “other” had unfairly gamed the system to pluck before it was their turn. The branches of the tree will grow back tomorrow, we reason. If one can rise earlier than the already-haves and keep the have-nots or should-nots at home, we will eventually join the elite fraternity of the uber-rich. They will welcome us with open arms because, after all, there is plenty to go around, right?

It is difficult for anyone to pivot from a belief, particularly one so systematically American as the ideal previously described. Every once in a while, stubbornness is superseded by that gnawing feeling that something does not smell right. Corporations have insisted that lowering the corporate tax rate will lead to returning domestic jobs lost to globalization. The corporate tax rate has cliff-dived, but the result has been a drastic increase in work shipped overseas. I suppose some empathy would be in order if they had to do this in the name of lost profit, but that is not the case. The one-percenters have used the same logic. Lowering the income tax rate on the highest earners will stimulate higher wages- that way, everyone gets a taste. The country obliged, and while their “hourly wage” has skyrocketed, everyone else remains stagnant or worse off than before. We can conceptualize these ideas about the rich, but in order to internalize them, a confrontation was in order. Hundreds of thousands of investors were on the precipice of fundamentally changing Wall Street as well as their bank account until the rich put on a tour de force, shutting down day trading and leaving investors with worthless stocks. Middle-class workers and families were knocking on the pearly gates and expecting a warm embrace from our heavenly haves. It was the first time many realized the cold shoulder given to them has not and will not be directed solely at the “lazy” but, instead, it is and was and forever will be everyone’s cold shoulder to bear.

The one percent can be slippery, however. Even when facing a groundswell, there is an infrastructure to ensure a simmer does not turn into a boil. With massive wealth comes massive resources, and those who have it spend billions of dollars backstage, feeding the actors their political lines on the threat of non-gender bathrooms and illegal immigrants and Dr. Seuss’s “moral crusade.” We ourselves are held as ransom, used as some pawn by billionaires as collateral over the government if they attempt to raise taxes on the highest earners in any meaningful way. “We will have no choice but to ship your job or your mothers job overseas. I will be forced to pay you an unlivable wage. I don’t want to do this! Don’t make me do this!” What a pathetic irony, in hindsight, that they used this same approach in the face of their massive irresponsibility during the 2008 financial crisis. But this time around, they may not have to do the heavy lifting. Our climate of political polarization is such that shaking ourselves free of this stranglehold has been internalized as a Democratic position, although most Americans support it. Many on the Right fear that building a bi-partisan coalition of change will result in the Left receiving all of the credit. The only thing worse than being infinitely manipulated by the wealthy is having to sit on the sidelines while the “real enemy” takes their bow and receives their gold medal. Can we come to the consensus that wealth is a singular pie, and the majority of Americans are fed up with their ever-dwindling slice? It feels like we can and more, importantly, that we have to. The moment is here now, but more importantly, will it be here tomorrow?

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