Over the last few weeks protesters have staged occupations of the financial districts in most major western cities in an attempt to send a message to big business and government. The message is that the disparity between the wealthiest 1% and the remaining 99% of the population is far too wide and that something must be done to curb corporate greed. These protests are a good thing. They are helping to shine a light on some of the worst problems within our so-called market economy. Problems like lax regulations and unfair tax systems to name just two. Until the wealthiest among us recognize that the disparity is completely unsustainable and that in order to prevent a total collapse of the market economy they need to start leaving something on the table these types of protests will only grow and potentially become more violent.
But as I watched the news coverage this past week something struck me as a tad odd.
The rallying cry of the protests everywhere from New York to Toronto, London to Paris and beyond has become some variation of “We are the 99!”, which refers to the fact that the remaining 99% of the population is fed up. The odd part is that in much of the industrialized world the chant could just as accurately be “We are the 2 through 5”.
I wrote on this fact at the beginning of the year in my post “The 1$ Difference” Even with the top 1% making billions, my middle class income puts me in the top 3% of the world. So while chanting “We are the 99” is technically true it’s grossly disingenuous!
Stop for a second and consider the fact that if you live in a house, with electricity and in-door plumbing you are still by far, among the world’s wealthiest people and just $60,000 annually puts you in the top 3%.
Yes, the market economy is breaking down but for the subsistence farmer in east Africa or any other place in the developing world you can think of, the market economy never worked in the first place!
It’s not enough to close the gap between the top between the top few percentage points. If you really want to make a difference you need to stop looking up the ladder at the handful of people out of 100 that are better off than you and start looking down at the vast numbers below you. It will be far more effective for the world-wide economy in the long run if we focussed on helping those below us to move up than if we keep trying to figure out ways to raise ourselves.
So the next time you are tempted to chant “We are the 99!” remember, while you might not be the 1 – it’s very unlikely that you are any more than 4 or 5, on a list of 100. Don’t believe me? Punch in your annual income on The Global Rich List and see for yourself.