We Are the 99!

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.


  1. That’s all well and good that Americans and Canadians are “wealthy” compared to Ethiopians and Haitians, but you’re making the old fallacy of invalidating the suffering of some because there are always people in the world who are suffering more.

    It doesn’t change the fact that we can’t even begin to set aside money for my daughter to go to college, the fact that we needed emergency assistance from the state to keep our gas on, and my husband has been underemployed for going on a decade. It doesn’t change the fact that members of my family have to take a short sale on their house and lose tens of thousands. So many people in my life are suffering and we’re just scraping by so we have nothing to offer them. Houses in my neighborhood are growing more and more vacant and the streets get fuller with panhandlers every day. Even going to the doctor for a simple checkup with a $20 copay is something that we have to plan weeks in advance. We still have medical bills from an emergency room visit for my daughter last year that we can’t even begin to pay.

    And I make a pretty good living, considering.

    Let me tell you, the worst feeling in the world is wanting to have another child but knowing that we can’t because we can’t afford daycare or food.

    But fuck us anyway — some family’s starving in a mud hut in the Sudan so why should I go across the street and join the OccupyMN protest?

    Meanwhile the top 1% doing business in the US are paying either no taxes or next to no taxes while reaping billions in profit, schools in my state are closing left and right, and my governor is more interested in building a stadium for a professional football team than keeping schools open and healthcare available for the poorest of the poor.

    So tell me then, how can we 99% focus on helping those below us to move up if we can’t even keep ourselves afloat?

      1. The last thing I want is for you feel like I am belittling the plight of my neighbours who are struggling. I personally was bankrupt at 35 and have been struggling to get back on my feet for 5 years. I get it!

        Clearly the market economy is broken and the uber-wealth are taking advantage of an unfair system but romantic imagery aside, Robin Hood was still a thief no matter what he did with the money he stole. Robbing the rich is not a viable long term option, instead we need to better empower the poor.

        Part of that solution may take the form of tighter regulations and higher taxes on the rich, no question, but we have to be careful that it doesn’t create a disencentive for people who are willing to take the risk and start businesses that create jobs in the first place. And it also pays to take a close look and how much risk you are will to be exposed to in order to maintain your lifestyle. Part of the issue with mortgages is the fact that people were over extended and were living in homes that they couldn’t really afford in the first place.

  2. I think we can all agree that the system is broken on all sides.

    I seriously doubt slightly higher taxes are any kind of disincentive for people to start businesses. And I’m saying this as a former business owner. Location, local economy, shipping and overhead costs — these are all disincentives. Higher taxes barely get a few eyelashes batted.

    But personally speaking, this nails why I’ve been spending my lunches at OccupyMN: http://www.businessinsider.com/what-wall-street-protesters-are-so-angry-about-2011-10?op=1

    1. Not really, when we’re talking about changing taxes at the federal level. Local taxes might (small might) make a potential entrepreneur open up shop the next town or state over, but your average entrepreneur isn’t going to move his life and family clear across national borders to save a few bucks on taxes.

  3. Fair enough but I thought we were talking about the top 1%. These are people and companies that control massive opperations with can and do move accross national boarders all the time to take advantage of (among other things) more favourable tax rates.

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