The chant “We Are the 99 Percent!” is one of the more commonly heard ones at the recent occupy protests. The “1%” are the top earners who have supposedly absconded with all the wealth in the country and are hording it like Nordic dragons. The “99%” are those who work hard but simply cannot get ahead because of the avaricious “1%”.
To be fair, many in the occupy movement, just want a fair shake and a chance to earn a living without having their savings eviscerated by the federal reserve or having to go through a period of unemployment and retraining every seven or eight years thanks to an exacerbated business cycle.
But there are those socialists in the movement who are demanding that the richest 1% have their wealth confiscated in order to pay for things like a mandatory minimum income, a single-payer healthcare system and free college education for the remaining 99%*.
Setting aside the enumerable practical, economic, social and moral problems with this proposal, let’s try applying this logic consistently. The socialist occupiers (again, not all occupiers) believe that the richest 1% of people have some kind of responsibility to pay for some things that the remaining 99% want.
What does it mean to be in the 1%? Well, in America, it means to earn over $364,000 a year. That might not be Warren Buffet rich, but that’s definitely enough to live a very comfortable life in most places in the country. But why just look at America? What makes the borders of this country so special? If you are going to presume some kind of metaphysical responsibility that the wealthy have to care for the poor, why would this responsibility stop at the arbitrary lines that we have drawn to mark our national boundaries? Surely the wealthy have just as much a responsibility to care for the poor in Mexico or Botswana as they do for the poor in New York.
When the predictions of Karl Marx—that capitalism would fall because the exploited proletariat would eventually rise up and overthrow the rapacious bourgeoisie—failed to materialize in the industrialized west, Vladimir Lenin claimed, in Imperialism, that this was because the exploitative nature of capitalism had been outsourced. Now, capitalist nations were exploiting the Third World instead of their own working class.
So, instead, let’s ask not what it means to be in the top 1% of Americans, but what it means to be in the top 1% of humans, period. Well, according to a great website that uses World Bank data to tell you exactly where you rank on the global income spectrum***, if you have an income of over 47,500 USD a year, you are in the top 1%.
Furthermore, if you have an income of over $500 a week, you are in the top 10% globally. The median global income is actually only $850 per year.
Now, I think a lot of the occupiers are actually unemployed recent college grads, so some of them probably do not actually crack the top 1%. But there are plenty of college professors, teachers, and other professionals out there protesting right along with them, and I am willing to bet a sizeable chunk of the protestors actually do make more than $47,500 a year (the average American income is right around $40K.)
So, this means that a lot of the protestors, angrily demanding that the 1% give up some of their exorbitant wealth, are actually in that 1% themselves! They are hording an extremely disproportionate amount of wealth that could and, by their logic, should be redistributed to the 99% of people suffering in poverty around the world.
So, occupiers and supporters of the occupy movement, I would challenge you to meet the request that Sam Harris issued to America’s rich****—If you meet the minimum requirement to be in the top 1%, make a onetime donation of at least 50% of your income this year to the education and/or employment of the poorest 99%.
If we are to apply your logic consistently, you have a responsibility to do it.
***the data being used on this site is a few years old, circa 2003, but the point is still relevant. http://www.globalrichlist.com/
****I have enormous respect for Sam Harris, and he has written insightfully about religion and philosophy in the past. Unfortunately, writing a blog has caused him to wander into topics on which he is not qualified to speak. As this article shows, economics is one such topic. http://www.samharris.org/site/full_text/a-new-years-resolution-for-the-rich/