I am the 1%

by Eric Shierman

Entry into the 1% is not determined by how much money you make but by how much responsibility you take.

In the last recession I was laid off from my dream job. I started a hedge fund with only $150,000 in assets to draw a management fee from, paying me far less than the minimum wage. I loaded FedEx trailers on weeknights and stocked Target’s shelves on the weekends to pay my student loans and my mortgage. Ten years later I manage enough assets to pay my bills but I still probably make less than Warren Buffett’s secretary – yet I am the 1%. I aspire to greatness. I work hard. I take responsibility for my life, blaming none of my troubles on anyone else let alone the top 1% of income earners.

There is someone out there trying to become the next Steve Jobs as a college dropout working at Wal-Mart trying to design the next “killer app” in his living room. He is the 1%. An aspiring actress out there dreams of winning an Academy Award while waiting tables in LA. She is the 1%. An unpublished author tries to write the great American novel while tending a bar. He is the 1%. An undiscovered rock star works as a cashier at Winco while she writes songs for her garage-band. She is the 1%. Somewhere in downtown Portland someone has a plan to become a celebrity chef but is currently working a popular food cart to get by. He is the 1%. Intel, a giant multinational corporation that happens to be Oregon’s best employer, has recently hired a college graduate with a degree in electrical engineering. She made the right move in her freshman year, changing her major from sociology to electrical engineering. She wants to be the CEO of Intel some day. She is the 1%.

Even if they never reach the top percentile of income earners, these people and countless others will remain the 1%. Entry into the 1% is not determined by how much money you make but by how much responsibility you take. Even during this recession, America remains great because we 1%ers remain in a firm majority. The day the 99%ers become a majority is the day America stops being America and becomes Greece.

When I say Greece, I don’t just mean our contemporary Greece that is collapsing from its own welfare state weight. I mean ancient Greece and prehistoric Greece. That is to say the 99%ers seek to turn back the clock of human progress itself. There has been a steadily compounding return on capital long before Louis Blanc coined the term Capitalism. Finance has been at the center of human progress, but human progress did not really take off until finance was set free. The 99%ers would have us treat bankers today the way Shakespeare depicts the treatment of Shylock, sacrificing the goose that has been laying our golden eggs upon an altar of envy.

Ever since a couple of fellas started trading stock certificates under a buttonwood tree on May 17, 1792, people with savings have been able to finance people with ideas in a way that has created more prosperity and lifted more people out of poverty than any other economic system in human history, and thus we all live in the top 1% of human historical income earners – even the people protesting where that tree once stood. Since our species emerged 50,000 years ago, demographic anthropologists estimate that there have been approximately 106 billion human lives lived. How many of those lives have enjoyed the prosperity of an $8.50 an hour worker in America today? Indeed even our lowest wage earners consume resources that Alexander the Great would envy, considering himself impoverished by comparison.

This prosperity would not exist without the very economic system that the Occupy Wall Street kids denounce. As late as a few centuries ago, eating a banana was an unreachable luxury to even to the upper class. Luis XIV had greenhouses growing oranges during the summer. The lowest of the poor in America can buy them now at Winco for 70 cents a pound all year long. A homeless shelter in America smells better and has less rotting teeth than the court of Henry VIII. This simply would not be the case if America had lived the way the 99%ers dream we should.

If they want to protest the bailout, Okay, but why wait until now? Why didn’t they stand with the Tea Party two years ago? The House Republicans nearly killed TARP. They voted it down the first time Nancy Pelosi brought it up for a vote, but President Bush twisted enough arms for it to squeak by the second time. The Tea Party was less of a reaction against Obama as it was a reaction against Bush, demanding an end to the era of big government conservatism.

If Occupy Wall Street’s timing is off, their targeting is even worse. Last week Occupy Chicago marched outside the Chicago Board of Mercantile Exchange, an institution that had nothing to do with either the financial crisis nor benefit from the bailout. Meanwhile Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, who actually caused it, sponsored a $1,000 dollar a plate dinner party for the Mortgage Bankers’ Association a few blocks away at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, with Obama’s chief political strategist David Axelrod as a guest speaker. What does Axelrod know about the mortgage business? Well perhaps he was able to explain to party goers why Dodd-Frank leaves the two primary inflators of the real estate bubble alone.

Wells Fargo’s Portland office is only a couple of blocks away from Occupy Portland’s barricade, making it a popular thing to shout at. The US Bancorp tower is further away, but the occupiers like to march on down to it as well. Do these protestors even care that both of these banks managed their risk well and tried to opt out of receiving TARP money? The government forced them to take it so weak banks would not be stigmatized from accepting assistance.

Wells Fargo and US Bank paid the money back as soon as they were allowed to do so, but Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac continue to bleed the US Treasury. Dodd-Frank slaps a heavy price of regulatory compliance on two well managed banks but lets the two institutions most at fault conduct business as usual. Where is the outrage? This is not just an issue of misdirected anger; when you look at the actual policy prescriptions these protestors demand, they seek to punish legitimate success to finance more crony capitalism.

While untimely and untargeted, Occupy Wall Street will be temporary. We have seen this movie before. Thirty years ago the United States faced a recession far worse than the one we face today. In 1980 the Alamo in Texas, the statue to the Roman god Vulcan in Alabama, and a coal mine in Pennsylvania were all occupied by long-term protests inspiring a short-term surge in activism. Long before Facebook, they were able to form The Revolutionary May Day Committee which organized May Day marches in every major city in the United States. Portland has held a march for the ideologically purest progressives on May first ever since.

The May Day march has served as a barometer of how the revolutionary left has waxed and waned ever since. The quick recovery from that recession’s 1982 peak hurt the movement, but not as bad as the collapse of Communism in 1989. In the 1990s they did not even get enough of a turnout to require a permit. The great renaissance of the Anti-Capitalist mentality came when the 1999 protests against the WTO in Seattle gave radical socialism a post-Cold War identity as the Anti-Globalization movement. In 2003 this morphed into an anti-war movement only to become an immigrant rights movement by 2006.

It is remarkable how weak progressive politics in America have been. With an opponent of the Iraq war in the White House, anti-war activists seem to shrug their shoulders at the fact Obama was the first American President to violate the War Powers Act. I, being no progressive, but as a big believer in immigrants rights myself, have marched with them for the past two years and made a lot of friends along the way. The free movement of labor is of course a pro-globalization position. The intellectual dominance of Neo-Liberalism is evident in the fact it has taken until now for any serious political challenge to emerge from the Democrats’ left flank.

Real progressive movements have not been able to gain traction for two reasons. First, they eventually begin to eat their own. This is most evident at these “general assembly” meetings which are truly creepy things to watch. From the French Jacobins to the Red Guards of China’s Cultural Revolution, a tight group of ideological radicals tries ever so hard to maintain the illusion of a leaderless movement while attempting to take power away from rival factions. Watch this video to see how they plant organizers in the crowd to move the agenda along.

Isn’t that remarkable? In this case they prevent one of the most progressive members of Congress from speaking because they believe the “democratic process” is threatened by a larger than life individual. When your quest for equality is so quixotic that you prevent a civil rights hero from speaking BECAUSE he is a hero, you might be an extremist. This movement won’t be doing Obama any favors either.

The second reason these movements fail is that the economy eventually begins growing again. From the perspective of the organizers in 1983 and 2003, everything was going great until the economy recovered. When college kids begin to worry about their late nights at the office rather than late Capitalism, revolutionary socialism fields less people to events than UFO clubs. Occupy Wall Street and their predecessors wait for the great uprising of the multitude, but all they get is a great party, pot smoking, amateur music, and eventually a job. They can’t help it. They live in America. They are the 1%.

Eric Shierman is a partner at Creative Destruction Investment Partners, writes for the Oregonian under the pen name “Portland Aristotle” on the My Oregon blog, and is the author of the forthcoming book: A Brief History of Political Cultural Change. His articles can be read at: http://connect.oregonlive.com/user/PortlandAristotle/posts.html

 

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  • Rupert in Springfield

    I gotta say, this video is priceless. I have a feeling John Lewis’ first words when he got out of there were “what the hell was that?”. The repeating every line thing has a nice Khmer Rouge quality to it as well.

    • 3H

      They actually asked him if he would speak later and he couldn’t as he was on his way to a different event.  From what I’ve read he wasn’t upset.  But don’t let anything like facts get in your way.  And, it’s just funny how people on this blog just don’t get it.  Which explains the reaction of so many on this blog.  Mock what you don’t understand because it’s easier than dealing with your ignorance.

      • Rupert in Springfield

        You never have much of an argument do you? I mean ever, not just this post. Its always the usual stream of insults from you, everyone except you is ignorant, no one has any facts except you yadda yadda yadda….. yep, we get it.

        Let’s face it, we can all see the video. The look on Lewis’ face tells it all “these people are whacko, get me outta here”. Frankly it’s hilarious, and yes, most people seeing the video could probably understand John Lewis’ “get me outta here” reaction to the drone after me crowd.

        I mean let’s be honest, the average viewer hearing the chanting thing is probably initially puzzled, then mirthful at the inanity of it, and finally begins to silently, or openly, question the sanity of the audience chanting in the video.

        So you bet Lewis would have a scheduling conflict for an invite back, anyone in their right mind would have a scheduling conflict for an invitation back to that nonsense. I’d imagine most people of any sanity have schedualing conflicts for the next five years should an invite to this nonsense materialize.

        • 3H

          Actually I do Rupert, you just don’t pay attention.   I wasn’t aware that a stream of insults, as you call it, bothers you.   Ask yourself this, have I  ever called anyone on here a vulgar name – and then ignored it and never apologized?  You’re just being a hypocrite now.

          As for the scheduling conflict, Lewis himself said that he was on his way to another event and stopped by at Occupy.   You could have looked that up, but instead you felt that it would be more fun to prove my assertion about ignorance on this blog when it comes to the Occupy Movement. 

          • Rupert in Springfield

            > I wasn’t aware that a stream of insults, as you call it, bothers you.

            And I wasn’t aware that I ever said it did. What I said was thats all you really ever do here, insult people. You hop on to call anyone who doesnt agree with you uninformed and stupid, then you hop off. I mean basically you are what is known as a troll in the blog sense of the term.

            If you actually add something to the conversation in the future, then at that point my opinion of you might change.

            >As for the scheduling conflict, Lewis himself said that he was on his way to another event and stopped by at Occupy.

            Yep, I probably would have said the same thing. It’s something we all do, make up an excuse to leave, or make sure you have an out to get away if you have to.

            Look – The expression on Lewis’ face says it all is the point here. “Get me away from these crazy loons!”. We all can see it. No way that face, or common sense, says “dammit, I wish I didn’t have this place to go, because after being chanted down I really want to stay”

            It’s an hilarious video. Then again you trying to rationalize what clearly is not going on is pretty funny too.

            You are probably the only one who looks at the video and thinks Lewis really wanted to hang with the loonies.

          • 3H

            LOL.. so, you are comfortable in making accusations against people for which you are egregiously guilty of yourself?   I know, I know, do as Rupert says, not as he does.  And then, of course, you end the paragraph with an insult.   My God, are you really that irony challenged?  

            Ummm.. I suspect that I care about your opinion for me nearly as much a you care about my opinion for you.  But, I’ll make you a deal, lead by example, and I’ll be happy to do the same.   Oh, take a look at my postings, the vast majority do not insult anyone and I’m willing to bet that if we did a qualitative study we’d find that you’re much more prone to insults than I am.   

            I think that you will see what you want to see in that video.   I think you’ve made up your mind, and that you will cherry-pick what you need to support that opinion.  

            As for Lewis, do you think he was lying?  That he wasn’t on his way to another event?  

            From his Facebook Page:

            I had a great time marching in the parade and meeting the thousands and thousands of people at the 40th Atlanta Pride Festival this past weekend in Midtown.U.S. Rep. John Lewis speaks at Atlanta Pridegdata.youtube.comU.S. Rep John Lewis (GA, District 5 – D) spoke at the 2010 Atlanta Pride festival on Sunday, Oct. 10, 2010. Lewis vowed to continue the fight to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and thanked the LGBT community for its support during his time in the House of Representatives. For more information, pl

      • 3H, that is an interesting spin that you have chosen to make. However well John Lewis has handled being prevented from speaking after taking his time to go out to a general assembly meeting that is supposed to be open to the public, the point that matters is why he was blocked. It was not because they were too busy, it was because he is too much of a hero, that the organizers considered him a threat to the “democratic process.” This is obviously a very Rousseau notion of what “democracy” means. That is why he looked at them like they were crazy. It is also why these movements always eat their own. Like I said, they won’t be doing Obama any favors. 

        • 3H

          I think your analysis is wrong.  He was invited to come back to speak.  They didn’t block him because he was a hero… they took the position that he wasn’t anymore important than anyone else.  Because he truly is not more important than anyone else.   I suppose for people who either want to be at the “top”, or who are at the “top”, this is a frightening concept.  Imagine that people can appreciate what you have accomplished without assuming that it somehow makes you more important and worthy of additional privileges.   A lot of people took time out to go to Occupy Atlanta.  Why is their time worth any less?  I’m sorry Eric, but your contention that they considered him a threat is simply guess work on your part.  And, if he had the attitude, “Hey, I’m John Lewis and they need to accommodate me and change things for my convenience…” then perhaps they had a point. 

          I think you read too much into facial expressions and assume they reflect thoughts that you have no basis of knowing.

          There is much greater nuance to this story, and you willingness to try and simplify it too much leads to a lack of understanding.

          https://www.salon.com/2011/10/13/the_man_who_blocked_john_lewis_speaks/

          • The nice words that people say after an incident are less revealing than facial expressions caught on camera at the time. Is not 90% of our communication nonverbal? Perhaps you are reading too much into the spin that has developed after the fact. This kind of reminds me of the kind words Hillary Clinton had to say about Code Pink when they occupied her Senate Office the day before she voted for the Iraq war. They humiliated her, but she is a politician and put out as nice a recollection of the event as she could.

            If you missed the obvious, the African Americans in the crowd didn’t. Forget about the look on John Lewis’ face. How about the majority in the crowd that wanted to hear him speak? How about the folks chanting “let him speak, let him speak” as he walked away? 

            The agenda they were working on was a rather mundane list of announcements regarding free services. If there was a Tea Party meeting and Ron Paul suddenly showed up, the idea that not giving him three minutes or so say hello would be absurd. Not doing the same for John Lewis was seen to be more than a little absurd by the many common folk whose notion of fairness would allow a flexible agenda. As time goes on the folks whose notion of “democracy” is guided by a Rousseau-like notion of the “general will” will be the only ones showing up. That was my point.

            You seem to agree with Joe. He saw this as as one of those teachable moments to demand an extreme sense of egalitarianism and follow it inflexibly. That was my point. That is one of the reasons why these movements have failed to gain any traction for three decades, and they won’t be doing Obama any favors either. So yes, for people like me, I am willing to give special opportunities for people of achievement to speak at the organizations that I am a member of, and am willing to work around their schedule. The problem with radical movements is that more people are like me in this regard than like Joe. Life will go on. The economy will recover. Joe will eventually get a job. 

    • 3H

      Lets step back for a second.  What would make me think that any discussion on your part is intended to be serious when you put words in to John Lewis’ mouth?  With no research at all?  Based purely upon your subjective, and most likely biased, opinion of the “look” on his face?

      What would make me want to discuss this seriously when you claim, “…repeating every line thing has a nice Khmer Rouge quality as well.”  Really?   The example you came up with was to compare them to the Khmer Rouge?  I guess I should be grateful that you managed to avoid a Nazi analogy.  

      The fact is, myself, and others, have attempted to discuss issues without resorting to insults.  Frequently you included insults in your response.  Why should I take you seriously at all?  You brought this on yourself and it is just very sad that you don’t see your role in any of it. What makes you think you deserve better?  Remember the 80’s slogan, “Character Counts”?  Why don’t you try that and see what happens.

  • Bob Clark

    Occupy Portland is such a great advertisement against having anything to do with downtown Portland.  I’ve made it a habit to avoid going down town for the last five years or more as the juveniles occupying the Mayor and Commissioner positions force their convoluted cultural engineering visions on the city and the down town in particular.  I guess it is just too boring for local government to just do the basics of police, fire, road maintenance, sewer and water; and to let the collective wisdom of individuals transacting amongst themselves to determine economic prosperity.

    • Rupert in Springfield

      In terms of advertising the Occupy movements are probably the Republicans greatest single asset right now.

      I think most people have a very hard time identifying with a group who can apparently not work for weeks at a time, to go park camping. Absolutely nothing is better for Republicans than this sort of thing. It makes people realize – “You know what? I can’t do that, I have a mortgage to pay, kids to take care of and a house to maintain. Sure I am annoyed at many of the things they are annoyed at, but I sure as hell can’t drop everything for a camping trip. Maybe these Obama supporters really are quite different from me?”

      That’s the problem with movements like this. Initially people might agree with the grievances, but after a while they begin to lose empathy for the protesters because they apparently have no responsibilities in life compared to the average Joe who can’t take off for a month to go yell and chant.

      • 3H

        A Time Magazine poll found that 54% of those polled had a favorable impression of OWS.  That would be most people.

        So, on what do you base your statement that “most people would have a hard time indentifying”  with OWS?  What makes you think that?

  • MGBHstar

    I gotta say this Eric, you actually “get it”.  Unlike the masses occupying Wall Street and other public places, you didn’t ask for a hand-out when things got bad, you worked your ass off and made the best of it.  You should be proud of your success as should all folks who understand that you, and only you, are responsible for your ultimate success or failure.  Sure, the Government could do things better, but the best thing they can do is stay out of people’s business.

  • Lulz

    Is the 1% supposed to be illustrative?  Do you truly believe that the country can be divided between the 1% and the 99%? Let me ask this a different way, what percentage of the population of the United States can call themselves the 1%? 

  • Anonymous

    At 62, health considerations mean I can no longer do what I’ve been doing for more than 20 years. But being part of the 99 percent is the last thing I want to be. I’m picking up and setting out on career number three and while I don’t figure to ever be in the top one percent financially, I definitely do plan to be in the top five percent.

    Mentally, I’m a one percenter and proud of it. Actually, I figure if you do the math you’ll find that we one percenters make up a bigger part of the population than the 99 percent.

    • Lulz

      Of course you are.  And if you ask a room full of 1000 randomly selected people if they are smarter than average… fully 95%+ will believe they are.

  • Highoffhog

    Here is the deal. If I want to not work, that is my right as an American. I will then need help, which is also my right.
    Why work when you don’t have to.
    I am part of the 49% who don’t.

  • The most successful cultural product of the hippies of the 60’s was the notion that the highest calling of an individual was to self-actualize, that humans could be fully happy and self-developed on their own, outside of a society of others. “Do your own thing”, as this idea was immortalized, was germinated at Esalen by Fritz Perls, and by 1970 about 5% of the US population accepted it. By the late 70’s 80% did, according to market researchers who followed consumer attitudes and recommended marketing strategies to capture consumer dollars. Reagan was elected to his first term in large part because he appealed to the consumer segment termed “the aspirationals”, who flummoxed traditional political pollsters by lying about who they were voting for, but who people like Daniel Yankelovich recognized their market research. What the Occupy movement calls the 1% are the people who own the most resources and have the most actual power, what Shierman calls the 1% are “aspirationists”, and are truly the hippies’ legacy. 

    • Exactly right. Aspiration to be in the 1% is far more important than who actually gets there some day. That was my point, glad you cough it. 

      Policies that try to penalize the wealth of the Steve Jobs of today undermine the next Steve Jobs of the future. Had America been doing this for the past two hundred years, life for the 99th percentile would be worse off than it is today. 

      • 3H

        I’m pretty sure that my life wouldn’t be a lot worse off without iPods, iPads and iPhones.   I think you give too much credit to individuals and not nearly enough credit to the broad social, political and cultural movements that make those innovations possible.  I don’t think you give enough credit to the people that actually make things work and get the dull, repetitive tasks that free up the Steve Jobs.   The fact is, the Steve Jobs of the world owe more to us than we do to them.  But we live in a society that fawns on celebrity and undervalues the people who live their lives as best they can.   The 99% make the world move Eric, not the %1.   

        • I actually agree with you on this one. I reject great-man history. 

          Social structure moves human progress forward. While accepting the caveat that there is a random walk to history, if Steve Jobs did not develop the personal computer, someone else would have. You may not understand how the iphone is even more significant than the personal computer. I didn’t until I bought one (actually I use a droid). I have a better trading software on the phone in my pocket than the one I had on my office computer when I worked at Morgan Stanley ten years ago. Even the people who don’t use any of these things benefit from the productivity increases on a macroeconomic level.What Steve Jobs represents is entrepreneurship.

          Social structures can undermine entrepreneurship. Establishing the rule of law and maintaining a good transportation infrastructure are not enough. Effective financial services are a necessary social structure too. Without efficient financial markets, the best ideas don’t get funded. The investments that the highest percentile of income earners make fund the highest income earners of the future.

    • Poet

      exactly.

      If you want to yell or you want to sing,
      Don’t worry or dwell, just do your own thing.
      Let it all go,
      Release your inner self.
      Roll nude in the snow,
      Don’t worry about your health.
      The important fact is easily seen,
      Who cares how you act?
      You’re doin’ your thing.

  • JAC

    “a bunch of protestors wasting away again in Obamavilles….lost their way like some tasteless shakers of salt…”
    “lots of protestors wasting again in Obamavilles….” la la la la la

  • Anonymous

    This is a well written, and thought out article. People seem to enjoy blaming the right or even the left. To be honest (as you mentioned) it really isn’t one party or another (though certain sides do seem to want to revert back more than others) I wish Americans truly sat down and talked, and studied issues, instead of getting angry because they want a handout. Thank you for your article, it was above all else well thought out.

    Bulmoose.wordpress.com

    • 3H

      I think your post was thoughtful and had something to say until you wrote: “… instead of getting angry because they want a handout.”  I’m not entirely sure what you meant by this, or if your choice of words was unintentional, but that comment is not an invitation to discussion.   It sounds like you have drawn a line and have decided that people who are involved in OWS, and who may disagree with you, can be dismissed as “angry” and wanting “a handout”.

      • Certainly not all of them, but I did go down to occupy Portland and many of the people seemed to be more angry that they didn’t get a bail out or high enough minimum wage rather than fighting against the real issues. I was disappointed that they weren’t organized I guess, that they were mostly just upset people not really focussing on the cause, just effect. I am glad there is activism, I’d like it to focus though personally on the core issues.

        • 3H

          But I think you need to be careful, and this is where a conversation comes in handy.  Perhaps their core issues are different than yours.  That doesn’t necessarily make either of you wrong – just different perspectives.   If you dismiss, or minimize, what other people feel is important, you are not going to have a productive conversation.   How many of them did you talk to?  I mean, honestly ask them when their grievance was?

          • You misunderstand, it’s not the cause I disagree with, it’s their solutions. I agree with many of the grievances I heard, I do not think the solutions were well thought out.

          • 3H

            That is different than saying that they are angry and wanting a handout. Don’t necessarily assume that some of their answers are not well thought out.  Two people can look at the same problem, take in the same facts, reflect on the problem and the facts just as assiduously, and come up with very different answers.   

            It’s OK, I think, to say “I disagree with…”  and invite a discussion.  But, if you want to have a discussion, I don’t think you should characterize them in a negative and, probably unfair, fashion.   Or, if you want to have a Rush Limbaugh type of conversation — by all means, caricature them and have fun with the insults.

            If I had responded to you initially, “Oh, you’re just a bitter and angry Tea-Partier who’s jealous that no one is listening to your racist and crazy rantings”, this conversation would be vastly different.  It would probably be more along the lines of the earlier exchanges with Rupert in this same post.  LOL.. fortunately, it is not.

            One final note.. OWS does not have any single agenda or plan of action.  I don’t know if they will or not.   OWS is not just about airing grievances, it is as much about process.   How decisions are arrived at, how responses to problems are discussed and a solution decided upon.  Don’t be surprised if several solutions are offered which may be contradictory of each other.  

            I think one of the problems that the Tea Party is going to have is that it is becoming more hierarchical.  That the frustration and unhappiness of many of the adherents is going to be focused into a few distinct bullet points that represent the views of a few “leaders”.  Those solutions may address a few of the concerns of some, but may also alienate others who wanted to vent their frustration but who will fade into silence because they are no longer being listened to.

  • Verysuccessful

    I am in the top 5% of the world in income. I am ashamed of this excess and plan to give most of my wealth away to the homeless when I die.

    • Lulzpdx

      Sort of like how George Washington freed his slaves after his death.  You are just an inspiration to us all.

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