Protests Target 'One Percent,' But Who Exactly Are They?
There’s also a popular conception that there’s something new about the 1 Percenters controlling a large portion of the nation’s wealth. This, too, is not so.
In 1922, 1 Percenters controlled 36.7 percent of the nation’s wealth, and that number jumped to 44.2 percent by the time the stock market crashed in 1929. The total hit a low of 19.9 percent in 1976 but has been on a steady uptrend since. In fact, there is a pretty direct correlation between the fortunes of the stock market and the amount of wealth the 1 Percenters control.
The stock market-wealth control, though, leads also to why the 1 Percenters have found themselves under such scrutiny.
From Manufacturers to Financiers
Before the market crashed again with the onset of the financial crisis in 2008, 1 Percenters owned 38.3 percent of stocks, while the top 20 percent controlled fully 91 percent of the stock market. Nine in 10 1 Percenter households held more than $10,000 worth of stock.
While the percentages of wealth controlled by the top of the top hasn’t changed much over a long historical spectrum, it has intensified over the past 30 years, which coincided with America’s change from manufacturing leader to financial services powerhouse.
Over that time, according to Dumhoff, 42 percent of wealth created from 1983 to 2004 went to the 1 percenters. The bottom 80 percent received just 6 percent of the new wealth.
Dumhoff’s study is filled with fascinating facts as well as the occasional dose of incendiary political rhetoric. He labels those who want to eliminate the estate tax as “ultra-conservatives,” a term he uses at least four times. Otherwise, though, it is a sobering study of American disparity.
“Since financial wealth is what counts as far as the control of income-producing assets, we can say that just 10 percent of the people own the United States of America,” Dumhoff writes.
It’s About More Than Income and Wealth
In short, the “Occupation” protesters have it at least thematically right about wealth control, though none of these numbers say a thing about the root of their discontent and whether the wrath should be directed towards Wall Street or Washington.
Moreover, while the protesters are at least in the right ballpark about the 1 percenters, their chants that “We are the 99 percent” don’t appear quite accurate.
A telling op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal this week by Douglas Schoen, former pollster for President Bill Clinton, disclosed some important findings in a survey done of the Occupy Wall Street crowd.
In warning Democrats to avoid a close alignment with OWS, Schoen describes a crowd that “comprises an unrepresentative segment of the electorate that believes in radical redistribution of wealth, civil disobedience and, in some instances, violence.”
Indeed, the protesters’ embrace of 1 Percenters such as actress Susan Sarandonand hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons shows that it’s not easy these days to pinpoint who is really a 1 Percenter and who is not.
Economist Joseph Stiglitz, writing in Vanity Fair in May, predicted that whatever the faces of the opposing sides, the symbolic battle of rich versus poor will continue.
“The top 1 percent have the best houses, the best educations, the best doctors, and the best lifestyles, but there is one thing that money doesn’t seem to have bought: An understanding that their fate is bound up with how the other 99 percent live,” Stiglitz wrote. “Throughout history, that is something that the top 1 percent eventually do learn. Too late.”
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