Fact Checking “Proud to be a Member of the 1%”   1 comment

This post is my response to an editorial on Forbes.com. entitled I Am Proud to be a Member of the Demonized 1%.

Let me begin my response to your post by saying that I’m happy for your success, and even though I’m involved in the Occupy Wall Street Movement, I’m probably more sympathetic than you would think to a lot of what you’re saying. I do feel constrained to “fact check” what you’ve said though – but I do so in a particular tone. You’ve made some good points, and there is nothing disrespectful about your approach. I offer my comments in the same manner, and I’d like them to sound like one friend challenging another.

1. Your story is not the “real story” of the 1%, anymore than Michael Bloomberg’s story is the “real story.” The 1% is comprised of a variety of individuals who have a number of stories – some of privilege, some not; some of unscrupulous, illegal, heartless deeds, some not, some involving privilege or luck, and some not.  Your story is just one story of the 1%. This becomes important in the light of my next point.

2. You’re right, it’s only a percentage of the 1% that should really be targeted. It’s probably only 350-400 individuals – and even when we speak like that we generalize. Many of these people have not “created most of the jobs in our economy.” Many of them have enriched themselves at the expense of the multitudes. Many of them can not honestly attribute their success to just working harder 0r being smarter or more determined. These are the 1% that people like me in the Occupy Movement – and elsewhere – are calling out.

3. If the media isn’t telling your story fairly, well, join the club. Occupy has that problem too. And ask the Republican hopefuls whether they think the media is telling their story accurately, for instance. Or ask President Obama. (And in all fairness to the media, who would listen if they tried to do really nuanced and thorough coverage? Is there a market for that … besides NPR, I mean?)

4. If the “American Dream” allowed you to become rich after poor beginnings, that’s great, and you deserve a lot of credit for your hard work, willingness to sacrifice, and tenacity. Even if you did have a yacht or a plane, I certainly wouldn’t condemn you for that. As you argued, one of the great things about our country is that people have to right to enjoy what they earn. (If there are Occupy people who want to level everyone by taking from the rich, they’re certainly in the minority.) The Movement won’t criticize you or condemn you because you’re successful. I hope you realize though, how many people got the education, worked the long hours, made the kind of sacrifices you mention, etc. – and still don’t share your success story. You just may be taking too much credit for your superlative success – and assuming that if others don’t have it, it’s their fault for not doing what you have done, not trying as hard as you have tried, not being willing to make the sacrifices you have made. (Psychologically, the benefit of such an approach is that it absolves you of any need for sympathy toward those others, or of feeling that perhaps you need to help them.)

5. It’s also great if you’ve created businesses that have put people to work, especially if you’ve paid fair wages, treated workers with respect, and allowed them to share in the success of the company – for instance, at least by providing health insurance and reasonable benefits. These days, this happens less and less. (I’m sure you’re familiar with “permanent part-time employees” – you know, the kind without any benefits?) Many businesses don’t share the wealth – even a little. How many times have we seen massive layoffs at some big corporation and a huge pay raise to the CEO at the same time? It’s that kind of behavior, which people these days find repugnant, and that the Occupy Movement wants to “demonize” and “denigrate.” It might not be illegal, but it certainly seems reprehensible, and you can hardly blame people for saying they want to end it.

6. It’s true that tension between the extremely rich and the poor is growing in the U.S. I guess it’s fair to call it “class warfare.” To be accurate though, that small percentage of the 1% has been waging an economic war on the 99% for a long time, and the 99% is only now beginning to fight back. We’re not motivated by “envy” or “greed” – it seems like that would be Wall Street you’re thinking of – we’re motivated by the desire to be treated fairly in the marketplace – not to be exploited as wage slaves or like sharecroppers, or treated like just so many cogs in a machine that makes piles of money for someone else.

7. You don’t have a lobbyist, or a banker or congressman in your pocket. You’ve not making huge contributions to political campaigns to buy influence. That’s all well and good, but others are doing all these things. You surely must understand if we can’t just sit idly by and accept that. In fact, maybe there is room for some common ground between you and Occupy here. If you made your money through honest hard work, without morally disgraceful and illegal means – then I can’t see why you wouldn’t agree with us, that those who haven’t should be criticized and stopped from doing it (at the least) and penalized whenever possible. (What’s so unreasonable about asking why no one has gone to jail for their part in crashing our economy?)

8. You say that no one has ever given you anything. Fair enough. But what about having a heart for the less fortunate? I don’t know about you, but I’m a Christian. The Bible encourages and commands me to help those who oftentimes can’t help themselves – this doesn’t mean hand-outs for people who won’t work. (Under the leadership of Captain John Smith at Jamestown, when some of the settlers refused to work, and threatened the survival of all, they made a rule, “He who will not work, shall not eat.”) I get that. But God cares about the downtrodden and disadvantaged. The Bible even uses “caring for widows and orphans in their distress” as the definition of “pure and undefiled religion.” What this means is that each of us ought to have a heart for those who are downtrodden, poor, immigrants, widowed, orphaned, etc. When we have such a heart,  we will show grace, compassion and kindness to others in need. Life is about more than just climbing to the top of the heap and beating everyone else to the brass ring. It’s the “human” race, after all, and such grace and compassion towards others is a big part of what it means to be human. We can debate about how to show this compassion, but I would hope that we all want to see it happen.

9. To me, your article reads too much like a resume of reasons, not only why you are successful, but also why you deserve to be successful. Did you ever see the yearly issue of Time Magazine where the cover features what people around the country do and what they make? Only a little exposure to one of those issues will send you away with the conclusion that how hard people work, and what they make, often have almost nothing to do with one another. You know how hard the guys in my neighborhood work to roof a house? They start really early, finish really late, and never stop moving in between. They really hustle. It’s completely impressive. They don’t make much, and maybe some of them sleep in the truck as their bedroom at night. Is it really only that you have worked so much harder, or could it be that you have been “blessed” in many ways – ways that allowed you, with all of your hard work and determination – and some luck – to succeed as you have? Isn’t that possible? After all, you had a father, you got a college education, you haven’t suffered from a debilitating disease, you were born with all your limbs and your right mind, you parents didn’t sadistically abuse you, your neighbors didn’t shun you because of the color of your skin, the police didn’t stop and frisk you several times a week because of the neighborhood you lived in. Right? Like you, I’m a white male, born to loving parents and educated in decent schools, born in the 20th century. I was taught good morals, and surrounded by many loving family members and friends. I was born in the United States and therefore able to enjoy all the freedom and opportunity that entails. I am in the 1% of the richest people who have ever lived on the face of this earth. I would never dream of pretending that I haven’t enjoyed the luxury of a privileged life – compared to many others – to the other 99% of people who have ever lived. I would never dream of pretending I owe my success (which is nothing like yours) only to myself. And I hope that I always remember just how privileged and even lucky I am as a person. No man is an island, and perhaps it’s the most successful among us that stand in the greatest debt to others in this way. I know you were defending yourself in your article, and you might not have expressed much humility for that reason. But no matter, in my opinion, humility is definitely indicated. (And once humility grips you, because you realize how fortunate you have been, your heart will be softened towards others – and that’s indicated too.)

10. Finally, you say that “Just like millions who came before me, our sacrifice, discipline, personal financial risk, and unmatched work ethic has made America into the greatest country in world history.” I agree. But we’ve lost our moorings. We’ve drifted from our values. Capitalism and unbridled Capitalism are two different things. Like people, businesses and corporations need to be checked by legislation – and most of all, by morality. Morality isn’t working too well anymore, and when that happens, it’s basically impossible for legislation and law enforcement to make up the difference. That’s the sad state of affairs today – and the solution to it is surely just not more of the same me-first, others-be-damned kind of Capitalism.

Hope that things can change was the reason I became involved in the OWS Movement in the beginning. If you’re one of the good guys, we’re not against you no matter what your percentage is. If you’re in the upper one percent, and not an exploiter of others, a law-breaker, or someone buying political influence – then we’re actually protesting for you. We’re looking out for your interests. I don’t imagine that you’ll be bowled over with appreciation, but I hope I’ve freed you from feeling persecuted by the Occupy Movement. We’re not ignorant or mean. We’re just terrified as we look into the future.

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Posted January 11, 2012 by occupyevangelicals in Uncategorized

One response to “Fact Checking “Proud to be a Member of the 1%”

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  1. How is this fact checking? Anyways I have general comments just about the OWS movement. I support them in the fact that they are exercising their rights in protest. I just wish that they wouldn’t put words in my mouth. I realize that I could be apart of the 99% but I don’t feel connected to them because they aren’t fighting for what I believe. They claim they are for equality but all I see is more devisiveness.

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