99% vs. 1%

by gbsmith4

I’ve been reading through a number of columns arguing both for and against the “rich getting richer.”  Some clearly take issue with the gap growing (http://www.cato-at-liberty.org/the-growing-wealth-gap-fortune-makes-up-the-numbers/) while others predictably take the other side. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/ezra-klein/post/the-cbo-takes-on-income-inequality/2011/10/26/gIQAzcPqIM_blog.html


Like any set of statistics, arguments can be made either way.

My question: so what?  In fact, let’s grant the rich have an even bigger share of the wealth than they have in the past.  The real question: did that share of wealth grow at the expense of those less fortunate?

Let’s take the case of Steve Jobs.  Certainly a 1%er.  Did his growing wealth somehow subtract from anyone in the 99%?  Is it a zero-sum game where he got wealthy only if others did poorly?

(We’ll exclude for a minute those who got wealthy via corruption or illegal deeds.  I acknowledge that does go on.  On the other hand, I think illegally “gaming the system” runs across all income levels.  In all events, we’ll stipulate that’s unfair and should be dealt with.)

Of course, I’d argue how Jobs got his wealth benefited everyone.  Or at least everyone who can afford an Ipod, Ipad, etc. (which seems to be about everyone.)

So, if we agree it’s not a zero-sum game, then is the concern something more?  Is it the concern that those at the top are somehow luckier or more fortunate, and because of that the playing field should be leveled?

I won’t argue that some at the top ARE more fortunate.  I don’t think George Clooney is smarter or works harder than I do.  But,  he is about 10X better looking than I am.  Lucky him.  On the other hand, I don’t begrudge his $20M per film.

As for those “Wall Street Fat Cats” I’ve met a lot of them, as well as CEOs across various industries.  Honestly, most aren’t all that smart.  What they were was a) generally hard-working and b) right place, right time.

Again, I don’t begrudge them, because their success doesn’t diminish mine in the slightest.

Finally, maybe my view is clouded by personal upbringing.  I went to a decidedly middle-to-lower class high school.  My parents did fine, but most of my classmates came from fairly poor backgrounds.  Most of them went from high school directly to working on the line at Bethlehem Steel, or pumping gas, or as a janitor.

But in looking at those classmates, one thing struck me: most who wound up decidedly in the 99%  had very little work ethic in high school.  Frankly, they goofed off, did drugs, skipped school, got pregnant, and coasted by as best they could.  In fact, I’d say the vast majority of kids at MOST high schools do just enough to “get by” and if they go to college, it’s pretty much the same thing: they take some nonsense major, get a C average, then wonder why they can’t get a job.  Where they wound up is probably a good fit for their work ethic.

In fact, I was guilty during my 15 years at IBM: I certainly could have worked harder — a lot harder — but I was content to coast by.  It’s for that reason, I only rose about 3 levels, as opposed to Nancy who worked her a** off and rose all the way to the top.

Now, are their exceptions?  Of course.  Some get lucky, and others don’t.  Some have wealthy families where they inherit the family business.  Others can dunk when they’re 10 years old.  Others look like a model when they’re 5 years old.

Honestly, I don’t know what to do about all that, and again: don’t care.  As long as “the man” isn’t harming my personal rise upwards I’m fine with any kind of wealth gap that exists.