There Is No 99%
By Mr. Blue
When people start talking about inequality, I always wonder exactly where we’re supposed to the line. There’s always a line, between us and them. The current parlance for the left is the 99% vs. the 1%. The longer we talk, the more hazy I realize that line is. To literally be in the 1%, you need an annual household income of about $400,000 or more. The demarcation between $375,000 and $425,000 is arbitrary, though. They most likely have more in common with one another than they do someone making half of one or twice of the other.
So I’ve come to believe that when we talk about the 1%, we aren’t really talking about a specific amount, but an image in our heads. We’re talking about the Capitalist Class, the Glittering Rich, the filthy CEO’s, and the Masters of the Universe.
You might think that I’m trying to talk these people out of existence, but if so you’re wrong. They exist and they are as powerful as the legends say. The disparities between them and us is a problem. It’s a problem, however, in the ways that earthquakes are a problem. You can try to minimize the damage, but you’re never going to win against an earthquake.
The class war is over and they won. There are no do-overs. They have won so convincingly that a Republican president and Democratic congress didn’t flinch when they needed bailing out. They won so thoroughly that many corporate leaders and the wealthiest among the Masters vote for presidential candidates who promise to raise their taxes. What do they care? They can hire the best tax lawyers in the world, minimize their losses, and who cares about the rest? They can afford to take a hit. They’re voting for the party that’s promising to deliver it and they’re even writing petitions.
We should take advantage of that, by the way, pronto.
That won’t, however, change the fundamentals. The policies matter at the margins, but they’ve got theirs. If we ever start to actually threaten their standard of living, they will stop being so magnanimous. They can divide and conquer us with cheap sticker prices for some and well-paying jobs for others. They have the financial leverage to dominate the market. They have the ears of our politicians no matter what campaign finance walls we try to put up, so we can’t win there, either. We can get concessions to calm us down, but we can’t win.
Once we’ve taken what we can, though, one truth will become abundantly clear: there is no 99%. The differences that were glossed over while we targeted the Masters will become manifest. Taking from the rich won’t solve our problems. We’d not even agree on where to put the money. Then, to be able to pay for all of the things that the 99% wants the government to do, we’d have to start taking from ourselves.
The problems with inequality don’t begin and end with the 1%. In some ways, they’re most felt down here on Planet Earth. A family that makes $200,000 a year doesn’t have the same immediate interests as a family that makes $50,000, who doesn’t have the same immediate interests as a family struggling to get by. One of the main reasons to earn more than the next family is exactly so that you don’t have to live with them. Better schools, better neighbors. Collapsing these differences is not really what most people want. It’s not just the 1% that wants to keep its lessers apart. It’s not even mostly them.
With most people, ideology ends where immediate self-interest and vulnerability meet. People will talk about Global Warming until gas prices rise and people will talk about equality until it suddenly means being closer to equal with the people they work very hard to separate themselves from and money coming out of their over-leveraged pockets. From a less rat-racey standpoint, The Masters of the Universe may not miss money we would only dream of, but someone making $200,000, or $100,000, will.
There’s more to it than taxes and redistribution. Cultural issues and tastes will always divide us. Those whose ideology is strong enough not to end with self-interest and vulnerability are often going to have very strong ideas about how others are living their lives and how they should be able to live their own. Employer and employee conflicts can exist completely outside the 1%, pitting some of us against others.
Let’s be honest: When it comes to clawing each other down, we don’t even need their help.