Monday, June 25, 2012

The 1%

In 2006, before the catastrophic economic collapse in 2008, and before the Occupy Movement made us all aware that the U.S. is divided into the 99% and the 1%, Jamie Johnson produced a documentary called "The 1%."  This was a daring look inside the 1% from one of the 1% Johnson and Johnson Pharmaceutical Company billionaires.  Unlike most of the 99% of us, the 1% didn't embrace being televised and interviewed.

Jamie worked hard at getting his father, mother, the Johnson family money manager, as well as other members of the 1%  to appear on camera and answer questions.  It was painful to watch the wealthy dodge the camera and the questions as well as scolding Jamie for what they considered his betrayal of his status as one of them.

In the film, Nobel Prize economist Milton Friedman arrogantly repeated his absolute adherence to the trickle down theory.  His business named after his kinky hair, Kinko's founder Paul Orfalea, expounded on his ideas of making money, on unapologetically wanting to make more money, and the fact that he occasionally gives $1 to homeless beggars if they are doing something "useful" like selling pencils.  Of course, Darwin's survival of the fittest was invoked by Robert Reich as some kind of explanation and acceptance of why there have to be rich and poor.

A notable exception was the great-grandson of Oscar Meyer who gave up the right to his fortune to make his own way and join the 99%.  Warren Buffett was invited to be in the documentary, but refused.  However, granddaughter Nicole Buffett agreed to appear.  She said the children and grandchildren in the Buffett family are raised and educated on family money, and then make their own way.  She works as a housekeeper for a wealthy family and is also an artist.  Her agreeing to be in the documentary led to her grandfather publicly disowning her as his granddaughter.  The father of Bill Gates, who was instrumental in convincing his son to become a full time philanthropist as early as he did, spoke unashamedly about the responsibility of the rich to help society in as big a way as possible.  This sentiment was not echoed loudly by any other person in the documentary.

What drives the super rich and blinds them to the poor?  There is guilt.  There is fear.  There is denial.  There is power.  There is the feeling that they work harder than the poor and thus deserve their great fortunes.   Although it's clear the 1% have far more than they could ever need, they want more.  As defined by Ruben A. Gaztambide-Fernandez in his 2009 book, "The Best of the Best," the  five E's were ingrained in many of them from their years of elite schooling -- "exclusion, engagement, excellence, entitlement, and envisioning."  I'd like to add a 6th E to that list -- ego.  Billionaires aren't just born or self-made, they are raised to think like the 1%.

Jamie Johnson wasn't disowned by his family for making the documentary.  His mother said she was proud of him (but she had not been born rich), and his father was reminded of his own conflict in his younger days when he had helped make a movie against apartheid in South Africa.  Many companies were criticized in that film - Johnson and Johnson among them.  Jamie's father had been severely reprimanded by his family for that film.  He abandoned not only his film making after that, but perhaps also his moral sense of responsibility to the world.
The U.S. prides itself on not having a caste system in the land of opportunity, but the gap between the super rich and the rest of us is actually a mental and monetary abyss.

Suellen Zima (our regular contributor)
Member of the National League of American Pen Women
Visit and Follow the Senior Hummingbird as she wanders, wonders, and writes.

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