You're not the 1%
The media is full of pictures and stories of people camping out in parks all across the nation. I love to camp. But if I were going to camp, I probably wouldn't pick Manhattan, or even a downtown park in my city. But whatever, I guess it's close to bathrooms and the subway. As a reasonably conservative person, I felt a little bit personally attacked by the protests. I see myself as having one foot on Main Street and one foot on Wall Street. I work on a daily basis side by side with nurses, paramedics, police officers, social workers, and even clerks making little more than minimum wage. I treat people on food stamps, people on Medicaid, homeless folks, and people who have had rotten luck, both economically and medically. I see their pain and I feel my own financial struggles, minimal as they are now compared to those of people I meet. But I have also worked hard, saved my pennies, and invested in 401Ks, IRAs, and brokerage accounts. Through index funds, I own the stocks of the companies the Occupy Wall Street movement and other liberal movements rail against. Bank of America. Exxon-Mobil. Wal-mart. CitiBank. Yup. I'm the owner. When they make money, they send me my share. Those “unholy profits” are MY profits. When Bank of America raises fees, I don't pay them, I receive them. And now these protesters are going to my employees' houses and chanting at them. I'm not sure how I feel about that.
I have a pretty good income, in the ballpark of the average physician. The most recent compilation of physician compensation data I could find with a quick google search shows that the average family doc makes $209K, the average general surgeon makes $357K, and the average cardiologist makes $402K. Guess what? None of them are the infamous 1% (unless their spouse is also a doc). The 1% threshold, according to this Washington Post Blog post begins at $516,633. The only doctors in that category work on spines.
Apparently the Democrats in Congress and the White House have recently realized this. Now their discussion of raising taxes on “the rich” seems to use a threshold of an income of $1 Million per year, instead of $250K. Now, like most of you, I rejoice as I feel the crosshairs moving from my occiput to someone else's, but it reminds me of this quote by Neimuller, a pastor discussing the apathy of German intellectuals during the rise of Nazi Power:
First they came for the communists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.
I find it just a bit terrifying that protesters are going to the houses of individuals that they feel earn too much money. Thus far, the rule of law has triumphed, and nobody's door has been kicked in, their valuables removed, and the occupants tarred and feathered, but there are a lot of angry people out there, and it is hard to say where something like this could end up. Who's to say the protesters are going to stop with the 1%? Perhaps when they're done with that they'll go for the top 5%, then the top 10%. (Just so you're aware, most physicians are in the top 5%. The cut-off for 5% is ~$160K in annual household income.)
Now don't get me wrong, some of the more reasonable protesters make some good points. A wide gap between the richest 10% and the poorest 10% isn't necessarily good for society, and that gap has been getting wider. Stagnant wages and high unemployment are a real issue. A progressive income tax makes sense. But far too many of the protesters don't seem to realize that “Wall Street” isn't a handful of CEOs. It's most of the American middle class. Those CEOs work for us. I'd like to see some reforms and a bit more government oversight to prevent some of the idiotic lending practices that got us into this mess. I wouldn't even mind seeing some adjustments made to the tax code. But I think the first one needs to be ensuring every American pay some federal income tax. And this idea that we can make a significant debt in our deficit just by taxing those making over $1 Million is foolhardy. There simply aren't enough of them. Like a household budget, the solution to this problem is simple, but not easy. We've got to spend a lot less, and everyone has to contribute a little more to the pot. Yes, the 1%, and even us 5%ers, might have to pay a bit more. But so should everyone else.
When discussing wealth, I prefer discussing net worth rather than income. You might be feeling good about your status in society based on your income, being in the top 5% and all. Take a look at this chart and eat some humble pie:
Getting into the top 10% is no small feat, especially if you're 30 years old and have a net worth of -$300K. This chart does give you some idea of why some on the left are concerned about the gap, not just in income, but in net worth. The bottom 50% isn't making any progress at all. The political parties, naturally, disagree on the solution (economic growth vs redistribution), but it's hard to deny there is a problem. There are lots of lazy, stupid people out there, but HALF of Americans? I'm not sure I buy that.
I've determined I'm not the 1%. I don't really feel comfortable with the “99%”. I guess that leaves me with the 53%. I bet that's where I'll find most of you too.