Sunday, November 20, 2011

I Am Not the 99%

OK, so ever since this new vogue term came into play in the political world, dividing the richest 1% from the remaining 99%, I always assumed I knew where I fit in the equation.  My car has 140,000 miles on it.  I pay rent, not a mortgage.  My accountant’s name is Turbotax.com.  I have never eaten sushi.  All of these, I would imagine, are automatic disqualifiers for membership in the 1%.
Clearly, I surmised, I must be part of the 99%.  After all, I do love to camp...granted, not usually in urban areas, but the principle is the same.  But watching coverage of the various Occupy movements, the 99%, as they say, I am beginning to wonder if I fit in this new pie chart at all. 
See, these “99 Percenters” seem oddly like the folks who are banning dodgeball and other such neo-fascist games from playgrounds all across the country.  I doubt they ever rode their bicycles or roller skated without helmets and knee and elbow pads.  And that is a shame, because scraped knees and elbows, even the occasional dodgeball to the face, are part of learning to deal with the mini-tragedies of childhood, thereby developing the ability to survive the real tragedy that is adolescence.  And adulthood is a whole lot easier to handle when you’ve had that kind of training.
Then there was this post, taken directly from the Occupy Wall Street website forum:
“The problem in society is income inequality. So the ONLY solution that will fix it is income equality.  We produce $15 trillion in income each year which is enough to make every worker wealthy. If that income was allocated equally, for example, it is enough to pay every full time worker $135,000 per year.
If we allocated income democratically, which gave every worker a minimum income close to the $135k average as a right, everyone would have enough income to solve every problem that exists - home ownership, poverty, education, bad neighborhoods, health care. It would give everyone access to the best of what society has to offer as a right.”
Hmmmm.  I’ll bet the person who wrote that grew up in a time and place where every kid got a trophy just for playing Little League baseball or Pee Wee soccer...that is, if they hadn’t already banned such life-threatening activities.  See, we didn’t get trophies just for playing.  Not even for finishing second.  But I think it taught us valuable life lessons...chief among them, that the kid stacking the shelves at Waldbaum’s did not deserve to earn the same amount as a surgeon, or a teacher, or an electrician. 

I used to be one of those kids stacking the shelves at Waldbaum's,
when the minimum wage went up from $3.35 to $3.45 an hour.  After our next paycheck, my fellow beleaguered, downtrodden workers and I joked about how we were moving up in the world.  I was seventeen then.  And I'm sure none of us ever imagined that we might one day make 135K a year just by working any old 40 hour a week job.  I guess all that fascist playground indoctrination we’d been subjected to, being hit in the head with dodgeballs and whatnot,  had turned our brains to mush.  Otherwise we might have thought to declare such a thing as our right, too.  Of course, our parents and grandparents, people who really knew what it was to struggle and pay dues, might've had something to say about that.  
While I don’t have much of anything in common with the 1%, I do thank them for at least not speaking on my behalf, not the way the Occupy folks claim to speak for everybody else.  I do find that rather off-putting.  Anyway, they can claim to speak for me as much as they want, but it has become clear to me that I am not one of them.
It’s a shame, actually.  I really do love camping.

3 comments:

  1. Hi Mr. Troy! Glad to reconnect through your blog and Facebook and looking forward to reading your book.

    While I agree that some of the tactics of OWS are less than palatable, and I understand your frustration at having the movement speak for you through their slogan, I disagree with the majority of your arguments here.

    Many of my peers, the "Trophy Generation," are confused. In our youth, we were ferried from activity to activity, encouraged by our parents that we needed to be "well-rounded" to be successful in life. And yes, we received trophies for what was certainly mediocrity in these activities, but last I checked it wasn't us adolescents handing the trophies out. Furthermore, I loved dodgeball.

    Many of us are confused because we too worked in low paying jobs in high school, scooping ice cream or sweating on hot summer days as counselors at day camps. We took low-paying internships during college, or worse, worked without pay to gain valuable "experience," which we were told we need to obtain get a good job after graduating. We know the value of a dollar.

    We're confused because we were told our whole lives, by well-meaning adults including parents and teachers and guidance counselors, that we needed to go to college to get ahead. Many of us took the advice, attaining advanced degrees in fields that previously didn't previously require such credentials. We incurred severe debt pursuing these educations.

    We're confused because many of us followed the whole of this advice, and now we are discovering, much to our chagrin, that the adults we trusted hadn't a clue what they were talking about. Many of my fellow "Trophy Generation" are unemployed or underemployed teachers and engineers and nurses and lawyers. Worse yet, we are burdened with significant debt that we were encouraged to incur, with the tacit understanding that if we did what we were "supposed to" we'd have the same opportunities as the generations preceding us. Thirty years ago, it didn't cost tens (or hundreds!) of thousands of dollars to get a chance at pursuing the American dream. Unfortunately, today, hard work and advanced degrees (and the associated significant debt) don't afford many of us a foot in the door.

    I'm no socialist. I just prefer that Adam Smith's invisible hand not be shoved up my... well, you know where I'm going with that. At MIT Sloan, I interact with many of the 1% and future 1%. These are people who, in class, have the gall to defend Enron executives and traders as simply "doing their jobs." For many of the 1%, arbitrage is king. They advocate decoupling wealth from value. They want to accumulate as much as the former as possible without feeling obligated to provide the latter. Trust me, it's much easier and more lucrative to become a quant than it is to become an engineer or teacher.

    Do I think that all teachers and nurses and engineers deserve $150k salaries? No. Do I think they generate substantially more value for society than some of the 1% who earn unconscionable wealth from arbitrage, high frequency trading, arcane financial instruments, etc? Absolutely! Do I think that it's healthy for our society when the 1% is earning more than 20% of the wealth without providing anywhere near 20% of the value while at the same time we have an entire generation of enthusiastic young teachers who are working as baristas at Starbucks (if they're lucky!)? Resoundingly, no.

    Your parents' and grandparents' generation probably do have something to say about that last point: they were the ones who dug America out of the huge mess that resulted last time income inequality was this pronounced. Hopefully, the "Trophy Generation" can do the same.

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  3. Hi Peter!,
    I am very interested in reading your book. I also enjoy reading your fun and witty posts.

    I love this post in particular. My take on the whole 99 percent-ers concept is that noone likes being lumped into a category. At least, I know I don't. Too many of our "occupy" friends here in Rochester, NY are doing very little other than "occupying". So one could see the frustration most of us have with these campers.

    There is some good in the picketing, marches and small actions of the other groups in the country, less: the mock-homelessness.

    I have not fully developed my artistry with words but I will leave you saying:
    What a country we live in that people are suffering and dieing under cruel and unreasonable government situations in other parts of the world. All while we are protesting against the wal-mart we still shop at every day.

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