What do the 99 percenters want?

Somebody sent me this essay by George Monbiot.  In a nutshell, he makes a case that the ultra-wealthy did not earn their wealth through hard work, enterprise or superior intelligence.  Instead, they got where they are due to a combination of luck and psychopathic traits.
I must admit I was impressed by the following argument:

Such results have been widely replicated. They show that traders and fund managers across Wall Street receive their massive remuneration for doing no better than would a chimpanzee flipping a coin. When Kahneman tried to point this out they blanked him. “The illusion of skill … is deeply ingrained in their culture.”(2)
So much for the financial sector and its super-educated analysts. As for other kinds of business, you tell me. Is your boss possessed of judgement, vision and management skills superior to those of anyone else in the firm, or did he or she get there through bluff, bullshit and bullying?

But I am deeply suspicious of what the 99 percenters, and Mr. Monbiot, are trying to do.  While it is true that, by most of our standards, the wealthiest people on Earth do not deserve their wealth, could it not also be said that the smartest people do not deserve  their great intellect, with which they were born?  Is it not also possible to claim that the most beautiful women do not deserve  their beauty?  That those born into loving, and intact, families, do not deserve  such good fortune?
At its core, the 99 percenters seem to be upset that life is not fair – and that somebody should make it more fair.  Who gets to decide whom, among the wealthy, deserve their wealth?  By whose criteria?  It is frightening to contemplate the answers to these questions – for images of the French, and Russian, revolutions come to mind.
I have little doubt that the 99 percenters would counter that I am missing the point.  That most of us are being reduced to slavery by the one percent.  I don’t see it that way.  While I admit to having a certain amount of envy toward those whose incomes are measured in billions of dollars, the vast majority of people I know (here in American, at least) have vastly more wealth and freedom than 99% of their ancestors.  Those protesters are part of the one percent and they don’t even know it!

This entry was posted in libertarian thought. Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to What do the 99 percenters want?

  1. a random user name says:

    IMHO, this sort of wealth inequality can exist if the wealthy have a sense of noblesse oblige. Once you build up your family’s wealth, yours or future generations have this obligation to do something with that wealth to benefit humanity at the very least, and if you are smart the communities from which you have extracted that wealth.
    My thoughts are that the most important philanthropic things that can be done in our era consist of actions to prevent existential threats to humanity and other life on earth. The wealthy should put their money there, because this trumps every other concern and at the moment we have the science and engineering to realistically impact these sorts of risks in an effective way. And let’s be realistic – actions to help your own species ARE selfish, just in an altruistic way.
    If this sort of thing is happening on a large scale, I don’t really have a problem with the status quo.

  2. goy says:

    I don’t have envy for the billionaires, I have outright hatred for them because they use their billions to force “progressivism” on us which actively seeks to prevent me from becoming a billionaire myself.

  3. goy says:

    You are giving the OWSers waaay too much credit, though. They want high status and they want it NOW.
    The Fragmenting of the New Class Elites, or, Downward Mobility
    “Glenn Reynolds is correct in his weekend post to point to the social theory of the New Class as key to understanding the convulsions in the middle and upper middle class; I’ve written about it myself here at VC and in a 1990s law journal book review essay. The angst is partly income, of course — but it’s also in considerable part, as Glenn notes, “characterized as much by self-importance as by higher income, and is far more eager to keep the proles in their place than, say, [Anne] Applebaum’s small-town dentist. It’s thus not surprising that as its influence has grown, economic opportunity has increasingly been closed down by government barriers.”
    The problem the New Class faces at this point is the psychological and social self-perceptions of a status group that is alienated (as we marxists say) from traditional labor by its semi-privileged upbringing — and by the fact that it is actually, two distinct strands, a privileged one and a semi-privileged one. It is, for the moment, insistent not just on white-collar work as its birthright and unable to conceive of much else. It does not celebrate the dignity of labor; it conceived of itself as existing to regulate labor. So it has purified itself to the point that not just any white-collar work will do. It has to be, as Michelle Obama instructed people in what now has to be seen as another era, virtuous non-profit or government work. Those attitudes are changing, but only slowly; the university pipelines are still full of people who cannot imagine themselves in any other kind of work, unless it means working for Apple or Google.”

  4. I have a problem with the whole 99% – 1% dichotomy. When I see videos of people chanting “we are the 99%” I get the impression they are saying that with a sense of self-righteousness and almost like they are castigating people for being in the “1%”. That being said we do have some fundamental problems with our society and so I am not going to criticise people for being out on the street protesting stuff. But I just which they had found a different inspiration to get out on the street besides this whole 99% thing.

  5. DFA says:

    Giving loans to minorities with no money and poor credit is the biggest reason we’re in this financial mess. However, many of the financial schemes that were implemented over the past 20 years were drawn up by recent college grads from elite schools who were mathematical geniuses, even the people who were hiring them didn;t understand the complexities of the plans they were coming up with, they just knew they making a ton of cash. Were these recent college grads sociopaths? Some them certainly are. But were they lucky idiots? Far from it.
    “At its core, the 99 percenters seem to be upset that life is not fair – and that somebody should make it more fair.”
    That’s basically leftism at its core, JAY. They’re egalitarians, they think we’re all the same and that if it’s the case we should all have similar results, whether it be at school or how much money we make. Trying to make things “fair” is what Thomas Sowell calls “cosmic justice”.
    There’s part of the 1% that I loathe, but I’d say there’s a higher percentage of the 99% that I dislike even more. It’s the welfare leeches who squirt out an endless stream of kids while expecting everybody to pick up the tab because they dont believe in personal responsibility that I think are screwing this country even more than Wall Street. The left coddles those vermin while the right is so afraid to really call them out in fear of being called “racist”.

  6. Georgia Resident says:

    Well, to be fair a large part of the consequentialist libertarian argument for capitalism rests on the idea that wealthy people become wealthy by creating value for others. If it turns out that a lot of this wealth is “unearned” (gained by people who add no value to the economy), it would tend to undermine the consequentialist argument.
    If we lived in a monoracial, monocultural country like Sweden (before they let in a bunch of “diverse” people), I could see a very strong argument in favor of the sort of welfare state policy followed by Scandinavian countries. However, in the US such a system would be disastrous. It would primarily serve as a way for blacks and Hispanics to extract wealth from whites and, to a much lesser extent, Asians, with the elites of each group, especially the former two, skimming off benefits for themselves. This would be like the current situation, only worse.

  7. right on jew among you says:

    the 99ers want what they were pushed into wanting by pop-culture. nobody wants to take that on so they yell at the kids. how courageous.
    as far as deserving wealth, we need to de-automate everything and go back to making your dime from physical labor only. then we’ll see how successful these douchebags would be.

    • Gay State Girl says:

      Right on!
      Theoretically I have no problem with disproportionate wealth distribution, just the influence that it brings.

  8. Madison Grant says:

    Wow. Monbiot is reviving an insane argument the left used to routinely make a century ago; for example, they would tell a rally of Ford motor workers on strike that you could replace Henry Ford with any of the assembly line workers and they’d have equal success.
    Does anyone believe that Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, for all their faults, could
    be replaced by someone working in the mail room and they’d be anywhere near as successful?

  9. George Monbiot is best known as an environmentalist – he wrote a best-selling book “Heat” (well worth reading btw) a few years ago in which he claimed (and I wouldn’t disagree with him) that we must reduce our carbon emissions by 90% – anything less would not stop catastrophic global warming. He proposed some rather fanciful ways of achieving this target but in the end I think he realised it was not going to happen without someone wielding a big stick and he said words to the effect “if people wont make these cuts voluntarily then “THE GOVERNMENT MUST DO IT FORCIBLY..!!”
    The extreme authoritarian leanings of so-called liberals lurks just below their smugly self-righteous surface.

  10. Stealth says:

    I hate to say so, but I think the wealthy in this country HAVE really screwed the rest of us. And it’s not just the one percent, either. The mortgage fiasco and the big bonuses that tempted its creators are only part of the problem. It’s also certain members of the upper middle class. Why are these people to be resented because of their wealth when they worked so hard for it? The answer is that they provide essentials to the rest of us that are priced beyond the ability of mere mortals to afford. How do they do it? Well, we have a system of licensing and barriers to entry created by those same people to create artificial shortages of their services.
    Think medical and legal expenses. Either one of those could wipe out a responsible middle class person for the rest of his or her life, impoverishing an entire family. I’ve seen more than once that eight or nine out of the top ten grossing jobs in the United States are for MD’s.The only non-medical job that usually appears on the list is Chief Executive Officer. But even in light of all that, doctors still think they deserve more. I’m sure everyone has heard doctors complain that “it’s just not a big money profession any more.” For pediatricians, that might be true, but the rest of them are doing a hell of a lot better than the rest of us, and we’re all going broke to allow them to do it. Their services are already, as I stated before, too expensive for someone to pay for outright. And now, even the insurance we all rely on to do the job for us is insanely priced. It can’t continue forever.
    A close relative of mine, a doctor herself, always counters with the same old refrain: “it’s the BUSINESS jobs. Those are the people making all the money.” I guess nobody told her that most desk jockeys probably make less than fifty thousand dollars a year. I’ve never met a doctor beyond residency making that sort of money.

    • jewamongyou says:

      Don’t forget the bankers who allowed the mortgage system to cause housing prices to inflate so much that few people can actually afford their houses. Instead, they are FORCED to take out mortgages just to put roofs over their heads. The bankers understood that if housing prices are allowed to rise, they will rise… and rise and rise and rise. Along with the higher prices came a dependency on the bankers and their mortgages.
      Now, if you’re lucky, you might “own” your house when you’re 70 years old. Even then, it’s not you who own it, but the government.
      Once the banks set the “value” of houses so astronomically high, along came government and set their taxes according to those inflated prices. Now, even if you built your own house for only a few hundred dollars decades ago, the government will extract taxes from you based on the “market value” that bankers have indirectly set.
      You have a good point about professions protecting themselves from competition through licensing and barriers. This has always been the case to one extent or the other. These professions use government as a tool to restrict access: “Practicing _____ without a license”. The media does its part by telling the public about deaths and injuries due to “unlicensed doctors” etc. but not so much about deaths and injuries by licensed doctors – which far outnumber the former.

    • nebbish says:

      The healthcare expenses that might wipe out the finances of middle class people aren’t likely ordinary physician office visits or even office visits for minimally invasive procedures (e.g. lithotripsy, colonoscopy). The type of expenses that wipe people out are major surgical procedures with accompanying inpatient stays, anything involving an emergency room visit followed by a long inpatient stay, and anything involving significant ICU care. The biggest ticket components of all of those are the hospital charges, although the payments to surgeons can also be high. Still, payments to surgeons are dwarfed by what the hospitals reap. Even most of the payment for imaging procedures goes to the hospitals since they most likely owns the scanners and get the technical component of fees. Relatively few hospitals are doctor-owned these days.
      When people lash out at physicians, there is almost always a significant and ugly component of envy. No one was envious when they were taking overnight call every third night during residency and making minimum wage per hour, and no one cares about the extra mortgage entailed in $250k of educational debt. Apparently, physicians should slave away in training into their early to mid-thirties and then never even be able to afford a middle-class to upper middle-class lifestyle? No one but a fool would choose to go into medicine knowing that would be the outcome.

      • eugenicist says:

        Veterinarians are an interesting counterpoint to this phenomenon. Veterinary school is very expensive, harder than medical school and involves years of training. Most veterinarians must eke out a barely middle-class living between their salary and their debts. Still, people always complain when their vet bill comes back with two or three zeros…

      • nebbish says:

        I have great respect for veterinarians, but the parallels with medical training and practice are not perfect. First of all, some states allow veterinarians to practice independently immediately after receiving the D.V.M. degree, so no miserable residency to contend with unless they choose to do so and subspecialize. Other states require supervised practice under an experienced veterinarian for some period of time, but this can be done in private practice office settings and my understanding is that the length of time is nothing like the 3-10 years of residency and fellowship physicians must do to practice depending on specialty,
        You’re right, though, that people will complain about paying for any service no matter how useful or necessary. Moreover, a lot of people consider healthcare a right no matter how expensive it will be and expect the works to be done for them no matter how little care they have taken of themselves over the years. The ingrates have another thing coming if they think Obamacare or true single-payer healthcare will solve their problems. The dirty little secret of government-rationed healthcare is that the really cheap stuff is doled out with abundance but the expensive procedural stuff is strictly limited with resultant waiting lists and hassles. Young healthy people are snowed by the thought of all the “free” goodies they’ll get under socialized medicine, but they won’t be so happy thirty years later when they have to wait two years, possibly incapacitated, for that hip replacement they need. We all get old, and nearly everyone gets sick at some point. People should keep that in mind, but most are incapable of thinking for the long- term.

      • Stealth says:

        Doctors are inefficiently educated. They ought to simply be admitted to a six year course of study out of high school like they are in other countries. I’ve always wondered why in the hell a physician would need to have a four year degree before going to med school. Ditto for lawyers. In that sense, docs are treated unfairly, but at least doctors are able to pay their loans. I wonder what makes docs different from a mathematician with a PHD who makes significantly less money.
        As for your assertion that doctors get screwed and aren’t part of the problem of high health care costs, I disagree. A lot of docs aren’t just making two hundred thousand dollars a year. Some are actually approaching (and, I’ve heard from credible sources, surpassing) the cool million mark. Some of these are even primary care physicians. As I said earlier, doctors in the US occupy nine spots out of the top ten highest grossing professions and don’t make nearly as much in other countries.
        No other industry in the country has the money to pay their ground level professionals the kind of money that the health care industry pays their nurses, docs and therapists. By the way, if the American people knew to what extent certain classes of clinicians were enriched by Medicare, they would riot.

      • nebbish says:

        The actions of a relatively small percentage of bad apples in padding their incomes does not justify screwing over the whole lot of physicians. There are only a few specialties in which it is even possible to approach a high six-figure income by padding, and most physicians in the U.S. don’t engage in such practices and are limited to the lower six figures. Just considering the Medicare aspect of their business (which, by the way, vastly privileges the technical component of fees over the professional component), many physicians already lose money on every Medicare patient they see. Physician incomes have not been increasing over the last several years, so the problem of rising health care costs cannot be pinned solely on them.
        The European countries that have six-year bachelor of medicine programs after high school also require years of training afterwards similar to U.S. residencies and fellowships. The cost of the training would still be very high under this system since we don’t have the extensive system of government-subsidized education common to those countries, adn it would only save roughly two years’ training. The ability to earn enough to save money would still be deferred into the late 20’s or early thirties and be accompanied by significant debt for most physicians. The U.S. is a crappy country in which to be less than upper middle class due to the costs of our diversity worship and limited safety net, so it still wouldn’t be worth it to become a physician if one knew that he would face a paltry income. And don’t forget the costs of malpractice insurance and disability insurance, which many doctors have to shoulder themselves. Malpractice insurance for some specialties costs tens of thousands of dollars per year, and not all of those specialties are particularly lucrative (e.g. OB/Gyn).

  11. John says:

    Agree with your post JAY, from what I have seen, most are losers who are angry and jealous that they are not part of the 1%. And instead of hard work that it takes to get them out there, they spend their time protesting.
    Losers of the world unit!
    I think that this also reflect the anxiety that our society faces with economic uncertainty.

  12. Matt Strictland says:

    Some 40 million people, nearly the population of a major European nation are on food stamps and need government assistance to eat and millions more get old age or disability pensions and require them to live .
    Under those circumstances its hardly fair to say that everyone is US is doing well. Thats a big mass of absolute poverty two or three times that of the entire population of Brazil only mitigated by transfer payments.
    Regardless, the basic axiom is Fairness in any form is always relative to where you are.
    Even though all of them are poor if Jim Slum Dweller has say two loaves of bread and no one else does and if other people in the slum think its unfair, basically it is. He breached the social contract.
    The same applies here, the social contract implied a rising tide will lift all boats. Since its actually lifting only a few and capsizing most others, even though the people are rich by historical standards , its still unfair.
    Unfortunately a technical fix is really hard.
    A combo of deporting 20+ million illegals, protectionism , tying legal immigration to unemployment , lowering the work week to deal with automation and putting in social credit could work but the US is tax adverse and even a military budget near zero would not provide the needed revenue
    Beyond that the political will is not there to do even the most basic things much less ramrod this kind of draconian change.
    Personally I think the US is doomed but maybe I am wrong. One can only hope.

  13. Annoyed says:

    I will support social policy which benefits me. I would be happy to join into a nationalist occupy wallstreet movement but that is highly unlikely to happen.

  14. Anon says:

    The problem as always, isn’t that the wealthy are wealthy, it is A) the means used to garner such wealth:
    And B) The fact that they are sitting on the wealth, and not investing it in growing the economy for the rest of us. For the same reason as A pretty much(labor scarcity = labor saving capital investment).

  15. SFG says:

    Actually, if you’re Jewish, you should be ESPECIALLY happy to live in America and not, say, France.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *