Forget the 1%

Occupy Wall Street. We’ve already seen those three words all over the place, including this blog. But what’s been wrong with these posts? The misconception of the 1% being separate from the 99%. Even though it is true that the top 1% pays 37% of federal income taxes, the real number we should look at is the estimation that only 53% actually pay federal income taxes.

Read that last sentence over again. Only 53% pay federal income taxes.

That’s a shockingly low number. The occupy wall street protesters  are angry with the Government’s leniency towards the top 1%, but what about the leniency towards a whopping 47%? No wonder the protests aren’t in front of government buildings. Many of the protesters are receiving benefits from the government as part of the 47%, but they don’t want to share those benefits with the minuscule group that pays 37% of income taxes, trying to make up for the 47%. The selfishness and individualism Morone speaks of in the “Democratic Wish” is largely evident in the protesters, who lack unity, and instead put forth their own personal opinions for their own personal gain. They are also speaking for a large amount of the population who doesn’t necessarily agree with them. They’re making it seem that they’re on the verge of a breakthrough, and major change, but it’s really just a small population of people, not the 99%. Protesting in front of government buildings would most likely expose this less-dramatic picture of 53 vs. 47, but making it a 99 v. 1 makes it far more powerful. Although I don’t doubt that there are many protesters who belong in the 53%, or even a handful who are part of the 1%, but thankfully many members of the 53% are stepping forward in opposition of the Occupy Wall Street protests.

In this article, including the picture, the 53% are becoming more vocal, more visible, and as a result, it fractures the already fractured Occupy movement. Protesters already lacked unity, but a change of perspective towards the 1% v. 99% picture could help kill the movement and put an end to it, seeing as it doesn’t appear to be bringing about any change. The real change the movement has brought has been news clogging, funny pictures with people holding funny signs, weird looks from people walking by, traffic, and a non-overwhelming amount of frustration for people who sympathize with them.

There is now a blog dedicated to the 53%, just like the one for the so-called 99%:

And here’s a response to it:

The 1% tends to talk about the burden of making up for the people who don’t pay any federal income taxes, but the citizens who are in the 53% but on the lower end of it are feeling the true burden of picking up an astonishing 47%. The 53% feels as though the protesters are trying to speak for them, but doing so without the blessing or support of a large amount of the 53%.

In addition to trying to represent the “99%”, the protesters paint a picture of the top 1%, and even the top 10% that they all were given those jobs, those opportunities, those positions without earning them. Even though that may be the case for some of the top earners, but in many occasions, those positions have come as a result of hard-work, dedication, intelligence, and some luck. It’s time for the Occupy Wall Street movement to finally fade away, as it is the wrong approach to bring change.

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11 Responses to Forget the 1%

  1. bjacobs25 says:

    That 47% figure was shocking to me. I had no idea that was even the case. In that light I see the Occupy movement as skewed. If half of people provide nothing to government funds, why go after the ones that do? I think your comparison of the movement to the democratic wish is dead on. This is exactly the type of “people out of doors” that Morone speaks about in “step 2” of her wish.

    As with anything, I think all of our views about the movement are shaped by our environment. I hardly think that many in the south during Douglass’ time would have found his account unusual and appalling. Mistreating slaves and slavery in general was the status quo in the south. I think if we look back at the Occupy movement in 150 years our views on it will be different than they are now due to changes in policy, society, and other changes in the American political landscape that will be evident at that time.However, putting the 47% vs. 53% spin on it has changed the way I thought about it today.

  2. Amanda Gayer says:

    I think the image you imbedded is really powerful – that man’s story perfectly embodies the perspective you are writing from. He went thought an amazing struggle, and in the end, he was able to better himself and his family. It’s totally understandable that people like him feel the way he does. I imagine it would be incredibly frustrating to have put so much work into achieving a goal, and then to see other people “achieve” that goal without putting in any effort. In this sense, I agree with him that there definitely are people out there who do not deserve the government aid they are demanding.

    However, this man’s argument is not altogether fair. His train of thought reminds me of Frederick Douglass’s narrative. Douglass was not only able to escape slavery, but was also able to win the support of hostile audiences and gain a position of political power. He seems to have the notion that because he was able to achieve what he did, anyone else should be able to do the same. In reality though, Douglass’s achievements were extraordinary and unique – whether they were due to luck, hard work, or both, it is clear that not all slaves would be able to follow in his footsteps.

    The same goes for the present situation and the Occupy Wall Street protests. Even with hard work and an education – which some people may not be able to obtain due to financial problems, family obligations, etc – the economy is bad and the job market is bleak. This is a very difficult time for many Americans, and in some cases no amount of hard work will yield the kind of success story that one man had. I think there are people in those protests who have been sincerely trying to make a living, but to no avail.

    I understand these protesters’ frustration. Most Americans – not only the poor ones – value social welfare and believe it is important to help keep people out of poverty. Not all of the OWS protesters are poor. There are many people who are living comfortably and earning, who still believe that a change needs to be made to help those in need. The fact that those who are very rich are receiving tax breaks and bonuses while the poor are struggling seems to go against the social welfare values so many of us hold.

    I think there is evidence in Morone’s model of democratic government that gives merit to the OWS movement. Morone says that the people will join together to create change if the majority of people dislike an aspect of the government and agree that change is necessary. The OWS movement fits this standard – there are many protesters, and not all of them are poor. This shows that these people have decided that there is a problem in the community that is more important that their individual needs. The OWS movement is large and widespread because Americans have put aside their individual interests and decided to fight for the common good. That is what makes the movement influential and gives it merit.

    • bah2011 says:

      Amanda Gayer, I enjoyed your article and I found your argument very thought provoking. With that being said, I highly disagree with your statement “in some cases no amount of hard work will yield the kind of success story that one man had.” This mentality discourages people from trying to better their lives because society is telling them that regardless of their efforts, they have no chance to succeed. This pessimistic view towards achievement is so contradicting to the American dream. What is so special about our country is the notion that you can achieve anything you put your mind to. If your view that hard work is no longer enough, were correct, then I would say the American dream is dead. I do not think this accurate. I still firmly believe that with hard work and determination success is possible in our country.

  3. lgeorge905 says:

    I think your post, though compelling and persuasive, is also a bit misleading. The federal income tax isn’t the only tax levied on citizens. This passage from an op-ed piece describes the problem with your statistic:

    “Households in this group made $35,400 to $52,100 in 2006, the last year for which the
    Congressional Budget Office has released data. That would describe a household with one full-time worker earning about $17 to $25 an hour. Such hourly pay is typical for firefighters, preschool teachers, computer support specialists, farmers, members of the clergy, mail carriers, secretaries and truck drivers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Taking into account both taxes and tax credits, the average household in this group paid a total income tax
    rate of just 3 percent. A good number of people, in fact, paid no net income taxes. They are among the alleged free riders. But the picture starts to change when you look not just at income taxes but at all taxes. This average household would have paid 0.8 percent of its income in corporate taxes (through the stocks it owned), 0.9 percent in gas and other federal excise taxes, and 9.5 percent in payroll taxes. Add these up, and the family’s total federal tax rate was 14.2 percent.”

    I agree that the income tax code needs to be revised to include more Americans, but lets not completely discount the contributions of the 47%.

  4. allenle2011 says:

    I absolutely love this post. I had no idea that only 53% actually pay federal income taxes. That is astonishing and appalling. How could the 47% be getting away with that? It makes it seem like the Occupy Wall Street people have blinders on. They are protesting something that they haven’t even done enough research on, so they are lacking in a united front. The government needs to address the problem that 47% aren’t paying federal income taxes. There is a fundamental flaw in our system that lacks attention. We could focus more on welfare programs and even more importantly getting out of our deficit, if the 47% pay their federal income taxes.

    I agree with Amanda Gayer when she said that the OWS movement fits the standard of the second step of Morone’s Democratic Wish. However, I think the flaw is that the cause that the protesters have united for is not completely clear. That will make it hard for a legitimate change to be made in our government.

  5. Robert Tepper says:

    I could not agree more with your position in this post. The top one percent pays the most taxes, and whereas the OWS protestors feel they need to pay more, why should they? As you said in the post, the top one percent is the top one percent as a result of very hard work — and what are the protestors doing? They are wasting their time seemingly asking for handouts from the government when they could be looking for work. Though I understand many of the protestors lost their jobs in the recession, protesting is definitely not the answer. Though they blame Wall Street, it was their job to try and make the most money possible. I’m sure none of the protestors were complaining when the stock market was at 14,000 points and everyone’s retirement plans were doubling every year. Instead of complaining and begging for help, maybe these people should try and take it upon themselves to do something more productive.

  6. czli2011 says:

    I’ve been annoyed by the occupy movement. With people on both sides. One one hand, the protestors are a bunch of angry people who have so many different agendas within the movement that they don’t exactly know what they want. On the other hand, you have a media who is trying to brand the entire group as a bunch of anti-capitalist, half-naked hippies. So here’s my two cents.

    I think there are positive aspects to the movement. I agree with the part of the movement that places emphasis on greater government regulation of the economy. Without accountability, we won’t be able to prevent the anti-competitive practices such as reckless vending and speculative behavior that led to the housing bubble. I’m defending the movement in this sense, because I don’t think their views are necessarily anti-free markets. Rather, I think they are trying to make “the capitalist system” more responsible, which isn’t a bad thing.

    However, I disagree with the redistribution of wealth portion of the movement. I think if the distribution of wealth gets too extreme, it is desirable to maintain stability in a government. But as you pointed out in your post, we haven’t gotten to that point yet. People need to be more aware of the 53%-47% distribution, and recognize the 1%-99% as an impressive marketing statistic. Furthermore, I wish protestors would recognize the nature of their redistribution argument. It seems hypocritical that the word “socialism” turns most protestors off (I can’t find the link to the Gallup poll where the statistic is), when in fact the tenant of income redistribution is fundamentally socialist. I’m just annoyed that so many are in denial about the nature of their protests, and I wish more people would be informed.

    On this note, it’s also interesting to point out that some of the founding fathers expressed opposition to redistribution of wealth. Samuel Adams stated: “The utopian schemes of leveling [redistribution of wealth], and a community of goods, are as visionary and impracticable as those that vest all property in the Crown. [These ideas] are arbitrary, despotic, and, in our government, unconstitutional.” James Madison, author of the Constitution, wrote, “I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents.”

    Those who argue for income redistribution are “bad apples” in the occupy movement that are ruining the respectability of the regulation and accountability cause. Asking Wall Street for your money back isn’t going to solve any problems. Sleeping on the streets isn’t going to do much other than get attention. And now that the movement has got the attention, people should be focusing on solutions rather than directing (mislead) blame and anger to a scapegoat. The real practical solutions lie in focusing on regulation, not wealth redistribution, and more people need to recognize that.

    Also, here’s a hilarious picture:

  7. bradenburgess says:

    This is a great post. The more the media covers the Occupy Wall Street movement, the more the movement loses its credibility. It seems to have no cohesion and no unifying element. Or maybe it does. The one thing that unites the movement is envy. It is a prime example of modern class warfare. The crux of the matter is whether the government ought to more evenly redistribute wealth. I think that is an interesting question, and maybe America should wisely consider it. But the movement itself, because it is laughably ridiculous, is hurting its own cause.

  8. mrs010 says:

    I think the common theme of many of these comments stemming from the lack of unity in the OWS movement are interesting, mainly because I feel the same way. Though I am not insisting that every movement has to have a clear-cut leader or group of people that are undoubtedly the spokespeople for the movement, I do believe, in a case such as OWS, that there needs to be some sort of organization, which ultimately means a hierarchy. I do not think that this movement can gain any ground when there is not someone at the forefront who has the common goals–which are unclear–of the OWS movement in mind. I also do not think any headway will ever be made with OWS if everyone thinks the source of their problems are the 1% of America who happily enjoys a lot of cash. In no way should this ploy to have everyone shift their views and play a blame-game make any strides. If I were an “occupier”, though, I would start looking for someone charismatic enough to place this heap of emotion into an organized assembly.

  9. brianoconnor16 says:

    I think your post is extremely thought provoking and brings up some interesting arguments along with noteworthy facts, in particular that only 53% of Americans are paying federal taxes. I did some additional research on this fact and found that it is indeed true and is the product of a tax system enacted by our political leaders. I find this statistic to be somewhat misleading when used as a counter argument against the Occupy Wall Street Movement.” First, it is not as if these people are living in American society and paying zero taxes at all. State and local taxes are separately applied, as well as payroll taxes which support Medicare and Medicaid. State and local taxes are of benefit to the 1% and these people contribute. The percentage of people who pay zero in any types of taxes is vastly smaller in reality. Here is an article that helps explain this statistic, how it is being used, and more information so that people can understand the reasons behind such a large amount of Americans not paying federal taxes.

    Secondly, your presented argument leads me to believe that because these people do not pay taxes you believe that they have no right to protest against the government. Are these people citizens if they do not pay taxes? Are people considered to be different statuses of citizens based on the amount of taxes that they pay? Or, is just one cent enough, but necessary, to be considered an American citizen? I personally believe that these people are still citizens and have just as much of a right to protest against government or non-government placed policies just as anyone paying taxes would. The electorate throughout America chooses politicians, who set tax policies for the Federal government. It is not these people’s individual fault that they do not pay federal taxes because that is the system that is that has been chosen by the ‘will of the American people’ via our political system. The citizenship of the people not paying federal taxes should not be downgraded because of tax policy implemented by representatives of all the people. I’m sure many of these citizens would be willing to pay federal taxes, but just have a problem with economic inequality currently in the country. It is unfair to say that because they do not pay taxes they have should have no voice.

    This protest can also be interpreted in terms of Shklar’s stance on what citizenship is. Although some of the protestors are out of work due to the economic environment, they have the ability to earn which is an essential aspect of citizenship according to Shklar. Additionally, the majority of the protestors have the ability to vote. By these terms, most of these people are citizens according to Shklar. Either by her definition of citizenship or your own, if you believe that these people are American citizens I think it is essential to respect their right to organize in protest of a cause whether you agree with them or not.

    I strongly disagree with your notion that this movement has been inconsequential and will fail to bring about change. I think it is far too soon to claim that this movement has been unsuccessful for two reasons. 1. The movement is still going on in cities not only in the US, but has spread to countries worldwide. The movement is on an upward trend with new growth domestically, in cities from New York to Atlanta to San Francisco amongst many others. 2. Political change does not happen overnight. It takes time for issues to be brought to the forefront of politics.

    You say that, “The real change the movement has brought has been news clogging.” I would argue that this actually would be a positive for most supporters of the Occupy Wall Street Movement. If nothing else, this movement has brought many aspects of inequality in the US to the attention of people that were likely not thinking about this problem before. For example, this blog is talking about the movement and clearly there are people on both sides of the issue. This movement has sparked a debate for non-politicians to debate over, like you and I are. Simply by having a debate like this, ideas such as corporate greed and economic inequality are brought to the forefront of the political world and the in the minds of citizens. Following a debate about the issues and possible solutions, the people can decide what the best course of action is to deal with the problem which will be carried out by our elected representatives.

    I think that in many respects this movement is similar to the Tea Party movement (in effect certainly not in content). Both movements brought issues that supporters believed strongly in to be debated amongst the people. If these movements had not gained strength it is doubtful that the same issues would have been debated as often as they were, and in as many different places as they were. What I mean by ‘places’ is that these ideas are not being debated solely in congress. Media political coverage and even debate by citizens amongst themselves about issues such as taxes and government size (Tea Party) and economic inequality (OWS) have increased because of these movements sparking the debate. Whether one is in support or against the Occupy Wall Street movement, I think all Americans should respect the movement as the impetus for bringing important issues in our society to light and providing an opportunity to debate their best solutions.

    I don’t understand why the Occupy Wall Street movement is the ‘wrong approach to bring change’ that you believe it to be. The vast majority of these protests have been peaceful. The ones that have involved violence have been carried out by certain individuals who do not represent the entire movement. Also, many instances of police brutality have been reported at these protests. Here is one example:

    Maybe this movement will spark another debate, and one which we discussed in class, about when the use of violence is acceptable in society.

    Isn’t it the right of Americans to peacefully protest and speak their voice? If people see little change about issues they care about occurring in Washington I don’t see the problem with carrying out a peaceful protest and using their right to free speech. It is the right of all Americans to do this. Even if all of these people protesting do not pay federal taxes (which is not the case), their voices still deserve to be heard because they are American citizens.

    Here is an example of the “1%” in support of OWS: The debate is not those paying federal taxes versus those who are not. People of varying backgrounds are on both sides of the debate.

  10. zacha90 says:

    As far as taxes go….

    The bottom 47% don’t pay taxes because if they did, the amount would be negligible to the federal budget, but very “real” to all the people paying into it. The bottom 47% are already worse off than everyone else, there is no need to tax them as some symbol of “fairness”.

    Second, the idea that the super rich “earned” their money is both true and false. Rich people earned their money up to a point, then ceased to earn it in any sort of traditional sense. Doctors, Lawyer and professionals who make a good salary more or less based on hours worked “earn” because they are providing a physical service or skill. People who can rely on the purchasing of stock, interest and a 15% capital gains tax are at that point, no longer “earning”. They are merely adding to their wealth via a favorable numbers game. The stock market is essentially a high yield bank account that only a few members of society can have an account in. Sure, everyone can buy stock, but the amount is negligible and won’t make most people rich.

    Thirdly, there will always be this outcry over the rich paying 38% of the taxes because it’s such a large amount, however, they control 42% of the wealth. It makes perfect sense that they pay more in taxes than the rest of the country.

    Fourth, a progressive tax system is based at least in part on the fundamental idea of the law of diminishing returns. A rich person with 10 million dollars has much less to lose (up to a point) by paying more into the system than a poor person making 10 thousand. The rich man’s purchasing power is already so high that marginal utility gained from each dollar is minimal. There are only so many items beyond the essentials you can buy.

    Fifth, OWS’s unified message seems to be corporate greed and unethical behavior is wrong, especially when we’re all (literally thanks to bailouts) invested in these companies. It’s the idea that they are buying corporate jets, taking large vacations and doing other ridiculous things while also laying people off. Those unnecessary items could be used to pay for quite a few salaries. For people with kids, student loans or with spouses. OWS is about demanding that our “captains of industry” behave a little bit better, pay a little bit more and that DC hears the “little” guy.

    Finally, I think the backlash against OWS is just a natural response to protest in general. People will either ignore, support or hate something. The only ones who get news coverage will be the two extremes, thus we have the 53% and the 99%.

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