Wednesday, November 30, 2011

I Am the 1%

Over the past few months, I've watched the Occupy Wall Street movement with great interest. In all honesty, I haven't known what to think. On the one hand, there is much in OWS with which I agree:
  • I agree that our politicians have been corrupted by corporate interests.
  • I agree that our consumption is way out of control.
  • I agree that unemployment, student loan debt, and poverty are issues that need to dominate our national conversation.
  • I have been appalled by the way some Occupy groups have been treated by police while they attempt to peaceably protest.
At the same time, there are things about Occupy that don't resonate with me: 
  • I'm not sure why, but class warfare rhetoric just doesn't resonate with me. 
  • I also am amused by the seeming double standard of protesters using their iPhones to tweet complaints about big corporations. 
  • I've struggled with the inconsistency of cities like Richmond VA, for instance, that have allowed Occupy groups to use free-of-charge the same park that it charged the Tea Party nearly $10,000 in fees to use. 
  • Most significantly, I am predisposed to distrust government solutions to problems, and - I may be wrong about this - but most of the demands being made by the Occupy groups accompany suggested government solutions.
In the last few weeks, however, I've started to think differently about the whole thing. Though it has had an impact in other countries, Occupy is a very American kind of protest. Its primary branding is related to the top 1% of America's wealthy versus the 99% of everyone else in our country. The "We Are the 99%" posters are brilliantly effective. 

Here is what I've been wondering about. OK, so I am in the 99% in America. But where do I rank globally? It's not just about America, right? We are a global community with responsibilities, not just to ourselves and our own national interests, but to all. So ... who are the top 1% on the planet?

I did a little research (googled it up on my google machine), and here is what I found.

According to World Bank economist Branko Milanovic in his book The Haves and the Have Nots, to be in the top 1% globally, you have to make $34,000 per year. I am in the top 1%, and I bet a lot, if not most, of you reading this are too. Here's the breakdown:
  • $34,000 per year - top 1%
  • $18,500 per year - top 5%
  • $12,000 per year - top 10%
  • $5,000 per year - top 20%
Does that change our perspective at all? Does that change the conversation?

It is so easy to vilify the other, the Wall Street banker, the politician, the corporate tycoon. It is much harder to admit that I can find myself among the other. It is so easy to target the greed of the wealthy and fail to see my own constant consumption.

Certainly, it is important to have prophetic voices that highlight the abuses of those in power. But maybe those in power aren't just the Wall Street banking vice presidents in their $3,000 suits. Maybe those in power are also the soccer moms shopping at Target. Maybe those in power are me. And you. Maybe the finger isn't just pointing at the politicians in Washington. Maybe the finger is pointing at me too. And at you.

In 1 Timothy 6.17-19, Paul tells Timothy this, "Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life."

This passage is about me and just about all of us here in America, for we really are rich in this present world. That wealth must not make me - or us - arrogant, but so often it does. Somehow, it needs to drive me - and us - to put our hope in God. And I - and we - need to find ways to invest in others so that we can take hold of a life that is truly life.

It's a good thing that it's Advent because these are the kinds of issues this season conjures up in my heart. Goodness. Generosity. Sharing. These are the words that are resonating with me. I'm looking for ways that I can take what I have been richly given and use it for the good of others ... not just here in America, but around the world:
  • We are talking to our kids this Christmas about consumption and not needing more stuff just for the sake of more stuff.
  • I am thinking about the people across the globe who have had a hand in what I enjoy, be it the clothes I wear, the technology I use, or the food I eat. And I'm trying to give thanks for them and pray for them when I remember them.
  • I am looking for needs to meet. I am hoping this Advent season to do some small but significant things in the lives of others, generously sharing what I've been blessed with so that others can enjoy God's blessings too.
I'm in the top 1%. Given that I am an American, there is almost nothing I can do about that. It simply is reality. However, there is much that I can do for the sake of others, and that is where my focus is now.

How about you? What's on your mind this Advent season?



Jenny said...

Awesome. Living in the south, it seems people around here forget there's a whole world out there. I miss patriotism, but I would give it all up for a more conscientious world view.

jandcwed said...

Great comments Robb!!!

BigNate84 said...

I really appreciate your thoughtfulness in creating this blog post Robb. Having an international worldview and recognizing self consumption certainly frame the issue in a more level headed and realistic way. Well siad!

thedave said...

I think you are absolutely right about the fact that nearly all of the 99% are in the worldwide 1%. I would only suggest that each of us is called to do what we can where we are. Who is my neighbor? Whomever is right in front of me.

weod1970 said...

Really good. Thought provoking. Thank you. You could even take it a step further: Throughout all of history, Americans in 2011 are some of the very richest people who have ever lived. About 100 billion people have ever lived on Earth. Only a very small fraction, probably much less than 1%, have had the wealth that the average American has today. Even the very richest people 100 years ago could not even have imagined the electronics that the average American owns today, like the iPhones that you mention.