Thursday, October 20, 2011

"I am not the 99%"

Not put to fine a point on it, but unless this dolt is a more extreme version of Mark Zuckerberg he is most certainly part of the 99%. As for the notion that all it takes to be part of the top 1% is a little elbow grease, it is so patently absurd it is not worth discussing. Yes talent and hard work matter. However, neither is a guarantee of success. There are a whole host of factors at play. There are plenty of talented hard working poor people and I am not talking just about self righteous libertarian university students.

As for his implication that the source of America's private debt woes is ever increasing discretionary spending, he should have given the numbers a look before spouting off about "bad decisions". Americans are spending ever less on discretionary items and not more. Indeed, compare the spending habits of a 1970 family of 4 to a the spending habits of a 2003 American family of 4.

The 2003 family spent

32% less on clothes

18% less on food and eating out

52% less on appliances

24% less on a car

76% more for a mortgage on a 6.1 room house than the 1970 family paid for mortgage on a 5.8 room house.

74% more percent for employer sponsored health care

52% more for transportation (more cars and more travel time)

100% more for childcare

25% more for taxes (more two income families meant more taxable income.)

The 2003 family kept cars two years longer, took 33% less vacations and was significantly more likely to live in a home older than 25 years old. The 2003 family devoted 75% of their income to housing, taxes, health care and child care and transportation. The 1970 family devoted 50%. Despite a large increase in family income between 1970 and 2003 (there was a huge increase in the number of two income families) the 1970 family had more money for discretionary spending and savings. Sky rocketing college tuition should also be factored in. Not only has tuition costs gone up 231% since 1970, college education is deemed necessary in ways it was not before. As Elizabeth Warren points out, more people believe the moon landing was fake than believe a university education is not needed for entrance into the middle class.

Of course, a huge increase in the above mentioned areas only tells part of the story. American families are much more vulnerable today for other reasons as well. Not only has the savings rate declined from 11% in 1970 to below zero in 2001, the number of families that depend upon two incomes in order to make ends meat has skyrocketed. These familers are vulnerable if either partner looses gainful employment. There is no one there to step into the void if one of partner goes down. To make matters worse the social safety net is not as wide as it once was. This is especially so when it comes to health care. Whereas the average uninsured person in 1970 was a 23 year old male with no children (in other words someone who choose not to have health insurance), the average uninsured person in 2003 was 35 year old married parent of two. It is not just the poor that vulnerable either. In 2001 1.4 million lost their health insurance. Of those, 800,000 earned more than $75,000 a year.

It is no wonder the bankruptcy rates have skyrocketed. Since the late 1990s an American married couple with children is more likely to declare bankruptcy than to file for divorce. 90% of those filing for bankruptcy do so for 1 of 3 reasons, viz., an illness in the family, family breakup or job loss.

Finally, for someone who derides handouts of any kind it is odd that he belittles the protesters rather than joining them. After all, one of the main complaints of the protesters is that huge sums of of public money have gone into bailing out private banks and the public has gained no guarantees that such bailouts will not be needed again. The Dodd Frank bill never addressed all the issues and to add insult to injury it has been gutted by congress.


Jules Aimé said...

The problem with your analysis is that there is no "99%". It's just an arbitrary distinction made up for the sake of a political slogan. Therefore, as the guy who made the sign has figured out and you haven't, whether someone is a 99 percenter or not is just a rhetorical stance and not an argument about facts.

Koby said...

Jules "The problem with your analysis is that there is no "99%". It's just an arbitrary distinction made up for the sake of a political slogan."

Really, economists and statisticians have been looking how the richest 1% of population is doing relative to the rest of population for close to a century. A 1915 study, for example, put their share of the nation's wealth at 15%. A later more authoritative study put it at 18%. Today it is closer to 24%. It is this large body of work and the whole issue of income inequality that gives the 99% slogan its relevance.

Jules "Therefore, as the guy who made the sign has figured out and you haven't, whether someone is a 99 percenter or not is just a rhetorical stance and not an argument about facts."

Never mind, the fact that he says nothing of the sort, your conclusion is weird. It is as if you said this.

5% of the US male population is 6,2 or taller. That I choose 6,2 and not some other height is arbitrary. Therefore, no male is above 6,2.

Now, a 5,9 man can correctly say he is part of 95% of the male population that is below 6,2. It is just that he is not going to get anywhere by screaming we are the 95% at college basketball game. Height may be a good indicator of any number health related factors. However no one is concerned about the height discrepancy the way people are about income discrepancy.

Jules Aimé said...


An economist can indeed draw a line between the 1% and the 99% if that serves some useful analytic purpose. But that does not make the 99% a group of any sort. The only thing they share in common is that they are not the one percent.

Sorry but the 99 percent is just a rhetorical ploy.

You can see it, by the way, in the rhetorical trick of people holding up signs that say "I'm the 99 percent". No they aren't, they're just a tiny data point on a circle on a Venn diagram that includes just about everyone. They are in no way representative of a group.

Which, again, is the rhetorical point the guy with the "I'm not the 99%" is making. He is saying, "you don't represent me" and he has every right to say that.

Koby said...

Jesus Christ, the protesters do not believe that they speak for virtually the entire nation. In announcing that they the 99% they are trying to put the issue of income inequality on the political radar in way it has not been before. In a way the slogan serves a similar tactical purpose to the famous gay rights slogan, "We're Here! We're Queer!" Now the protesters could just as easily chosen "we are the 80%" or "we are the 99.9%" (both points that economists have focused on when analyzing inequality), but the first one does not carry near the rhetorical punch and the latter is cumbersome.

Koby said...

"We're Here! We're the 99%!"