The Reign of the One Percenters

Photograph: William Steacy
Photograph: William Steacy

For my daughter’s benefit, so that she might know the enemy better, know what he looks like, where he nests, and when and where to throw eggs at his head, we start the tour at Wall Street. It’s hot. August. We’re sweating like old cheese.

Here are the monuments that matter, I tell her: the offices of Deutsche Bank and Bank of New York Mellon; the JPMorgan Chase tower up the block; around the corner, the AIG building. The structures dwarf us, imposing themselves skyward.

“Linked together like rat warrens, with air conditioning,” I tell her. “These are dangerous creatures, Léa. Sociopaths.”

She doesn’t know what sociopath means.

“It’s a person who doesn’t care about anybody but himself. Socio, meaning society—you, me, this city, civilization. Patho, like pathogen—carrying and spreading disease.”

Long roll of eyes.

I’m intent on making this a teachable moment for my daughter, who is fifteen, but I have to quit the vitriol, break it down for her. I have to explain why the tour is important, what it has to do with her, her friends, her generation, the future they will grow up into.

On a smaller scale, I want Léa to understand what New York, my birthplace and home, once beloved to me, is really about. Because I’m convinced that the beating heart of the city today is not its art galleries, its boutiques, its restaurants or bars, its theaters, its museums, nor its miserable remnants in manufacturing, nor its creative types—its writers, dancers, artists, sculptors, thinkers, musicians, or, god forbid, its journalists.

“Here,” I tell her, standing in the canyons of world finance, “is what New York is about. Sociopaths getting really rich while everyone else just sits on their asses and lets it happen.”

Cancer
Talk is cheap, anger without action is a turnoff, and even at fifteen my daughter sensed that her father’s rage was born of impotence. I thought of Mark Twain’s line, “The human race is a race of cowards; and I am not only marching in that procession but carrying a banner.” A few weeks later, Léa was gone, back to France, where she lives with her mother. I had new material to chew into bitter cud. It was a report titled “Grow Together or Pull Further Apart?: Income Concentration Trends in New York,” issued in December 2010 by a Manhattan-based nonprofit called the Fiscal Policy Institute (FPI). The twenty-five-page report only quantified in hard data what most New Yorkers—the ones struggling to survive (most of us)—understood instinctively as they watched their opportunities diminish over the past three decades.

New York, the FPI informs us, is now at the forefront of the maldistribution of wealth into the hands of the few that has been ongoing in America since 1980, which marked the beginning of a new Gilded Age. Out of the twenty-five largest cities, it is the most unequal city in the United States for income distribution. If it were a nation, it would come in as the fifteenth worst among 134 countries ranked by extremes of wealth and poverty—a banana republic without the death squads. It is the showcase for the top 1 percent of households, which in New York have an average annual income of $3.7 million. These top wealth recipients—let’s call them the One Percenters—took for themselves close to 44 percent of all income in New York during 2007 (the last year for which data is available). That’s a high bar for wealth concentration; it’s almost twice the record-high levels among the top 1 percent nationwide, who claimed 23.5 percent of all national income in 2007, a number not seen since the eve of the Great Depression. During the vaunted 2002–07 economic expansion—the housing-boom bubble that ended in our current calamity, this Great Recession—average income for the One Percenters in New York went up 119 percent. Meanwhile, the number of homeless in the city rose to an all-time high last year—higher even than during the Great Depression—with a record 113,000 men, women, and children, many of them comprising whole families, retreating night after night to municipal shelters.

But here’s the most astonishing fact: the One Percenters consist of just 34,000 households, about 90,000 people. Relative to the great mass of New Yorkers—9 million of us—they’re nobody. We could snow them under in a New York minute.

And yet the masses—the fireman, the policeman, the postal worker, the teacher, the journalist, the subway conductor, the construction worker, the social worker, the engineer, the architect, the barkeep, the musician, the receptionist, the nurse—have been the consistent losers since 1990. The real hourly median wage in New York between 1990 and 2007 fell by almost 9 percent. Young men and women aged twenty-five to thirty-four with a bachelor’s degree and a year-round job in New York saw their earnings drop 6 percent. Middle-income New Yorkers—defined broadly by the FPI as those drawing incomes between approximately $29,000 and $167,000—experienced a 19 percent decrease in earnings. Almost 11 percent of the population, about 900,000 people, live in what the federal government describes as “deep poverty,” which for a four-person family means an income of $10,500 (the average One Percenter household in New York makes about that same amount every day). About 50 percent of the households in the city have incomes below $30,000; their incomes have also been steadily declining since 1990. During the gala boom of 2002–07, the trend was unaltered: the average income in the bottom 95 percent of New York City households declined.

According to the FPI, the wealth of the One Percenters derives almost entirely from the operations of the sector known as “financial services,” whose preoccupation is something they call “financial innovation.” The One Percenters draw the top salaries at commercial and investment banks, hedge funds, credit card companies, insurance companies, stock brokerages. They are the suit people at Goldman Sachs and J. P. Morgan and AIG and Deutsche Bank. To get a sense for how their fortunes have blossomed, consider the fact that the largest twenty financial institutions in the U.S., almost all of them headquartered in New York, now control upward of 70 percent of the country’s financial assets, roughly double what they controlled in the 1990s.

And what do the suit people do to earn such heaping returns? At one time, the financial sector could be relied upon to allocate capital for the building of things that society needed—projects that also invariably created jobs. But productivity is no longer its purview. Lord Adair Turner, a financial watchdog and former banker in the city of London—the other world capital of finance—recently denounced his class as practitioners and beneficiaries of a “socially useless activity.” Paul Woolley, who runs a think tank in London called the Centre for the Study of Capital Market Dysfunctionality, observed that the “presumption that financial innovation is socially valuable” was a kind of metaphysics. “It wasn’t backed by any empirical evidence,” Woolley told John Cassidy, a staff writer for The New Yorker. Structured investment vehicles, credit default swaps, futures exchanges, hedge funds, complex securitization and derivative pools, the tranching of mortgages—these were shown to have “little or no long-term value,” according to Cassidy. The purpose was to “merely shift money around” without designing, building, or selling “a single tangible thing.” The One Percenter seeks only exchange value, as opposed to real value. Thus foreign exchange currency gambling has skyrocketed to seventy-three times the actual goods and services of the planet, up from eleven times in 1980. Thus the “value” of oil futures has risen from 20 percent of actual physical production in 1980 to 1,000 percent today. Thus interest rate derivatives have gone from nil in 1980 to $390 trillion in 2009. The trading schemes float disembodied above the real economy, related to it only because without the real economy there would be nothing to exploit.

Behold, then, the One Percenter in his Wall Street tower. He creates “value” by tapping on keyboards and punching in algorithms. He makes money playing with money, manipulating abstractions. He manufactures and chases after financial bubbles and then pricks them. He speculates on mortgages, car loans, credit card debt, the price of gas that keeps the real economy moving, the price of food that keeps the labor pool alive, always hedging his bets so that he comes out ahead whether society wins or loses. A study from the New Economics Foundation in England found that for every pound made in financial services in the city of London, roughly seven pounds of social wealth is lost—meaning the wealth of those in society who do productive work.

Finance as practiced on Wall Street, says Paul Woolley, is “like a cancer.” There is only maximization of short-term profit in these “financial services”—they are services only in the sense of the vampire at a vein. There is no vision for allocating capital for the building of infrastructure that will serve society in the future; no vision, say, for a post-carbon civilization; no vision for surviving the shocks of coming resource scarcity. The finance nihilist doesn’t look to a viable future; he is interested only in the immediate return.

Rotten Vegetables
The optimist will say that the wealth disparities in New York have been far worse in the past, and the optimist would be correct. When in 1869, for example, a young journalist named Henry George arrived in New York, already the most opulent city in America, he found that “amid the greatest accumulations of wealth, men die of starvation, and puny infants suckle dry breasts.” The inequalities got worse. There came the Panics of 1873 and 1884, which resulted from the speculation and stock fraud of the city’s financial and business elite. Epicentered in lower Manhattan, the panics—we’d call them crashes today—produced nationwide shock waves of mass unemployment, homelessness, hunger, years of depression and dislocation, and, at times, the specter of all-out chaos. President Grover Cleveland, aghast at the scope of the division between the few very rich and the many poor, concluded that the “wealth and luxury of our cities,” primarily enjoyed by the industrial monopolists and the financier and Wall Street class, was “largely built upon undue exactions from the masses of our people.” The exactions in New York, as with every city where unregulated industrial capital ran amok, were most felt in the profitable horrors of wage slavery: the fourteen-hour workdays, the miserable pay, the children forced into labor, the dangerous conditions on factory floors, the rents extracted by landlords for the opportunity to live in windowless, rat-infested, soul-destroying tenements.

In answer, across New York City throughout the 1880s there were strikes, marches, boycotts, gigantic torch-lit demonstrations. New York’s Central Labor Union (CLU), a branch of the Knights of Labor, whose national membership approached 700,000, welcomed all the “producing classes,” skilled and unskilled: the bricklayers, the jewelers, the printers, the industrialized brewers and machinists, the salesclerks, bakers, cloak makers, cigar makers, piano makers, musicians, tailors, waiters, Morse operators, Protestants, Catholics, Jews, whites and blacks, men and women. The only people they refused to welcome in their ranks, wrote historians Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace, were “bankers, brokers, speculators, gamblers, and liquor dealers”—what the Knights and other radicals of the time called the “fleecing classes,” the “parasites,” the “leeches.”

The CLU and the Knights organized the first Labor Day parade in the United States, on September 5, 1882, marching twenty thousand strong from City Hall to Union Square, unfurling banners that said: LABOR BUILT THIS REPUBLIC AND LABOR SHALL RULE IT. And: NO MONEY MONOPOLY. And: PAY NO RENT. The seamstresses along the route waved handkerchiefs from windows and blew kisses at the marchers. When the ladies at their sills saw cops and thugs hired by the fleecing classes, they rained down rocks, eggs, rotten vegetables.

By 1886, the labor coalition was looking for a radical candidate for mayor, and they found one in Henry George, who by then had become a famous writer, known on four continents. Seven years earlier, he had published a book of economics called Progress and Poverty that during the last decades of the nineteenth century would outsell every book but the Bible. His chief contribution was to acquaint the lay American with the problem of “economic rent” in society. This was defined as revenue with no corresponding labor or productivity; economic rent was unearned income.

Those who benefited from this income were known as rentiers, and the most egregious rentier in George’s day was the landlord, who, sitting on land as it rose in value, got rich on the backs of his tenants “without doing one stroke of work, without adding one iota to the wealth of the community.” Political liberty required also economic liberty, said George, and economic liberty required doing away with the privileges of the rentier. “We are not called upon to guarantee all men equal conditions…but we are called upon to give to all men an equal chance,” said George. “If we do not, our republicanism is a snare and a delusion, our chatter about the rights of man the veriest buncombe.” George also proclaimed, “It is not enough that men should vote; it is not enough that they should be theoretically equal before the law. They must have liberty to avail themselves of the opportunities and means of life.”

In declaring his candidacy, George decried the “principle of competition upon which society is now based.” He announced to an ecstatic public that his intention was “to raise hell!” He saw only corruption in government as it was then comprised, and suggested that “a revolutionary uprising might be necessary to turn out the praetorians who were doing the corporations’ bidding in government office.” But George was defeated in the 1886 campaign, and new and more advanced rentiers, typified by J. P. Morgan, with his offices at 23 Wall Street, rose to dominate the American political economy. By the turn of the twentieth century, Morgan had directed a massive consolidation of banking and, through the leverage of credit and debt, industry. This superconsolidation, which came to be known as monopoly finance capitalism, extended the influence of New York bankers nationwide to the point that, as Woodrow Wilson observed in 1911, “all our activities are in the hands of a few men” who “chill and check and destroy genuine economic freedom.”

It would take decades of labor unrest and protest, coupled with the near total collapse of monopoly finance capitalism after 1929, to smash the power of New Yorkers like Morgan and secure some measure of economic equality in the United States. The institutions exploited by the bankers—commercial banks, investment banks, insurance companies, stock brokerages—were broken up and regulated. Antitrust law barred the supersizing of corporations in mergers and acquisitions. The incomes of the very rich were heavily taxed. The finance rentier was placed in the cage where he belonged.

New York City stood at the forefront of the new progressivism. It was here that the nation’s first large-scale system of low-cost housing was built, here that some of the earliest labor and social welfare policies were developed and enforced—efforts to regulate working conditions on factory floors, reduce working hours, mandate equal pay for women. New York developed one of the largest social services sectors of any city in the United States. Its universities were free. It had twenty-two public hospitals. Its public transit system was the largest in the world, and cheap—you could ride fifteen miles for fifteen cents. It was still a city, with all the attendant ills of a metropolis, in many ways too big, entangled in bureaucracies, full of corruption and crime, congestion and pollution, racial and ethnic division. Yet by 1945, it was home to a strong and stable middle class, anchored in industry and the trades. It was becoming a city of equals. During this period of relative economic equality, roughly from World War II to around 1980—a period known to economic historians as the Great Compression, as income and wealth leveled out nationally following the reforms of the 1930s—the city also experienced a series of artistic and creative revolts that cemented its reputation as a cultural mecca. Jazz flowered here, so did folk music, so did the avant-garde of modern art, so did the Beats, so did punk and hip-hop.

Rent
A few years ago, an old family friend, whom I’ll call Anthony, went homeless at the age of sixty-eight and ended up sleeping in my dad’s Brooklyn basement, living on coffee and cigarettes. He had survived for years in a garret on the top floor of a brownstone on Strong Place, in the area once known as South Brooklyn, exchanging his labor for a roof and a toilet, his only foothold in a neighborhood where he’d worked for fifty years as an electrician and carpenter and plumber. But eventually the owner of the brownstone could see nothing more than cash in the pile of stone on Strong Place. A lot of landowners in South Brooklyn caught the greed bug during this time, when the real estate bubble began to inflate in 2002. The owner, who liked Anthony and told him he was sorry, sold to a speculator, left Brooklyn, and the brownstone was converted to condos.

Anthony, who never graduated high school, was a smart man, self-educated, and knew history. He knew that what was happening was part of a transformation of class, the wiping away of the class that wasn’t in hot pursuit of money. He was born in South Brooklyn on the eve of what he called the Great War. The Irish and the Italians fought in gangs on the waterfront, the mafia dumped bodies in the bay, and the merchant marines came and went in the boardinghouses and in the whorehouses. There were dockworkers, ironworkers, shipbuilders, grocers, laborers of all kinds, and, on occasion, there were weirdos who wrote books or painted on canvas for a living. Anyone could live here, because most anyone could afford it. I will not pretend that this is all the neighborhood amounted to; but it’s how Anthony remembered it, and for decades he had thrived, working where the work could be found, fixing whatever needed fixing. He had little interest in money, property, accumulation; his status, I gathered, was primarily tied to the quality of his workmanship. Then the ground fell out from labor in New York as industry fled at the dawn of globalization, and the stability of a life like Anthony’s was gone overnight—600,000 manufacturing jobs were lost from the city between 1968 and 1977. Over the next two decades, two-thirds of the city’s manufacturing jobs would disappear. The first wave of the gentrifiers arrived in the 1970s. They were my parents, who bought in South Brooklyn when property was still cheap.

“You have a single class now in the neighborhood, the mono-class of the rich,” Anthony told me one day. We were walking up and down Court Street, a stretch of shops and theaters and restaurants, looking for places and people he recognized. “No industry, no trades, no jobs for the average person to pull himself up. Now it’s all restaurants that the old-timers can’t afford. Now we got the Television Watchers, the Cell Phone Talkers. A whole class of men and women who watch TV or some version of it, like this internet thing. Sad. Free-thinking goes in the toilet. The Television Watchers start thinking alike, looking alike, buying alike, and they don’t know why.” After that conversation, I’d see him often on sunny days pacing Court Street, looking as lost as a child.

It’s a classic case study in gentrification: the old man gets pushed out by a land-value bubble as the new generation—white, affluent, professional—crowds in with gibberish about slow food and microbrews and Wi-Fi access. There have been real estate booms and busts throughout the history of New York—prices skyrocketing, enriching speculators, impoverishing renters, then impoverishing the speculators when prices crash—but this latest boom does not appear to be cyclical. It looks permanent, for it is driven by the permanency of the One Percenters, who can afford to bid up prices and keep them up while corralling an ever-larger portion of the city’s wealth. New York is thus increasingly ghettoized by class. Forty years ago, Daniel Friedenberg, a real estate developer who became disgusted at his line of business, predicted that the city would come to resemble “a grotesquely enlarged medieval town with each caste in its own quarter.” It has come to pass. As for Anthony, I do not know where he is today. He might be dead.

Sterility
And what of the city as engine of culture? The art critic Robert Hughes pronounced New York a fading star as early as 1990—just ten years into our new Gilded Age—“when the sheer inequality of New York became overpowering,” he wrote. “Could a city with such extremes of Sardanapalian wealth and Calcutta-like misery foster a sane culture?” Hughes declared it could not. Between 1980 and 1990, the One Percenters in New York roughly doubled their take of income, from 12 percent to 20 percent, and this conspicuous concentration of money inflated the art market, which was soon “run almost entirely by finance manipulators, fashion victims and rich ignoramuses.” The “impulses of art appreciation and collecting,” lamented Hughes, were now “nakedly harnessed to gratuitous, philistine social display.” At the same time, rents skyrocketed, driven by speculative real estate development. By the 1980s, wrote Hughes, “the supply of affordable workspace for artists in Manhattan finally ran out.” In a somber observation, Hughes noted, “It was always the work of living artists, made in the belief that their work could grow best there and nowhere else, that fueled New York. The critical mass of talent emits the energies that proclaim the center; its gravitational field keeps drawing more talent in, as in the combustion of a star, to sustain the reaction. The process is now dying.”

Thirty years on, with rents at historic highs, this has been a long death march, swallowing in its pall not only the artist, but the writer, the poet, the musician, the unaffiliated intellectual. The creative types sense that they are no longer wanted in New York, that money is what is wanted, and creative pursuits that fail to produce big money are not to be bothered with. But it is rent, more than anything else, that seals their fate. High rent lays low the creator, as there is no longer time to create. Working three jobs sixty hours a week at steadily declining wages, as a sizable number of Americans know, is a recipe for spiritual suicide. For the creative individual the challenge is existential: finding a psychological space where money—the need for it, the lack of it—won’t be heard howling hysterically day and night.

Crain’s New York Business, not known as a friend of the arts, reports the endgame of the trend identified by Hughes, namely that the young painter and sculptor are now sidestepping New York altogether, heading instead to cities like Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Cleveland, and overseas to Berlin—wherever the rents are low and the air doesn’t stink of cash. The Times reports that freelance musicians in New York are killed off in a marketplace that no longer has need for them. The once-great Philharmonics, mainstay of a New York tradition, are crippled from lack of listeners, lack of funding; Broadway replaces the live musician in the well with the artifice of sounds sampled out of computers. New York loses its “standing as a creative center,” reports Crain’s. It becomes “sterile.” It is “an institutionalized sort of Disney Land” where “art is presented but not made.” Henceforth it will no longer be “known as a birthplace for new cultural ideas and trends.”

In Brooklyn, I bump into a newspaper editor I once worked with who tells me he is abandoning the city. He talks of Costa Rica, the dark side of the moon, even Los Angeles. Anywhere but New York. “It’s just too depressing to watch what’s happened,” he tells me. “The place is creatively bankrupt.” He had freelanced at the paltry rates that freelancers are expected to survive on—the wages dropping always lower, the marketplace for journalism devalued by “content mills” and “information aggregators” staffed by content serfs producing blog entries. Then he attempted to start a small newspaper in Brooklyn. The investors weren’t interested. “They want digital projects that promise an all-or-nothing billion dollars,” he tells me. “I just don’t get that buzzy creative vibe from New York anymore. I see mercenarianism. Cynical ambition. Monied dullness. People trying to get rich and cash out. It’s always a CEO and CTO and CFO launching a new web property. Not writers and editors getting together because they have common visions.”

This is old news. Technologic advances in the digital world order now mandate that the journalist vies in the editorial room with technocrats advising on the method for tweaking headlines and articles to the rhythm of Google. The model is from advertising: find what people want to hear, then echo it in the news so that they will be attracted to hear more of it. “If you want to know what’s really going on in a society or ideology, follow the money,” writes author Jaron Lanier. “If money is flowing to advertising instead of musicians, journalists, and artists, then a society is more concerned with manipulation than truth or beauty. If content is worthless, then people will start to become empty-headed and contentless… Culture is to become precisely nothing but advertising.” No surprise then that the most lucrative “creative” jobs in New York for the “aggregating” of “content” are not in journalism but in corporate media, advertising, and marketing—the machines of manipulation and deceit.

Affluenza
“Everyone was broke and no one cared,” said a friend of mine recently, describing Brooklyn in the 1970s. The people he knew back then, before New York degenerated into a city run by and for the rich, “lived it up. They were freer and they were happier, because they weren’t so uptight about the money thing.” I think what my friend was saying was this: it was easier not to care about appearing to have money, easier on mind and spirit not to have to worry about the appurtenances of affluence.

His observation happens to be supported by a good deal of scholarship in the social sciences. Among developed nations, the evidence shows that healthier and happier societies—societies that are more sane, less uptight, whose members for the most part are enjoying life—are usually those with more equal distribution of wealth and income. The opposite correlation holds true: regardless of total wealth as measured by GDP, unequal societies appear to be less healthy and less happy—suffering, for instance, lower life expectancy, lower educational achievement, higher rates of obesity, more infant mortality and more mental illness and more substance abuse.

Richard Wilkinson, an emeritus professor of social epidemiology at the University of Nottingham in England, offers a sweeping hypothesis to explain the causality in the correlations. Economic inequality, he and coauthor Kate Pickett write in The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger, “seems to heighten people’s social evaluation anxieties by increasing the importance of social status. . . . If inequalities are bigger, so that some people seem to count for almost everything and others for practically nothing, where each one of us is placed becomes more important.” The result is “increased status competition and increased status anxiety,” whose effect on well-being is not to be underestimated. Scientists measuring stress-induced hormones in human beings have found that subjects were most stressed when faced with a task that included the opportunity for others to judge their performance—a “social-evaluative threat” to self-esteem and status, where the fear is that others might judge you negatively. A stressed person typically has higher cortisol, a steroid hormone that prepares body and mind to fend off danger and manage in an emergency. But if cortisol is high much of the time, it can act as a slow poison: the immune system is weakened, blood pressure rises, learning is impaired, bone strength is reduced, and, in some instances, the appetite is grossly stimulated. Wilkinson argues that, in a more unequal society, people become more stressed and insecure, vying in the hierarchy of status—more prone to feeling inadequate, defective, incompetent, foolish. And more sick both in body and mind.

The literature of the psychosocial effects of status competition and anxiety, to which Wilkinson’s work is only the latest addition, points to a broad-stroke portrait of the neurotic personality type that appears to be common in consumer capitalist societies marked by inequality. I see it all around me in New York, most acutely among young professionals. The type, in extremis, is that of the narcissist: Stressed, to be sure, because he seeks approval from others higher up in the hierarchy, though distrustful of others because he is competing with them for status, and resentful too because of his dependence on approval. He views society as unfair; he sees the great wealth paraded before him as an affront, proof of his failure, his inability, his lack. The spectacle of unfairness teaches him, among other lessons, the ways of the master-servant relationship, the rituals of dominance, a kind of feudal remnant: “The captain kicks the cabin boy and the cabin boy kicks the cat.” Mostly he is envious, and enraged that he is envious. This envy is endorsed and exploited, made purposeful by what appear to be the measures of civilization itself, in the mass conditioning methods of corporatist media: the marketeers and the advertisers chide and tease him; the messengers of high fashion arbitrate the meaning of his appearance. He is threatened at every remove in the status scrum. His psychological compensation, a derangement of sense and spirit, is affluenza: the seeking of money and possessions as markers of ascent up the competitive ladder; the worship of celebrities as heroes of affluence; the haunted desire for fame and recognition; the embrace of materialistic excess that, alas, has no future except in the assured destruction of Planet Earth and of every means of a sane survival.

Exhaustion
Look not to the youthful counterculture to challenge this madness. I am thinking here of the phenomenon of New York’s postmodern “hipster.” Forget that the term originated in the urban black subculture of the 1940s, primarily in New York, where the hipster maintained a style and language of nonconformity that was also implicitly a political statement, for the hipster stood apart from white authority (read: the cops) and was therefore menacing, subversive. Forget that the “white Negro” hipster of the 1950s, characterized in an essay of that name by Norman Mailer (a New Yorker) and represented in the ranks of the Angry Young Men and the Beatniks (also New Yorkers), stood by choice and necessity outside the mainstream, for yesteryear’s hipster wanted nothing to do with ’50s affluence, the cult of advertising, the postwar national security state, its standing armies and atom bombs.

The neohipster is a grotesque perversion of the original. If he fetishizes and hybridizes the cultural costumes of old hip—borrowing from the Beat poet, the jazzman, the rapper, the skater, the punk—it is only as a mockery of authentic anti-authoritarian countercultures. The neohipster is a creature of the advertisers: affluent and status-anxious, which means that he is consumerist and, in the manner of all conspicuous consumers, conforming to the demands of narcissistic chic. The “hipster zombies,” writes journalist Christian Lorentzen, are “more likely to be brokers or lawyers than art-school dropouts.” They are “the idols of the style pages, the darlings of viral marketers and the marks of predatory real estate agents.” They are fauxhemians. And not much in the way of creative product has issued from their midst. The “hipster moment,” per New York Magazine, did not “produce artists.” It produced tattoo artists. “It did not produce photographers, but snapshot and party photographers… It did not produce painters, but graphic designers. It did not yield a great literature, but it made good use of fonts.”

Hipster culture today, writes author Jason Flores-Williams, “is harmless culture. And that’s an epic tragedy because being hip used to mean that you were heroic and dangerous. That you waged war on soullessness and greed through art and resistance. Being hip meant that you wanted upheaval in society. Being hip meant you were intense lower class, not detached upper class. Being hip meant being revolutionary.”

The cultural nihilism of the neohipster—it is nothing less—has its corollary in financial nihilism: they each arose at roughly the same moment, and they each have produced nothing of value. That the counterculture has no fist raised against the banker is obviously to the banker’s benefit. Every generation of youth since World War II has attempted to smash old customs and unjust systems—and terrified the elders. But not this one.

Politically, it is a disaster. The annals of popular resistance in America—in which turmoil and disruption have historically been the only means for achieving economic equality and social justice—teach us that without the energy of youth organized in the streets, there is little chance of progressive change. Culturally, what we are witnessing in the phenomenon of the neohipster is pattern exhaustion, which paleoanthropologists define as that moment in Stone Age societies when the patterns on pottery no longer advance. Instead, old patterns are recycled. With pattern exhaustion, there can be only repetition of the great creative leaps of the past. The culture loses its forward-looking vision and begins to die.

Cry Out!
It is August again, one year later, and my daughter is back in town. She brings with her a gift from Paris: a little book, barely a pamphlet, published in French under the title Indignez-Vous! which translates as “Cry Out!” or “Get Indignant!” or, perhaps more accurately, “Get Pissed Off!” It sold 600,000 copies in France when it was published last spring.

The author is a ninety-three-year-old French diplomat named Stéphane Hessel, who, during World War II, trained with the Free French Forces and British secret service in London, parachuted into Vichy France ahead of invading Allied troops in 1944, fought in the Resistance on his native soil, was captured by the Gestapo, and did time in two concentration camps. In “Cry Out!” Hessel reminds us that among the goals of the fight, as stated by the National Council of the Resistance following the defeat of Nazism, was the establishment in France of “a true economic and social democracy, which entails removing large-scale economic and financial feudalism from the management of the economy.” “This menace,” he writes—the menace of the fascist model of finance feudalism—“has not completely disappeared.” He warns that in fact “the power of money, which the Resistance fought so hard against, has never been as great and selfish and shameless as it is now.”

For the One Percenters are a global threat, found in every city where the technocratic managers of global capital seek to make money without being productive. They are in Moscow, London, Tokyo, Dubai, Shanghai. They threaten not merely the well-being of peoples but the very future of Earth. The system of short-term profit by which the One Percenters enrich themselves—a system that they have every interest in maintaining and expanding—implies everywhere and always the long-term plundering of the global commons that gives us sustenance, the poisoning of seas and air and soil, the derangement of ecosystems. A tide of effluent is the legacy of such a system. An immense planetwide inequality is its bequest, the ever-expanding gap between the few rich and the many poor.

Therefore, cry out—though the hour is late.

What is needed is a new paradigm of disrespect for the banker, the financier, the One Percenter, a new civic space in which he is openly reviled, in which spoiled eggs and rotten vegetables are tossed at his every turning. What is needed is a revival of the language of vigorous old progressivism, wherein the parasite class was denounced as such. What is needed is a new Resistance. We face, as Hessel describes, a system of social control “that offers nothing but mass consumption as a prospect for our youth,” that trumpets “contempt for the least powerful in society,” that offers only “outrageous competition of all against all.”

“To create is to resist,” writes Hessel. “To resist is to create.”

Such creativity, alas, is unlikely in New York. The city is regressing, and this sparks no protest from its people. Too many New Yorkers, it appears, want to join the One Percenters, want the all-or-nothing billion dollars. New York City, once looked upon as a crowning achievement of our civilization, one of its most progressive cities, is now the vanguard for the most corrosive tendencies in society. My daughter would probably do better to forget about this town.

[To read the author’s postscript, written since the occupation of Wall Street began, see Orion’s blog.]

Christopher Ketcham writes for Vanity Fair, Harper’s, and GQ. He lives in Brooklyn, NY, and Moab, Utah, and is currently writing a book about secession movements in the Northeast.

Comments

  1. You would have been spot on two weeks ago. #OccupyWallStreet has changed everything.

  2. I am so depressed and feel beyond helpless – outnumbered, out -philosophized, outflanked. Barely hanging on and powerless.

  3. Excellent writing by someone who is a historian of culture NYC and quite the wordsmith. Impressive knowledge of the 1% and their sociopathic affects on the rest of us. The information and insight provide the context for developing a sustainable movement.

  4. Well said, Chris. The Amster-damning of NYC has been apparent for some time.

  5. An insightful article. I have been in and out of NYC since 1970 and have seen many changes, none of them for the better. I had to leave 3 neighborhoods–two in Brooklyn, one in Harlem–because of the influx of the one percenters. After the third round and tired of working 7 days per week just to make ends meet, I had enough. I moved back to my original home town. I visited NYC recently and went to see a few things with friends. It was while I was walking through Chelsea Market that I realized that I was indeed walking through a Disney-like city, not a real one. It left me with such a sad feeling. I miss my city.

  6. Very timely article. I’ve been sensing much of it but have not had the historical perspective or statistics.

    Could the author, or someone here, do a more basic explanation of how the One Percenter’s wealth actually increases from the financial manipulations?

    Most of us are not invested in Wall Street and as the article says, most people’s incomes have been going down. Where does all the money come from and exactly how does it get transferred to the One Percenters?

    I’d like to be more knowledgeable about this and articulate as well.

    Thanks!

  7. That was an excellent anecdote regarding Anthony – I hope he is still hale and hearty.

    It has been calculated that if financial transactions had been taxed at 1% for the year of 2010 alone, the amount accrued would have exceeded thirty-seven quadrillion dollars.

    Now, just imagine if the profits were shared as equally as the losses. The problem here is utter and abject greed; instant gratification is the current meme.

    Understand this, One Percenters – you haven’t any status more exalted than the homeless persons you step over on the way to your daily coke binges. Your bonuses are undeserved. You haven’t done a bloody thing to earn them; you add nothing to our fair city, and no one but your coke dealers and your call girls will miss you when you’re gone.

  8. Look what’s happening out in the streets
    Got a revolution Got to revolution
    Hey I’m dancing down the streets
    Got a revolution Got to revolution
    Ain’t it amazing all the people I meet
    Got a revolution Got to revolution
    One generation got old
    One generation got sold
    This generation got no destination to hold
    Pick up the cry
    Hey now it’s time for you and me
    Got a revolution Got to revolution
    Come on now we’re marching to the sea
    Got a revolution Got to revolution
    Who will take it from you
    We will and who are we
    We are volunteers of America

    wall street…top 1%…corporate amerika…we are coming for you…and it won’t be pretty…

  9. Thanks for the excellent article and analysis. Needs to be read by everyone experiencing the decline as well as those one percenters who haven’t completely suceeded in turning off their consciences.

  10. an investment banker adviser person recently asked me how i made money. note that he did not ask me what i did for a living or what a was (doctor, lawyer, indian chief) but merely how i made money.
    i said to him that i didn’t make money; i MADE costumes and hopefully, if i made them well enough, i would EARN money and if i was smart about it, i would manage to have some money left over.
    i explained to him that members of his “profession” did indeed MAKE money out of air sometimes; they put dollar bills on a xerox machine, chanted a few incantations, waved their arms, bankrupted another country, wiped out an industry and poof- money!

    he was not too happy with me for sure. it was as though we were from different planets, so vast was the gap in our worldviews. but mine is based on reality.

    happily it does seem that at the 11th hour, perhaps the youth of NY is realizing that their futures have been gambled away by a few rich old white guys and they are congregating down at wall st where we must all join them.
    by all means, let the egg throwing begin! just make sure you buy the cheapest industrial supermarket eggs from chickens who have suffered and been treated as commodities and who’s eggs are probably filled with salmonella and not worth eating. these are the only eggs that bankers deserve, these are the eggs their short sighted system has created.
    then go forth, find yourself a real farmer (amish are good) and pay cash for real eggs raised outside the corporate system. treat yourself and support the farmer. a world that has more Farmville players than actual farmers is a world that is doomed to starve- and soon!
    pundits tell us that consumer spending drives 70% of this sick broken growth economy and that we must spend to repair the system. i have a better idea- don’t spend. every purchase you don’t make within the corporate/ banking system takes money from them. and money is their ONLY sustenance. they have no resiliency. we can bring them down; we MUST

  11. But if you re-define profits and costs a la Maslow’s eupsychian economics, it’s the 5% alpha population that counts!

  12. I have not lived in the NY metro area since the mid-seventies, so I’m the last one to ask how goes it there. Still, from my travels all over the country since then, I’d say that the tyranny of the 1% is alive and well in every major city. Hell, I’m probably one here where I live now, although by NY standards, I’m a piker. I look around at my neighbors, all nice folks, but I get the real sense they have not the first clue regarding anything outside of what to buy, what viral video to watch, or what football team to follow. Sad and pitiful.

    The wheel is still in spin though. When I saw a couple of NYC cops gas the couple of OWS protestors Sat. before last, my reaction was, “Thank you for lighting the fuse boys.” And they did. It has the potential to get very big, very fast. The amount of rage and anxiety in this culture right now is at a level I’ve never seen in my life (and I witnessed 1969)and my only frame of reference is historical: The run up to secession in the late 1850’s. By my reckoning, it is now the equivalent of 1861. That didn’t go so well for my people. Hope to vindicate that legacy this time.

  13. Article is spot on. I lived two times in NYC(it’s where my original family is from). I worked for the 1% in a purely servant capacity though I wasn’t that. The wealth and luxury were to be honest mesmerizing but I would soon find that I was just like the homeless that were scattered along the Upper East Side as I walked home from my shift as a private waiter to the coops in the Pierre.
    I saw stuff that I only understand years later, how it really works, and can only imagine now what it’s like.
    But I did have a vision once that it’s all coming down. I believe that how the reaction to the OccupyWallStreet goes will determine that. Mostly these protestors are peaceful but I studied history and I know that power doesn’t give up easily. Ever reason with an angry dog over a bone?
    Interesting times. Currently though the American masses need to feel their power. The time is late.

  14. This article struck many many chords with me. I have never lived or spent any amount of time in NYC but it doesn’t even matter. This is nationwide. I have never seen so many issues I feel strongly about wrapped into one cohesive statement – and such a rabble rousing statement as this! I graduated from a top ten ranked school of architecture (also ranked #1 in sustainability) in America mere months after the “Great Recession.” Let’s not even talk about not being paid enough – I haven’t even found a single job to enable any creative or productive pursuit since. I have such a strong a desire to make the world a better place but there is no longer any way to do so and still pay the rent. No outlet to plug into as well as put food in my belly. Being a young person myself I can relate with the apathy of my generation on many levels, but after reading this article the cold basement I share is turning into a place of heated creativity. Thank you for the perspective and the slap in the face. I hope it’s enough.

  15. As your lucidity reached its highest point, and your message detailed for the masses, take heart in knowing that #occupywallstreet and #occupyeverywhere has arisen to answer your call for the very same reason you point out here with such clarity.

    We are not asleep. We simply needed a moment of clarity. Thank you for this.

  16. The one-percenters have the perfect mayor in Bloomberg. The uber-representative of their class, its privilege and arrogance.

  17. In order to make his point, the author would have to define ‘income inequality’ and ‘culture’ more than anecdotally, and show from facts, not tales about ‘Anthony’, that the former had increased and the latter had declined in New York, but that something different had happened somewhere else. Maybe all that the author says is true, but he hasn’t shown us anything; all we have is the good old New York City game of complaining that the city has gone to the dogs, which I’ve heard people playing since I was a child.

  18. I suppose it would entirely depend on major variables but briefly, once discovered, Bohemia is colonized quickly. Then, also briefly, most of modern culture after 1918 is mental illness on display so I see no reason for NYC to not mirror the sickness. Actually that which is not mental illness was funded by the CIA -see the book Cultural Cold War where you learn how Abstract Expressionism rose to the top with Rockefeller money. How much bad art does a city require? How much good art do rentiers need? Commerce, ladies and gentlemen is the sole arbiter of the marketable taste. If your philharmonic is not listened too the reason is no one needs the STATUS at a price they seek to charge. The same with Theater. Cut the cost and demand will spike. As far as creating anything, New York has always imported talent. Yes from time to time locals born and bred accomplished great things, but often not in New York at first.
    This is not to disagree about the role of Finance capital, only to argue that it has been a long wave decline, possibly commencing with Greenwhich Village in the 20’s. Every generation finds it’s footing on the junk heap of history, only now, we see that in order to get a ddecent footing people have to be pushed harder than before. Yes now Americans from all social classes can fully appreciate the message of La Boheme was about poverty, illness and death and not music.

  19. Dear Friends and Colleagues,

    “We’ve doubled the world’s food production several times before in history, and now we have to do it one more time,” said Jonathan A. Foley, a researcher at the University of Minnesota. “The last doubling is the hardest. It is possible, but it’s not going to be easy.”

    Please consider the following questions about the statements above from my facebook friend, John Foley.

    What do you think John means by the words, “The last doubling?” If “last” means the last in a succession of doublings, then how many more doublings of world food production do you believe the Earth can sustain? Or does his deployment of the word “last” mean the final doubling of world food production because he recognizes already that a planet with the size, composition and ecology of Earth cannot reasonably and sensibly be expected to sustain any more doublings? When John reports, “The last doubling…. is possible, but it’s not going to be easy.”, does he express doubt about the Earth’s capacity to sustain even the doubling he believes is possible? What is the probability the Earth cannot sustain the doubling John believes is possible?

    What is the probability that the effort made to “double the world’s food production” beginning now will lead to the radical dissipation of Earth’s finite resources and irreversible degradation of Earth’s ecology to the extent that our planetary home will be made unfit for children everywhere to inhabit?

    How is Earth to be protected from the consequences of doubling the world’s food production: from outrageous per capita overconsumption and excessive individual hoarding of natural resources; from soon to become unsustainable overproduction leading to suffocating pollution and uncontrollable climate destabilization; and from unbridled overpopulation activities. All of which are adamantly advocated and recklessly pursued by many too many movers and shakers (aka, One Percenters, self-proclaimed masters of the universe, little kings in pin-stripped suits, garish emperors with no clothes) on our watch?

    Sincerely,

    Steve

  20. Great article. I particularly connect with the idea that financial “products” are illusions and carry little to no social value. However, while I share the author’s feelings of frustration toward the lack of outrage from recent generations toward this situation, I think it is overly simplistic to focus blame on the younger generation for not being “pissed off” enough. Indeed, if the angst of counterculture in the past was so “true” and genuine, I would question why the situation has grown worse for the current generation of youth. Clearly, the diffuse efforts of the “true” hipsters did not result in any tangible, or lasting, societal change either. When you speak of the large scale labor movements of the 1800’s and 1920’s-30’s you can see concrete gains in working conditions, wages, child labor and saftey laws, etc.. Where exactly is the legacy of change that can be attributed to the great hipster generation which is so revered in this article? To me, this is the problem with all “counterculture” movements. The creativy is inwardly focused and does not seek to engage with the dominant forces at hand in any truly meaningful ways. I contend that it is EASY to be pissed off; to carry signs and write protest songs. What is hard is trying to raise children in a culture that doesn’t value family needs. I would say that both the financial nihilism and cultural revolution to which the author refers are born of extreme individualism, carried out in the name of different values. There is no progress because the debate is dichotimized and any middle ground is viewed as failure or weakness.
    I have two children. I have no desire for wealth, for amassing “things”…but I do want my children to have parks to play in, to have clean clothes, to have nutritious food to eat. I feel like this article sings the praises of a lifestyle that is not feasible for me, as the only solution to economic disparity. I just wonder if the truth is somewhere in the middle.
    That said, an excellent article to being the discussion!

  21. It’s too bad he throws youth culture under the bus, preferring the good old 1980’s days of punk and hip hop in NYC. I’d remind him that in 1980, punk and hip hop were as well-maligned as today’s so-called “hipsters.” But maybe he won’t have to wait 20 years to reconsider this statement:

    “Look not to the youthful counterculture to challenge this madness. I am thinking here of the phenomenon of New York’s postmodern ‘hipster.'”

    Actually, let’s look to them, because they are camped on wall street protesting the very thing you are writing about!

    Anyway, it is an insightful article and up here in the Berkshires we are all too aware of the influence of the rich as we are the bucolic playground of this aristocracy. They not only jack up rents all over NYC, but their economic influence pervades from Vermont to the Adirondacks to the Berkshires to the Hudson Valley, as income inequality makes it so that the top 1% exert influence over a vast geographic region relegating it to a resort where all we who live here can do is hope to pull a meager wage serving them in some fashion.

    I think a hipster said it best: “NY I love you but you’re bringing me down.”

  22. You might think about asking those union chiefs where their pension funds are invested.

  23. I didn’t read the whole column because it’s pretty long, but one thing struck me which represents what I dislike about your mentality. You wrote “these top wealth recipients… took for themselves close to 44 percent of all income in New York .” As if the money was just lying around and they took an unequal share of it. They brought the money here. Without them there would be a lot less money going around NYC. I’m not going to say they deserve the money but if you tax the money away you will tax them away. (btw most financial activities on wall street are beneficial to society)

  24. JD on Oct 6 said…

    “They brought the money here.”

    No, they invented it out of thin air.

    “Without them there would be a lot less money going around NYC.”

    No, without them there would be a lot more humanity going around NYC.

    “…if you tax the money away you will tax them away.”

    That’s the idea.

    “…most financial activities on wall street are beneficial to society.”

    OK, so we’re just indulging in irony now? Fair enough, very amusing.

  25. We need to talk about elitism not just in the sense of the 1% but in the sort of cultural and intellectual elitism we find in the academy, here in these pages, and practically everywhere. We are a flawed species. It’s just that some are more flawed than others.

    Having said that, Brendon here states: >>Where exactly is the legacy of change that can be attributed to the great hipster generation which is so revered in this article?<>Look not to the youthful counterculture to challenge this madness<< Say what?? They started the Occupation of Wall Street! With all this text, what exactly are you saying??

  26. Obviously, Mr. Ketcham’s piece was written and published before the recent developments on the OWS front. For his failure to predict that, I think he can be forgiven. Those with most at stake have been remarkably slow to wake up and organize. Still, the point is, it appears to finally be happening.

  27. You neglected one major point: children. San Francisco like New York City has become a place positively hostile to children. A place without children is dead. It’s not a city but a hospice.

    I grew up in and around San Francisco, my father worked in City Hall, the actual building. In the 70’s it was a vibrant, exiting place for children and parents. By the 90’s it was a place you moved out of if you and your partner found yourselves expecting.

    No art, no kids, you’re living in a city of the undead. Reflected again and again in the “culture” it sells.

  28. The bottom 1/2 of the top 1% has a lot of MDs, lawyers and successful small businessmen. They are usually conservative (small ‘c’) but the contribute. It’s the top 1/10th of that 1% that is the problem.
    My feeling is that unearned income should not exist. Everyone should be required to do something useful. To the extent that fiscal policies need to be set, controlled and implemented, that should be done by a political entity answerable to the public. No person(s) should be allowed to accrue money sufficient to control government or the well-being of others.

  29. Dear Mr. Ketcham:

    I am grateful for your forceful criticism of financial and economic inequality in “The Reign of the One Percenters.” You are right to cry out that something must be done, and that we must no longer tolerate this burgeoning inequality if we value our community, society, and world. Thank you for voicing this in no uncertain terms.

    However, I am gravely concerned by points in this article where you seem to give-in to the scapegoat metanarrative.

    You write, referring to the arguments of Richard Wilkinson, that you see in young professionals “the embrace of materialistic excess that, alas, has no future except in the assured destruction of Planet Earth and of every means of a sane survival.”

    “What is needed,” you write, “is a new civic space in which he is openly reviled, in which spoiled eggs and rotten vegetables are tossed at his every turning. What is needed is a revival of vigorous old progressivism, wherein the parasite class was denounced as such.”

    This makes it sound as though if we use wealth as a device for distinguishing a minority of people in our society as NOT LIKE THE REST OF US–if we characterize them as a non-human, bloodsucking contagion–then we will be justified in treating these people as non-people who do not deserve dignity, but vituperative contumely.

    I do not believe that this procedure can or will lead to the objectives that you say you desire of a just, humane, and culturally vibrant society. René Girard has argued convincingly that such scapegoating only perpetuates a cycle of violence through which we distract ourselves from having to think about and confront the ways that WE ARE IDENTIFIED WITH THOSE WE VILLAINIZE.

    This cycle of violence can only be broken by honestly and rationally addressing the destructive choices that we as people–all of us–are making. Would this kind of inclusive confrontation imply sweeping structural changes in our legislation and financial systems? I believe it would. Would it also imply a sweeping transformation in our understanding of ourselves as “normal” participants in society? Undoubtably.

    Yes, the institutions must change, but they will not change for the better so long as we evade open dialogue by pretending that only a few of us–who can be conveniently distinguished and expunged–are responsible for the destructive choices we make on a daily basis.

    Yours sincerely,
    Sarah E. Willer

  30. People are beginning to realize that everybody requires a decent standard of living.Now, you must define what a decent standard of living is. Is it the sort of life followed by most Kenyans? A simple home,no electricity,no power source other than firewood,charcoal,no motor vehicles or public transport,no running water?Or does it consist of five television sets,three cars,three houses,a yacht,and a vacation somewhere around the world whenever you want it? Those are,if you like, the two extremes. It is quite clear that greater numbers would survive at the standard of living typical of the Third World, but if everyone tried to aspire to the Western end of the scale, it is quite clear,too,that there are too many people. You couldn’t maintain them. Both sides have to shift,to meet in the middle. Now how do you bring about a reduction in the standard of living is another question.Presumably this will emerge from a realization that the resources now enjoyed in the West are increasingly obtainable only OUTSIDE of the West. Utilization of these resources will have to proceed on an equitable basis. If you take them by force the consequences will be nuclear war. So if you are not going to take them by force,you have to take them peacefully, and that means we will reach an understanding which will result in a shift- a reduction of the consumption on your part. And this will lead to an improvement.

  31. Mr. Ketchum
    As I near age 80, there isn’t too much fight left, but if I had one wish for the future, it would be that every person in America could read this article. Not just for the facts, but for the social understanding. As the elite class levitates, without comprehension, the historical cycles of revolution become more real, and possible.
    Thank you for putting into words, what many of understood, but could never put together. A breath of fresh air, and a sprig of hope.

  32. Ketcham’s piece is breathtakingly right on. I’m just waiting for one of the Republican candidates to say, “Let them eat cake!” like Marie Antoinette.
    Thanks from here in Colorado.

  33. Our problem is derived from having a corporate plutocracy and not a democratic country…..

    We face a colossal, human-induced global predicament. Emerging and converging ecological challenges we have chosen to ignore rather than acknowledge during my lifetime is in large part the result of the way either silence or else politically correct BS is employed by ‘the powers that be’ and their many absurdly enriched minions in the mass media to prevail over science. Hysterical blindness, willful deafness and elective mutism of knowledgeable human beings with feet of clay rule the world every bit as much as malignant narcissism, pathological arrogance and extreme foolishness of greedmongering masters of the universe and their overly educated sycophants rule the world. This pernicious situation is as intolerable as it is dangerous to future human well being and environmental health.

  34. What is the difficulty in getting the population altogether to come to some sort of agreement where all this exploitation of our economy and environment is leading? Whatever may be the source of it, there is at present within the human race a fearsome capacity for destructiveness which seems irreversible.Why arn’t we frightened by the threats to ourselves from our own actions in destroying our own habitat? Animals have ready-made, instinctive, successful behavior patterns to call up. If we had them, we would never, never engage in war. But by becoming human, we get all these other attributes: avarice, jealousy, ambition..and along with these we get the feeling that we can cope with our society. We believe we don’t need to rely on instinct..and this just has proved not to be true. We’ve created a monster here..our own social-political-economic organization that we are obviously not capable of handling. i think it’s fair to say that we lack the intelligence to cope with the situation here on this planet that our intelligence has put together. In the short time we’ve been here, evolution could never have evolved us in ways to be able to handle these rapidly accelerating complexities.

  35. Mr. Ketchum deftly accounts for the tidal wave of logic, passionate foam atop it, which began in NYC and,to include Portland, continued to Oregon’s state capital, Salem (my home town). I enjoy the ways in which,ironically, that word likewise flourishes in the financial and corporate worlds.
    One Percenters wish to avoid AFFLUENZA, the virus of EGO, after millenia, still so widespread — globally. We will avoid it! I write this as a retired English teacher in Portland public schools. And I hope to relax under the full moon tonight if it’s not raining. PEACE be with us and and always!

  36. Like everyone whose insights and feelings to date have appeared on this crucial topic, I wished to make mine reflect the decades of teaching English at all levels. With any luck, I hoped that my choice of words would reflect my love of poetry, that of others and my own published to date free of charge.

    As today begins, I failed to rigorously proofread for errors, the effort I managed to transmit to most of my students. However, it is MILLENNIA and the second “AND” is of no use or value, pun intended.

  37. “the evidence shows that healthier and happier societies … are usually those with more equal distribution of wealth and income.”
    This is because people judge their own level of wealth based on comparison with others rather than on any objective criteria. So when you make 30 million a year and everyone you hang out with does as well, it just seems normal.
    To play the devil’s advocate, this applies to you and me as well. Globally, “the 1%” refers to the richest 70 million people in the world. I’ll go out on a limb and guess that I and virtually every person who reads Orion fall into this class.
    I think it’s perfectly appropriate and necessary to fight against economic inequality. But let’s not kid ourselves about where we fall on this spectrum.

  38. 113,000 homeless people differs somewhat from the city’s estimate: 5,000. A number that’s widely acknowledged to be off by perhaps a factor of 2 or 3 — not 20 or 30.

    This piece reeks of the same gentrification whining that’s been echoing since 1981, and the sort of stupid nostalgia you hear for the “grittier” city of the 1970s. Despite some ambitious (and statistically dubious) claims, not many New Yorkers actually wish for those days back. And it’s a bit fogey-ish to claim that the city is creatively bankrupt, or that artistic types are fleeing in droves. Last I checked they were simply moving a bit deeper into Brooklyn — a place you should consider visiting. Halsey stop’s getting fun these days.

    And it’s tough for me to feel too angry at Anthony’s landlord. Is he obliged to stay in the same house forever because his tenant can’t fend for himself? Yes, that story’s tragic, but it’s a case for beefing up social services, not for setting fire to the greater Cobble Hill area to return it to some half-remembered heaven of malaise and poverty.

  39. I’m interested in the FPI document, but upon looking around their website I couldn’t find it. Could you provide a link? Thanks! Interesting read!

  40. Megan, if you search the words – Grow Together Pull Further Apart fiscal – in Google or the search engine of your choice, you’ll find that report.

    Germane to this topic, Orion’s hosting a discussion on “Getting Beyond Growth” with two leading thinkers on the topic, 10/18: more info here, it’s free, but registration is required:

    http://is.gd/4U8Jqu

    Erik
    Orion

  41. Please consider that during my lifetime many experts may not have known enough about what they were talking about when they spoke of human population dynamics and all causes of the human overpopulation of Earth. Their research appears not to be scientific. What I have been trying to communicate regarding the human population does not issue from ideological or totalitarian thinking, or from group-think for that matter. It is not derived from what is politically convenient, economically expedient, socially agreeable, religiously tolerable and culturally prescribed. I have wanted to openly discuss the best available science. That is all. It appears the generally accepted thinking of a surprisingly large number of so-called experts in the field of population dynamics appears to have an unscientific foundation. Their preternatural thought and theorizing about the population dynamics of the human species appears to be both incomplete and mistaken. Most disquieting of all, a widely shared and consensually validated theory about a demographic transition four decades from now is directly contradicted by unchallenged scientific research. As a consequence, and it is a pernicious consequence, woefully inadequate thinking and fundamentally flawed theorizing has been broadcast during my lifetime and continues to be broadcast everywhere by the mainstream media as if it is not only science but the best available scientific evidence. The implications of this unfortunate behavior, inasmuch as it appears to be based upon a colossal misperception of what could somehow be real regarding the human population, appear profound. This failure of nerve has served to slow momentum needed for a confrontation with a formidable global predicament that appears to become more difficult to overcome year by year.

    In their elective mutism regarding an astonishing error, are first class professional researchers with expertise in population dynamics behaving badly by allowing the “ninety-nine percenters” to be misguided and led down a primrose path by the “one percenters”? The power of silence on the part of knowledgeable human beings with feet of clay is dangerous because research is being denied that appears to shed light upon a dark, non-recursive biological problem, the understanding of which appears vital to future human well being and environmental health. Too many experts appear to be ignoring science regarding the human population and instead consciously through their silence consenting to the leviathan scale and unbridled expansion of global overproduction, overconsumption and overpopulation activities that are being adamantly advocated and relentlessly pursued by greedmongering masters of the universe, the tiny minority among us who are primarily responsible for ravaging the Earth, ruining its environs and reducing its fitness for habitation by the children. If this assessment of human behavior is indeed a fair representation of what is happening on our watch, then the desire to preserve the status quo, mainly the selfish interests of ‘the powers that be’, could be at least one basis for so much intellectually dishonest and morally bereft behavior. Could it be that the outrageous per capita overconsumption, large-scale corporate overproduction and unrestricted overpopulation activities of the human species worldwide cannot continue much longer on a planet with the size, composition and ecology of a finite and frangible planet like Earth?

    If Goethe was correct, “We do not have to visit a madhouse to find disordered minds; our planet is the mental institution of the universe”; if Einstein was right to say, “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity.” But what is much more widespread than the actual stupidity is the playing stupid, turning off your ear, not listening, not seeing”; if Freud was on the right track when recognizing, “America is a mistake, a giant mistake”, then the human community has a big problem that is being denied by those who claim to have expertise about the human population, the world we inhabit and the viability of the American-dominated global political economy.

  42. Audit the FED.

    End the FED.

    Learn how to be FED.

    Only 1% of our population grows the food that together the other 99% consume.

    That is a concern or it may be the solution to the over population, eh?

  43. Congratulations, I am a successful small business owner who was confident in the way I saw things. Few people can change my views and you did it, congratulations you gave me much to think about. I applaud you ability to identify the problem and not force feed me a one sided solution. The bankers and the politicians (Dem and Rep) who have enabled them in pillaging the middle class are at blame here. If you want support of people like me plz understand that 250k a year income does not make me rich. Tax wealth not income. By taxing wealth you preserve the rich and stop others from becoming weathly. A 5% wealth tax would provide huge revenues and force the uber rich to put there money to work thereby providing jobs and great opprotunity.

  44. A sad story, all the sadder because, like a Greek tragedy, the protagonists don’t understand how things keep getting worse, even though the audience can see every mistake from the gallery.

    New York, a great city that I could never afford to live in, seems poised to kill off its one remaining source of external revenue. You who whine about how hard it is to live in New York would never deign to move to more modest towns like where I live; you may be “poor”, but you’re not so desperate that you would accept anything less than the Big Apple. You are the 3% (9 of 300 million of Americans) pretending to be the 99%.

    To understand the story all that is needed is to read the litanies of muscular vocations and trades in bygone eras listed at exhaustive length by the author (dockworkers, ironworkers, shipbuilders…) and compare them with the now-suffering 99% also listed by the author: the fireman, the policeman, the teacher… I won’t even twist the knife by mentioning the artsie types listed elsewhere, the “creative class”. What is the key difference to a city between an ironworker and a cop, between shipbuilding and teaching? Primarily this: shipbuilders produced products that brought revenue into the city from the rest of America, and from the world at large. Cops, firemen, and teachers provide internal services – overhead – things that need to get done, yes, but not things that earn revenue from outside the city with which to pay for the city’s imports. If the city as a whole is viewed as an enterprise, it has lost almost all of its core value chain. If it is viewed as a country, it has lost its export businesses. Well, almost all of them, but there is one left: high finance.

    The author would see the city kill that off too.

    The core error is apparent in statements like “These top wealth recipients – let’s call them the One Percenters – took for themselves close to 44% of all income in New York during 2007”. This is completely wrong: they did not take that income out of New York, they took it from elsewhere and brought it into New York. Failing to understand this essential difference is the key to understanding the tragedy of New York, and perhaps also in the long run of America itself.

    Consider, for instance, Warren Buffett and his government-brokered sweetheart deal to lend money at 10% to General Electric. Did Buffet “take” that income out of Omaha (where he operates)? No. If that income has a geographic source, it is Erie PA and upstate NY and all the places the GE operates in. Warren Buffett, like all 1%-ers, brings money into his community from the outside, he does not take his community’s money. The same is true of New York’s 1%-ers, at least by and large.

    You cannot all be artists and poets, or you will all starve. You also cannot all be teachers and cops and firemen, or once again you will all starve. Collectively, as a city, you must earn your keep – bring in outside revenue with which to finance your orgy of consumption. This means that you have to respect and cultivate a vibrant export economy, where exporting is understood relative to the city boundary, not necessarily any international boundary. In New York, today, that export economy is your financial sector. Chase it away at your peril.

  45. Finance produces nothing. It may facilitate the production of other things but it represents a parasitic cost to those enterprises. In the U.S. the finance sector has grown so large that it is killing the host.

    Time for a purge.

  46. Woody, where are you when we really need ya?

    Reading about Pete Seeger marching with the OWSers last week, at the age of 92, brought into focus just how much the current grievances reflect those he voiced in his prime years, and those of his friend an contemporary, Woody Guthrie. Really, Seeger has never stopped voicing them. Their dream of One World Union for all the workers of the world, before it was steamrolled by the Red Scare and McCarthyism, is stirring again. You can hear in their words from those times the same condemnation of the money lenders and the war profiteers. People can only be exploited for so long before their resentment boils over, and it looks like that time has arrived (again). The American worker, and now the International worker, appear to be waking up.

    As for all the Playaz on Wall Street, and those here who defend them, I’d just say they might be long overdue a lesson in social utility, supply and demand. When a service industry like banking (which it is, despite the banking sector’s wish that it were something more or different) starts to deliver acceptable results to only a small fraction of the population, at the expense of the vast majority, its days are numbered. It is a large beast, and the death of it will be protracted, but make no mistake about it: It has begun. Let’s hope that we don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater when it does come time to reconstruct what banking used to be, and could be again.

  47. Not 100% where I stand on the 1%ers. I do believe they have the right to protest when and where ever they want, but I feel its more of a chance for alot of people to jump on a free food cart ride and not work but act like they are standing up for something.

  48. Although it is perhaps intellectually satisfying to read a detailed breakdown of our economic situation, it has been blatantly obvious that the wealthy and powerful are destroying everything worthwhile in our lives. This is so simply true that the only mystery is why the vast majority of people do not see it for what it is. Without this simple awareness nothing meaningful will ever be done to correct the situation.
    The solution to this problem is to make these thieves return he money, land, oil, etc. that they have stolen from all of us. And then to put in place strong laws to ensure that a few people will never again be allowed to pillage and abuse their fellow citizens. Getting this done will not be easy, but please understand that there is no other real alternative. Compromising with these crooks is what has gotten us to where we are now.

  49. What a change in a month..from a completely ‘peaceful’ expression of frustration..no leading to a bigger movement..fear from the establishment/politicians/media..and police violence..are we in the Middle East? Is this Libya,Syria,Egypt..where the people express their frustrations and get fired upon and blasted with canisters of tear gas>?..People are beginning to realize that everybody requires a decent standard of living..Now then, you must define what a decent standard of living is.how about a simple home, electricity,running water,one car,..or does it consist of 5 TV sets,three cars,three houses,a yacht,and a vacation somewhere in the world whenever you want it..? tese are the two extremes…greater numbers would survive at the ‘simple’ standard of living- the resources are there at the moment. But, if everyone tried to aspire to the extreme end of the scale, it is quite clear, too, that there are too many people. You couldn’t maintain them..Both sides have got to shift , to meet in the middle.Now..for the ‘wealthy’..how do you you bring about a reduction in the standard of living??..We need to reach an understanding which will result in a shift- a reduction of the consumption on their part. And this in itself will lead to a peaceful, charitable, compassionate improvement.

  50. I thought this article was fairly interesting, but put much, if not all of the blame on new york financial sector – the “suits”. What about the portion of the 1% that were born with money or made a lot in some other manner and continue to invest in these schemes – the ones who aren’t the wall street “suits”, but who lend their money for which the suits scheme and make millions? All of the 1% at all cost want to keep their wealth, so contribute to this. The blame really shouldn’t be placed only on the men and women doing the calculating and scheming and betting. If everyone really cared, they would pull all of their money from banks and these awful investors that you speak of wouldn’t have anything to invest. Am I wrong? and if so, how?

  51. Since this article was written before OWS, its author’s pessimism (which I shared) seems almost anachronistic. However, his perspective on the One Percenter is spot-on! His articles illustrates why the OWS movement is necessary and its cause worthy. The Tea Party was, for me, who witnessed unrest during the Vietnam War and Watergate within my lifetime, the lowest point as an American. I had actually given up on my country and lost hope for it. Now, at long last, we may have reached a tipping point where the Right will be tipped over the edge and into the dustbin of history after 30 years of domination.

  52. It is a shame that ‘the brightest and the best’ among us have perpetrated a sham on the human community and, as a result, are ravagint the world we inhabit and turning it into a shambles.

    The idea that our descendants would make the same colossal mistakes we are making now, because knowledgeable people in our time chose to remain hysterically blind, deaf and electively mute rather than acknowledge science, is anathema to me as well as absolutely unacceptable to those I respect. If such an impossible thing was to occur, would a conscious determination not to fulfill both a responsibility to science and a duty to warn humanity be tantamount to the greatest failure of nerve by the brightest and best in human history? If aware and responsible human beings were to be granted the opportunity “to will one thing”, let it be that we share widely an adequate enough understanding of all extant science which discloses the population dynamics of the human species to the family of humanity, so those who come after us do not take the “primrose path” we are trodding now, a path that has been adamantly advocated and relentlessly pursued at the behest of the most arrogant, avaricious, foolhardy, wealthy and powerful movers and shakers on our watch, a path to confront some unimaginable, human-driven sort of colossal global ecological wreckage.

  53. I eagerly read this historically detailed analysis, appreciating the author’s breadth and depth.
    But I was ultimately disappointed by Chris’ self-admitted impotent rage, his demonizing of “the enemy” instead of offering constructive solutions.
    I hope Orion can find more hopeful perspectives to offer.

  54. We must learn to welcome the bringers of bad news, even if it is the worst possible news. Hiding from feelings of impotent rage and hopelessness by ignoring or criticizing those who are desperately trying to awaken the sleeping multitudes does not serve our constructive intention. Only those fully awakened to the dire nature of our situation will be capable and energized to find real deep solutions. Let the prophets of our doom sing their songs; many have yet to heed their messages.

  55. Our complacency and the watered down half-hearted solutions it prefers is the worst enemy of radical, effective measures.

  56. Not to beat a dead horse but why didn’t the editors of Orion look around a bit and see that the “beginning of the end” was near? Instead, we get an eloquent look at the way things are in NYC. Instant history for the most part. Instead we should be looking through the dustbin of history at system-changing mass movements for their unifying commitments and successful efforts at creating political space and decolonizing our deeply pathological assumptions. First we dream a better world, then we say it out loud, then we struggle to build it. I’d say we’re in the shout-out phase now, transitioning to the long labor of building the possible world of our dreams.

  57. Sam — The beginning of the end was thousands of years ago, when the ill-considered project of civilization was launched. If you want a take on that, read the columns in Orion by Jensen. The “system-changing mass movements” you mention are just a recurring part of the show, and have helped get us where we are now. We need something a lot more radical than a rerun of those failed “solutions”. That’s my opinion. Thanks for your input.

  58. Jeannie and others, I find myself fighting despair by returning to the undeniable fact that the world is only just waking up from history. Even today, it is ruled by fear, greed, and superstition. Despite that fact, we are marching inexorably toward enlightenment and peace. The reign of the 1 percenters will slow but not stop this path! Peace to all!

  59. Every city goes through change as new money converts what there was before. As the old interviewee told our writer, the mafia was present even then. We simply don’t have anyone pining for whatever people there were living where the newly rich Mafiosi bought homes.

    There is nothing different about these days except our observers here get to see the changes first hand. There is nothing more evil about cash today than there was before.

    However, today’s observers have been taught to feel somehow cheated that capitalism means different results. No other system has made it easier for hard work to improve a person’s life, but it truly should frighten us that so many think they deserve to have more, or to have things stay put, without their learning to make their own living.

    The only alternative ends up with every single apparatchik being given their own concrete box to occupy which is just like everyone else’s box, and anything better is handed out to friends of the king or tyrant or supreme leader. We need to make our choice, and, OBTW, grow up.

  60. Steve — I find it truly frightening that you have been somehow taught to feel that the capitalist system which is destroying our world has no alternative worth trying. Do you really want to live in a world where a tiny elite exploit and enslave everyone else? And, OBTW, wake up and look around at what capitalism hath wrought.

  61. We face a culture of silence with regard to the growth of the human population on Earth. As a consequence, a colossal, human-induced tragedy is being precipitated in our time. But this is not the whole problem being utterly avoided. Even among top-rank scientists with appropriate expertise, extant scientific research of human population dynamics and overpopulation is being willfully ignored. Attractive preternatural thought and specious ideologically-driven theory by non-scientists, namely demographers and economists, about the nature of the human population have been widely shared and consensually validated in the mainstream media during my lifetime. This unscientific thought and theory is not only misleading but also directly contradicted by scientific evidence toward which first-class scientists have “turned a blind eye” for way too long. That is to say we have two challenges to confront and ovecome. The first is the culture of silence. The second is the deliberate collusion within a sub-culture of experts who have determined not to acknowledge, examine and report on vital scientific research. Some scientists have referred to “the first challenge” as revealing the facts of “the last taboo”. What I am asking scientists to do is address “the last of the last taboos” by reviewing and reporting findings of unchallenged scientific research of human population dynamics from two outstanding scientists, Hopfenberg and Pimentel(2001), Hopfenberg(2003, 2009). At least to me, it appears the denial of the population issue by people everywhere and the denial of scientific research of human population dynamics/overpopulation by scientists with adequate expertise have resulted in a betrayal of humanity and science itself. This failure of intellectual honesty and moral courage among so many so-called experts with responsibilities to assume and duties to perform is as unfortunate as it is unprecedented. A good enough future for children everywhere appears to be at risk on our watch and we are bearing witness now and here, I suppose, to the way silence ‘kills’ the world.

  62. The population question has been a topic since the early 1970s. People screamed and hollered that we wouldn’t even BE here by 1990. Somehow we survive. The poor nations teem with the unfed, unparented, unmedicated, and uneducatedults14. However, we could, say, tax the productive nations to the point of their destruction and the Indias and Indonesias would still keep churning the babies out.
    About the only answers that have ever worked is education and religious evangelism. If we were to free up arable land for families/clans to farm, it would at least stabilize these populations. Once the fear of losing all one’s children to disease or war is relieved, birth rates fall, as in Mexico and much of the Arab world.

  63. Mr. Ketcham, I found your article to be quite provocative. You speak passionately on an issue that is characterizing this new era and locate it in an historical context — very helpful. Additionally, you highlight what clearly are very real, heavy and important issues: economic disparity is tragic, crippling to those holding up the upper echelons of society, and a sad injustice. Your piece read like what I imagine a revolutionary pamphlet from the French Enlightenment might have read like. Your evocative language really was quite exciting. I must confess, however, that, by the end of the article, I wasn’t quite as riled up against the “one percenters” as perhaps was intended.
    Now, don’t get me wrong here, I agree with a lot of what you say in your article: I think that our banks and corporations have a lot to answer for and should be held to a higher standard of accountability. I suppose that’s putting it rather daintily, and I know it’s more than just that, however it does seem to be fairly important. But here I am posturing…
    What I wanted to say was that, by the end of your piece, I was left feeling more frustrated than riled up. This is an issue that is deeply distressing and saddening, particularly because of its affect on society at large — the ninety-nine percent. But I suppose what I find to be as equally distressing, saddening, and now, frustrating, is the fact that people seem to be content with finding a scapegoat. Unsurprisingly, as has been the case throughout so much of history, we’ve chosen to focus our invective and rage against the gilded halls of the “one percenters.” They are after all, easy targets, sitting, perched comfortably atop large fortunes with their monopolies on money, time, and space. Humanity seems to have some sort of fetish for scapegoats; we all need to find someone, other than ourselves to blame. Herein lies my frustration: why do we persist in being satisfied with scapegoats? Why do we let our obsessive compulsive need for projected and focused blame limit the scope of our soul searching and distress?
    Who is to blame when the center cannot hold? Is this a productive question? Potentially. Why is it that we wait for the center to collapse to ask this question? I don’t know. Human nature I suppose. Something about how when everything is honkie dory, the need for such questioning becomes irrelevant I guess…
    All this is to say that, while I think such movements as the OccupyWallStreet movement can helpful in identifying where systems have collapsed and where amputation, revitalization and regeneration may be necessary, I think that they can also distract and blind people from moments of introspection too. Could it be that there is something in our culture, in American culture, that needs to change? I recognize that much of this crisis has to do with the idea of banks making utterly irresponsible, uncouth, negligible financial decisions — they should be brought to justice and held accountable — however, I have to wonder if there isn’t something bigger at play here too. I’m sure the phrase, “house of cards,” is fairly familiar term to many of us, as well as credit card debt, loans… The list could go on. I guess what I’m driving at here is that our penchant for consumerism and spending hasn’t always been conducive to the healthiest of fiscal habits.
    There, I hope some of this makes sense… Again, I want to say that I thought your article was very thought provoking and right in so many ways. Still, the frustration, the angst remains. The world has an opportunity to do some major soul searching here; we have an opportunity to soul search; I have an opportunity to soul search. Sometimes I wonder if that opportunity is at risk of being cheapened. I hope not. I hope lots of good and change comes out of the movements we are witnessing and participating in now.

  64. Zchiang — I share your concerns in a big way. The elephant — or should I say holy cow — that squats massively in our living rooms is capitalism. If ever there was an embodiment of Nemesis in our world it is this evil and destructive engine of greed and selfishness. Notwithstanding the massive propaganda put out by the lackeys of the rich to the effect that any alternatives to this fatal philosophy would be too horrible to think of, this enormous error in human thought and practice is at the root of most of our most pressing problems. Until we unmask and totally reject this doomed ideology, we will never exit from its deluding hall of mirrors into the sunlight of a world based on sharing and justice and peace.

    Unfortunately, those who have created this smoke screen of deception have gained tremendous power over our lives and minds, and will not be easy to depose. Our real task is to find means of ridding ourselves of this cancer that go to the root of the problem and excise it. Anything short of this is a tragic waste of energy. The means of transforming ourselves and vanquishing this soul destroying culture exist. The only question is whether we will awake from our repetitious trance and take the necessary actions. Although this may seem to be an unlikely outcome, it is nevertheless still possible….

  65. The small book, “Indignez Vous,” mentioned here has a companion piece written for the American situation.

    Titled “No! You Did Not Eat It!”, it draws its title from the rallying cry of the youth of Athens at Syntagma Square, and draws its content from the fact that the youth of America have had their lunch (their future) eaten by the rest of us as we slowly directed the wealth of the nation and its debt into our pockets, at their future expense.

    Like “Indignez Vous”, it calls for outrage, for action to demand and secure a rational future for our youth.

    It is free at the web site https://sites.google.com/site/americanyouthtoaction/

    Read and pass on to youth you know.

  66. We can already see that we have not a long wait to come face to face with what is happening, for we are the ones who are alive in a pivotal moment in human history, when economic and ecologic systems fail, a global empire (like a house of cards) collapses and self-proclaimed masters of the universe (who are primarily responsible for the colossal catastrophe looming before humanity) take off in private jets and yachts for secret hideaways in faraway places….come what may.

  67. No system has ever made more people better off or allowed poor workers to move up the social ranks than capitalism. All other systems leave room for a tiny share of people to provide for their own families as compared to capitalism.

    Two things:
    Capitalism will never produce equal results. Everyone will always see someone else doing better. That is how humanity has always been. Welcome to Earth!

    Also, the generation hitting adulthood now is the first who were so pampered & protected from ever having to deal with losing soccer games as kids, or being told, “NO!” or had a chance to learn how life was going to be. As soon as you found out it wasn’t all puppy dogs and lollipops, you decide a person or group has to be blamed for your indignant feelings.

    Blame no one but yourselves. The top one percent already pays HALF the income tax coming in from individuals. How much more are you asking from them? And THEN, would you risk your money and working life to keep whatever you just decided would be fair for them to keep?

  68. Steve said: “Everyone will always see someone else doing better. That is how humanity has always been. Welcome to Earth!”

    False. Humanity is at least 200,000 years old, and for most of our history as a species, we lived egalitarian, sharing lives. We would not have made it through the ice ages otherwise.

    People making millions per year while others struggle to put food on the table, or living in their cars, that is obscene.

    You say, “what more are you asking from them (the 1%)?”

    This: Declare most debt invalidated, just as the elites in Babylon used to do; start over. Create a system that does not feed vast wealth to a tiny elite per design. Remove sociopaths from power. Duh! It does not take a brainiac to see what is needed.

  69. I am really curious why my recent comment which I append below has apparently been censored?

    “I don’t know where you get your strange ideas Steve, but they lack any foundation in reality, as pleasant as they may be to the ears of an ardent capitalist. Maybe you are channeling Ayn Rand?”

  70. We haven’t seen class envy/hatred like this for decades.

    But Obama takes their money and MSNBC hawks their products.

    Oh, welll

  71. You asked: Where does all the money come from and exactly how does it get transferred to the One Percenters?

    Answer: Here’s one I can help with. Most 1%ers (line starts at $375K annual income) were born broke or of middle class and had an idea. They mostly poured all their energy and waking hours into this one idea until it caught on. Even today, most 1%ers work much more than your basic 40 hrs/wk – maybe more like 16-18 hrs a DAY.

    Or, they latched onto somebody else’s idea and put every dime they had & could borrow PLUS all their TV time and family time and vacay time into it until it started making money. They now spend hundreds of hours a year doing government tax paperwork and enyiro paperwork or pay somebody else to do it for them.

    Occasionally their workers get paid but they don’t, if thing get really tight but they know their friends would be hurt by being let go briefly. Plus, good workers are hard to find.

    HOWEVER, you have been asked to hate these terrible ogres for purposes you may not completely understand, so if you just HAVE to hate these folks you know nothing about, then go on. However, if you happen to be a Jesus person, you probably have already figured out that this sort of envy is a sin and will eat at your heart every day you carry it. Jus’ sayin’

  72. Steve — Who said anything about hating anyone? Are you setting up a little straw man? Besides those making 375K a year are still small potatoes; the ones with the weight to really scam the system, buy legislators, etc. are the one millionK per annum crowd. What a lot of us are fed up with is the system, namely capitalism. It is this immoral system that is fueling wars, mass poverty, environmental destruction, and the perversion of human values. Lets name the real problem — or are we too full of establishment propaganda to even see it?

  73. I’d take a wild guess that 95% of the wars mankind has seen the past milennium have been started by totally non-capitalist groups or states. Our worst killers – National-Socialist Germany of 1932, China, Russia, and Islam were/are all notoriously non-capitalistic. That makes me wonder if capitalist systems provide so much to so many people that they don’t rise up looking for strife, but I’m so sociologist.

    Certainly, no alternative to capitalism even comes close to providing as high a standard of living to so many people as does capitalism, the freer of government regulation and rules the better.
    Big goverment = little people.
    Big people = little gov’t.

    Those who have been out of the country the past 80 years take note: the sole campaign statement of the modern Democratic Party in the U.S. is class envy, or Hate-the-Rich. The only way to take peoples’ minds off of the monstrous things a too-large federal gov’t continually does to them is to divert them with hate of someone else, whether is is Nazis & Occupiers hating Jews, universities promoting jealousy toward Asian kids, or, most often, asking voters to feel jealous rage at the successful people in our presence who have stuff that we want the “G” to take away from to give to us.

    The poster asked about the 1%ers, not just the crooked politicians and their clients. Having known a few high acievers during my public-school career, I’d suggest most readers here would be shocked how much like them the 1%ers are. Of course, 1% of 312 million people is still a whole buncha folks.

  74. Steve — “Nazis & Occupiers hating Jews, universities promoting jealousy toward Asian kids, or, most often, asking voters to feel jealous” I don’t know where you get these whacko ideas, maybe the right wing crazies? At any rate, I feel it would be a waste of time to bother refuting such wild absurdities.

  75. Reports of Anti-Jewish hatred in & around the Occupier movement are pretty easy to find – Politico, Daily Caller, Breirbart, The Hill, The Blaze…. It isn’t that they are lining them up for the train to Buchenwald like the old bunch of Socialists, but the generation-long P.R. campaign to equate Israel, set up in a largely-deserted area in the late 1800s, is having its intended effect on marginally educated moderns.

    To follow along with the program, one thing you must ignore is that no Middle-Eastern Arab lives as well as the Arabs living in Israel.

  76. That ultra rightwing koolade can sure put some weird ideas in a person’s head. If that kind of irrational paranoia had not produced such horrific real world results in the not too distant past, one would be inclined to just shake one’s head and laugh it off. However it is far too alarming to think that people are ready to believe this nonsense.

  77. Waht could be better than capitalism? Sure, humankind will do wrong things and live to excess, but what economic system is more fair than letting people enjoy the fruits of their labor? America became great by having a minimal government structure and by keeping local things local and only the pressing national needs in Washington, D.C.

    Every forced sharing project, whether the first year of the Jamestown Colony or the Soviet Union, ended up with continual shortages, famine, and hunger.

  78. Clearly, this guy is a troll. He repeats over and over the *only* and mega-pathetic argument the elites have come up with in the face of Occupy and all the suffering their predatory ways have caused to Americans and people around the world. Class envy! Riiiight…

    Steve, do try harder. We don’t have free market or small government. What we have is socialized losses for the many and privatized profits for the few. If they announced small gov’t and free market tomorrow, all the corporate-welfare parasite would run in panic.

  79. So, do we all agree that a free and transparent capitalist system is best if we can have government sit down hard on the lawbreakers and tax cheats?

    I also suggest that IF we kept the federal gov’t small as defined in the Bill of Rights, the crooks chasing insider deals would find the old, easy way to steal (in D.C.) is closed and they now have 50 states to go beg at.

    Every governmental decision needs to be made as close to where the money is spent as possible. The guys who supervise Head Start in Augusta, Maine have no business telling Augusta, Georgia how to run their centers, right? Let the 50 states have their Dept. of Education budget money BACK so they can make their own minds up without filtering it through D.C.

  80. Any system whose net result is enriching the few at the expense of the many is a scam designed to cover the naked aggression of those few against all others. All the supposed advantages of capitalism pale in the light of the nightmare it has helped create in our fair world, not the least feature of which is the utter moral degradation of those claiming to be our leaders. Capitalist philosophy is simply thinly disguised propaganda to justify rape and pillage. Those who support these patently false ideas are helping destroy the very basis for a good society for all: loving kindness and mutual help and sharing. The whole history of mankind is the struggle between those who cherish these high spiritual ideals and the others who choose to support the selfish path of domination and violence against there fellow beings.

  81. I think, Steve, that we would all agree that an economic system that is based on autonomy, localism, and transparency would be desirable. Many of us here on this forum don’t have much (if any) faith that we can expect the bloated federal government to reform itself, or to rein in the corporate predators.

    How do you propose to rein in the gov’t?

  82. And do you agree that a desirable economic system also needs to be fair, in the sense of NOT building gross inequalities into the very design of that system that results in the rich getting richer and poor getting poorer regardless of effort? I mean by that, for example, creating money in such a way that puts us all into debt simply via money creation, or running the economy on compound interest that is unsustainable in the long run, or unloading the failure of large companies on the public?

  83. Orion: please fix the comment system. Lately, every time I post I have to do it over and over before it takes; I get an error message every time. It took me 5 times this time before it took! And by the way, isn’t it time to update the system so that it does not eat the comment, and the commenter can return to the text while trying to repost?

  84. Vera — you are not alone. I wrote Scott about a month ago about this increasingly irritating problem with posting comments. He replied that “a few people” were having this problem, and they were working on it. I wondered why the volume of comments was so sharply down, now I think this is one if not the main reasons for it.

    Scott, I would suggest that if your folks at Orion are unable to fix this, you might enlist some knowledgeable 14 year old to solve it. Otherwise, your valuable venue for environmentally concerned people to share their views may die an untimely death.

  85. Considering the idea: What system enriches the few at the expense of the many?

    Certainly Soviet-style state socialism enriched the very,very few at the cost of making poor and dis-invested the other 99.9999% of the people. Meanwhile, when capitalism is largely left along, not only do the many prosper together, but it becomes difficult for a handful, such as Vanderbilt, Duke, or Rockefeller to enrich themselves. However, humanity is a greatly diverse family, and you will NEVER get similar results whn you have varying degrees of intelligence, motivation, energy, and preparation – as well as the intangibles of knowing the right people.

    Now whether you agree with someone or not, you do a disservice to your credibility when you pull an Eric Holder and scream, “Unfairness!” or, “Racism.”
    People notice when you refuse to debate and only resort to labels.

    Q: How to keep the “G” – the Federal Gov’t in Washington, D.C. small?

    A: The Constitution-lovers would try to get as close as possible to the 1787 functions of gov’t as possible. The “G” only maintained nat’l defense, delivered the mail, maintained basic economic and justice systems, and settled any disputes between states under President Washington.

    Since then we asked the Washington, D.C. to add lots of jobs: supervise businesses and the labor situation, make individual payments to veterans, then to retirees, then to the poor, then feeding the poor, then paying for disabled people out of Soc. Security, education…. You see, all those changes had friends and fans, but every one of them not only grew gov’t but made it too powerful, to the point that the “G” now tells us how much water our toilets can use and what kind of light bulbs we can buy.

    The states could handle their gas taxes, their road-building, their educational decisions, their Head Start or whether to even have Head Start, etc.

    Reagan’s fans hoped he’d ditch the fairly new Dept. of Education, the ERA, and the Dept. of Energy and reduce what was left for Washington to do and delegate everything possible to states or even local levels of government. He concentrated instead on reducing regulations across the Federal Gov’t and lowering income taxes. That must have been the right thing to do, because some estimates have Reagan creating FIFTY million jobs.

    One recent idea to de-power the Congress in the ares of the thousand or two changes in tax rules – to the point that nobody can figure their own taxes without software or professional help anymore – is to go with a flat tax or the FairTax, and completely ditch the income tax. This country would save hundreds of BILLIONS of dallars a year of private money if we had a flat tax or a Value-added tax ONLY. You would get you WHOLE paycheck (well, minus the state & local stuff, your insurance, etc.) and only pay tax when you bought stuff. This way, the guys who never pay tax, plus visitors from overseas, plus illegals, plus the criminal element would all pay a share. And Warren Buffett would be able to sleep at night!

  86. Friends: Orion is making efforts to fix the commenting system. One “fix” seems to be for users to clear their cache. Otherwise the issue only affects some people, and is very hard to duplicate, so hard to pin down. In the mean time thank you for your patience.

    If you have trouble posting, please write to site_comments (at) orionmagazine.org, and let us know what computer operating system you have, and what browser you are using. That information will assist our efforts.

  87. Steve, are you posting some kind of reprint? I thought we were having a conversation. Nobody here is arguing for a Soviet-style system. I am not likely to keep responding to you if you don’t bother to actually respond to what I actually said.

    FairTax is undoable. Flat tax could work, but the whole point of my challenge was … how are you gonna make’em? Far smaller reforms get nowhere, but you propose to eliminate the IRS. Good luck, bud.

  88. This is an experiment to see if clearing my cache has helped my ability to post. I value the opportunity to share ideas with those who follow Orion, so I have my fingers crossed…..

  89. Voila! It worked. Thanks for your patient help, Scott. Sorry for losing it a bit in my frustration. You are doing a great job as usual in monitoring our comments.

  90. The mother of all Ponzi schemes

    Scientists are abjectly failing to come to terms with uncontested scientific research of human population dynamics that indicates with remarkable simplicity and clarity how the population dynamics of the human species is essentially similar to the population dynamics of other species; that food is the primary causative agent of the population growth of species everywhere, including the human species. This single point continues to be discounted and all but denied. This is not to say that other factors are not present or influential. Human pollution, waste products, dissipation of Earth’s resources and degradation of its environs are also factors.

    We must come to a new, widely shared and consensually validated understanding about a single biological question: In the relationship between food and human population numbers which one is the dependent variable and which is the independent variable? Outdated, inadequately researched ‘scientific’ evidence has been broadcast ubiquitously during my lifetime. All that pseudoscientific research indicates that food is the dependent variable and human population numbers is the independent variable; that human beings grow food to meet the needs of a growing population. Perhaps this commonplace and conventional understanding of the relationship is upside down. Please consider that food is the independent variable and human population numbers is the dependent variable; that the recent, astonishing increase in the food supply for human consumption is causing the skyrocketing growth of absolute global human populations numbers on our watch.

  91. The Zero Population Growth idea was really big when I was in school, but people realized we hadn’t run out of more efficient ways of growing food and distributing it yet.

    The irony is that the developed West will generally find ways to get food to its people, while the third world would still lose hundreds of people a day to starvation even if we halved the current populations of every nation, simply because of its inability to find capable leaders willing to allow enough individual freedom to let people see to their own needs.

    Let the common man and woman respond to their own needs and allow them to keep the fruits of their labor, and we won’t have to worry about starvation for the poor of the world.

  92. Dear Steve,

    Sadly, I do not think you see the human-induced global threat to future human well being and environmental health that I am singling out.

    Always,

    Steve Salmony

  93. ‘Tis true, you have nailed it. As I see it, humanity as managed by central planning authority is a death knell for the planet, our neighboring species and our own kind, but humanity allowed the free range of its creativity and energy will endure through periods of wet, dry, cooling and rewarming as the planet offers.

    Carl Sagan & Charles Krauthammer have each approached the question of, “Who will speak for Earth?” As any dominant intelligent race or genus nears the turning point of its ability to eliminate all life from its home planet, we have to wonder if that group will master its abilities through that passage of time. I still say that if all members of that genus are allowed liberty and personal freedom of choice, that group will endure.

  94. http://www.countercurrents.org/salmony200112.htm

    Open Letter To Children Everywhere

    By Steve Salmony

    20 January, 2012
    Countercurrents.org

    Please examine carefully and skillfully what is willfully ignored and conspicuously unexplored. Many ‘experts’ appear to have sold out to the “one percent” by participating in the widespread denial of science regarding the issue of human population dynamics/overpopulation. On the one hand we are confronted by the deafening silence of reputable scientists and on the other we have pseudo-scientists who broadcast whatever self-serving thought, contrived logic and ideology their benefactors demand. The human community is being deceived with false promises and directed down a primrose path by unsavory, mutually aggrandizing leaders. These so-called leaders are erroneously believed to possess the intellectual honesty, moral courage and will to act boldly that is required to acknowledge, address and overcome the colossal threat posed to future human well being and environmental health by the unbridled growth of absolute global human population numbers.

    Any exploration of what is being consciously avoided and deliberately denied would include, I suppose, an examination of the best available scientific evidence related to the most accurate placement of the human species within the natural order of living things as well as all the seminal research related to the way the world we inhabit actually works. Perhaps rigorous scrutiny of “human creatureliness”, an easily observed aspect within the breadth of humanness, could be a point of investigation. Very little attention and research has been dedicated to this aspect of our all-too-human nature. Another point of inquiry has to do with the nature of the world we inhabit, with particular attention to the shape, make-up and ecology of Earth. Is our planetary home flat or round? Is the Earth like a teat at which the human species (and life as we know it) can forever suckle or is the planet composed of limited resources that are being wantonly dissipated today? Is the ecology of Earth frangible and can its ecosystems be degraded by human pollution to a point at which the Earth could become unfit for human habitation?

    Children, why not invite your friends, parents, teachers and other elders like me to speak truthfully with you about what efforts are being made to assure all of you a good enough future by pursuing a path toward sustainability? Despite your elders’ claims of ignorance about what it means to live sustainably, do not be fooled. They are playing stupid. The challenge for you is to call out your elders and insist they immediately acknowledge that no one with wealth and power in the one percent wants to stop what is known today as “business as usual” practices, much less sensibly begin to plan for the right-sizing of ‘too big to fail’ corporations. Open discussions are everywhere eschewed of plans for transitioning away from the pernicious legitimization of transnational corporate ‘persons’. Too-big-to-succeed business empires are being grown ever larger rather than “powered down” into sustainable enterprises, ones that can co-exist with life as we know it on a planet with the size, composition and environs of Earth. To this end, perhaps you can speak loudly, clearly and often about what your elders need to learn fast and well regarding how to live in our planetary home without recklessly dissipating its finite resources, as leviathan-like corporations are doing now; how to adapt outrageous per capita overconsumption patterns and individual hoarding lifestyles in preparation for an end to economic growth (not development); how to sensibly stabilize and then humanely reduce the size of the human population to a level that assures sustainability of the human species and life as we know it; and how to deal effectively with the relentless pollution and environmental degradation that is occurring on our watch.

    The Rio 20 Conference will occur in June 2012. Where are the scientists who are ready, willing and able to discuss openly, objectively and honorably the “mother” of all emerging and converging, human-induced global challenges looming before the human family on our watch: human overpopulation? Have first class scientists capitulated to the politically correct agenda of the rich and powerful as well as agreed to speak only of that which the one percent determined is politically convenient, economically expedient, socially suitable, religiously tolerable and culturally prescribed? Children, perhaps I am mistaken about all of this. For your sake, I certainly hope so.

  95. Brilliant piece Steve Salmony. Keep on putting your truth out there. It takes time to wake people up. As the adage says: There are none so blind as those who will not see. Or as Jesus put it: They have eyes but cannot see, ears but do not hear. But we keep trying…

  96. We need to unite as one in a unified force globally…like chapters of a motorcycle gang and start this quest together or face the inevitable with no return.
    Love and support to you all from Canada.

  97. Brian — You are exactly right. Small groups of concerned people need to meet together regularly to consider our failed civilization, and what to do about it, and then take action to change it. Enough little cells like this could swell into a large and effective movement.

  98. You guys just described how the Tea Party works. Lemme warn you, though, being able to change Congress doesn’t mean you get to have an acceptably like-minded Presidential candidate.
    c’est la vie

  99. I Bet if someone threw eggs at your face you would want them arrested and charged with assault. But for some reason you feel it is ok to teach your kids to throw eggs and something you think is wrong.

  100. This article is FABULOUS. My parents are artists, transplants from the midwest and we lived in SoHo before it became…well, anyway, I rode the subway to Brooklyn Friends School and remember loft parties and waitress jobs. But by the time I was 20 it was either shack up with a boyfriend, or move to L.A. AND this piece has affirmed my understanding of why cruelty to animals is increasing worldwide: “The captain kicks the cabin boy, the cabin boy kicks the cat.” Belated gratitude to the author of this fine article.

  101. The Census Bureau has reminded us how silly it is to rail against the top 1% of income eraners. One American out of eight will make it into that top percent at least once.

    Knowing how fluid this is, you are forced to realize that many people start out low – even at the bottom – and end up on top. In a capitalist society, all it takes is work.

    The MediaMatters/Kos/L&C crowd wants you living in hatred of a group which changes constantly. They actually compete for cash from Mr. Soros to inflame you the most.

    Do you think they are only going to tell you truthful things?

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