Before discussing Occupy, let me first briefly introduce the extent of worldwide economic inequality today. According to World Bank’s estimates, the gross national income (GNI) of the world was about $80.71 trillion in 2011. America was the leader in gross domestic product (GDP) and GNI that year and it has reigned as the most wealthy empire since the early 20th century. It has experienced tremendous growth over the last few decades in particular and it had a GNI of $15.23 trillion in 2011.
According to World Bank economist, Branko Milanovic, half of the world’s richest one percent are Americans. The New York Times estimated that to be considered a part of the top one percent in America, one must have a yearly income of at least $380,000. (1) However, it only takes an income of $34,000 a year (after taxes) to be a part of the richest one percent in the world (if you live alone). (A family of five would have to make $170,000 to be among the richest one percent.) This is not what most people think of when they think of “the richest one percent,” at least not in America or other rich countries. Some Occupiers have salaries this large or larger. $34,000 is, in fact, less than the GDP per capita of America. The economic disparity in America is nothing short of revolting. The 400 wealthiest families in America have $1.37 trillion in assets and capital combined.
Annalyn Censky reported on Milanovic’s report in 2012 stating, “The true global middle class, falls far short of owning a home, having a car in a driveway, saving for retirement and sending their kids to college. In fact, people at the world’s true middle — as defined by median income — live on just $1,225 a year…Even the poorest 5% of Americans are better off financially than two thirds of the entire world.” (2)
This is accurate, but unfortunately, information like this isn’t ubiquitous, which makes this a largely unchanging reality. Half of the world lives on less than $2.50 a day, and most of these people don’t live in America. Therefore, while America and other rich empires are largely responsible for worldwide economic inequality, their most exploited victims live largely in far poorer countries where (unfortunately) Occupy movements and those similar to it are less prevalent. However, in order to solve this problem, movements for economic inequality and the abolition of capitalism may need to succeed first in the richest, most developed countries.
The Occupy Movement has been instrumental in bringing attention to the growing economic disparity in America and the rest of the world. Their efforts prompted congressman, Ted Deutch, to write the OCCUPIED Amendment (Outlawing Corporate Cash Undermining the Public Interest in our Elections and Democracy), which could change the Constitution if passed. In Spain legislation has been passed that protects people from the predatory practices of banks, and the movement has shifted the political dialogue nearly worldwide. Of course, long-term solutions aren’t simple reforms to the system. Neither capitalism nor the state can be reformed to bring economic equality as it is an essential feature of both. States are founded on slavery, stolen land, and genocide, and capitalism encourages privatization of everything, making economic extremes an inevitability. Further, the concept of fiat currency itself is problematic as it is reliant on states and coercion, and other models like social currencies, resource-based economies, and barter are far better at leveling the playing field. We are likely a long way off from implementing these on a large scale if we ever do, so in the meantime reforms can at least reduce some of the harms created by capitalism and the state. But we must never stop fighting for a better world just because of a decent reform or two.
Some criticize Occupy for protesting the system without offering viable alternatives to replace it; they argue Occupy doesn’t explain how to achieve economic equality. But that is because there are many ways to do this and many Occupiers are using different tactics. Many people expect Occupy to become centralized and monolithic, but this is contrary to its purpose. They ask “where are its leaders?” without realizing its lack of leaders is its strongest feature. Occupy movements have different strategies because they are autonomous and responding to different circumstances in the world. However, the common goal of achieving economic equality can’t be derailed by the corporate media or critics, which do this to create public confusion about what the movement really stands for.
Protests can be helpful, but we should also lead by example and ensure our protests aren’t just appeals to the powerful. This can be done in several ways. Firstly, real bonds can be formed among protesters, and we can seek out others who have similar interests and skills to build cooperatives together under common control. If we supported such businesses when we have the means to do so, these could collectively put large corporations out of business. We could also create credit unions and cooperative banks that put big banks out of business. We could create our own sustainable farm shares that reduce people’s reliance on the massive, destructive, agrochemical factory farms we have. Supporting such businesses that operate with social justice and sustainability in mind can be challenging because they will generally produce products and services that are more expensive due to the costs involved in paying fair wages, profit sharing, employee benefits, recycling, responsible sourcing of raw materials, and forgoing the use of dangerous chemicals that can make production faster and cheaper. On the other hand, the largest corporations have no qualms about exploiting slave labor, clear cutting forests, stealing resources from indigenous peoples, and using toxic chemicals to produce cheaper products, and these corporate giants continue growing simply because of this affordability. This is why eschewing fiat currency altogether can be helpful. Instead of exchanging cash, which we have little of, we can instead exchange our time and skills. Wealth will afford the very rich a great deal of power so long as people continue to rely on money to survive and the majority of land continues to remain their personal property. More radical actions to redistribute wealth, take back land and factories, and sabotage environmentally destructive projects can also be very useful.
he Occupy movement can demonstrate that societies can function without centralized power and wealth, secrecy, and large armed forces, but instead function with cooperation, open discussion, and prioritization of human and ecological needs. Occupy movements work well small and spread out, but they can also benefit from harmony, communication, and collaboration between the movements with clear, common direction.
Occupiers could also increase their progress by seeking to collaborate with similar labor movements. For example, Walmart, the most profitable corporation in the world, has worker strikes the world over. If Occupiers teamed up with them and other workers for major corporations who want change, they would be much more likely to transform these corporations. (There is a small Occupy WalMart movement, but most people don’t know it exists.)
Conservative pundits have predictably called the Occupy movement “class warfare”. Of course, the movement is, in actuality, very legitimate resistance to thousands of years of class warfare waged by the rich on the lower class, minorities, dissidents, and women. The rich want to act as if they are the victims just as soon as the exploited masses organize and fight back.
70 million people make up about one percent of humanity but the truly richest people most responsible for vast socioeconomic inequities are far fewer in number. Only 83 people in the world make more than $10 billion dollars per year. 27 of them are American according to the Hurun Research Institute. These people are parasites and our biggest enemies and most cannot be persuaded to do the right thing. But the pursuit for income equality shouldn’t just be supported by the 99% alone. Few people bother to explain why the one percent should be as in favor of income equality as the 99% and the simple reason is that there is no real joy or meaning in greed. Their lifestyles of excess don’t benefit them, not in any true or long-term sense. No one should aspire to have massive wealth at the cost of other people’s lives. If the poor all have the desire to be rich, they are missing the point because there’s no real joy or value in it. Every hedonistic joy extreme wealth can bring is fleeting. Real value and happiness come from mutual exchanges, being able to live comfortably, and explore your interests and if everyone had access to the basic resources needed to live a good life, this would be possible. If our rich leaders are just replaced with poor people who want to become rich and there isn’t an ideological shift, we will continue to see the rise and fall of countless dictators and their empires with blood spilling on all sides in the process. There is no point to this.
I want to start a constructive dialogue, not just with the one percent, but with the wealthiest people on the planet and make them question the real value in extreme wealth. The next part of this article is a genuine letter to the richest 0.01 percent – the people who of make millions and billions every year – so much they could burn it indifferently. It is short, so why not read it 0.01%? I also wrote it for everyone who keeps them in power. For all of the agents, politicians, and individuals who serve corporate interests just to make a bit more money and keep corporations in charge, let me ask you a few questions.
A letter to the Richest 0.01%
Firstly, put down the chalice filled with vintage Cognac and the Wall Street Journal you were reading, and ask yourself something:
Will you ever believe you have enough?
Do you really need another rolex, fast car, or something else ostentatious to flaunt your wealth? Aren’t those moments and feelings of success, accumulation and progress so fleeting once you ask yourself what it all means? Do you ever lie awake at night and wonder about what your work really does to the country or the world?
While you may enjoy fine clothing, shoes, cars, and other material things, have you reached the point at which it’s all the same and there’s no real joy in it anymore? Or do chuckle away with your rich “buddies,” smoking cigars and pretend it is all meaningful or significant somehow because you believe you’re special?
Do you find yourself always buying “love? Is “love” measured in gifts, sex, or checking deposits as opposed to acts of genuine compassion, respect, and affection? Does dressing up, and putting on fancy things to radiate success get tiresome? Do you ever feel like a fraud? Does sex feel like a transaction? Does friendship mean anything to you beyond what you can get out of it? Is every affair you have, business or otherwise, a zero-sum game? Do you ever get bored of your trophy wives or trophy husbands or meaningless flings? Do the types of people your lifestyle attract make you feel happier? Do your hollow mansions and vacation homes and expensive condos reek of loneliness, excess, and impinging self-contempt?
Do you stress over your wealth? Do you agonize over all that you could lose at the blink of an eye and sometimes pine not to be attached to any of it, and instead to live simply without stress, without maintaining an image and rigidly complying to the norms your kind have created?
Being rich is fraught with emotional sterility, coldness, and a sense of heightened self-consciousness. You may have direction for yourself, but do you wonder where your relentless path leaves others or the planet or how you define progress? Do ever wonder if the misdirected, misinformed, disenfranchised poor masses aren’t the result of laziness, but rather of an unfair system that you help perpetuate?
Do you ever wonder that perhaps you’re not so special and that you have simply inherited your wealth and power from your even less scrupulous ancestors and the institutions they helped create? And does that longing feeling of emptiness – that hollowness that you try to fill with all the things money can buy (jewelry, cars, drugs, sex and so forth) ever leave you, despite how exciting they may be in the fleeting moment? In the end, do you ever wonder who really cares for you or why they should? Do you wonder who would show up at your funeral or who would show up just because they felt like they had to?
After all of the fun and the spending, do you ever ask yourself what you have that is not material in a world that’s dying around you?
One day you will die too, and just before that day comes you will have to look back on your life and ask yourself, what did I do to improve the world? What did I change? What was my impact? And then after that moment passes, and your life is gone, the world will go on without you.
Do you genuinely believe this lifestyle is healthy and do you believe your children and their children should inherit this lifestyle at the cost of the other people’s lives and the health of the planet? Will they really be happy? Are you? Do you realize you’re up against 99.9% of the population? You are outnumbered by 10,000 to 1. Your armies will eventually stop fighting for you, your “country” will stop supporting you, and no matter how much power you wield, the truth will prevail because every empire in history falls, and when that day comes, what will you do?
Couldn’t your money be better spent on education, planting trees, building rain collectors, water treatment plants, creating sustainability and opportunity, providing everyone with a chance to live and not die from a lack of basic necessities of life like food, water, shelter and medicine? You are complicit when people die from malnutrition and dehydration because your wealth that is being wasted on excess that could easily be spent saving people’s lives.
If everyone had access to kinds of resources that only you and other rich people can afford, the progress of the world increase at an unfathomable rate. Every sector of society would evolve incredibly. Cures for diseases would be found overnight. This isn’t occurring now because when you only have a small, privileged sector of society working towards innovation, they will be limited by their numbers. But if everyone in the world is working, thinking, and innovating, human progress would be unprecedented.
Picture the world if your kind continued to dominate for another 50, 100 or 200 years? What would be left?
Nothing makes you special and no amount of money will ever fill an empty life lived only for personal gain.
Rethink inheritance, intelligence, privilege, love, happiness, race, religion, identity, morality, good and evil. You’re not chosen. If God does exist, he does not care about you. You are just a mere blob of cells situated to receive the best advantages – a spoiled brat by nature. But it is not too late to change things; join the rest of humanity and the planet, not just for their benefit, but for your own as well. If you don’t the 99% will eventually take back what you stole from the planet and make sure your last day of contemplation comes sooner than you’d like.
1. Shaila Dewan and Robert Gebeloff: “The One percent paint a more a more nuanced portrait of the rich.” NY Times, 01-15-2012. (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/15/business/the-1-percent-paint-a-more-nuanced-portrait-of-the-rich.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0)
2 Annalyn Censky: “Half of richest 1% live in the United States” CNN Money, 01 04 2012. (http://money.cnn.com/2012/01/04/news/economy/world_richest/index.htm)