I stumbled upon this article on Politico.com a few weeks ago and it really caught my attention. Titled ‘The Pitchforks are coming for us Plutocrats’ it takes the form of an open letter from Seattle-based entrepreneur Nick Hanauer to his fellow 0.1% ‘proud and unapologetic capitalists.’
While it definitely applies to the super rich, I believe there is something there in principle for all of us who fall into the marginally rich [as in reading this article on a computer or phone] to take heed of.
In the article, Nick shares a little of how he managed to get super rich by anticipating the success of the internet before it was huge and investing in one of his friends and a little idea that became Amazon.com and then he shares some of his observances about present times and circumstances:
But let’s speak frankly to each other. I’m not the smartest guy you’ve ever met, or the hardest-working. I was a mediocre student. I’m not technical at all – I can’t write a word of code. What sets me apart, I think, is a tolerance for risk and an intuition about what will happen in the future. Seeing where things are headed is the essence of entrepreneurship. And what do I see in our future now?
I see pitchforks.
At the same time that people like you and me are thriving beyond the dreams of any plutocrats in history, the rest of the country—the 99.99 percent—is lagging far behind. The divide between the haves and have-nots is getting worse really, really fast. In 1980, the top 1 percent controlled about 8 percent of U.S. national income. The bottom 50 percent shared about 18 percent. Today the top 1 percent share about 20 percent; the bottom 50 percent, just 12 percent.
But the problem isn’t that we have inequality. Some inequality is intrinsic to any high-functioning capitalist economy. The problem is that inequality is at historically high levels and getting worse every day. Our country is rapidly becoming less a capitalist society and more a feudal society. Unless our policies change dramatically, the middle class will disappear, and we will be back to late 18th-century France. Before the revolution.
While his ultimate motivation/conclusion is not necessarily the most well-motivated thing [see second paragraph below] he does make some great points about the need for the people at the top of the pyramid to wake up and be aware of what is happening or likely about to transpire if things are left unchecked.
Here’s what I say to you: You’re living in a dream world. What everyone wants to believe is that when things reach a tipping point and go from being merely crappy for the masses to dangerous and socially destabilizing, that we’re somehow going to know about that shift ahead of time. Any student of history knows that’s not the way it happens. Revolutions, like bankruptcies, come gradually, and then suddenly. One day, somebody sets himself on fire, then thousands of people are in the streets, and before you know it, the country is burning. And then there’s no time for us to get to the airport and jump on our Gulfstream Vs and fly to New Zealand. That’s the way it always happens. If inequality keeps rising as it has been, eventually it will happen. We will not be able to predict when, and it will be terrible—for everybody. But especially for us.
The most ironic thing about rising inequality is how completely unnecessary and self-defeating it is. If we do something about it, if we adjust our policies in the way that, say, Franklin D. Roosevelt did during the Great Depression—so that we help the 99 percent and preempt the revolutionaries and crazies, the ones with the pitchforks—that will be the best thing possible for us rich folks, too. It’s not just that we’ll escape with our lives; it’s that we’ll most certainly get even richer.
That is just a big mouthful taste of the article, but go and read the whole thing and then come back here and engage with this question:
Do you think his statements are only relevant to the 0.1% as he directs them or is there something vital for the 1% [us!] to be learning from this as well?
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