The actual other 99 percent

posted at 1:25 pm on October 17, 2011 by Tina Korbe

Ever notice how car trips clear your head? I took a brief one this weekend, and, at one point on the road, I found myself marveling at all the cars around me and contemplating the regularly spaced street lights that line the interstate. Aware of the energy all that motion and electricity require, I remembered just how rich I am — just how rich we all are. It made me wonder why, in all the tumult and commotion of the Occupy Wall Street protests, I haven’t once heard a protester clamor to redistribute his own wealth to the world’s poorest.

They want to talk about the haves and the have-nots? Let’s talk about them. Earlier this year, World Bank economist Branko Milanovic released a book called “The Haves and the Have-Nots: A Brief and Idiosyncratic History of Global Inequality.” In it appears this provocative chart:

The chart can be a bit confusing to interpret at first (for an in-depth explanation of how to read it, click here), but the gist of it is pretty clear. Firstly, the relative flatness of the United States’ income inequality line reveals that income inequality in the U.S. is not nearly so great as it is in a country like Brazil, for example, where the nation’s poorest are among the world’s poorest and the nation’s richest are among the world’s richest. Secondly, the placement of the U.S.’ income inequality line along the Y-axis reveals that the U.S.’ poorest are still among the richest people on earth.

As The New York Times’ Catherine Rampell explains, the typical person in the bottom 5 percent of the American income distribution is still richer than 68 percent of the world’s inhabitants. As a group, America’s poorest are about as rich as India’s richest. Just by virtue of the fact that they were born in the United States (if, in fact, they were), very few of the Occupy Wall Street protesters can claim to be anything other than the “very rich” — the very class of people the protesters are protesting.

Now, lest you think I actually advocate some kind of global redistribution of wealth, let me remind you of how ardently I advocate economic freedom. It’s a solid predictor of quality of life in any given country and the best way to elevate the living standards of the poor. Inequality might always exist (and I personally am OK with that, identifying that very inequality as a motivating factor in a producing economy), but, if Brankovic were to redo the graph above to compare the incomes of present-day countries with the incomes of countries throughout history, we’d see it’s really true: With economic freedom, all boats rise. That is, because our world is more economically free today than it was, say, 500 years ago, nearly everyone’s standard of living is better than the average person’s standard of living back then.

Don’t think I’ve gone all “global community” on you, either. I’m not one to use that term any more than I’m one to use the term “national family.” In fact, that’s another observation to make about the Occupy Wall Streeters: They kinda bear out the truth that community is created locally. Their little city-based communes make it clear: Even to be effective at creating a national movement, better to be a nation of communities than a national community. The difference is subtle, but still there. Similarly, I think one of the best things we can do for the world’s poorest is fight to preserve economic freedom in our own communities, states and country — and work diligently daily to be productive ourselves. But that’s not to discourage the protesters — or anyone — from freely donating money to international causes. In fact, in the case of the protesters and in light of their demands, I’d say that’s only — what’s the word, again? — fair.


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Reality? Presented to the OWS crowd?

Good luck with that excercise.

iurockhead on October 17, 2011 at 1:31 PM

Solid writing and research, Tina. I keep wanting to ask any of these “anti-greedy” protestors to define “greedy”….aren’t they just trying to be the first in line for the goodies???

Catherine Wilkinson on October 17, 2011 at 1:34 PM

This is wrong is so many ways.

The human trash occupying Wall Street are definitely poor, why I read about one dude who had an Ipad 2 without a screen protector. I know, right? Not only did the free food table run completely out of vegan pizza right when this guy was hungry but no screen protector for his electronic toy? Eff the USA!

Bishop on October 17, 2011 at 1:35 PM

Economic freeadom is not enough (look at the Middle East). Here’s a quote of Frits Bolkestein:

the question to ask is not, “Why are poor countries poor?” The right question is, “Why are wealthy countries wealthy?” After all, in the beginning we were all poor. Whoever wants to study the rise of the West and the roots of our prosperity should go back to the Renaissance, if not to classical antiquity.

Sir Galahad the Pure on October 17, 2011 at 1:39 PM

Anyone know if the Occupy ______ folks are giving their iPads and North Face windbreakers to the local homeless folks?

rogerb on October 17, 2011 at 1:40 PM

China threw her support to the 99rs.

Obama did too.

He’s on a black bus, financed by YOU, denouncing YOU.

Obama, the Chiese and the 99rs are communists.

Alas, have not heard a single contender from the right call them all out.

Schadenfreude on October 17, 2011 at 1:41 PM

Any chance of a graph that’s not a stretched-out blurry jpeg?

MadisonConservative on October 17, 2011 at 1:41 PM

The US (and parts of Europe) are the 1%.

albill on October 17, 2011 at 1:44 PM

In all the tumult and commotion of the Occupy Wall Street protests, I haven’t once heard a protester clamor to redistribute his own wealth to the world’s poorest.

Excellent point Tina!

Why aren’t the One World Socialists calling for that?

Chip on October 17, 2011 at 1:45 PM

This protest is nothing more than cover for whatever stunt
Obama’s thugs are attempting to get away with now.

These protests are filled with students (did you hear of the
professor in Michigan who offered her students extra credit
if they would join the protestors?), the mostly by choice unemployed, whackadoodles and aging hippies complete with long
grey hair, beards and long, unkept fingernails; along with any other wild eyed crazies thrown in the mix.

This was organized by the extreme left. The thing is, tho,
most are ignoring them.

Amjean on October 17, 2011 at 1:45 PM

Anyone know if the Occupy ______ folks are giving their iPads and North Face windbreakers to the local homeless folks?

rogerb on October 17, 2011 at 1:40 PM

They are giving their food.

ernesto on October 17, 2011 at 1:48 PM

Any chance of a graph that’s not a stretched-out blurry jpeg?

MadisonConservative on October 17, 2011 at 1:41 PM

At the link Tina provided.

DarkCurrent on October 17, 2011 at 1:48 PM

This probably can’t be quoted enough in times like these.

You know the times when the people with pitchforks are out and about. (Athough it can be said this particular group of people wouldn’t know what to do with a pitchfork if someone bought, donated, and handed one to them along with soap and scrub brushes.)

Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man. Advances which permit this norm to be exceeded — here and there, now and then — are the work of an extremely small minority, frequently despised, often condemned, and almost always opposed by all right-thinking people. Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating, or (as sometimes happens) is driven out of a society, the people then slip back into abject poverty.
This is known as “bad luck.”

Robert A. Heinlein

Lily on October 17, 2011 at 1:50 PM

The only problem with pointing this out is that the OWS crew would expect the U.S. to make the world “equal” also.

Cindy Munford on October 17, 2011 at 1:52 PM

More common sense data, hide this from the OWS patchouli oil crowd.

Last December, last time I went into NYC on NJ Transit, the homeless-looking guy who unexpectedly was “allowed” by the rest of us to have a 4 seater all his own, had a cellphone conversation with his friend. I think he even had unlimited data!
I have no idea why a homeless person needed or wanted a cellphone, or how he paid for it, but that is the state of the poor in the U.S. Many unemployed still have two TVs, cable, cars, cellphones.
I also recall my college days, working at a grocery store to earn tuition. The people paying with food stamps (yes, the actual paper certs) or the newer EBT cards always dressed better than me, drove a nicer car, and ate a heck of alot better. One woman I happened to see in the parking lot drove a nice, new Caddy.

smfic on October 17, 2011 at 1:52 PM

Meh…as long as there are despots and kings there will be 99%r’s.

Limerick on October 17, 2011 at 1:52 PM

Similarly, I think one of the best things we can do for the world’s poorest is fight to preserve economic freedom in our own communities, states and country and work diligently daily to be productive ourselves.

Conversely, if you Discourage the productive by punishing them with wealth redistribution it has a very deleterious effect on the rest of society.

Witness our economy right now with its discouraging effects of National Socialism.

Chip on October 17, 2011 at 1:52 PM

As The New York Times’ Catherine Rampell explains, the typical person in the bottom 5 percent of the American income distribution is still richer than 68 percent of the world’s inhabitants.

wow, what a statistic….

ted c on October 17, 2011 at 1:53 PM

They are giving their food.
ernesto on October 17, 2011 at 1:48 PM

That they’re getting for free, Che.

Akzed on October 17, 2011 at 1:54 PM

Just an FYI, the three countries being compared to the United States still have very large agricultural societies. You can’t really compare someone living in an industrialized, urban environment to half of the Chinese population who practice subsistence farming. The chart also doesn’t want to include any other Western, industrialized countries which all have much less income inequality while at the same time having higher standards of living.

The whole idea behind this piece is also silly. So we should ignore the fact that upper end incomes have increased by 1000% while the middle class has all but disappeared and the working class has lost ground all because people in other countries are poor? We should ignore a system where banks are lent money by the Fed at <1% interest rate and then buy treasuries for twice that? We should ignore a system where must financial transactions are being regulated by former and future heads of the companies completing the transactions, using vehicles that are shrouded in secrecy? I could go on.

If your solution to fixing the economy and the evaporating middle class is to say "suck it up and be happy the wealthy are letting you keep as much as you have", then I really don't know what to say. The word silly comes to mind, however.

Rainsford on October 17, 2011 at 1:55 PM

their food.

ernesto on October 17, 2011 at 1:48 PM

Their food? Ya mean the stuff that just shows up, they know-not-whence, and they eat it? So, now, once they’ve stuffed their faces with free pizza from an unknown source, they take the rest over to the local homeless shelter. How, um, charitable of them….

notropis on October 17, 2011 at 1:59 PM

The chart also doesn’t want to include any other Western, industrialized countries which all have much less income inequality while at the same time having higher standards of living.

Please tell me in the simplest terms what “income inequality” means and why I should care. In other words, tell me how Bill Gates making his money affects me in a negative way.

Good luck.

BierManVA on October 17, 2011 at 1:59 PM

Anyone know if the Occupy ______ folks are giving their iPads and North Face windbreakers to the local homeless folks?
 
rogerb on October 17, 2011 at 1:40 PM

 
They are giving their food.
 
ernesto on October 17, 2011 at 1:48 PM

 
Ha. They’ll give away the free food, but not their laptops, eh? Disregarding that the food is donated:
 
So they’re behaving exactly like the 1% who feed the entitlement class while maintaining their material wealth.
 
Congratulations.

rogerb on October 17, 2011 at 2:04 PM

ernesto on October 17, 2011 at 1:48 PM

Are they giving others possessions that they have purchased with their own money?

Are they giving up property that they have produced themselves or is it property looted from others?

BTW, Why aren’t the One World Socialists keeping their little piece of the world clean?

Aren’t these folks the same that self righteously lecture the rest of us on preserving the planet?

Chip on October 17, 2011 at 2:10 PM

If your solution to fixing the economy and the evaporating middle class is to say “suck it up and be happy the wealthy are letting you keep as much as you have”, then I really don’t know what to say. The word silly comes to mind, however.

Umm. That’s not what Tina is saying. She is saying that people should realize, in the scheme of things, a strong majority of Americans have more than the poorest of the poor in most other countries. Just as you are, most conservatives are against bailouts and against “failing upward.” That does not mean we should all make the giant leap of tearing down the rich to prop up the violent, lazy, and vile idiots at OWS and support universal everything.

NathanG on October 17, 2011 at 2:10 PM

Many of you have no doubt seen this, but it’s always edifying.

http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=hans+rosling+and+200+countries&aq=1&oq=hans+rosling

This is a longer video (20 mins), but really fabulous

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hVimVzgtD6w

I’m sure the clueless Occupiers know none of this.

disa on October 17, 2011 at 2:11 PM

They are giving their food.

ernesto on October 17, 2011 at 1:48 PM

They are given their food.

Schadenfreude on October 17, 2011 at 2:13 PM

They are giving their food.
ernesto on October 17, 2011 at 1:48 PM

Should be entered in the yearly Einstein ‘awards’.

Schadenfreude on October 17, 2011 at 2:14 PM

Liberals, once again, want the government to take your money to give to the poor, while privately giving very little on their own. Conservatives on the other hand tend to be more generous in their personal giving, and wish the government would take less since it tends to choose causes we’d not prefer and then waste money even in that process. So, it is no suprise to discover that another group of priveliaged liberals are protesting for the government to step in while failing to actualy address needs that they could, nor even recognizing how fortunate that they are with any sense of humility. But, they feel more while doing less, so they are obviously in the right, I mean left.

AnotherOpinion on October 17, 2011 at 2:22 PM

Thank you for this post. I have been complaining about this ever since I saw that HUGE, Overweight woman carrying a sign that said, “We have hungry mouths to feed”
and I thanked God that the people who are ACTUALLY starving, in real time, in real life, do not have televisions to see this madness.
Spoiled freakin’ brats all across this country.

I have been waiting and hoping that someone in the media would try and put things in perspective for the dolts out there on wall street.

bridgetown on October 17, 2011 at 2:33 PM

We just returned from a trip through Belize and the Honduras. My kids were stunned. Growing up in an affluent suburb has basically put them in a protective bubble. My kids don’t gripe anymore about what material item they think they are missing.

jediwebdude on October 17, 2011 at 2:39 PM

You can include Detroit in that 3rd-world status, at least as far as streetlights goes:
http://detnews.com/article/20111017/METRO01/110170356/Detroit-struggles-to-keep-lights-on#ixzz1b2Y1Zdx3

hawksruleva on October 17, 2011 at 2:41 PM

Should be entered in the yearly Einstein ‘awards’.
Schadenfreude on October 17, 2011 at 2:14 PM

I’d wager that Ernesto will someday earn a Darwin Award.

Akzed on October 17, 2011 at 2:41 PM

More common sense data, hide this from the OWS patchouli oil crowd.

Last December, last time I went into NYC on NJ Transit, the homeless-looking guy who unexpectedly was “allowed” by the rest of us to have a 4 seater all his own, had a cellphone conversation with his friend. I think he even had unlimited data!
I have no idea why a homeless person needed or wanted a cellphone, or how he paid for it, but that is the state of the poor in the U.S. Many unemployed still have two TVs, cable, cars, cellphones.
I also recall my college days, working at a grocery store to earn tuition. The people paying with food stamps (yes, the actual paper certs) or the newer EBT cards always dressed better than me, drove a nicer car, and ate a heck of alot better. One woman I happened to see in the parking lot drove a nice, new Caddy.

smfic on October 17, 2011 at 1:52 PM

Exactly. It’s all about priorities. They seem to believe that they have a right to complain about how poor they are, all the while buying expensive shoes, cars, and electronics. NO ONE needs cable, two TVs (or really TV at all, when you think about it), or new shoes. I work at a grocery store, and I am amazed by how many people who use food stamps also buy cigarettes constantly, besides having all the things I mentioned. There’s one guy who I always see who constantly brags about his souped-up car, yet uses food stamps and WIC. These people either just don’t get it or don’t care. Maybe it’s both, I guess.

NathanG on October 17, 2011 at 2:52 PM

Well done Tina. And as we all know, it is even worse in Europe. I wish we could have watched GM fail. That would have been fun to see all the wailing and gnashing of teeth.

As an IT contractor facing possible unemployment by the end of the year, I still have a long way to fall. I count my blessings as they come. (18 more months and I’m on the govt dole! Woo hoo! Tax the rich! Tax the rich!)

Mr_Magoo on October 17, 2011 at 3:11 PM

That is what always ticks me off about the liberals here. They are considered poor because they have an older iPhone and cannot eat out every day! While the real poor is excited to have a place to occasionally enter with AC and is happy when they can eat something every day!

jeffn21 on October 17, 2011 at 3:39 PM

smfic on October 17, 2011 at 1:52 PM

While it might have been safe to assume that all people on assistance appear to be “gaming the system”, it’s not as clear cut as it should be. Some of those people have managed to keep what they earned with honest work. Confusing those people with multi-generational welfare recipients is misleading.

I’d reserve my contempt for the narrow subset of people that went straight to assistance and didnt have any honest work. Anything more than that, and one would have to have more proof to figure their situation.

As for trying to make the comparison between the US and another country – they are different economies that come from different country-level governments. There are plenty of valid arguments that can be made without turning to a global comparison.

sethstorm on October 17, 2011 at 5:12 PM

Want to help out the truly poor in other countries, but encourage capitalism at the same time?

Go here:
http://www.worldvisionmicro.org/

You’ll be helping out entrepreneurs in poor countries get a start so they can support their families, send their kids to school, afford better housing, enrich their lives, etc., etc. It’s one of the best programs I know that doesn’t just give a fish to somebody–it helps them create their own fishing industry.

theotherone on October 17, 2011 at 7:23 PM

Please tell me in the simplest terms what “income inequality” means and why I should care. In other words, tell me how Bill Gates making his money affects me in a negative way.

Good luck.

BierManVA on October 17, 2011 at 1:59 PM

There’s a finite amount of currency. If the CEO of a company’s pay increases faster than inflation, that means that his pay is coming from someone else’s. If, at the same time, workers in that company are losing their jobs/having their wages stagnate, it stands to reason that the CEO is now being paid with the money that would have went to the workers. It’s simple, really.

If you were smart, then you’d know that properly regulated capitalism (not overly regulated capitalism) provides the highest and most flat wealth curve.

Socialism provides a very low and steep wealth curve.

So, keep pushing for socialism if you really want to increase the differences between the have’s and have-not’s, and if you want to reduce everyone’s quality of life.

blink on October 17, 2011 at 7:21 PM

How do you define these things? The only time there’s ever been a system as deregulated as ours was back in the 20′s, and we all know how that worked out. This argument is the classic conservative “make stuff up” strategy that has no basis in fact. The past few decades have been nothing but deregulation and tax policy favoring the rich, and what happened? The wealthy gained and everyone else sunk. I’m not sure what makes you think that continuing these policies will somehow reverse this trend.

And I’m not sure whose arguing for socialism. Unless, of course, you mean those people calling for a return to policies from the 1990′s and Reagan, back during America’s historic “socialist” phase.

Rainsford on October 17, 2011 at 11:08 PM