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Gilmore: If the 1% had less, would the 99% be better off?

Elspeth Gilmore holds an Occupy Wall Street sign.

Kai Ryssdal: I don't know that there's an official count of how long the Occupy protests have been going on, but today's day number 58 of the demonstrations that started in New York City. They've come to a close in Oakland, Calif., at least for now. Police moved in this morning to clear campers out of a plaza in downtown.

The through line of this movement so far, at least the one that's been easiest to understand, is the wealth gap. The "we are the 99 percent, but the 1 percent gets to control everything" story. We decided to turn that question on its head a little bit and ask if the 1 percent had less, would the 99 percent be bettter off?

Here's commentator Elspeth Gilmore.


Elspeth Gilmore: I am the 1 percent. I recently marched on Wall Street with the 99 percent. I stand with the 99 percent, but I marched for myself, too. For decades, the U.S. economy has been organized to boost the wealth of the 1 percent.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, 40 percent of all wealth gains between 1983 and 2009 went to the 1 percent. Eighty-two percent went to the top 5 percent. All the rules of the economy have been tilted in my favor. Yet it is not in my interest to allow the disparities of wealth to keep growing. We should not have to hoard wealth in this society in order to keep our families healthy or to get an education. Health and a good education should be rights.

My job at Resource Generation is to organize wealthy people under 35 who want to change this. There are more than 1,500 of us who know that our lives would be better if we personally had less and we could all rely on a collective safety net. We need to re-imagine what is possible.

I want to live in a world where we together provide the basic needs of all people: adequate infrastructure and roads, well-funded school systems, clean water systems, innovative transportation and health care for all.

We need a more just economy -- and one of the ways to get there is for people like me to pay higher taxes. Lets change the policies that keep the wealth in the hands of a few. Let's increase millionaire taxes and end loopholes for corporations. Please tax the income from my investments at least as much as my earned income, it's common sense.

So let me say this as plainly as I can. Tax me, tax the 1 percent. If the 1 percent had less money, we -- a 100 percent of us -- would be better off.


Ryssdal: Elspeth Gilmore is the co-director of Resource Generation. Tomorrow our series continues with Reihan Salam on the same question: "If the 1 percent had less, would the 99 percent be better off?"

Send us your thoughts.

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Elspeth Gilmore is the co-director of Resource Generation.
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But over the last 10 years there has been in increase of the number of people in the 1%. With hard work, thrift and diligence anyone living in the USA can become one of the 1%.

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Having just reade through these comments, I am astonished at the wealth of good common sense invested in most of them. It owuld be marvelous to have a summary of heir excellent ideas and many useful links to informative sourceds, thaty reflect on the article. It is wonderful torealize that there is truly an increasing awareness of the rising inequality and its destructive effects on our democracy.

Ridiculous. This is a non-issue being raised by demagogues that prey on the minds of have-nots. The motive is egalitarian, not humanitarian. What caused this mess is the CONSUMER economy that derided thrift and made everyone a debtor to promote cash flow and gambling among the very rich persons and corporations combined with a gradual decay in USA residual asset value (property, exported goods, manufactures, patents, etc.) and changed rules that allowed and even forced brokerage house banks into shorting their own interests and those of their clients. The Made In USA brand means nothing, not even for intellectual property, any more. The enemy is not individual rich speculators (pirates like Soros, conmen like Corzine and Madoff): these are anecdotal trivia. The enemy is WALMART and its ilk, and our willingness as a nation to kill off retailers on behalf of discounts only made possible by slave-wage and oppressed labor overseas and the active destruction of American skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled labor forces (whether organized or not).

You seem to ignore the power of money in politics and the huge amounts thrown at lobbyists and policy setting think tanks. All this comes from the wealthy in the service of the wealthy, and it has debase our democracy into a system that no longer supports the people, but only the wealthy. Most of your points are pure cant and irrelevant to the pehonomenon.

Here is a person who has never had a real job, never has known what it is to create real wealth nor ever hired or fired anyone regurgitating platitudes about the benefits of taking wealth away at the point of a gun and dispersing it to the unqualified and ungrateful.
Come back when you have some battle scars that show how you have struggled. Prove you can put in a 80 plus hour week running a business and I would have a little more respect for your view.
Sure the 1% have more. But over the last 10 years there has been in increase of the number of people in the 1%. With hard work, thrift and diligence anyone living in the USA can become one of the 1%.
If this persons momma and daddy had made her struggle to get the education she has and not made sure when she turned 21 she had money(not wealth) maybe she would have some appreciation for the shoulders she is standing on that did struggle.

I think the question has been badly framed I am a small business owner and stand firmly with the 99%. While all sorts of motivations are driving these protests the most common comment from those who oppose the movement is they want to take from the rich and give to the poor. Not so, I would like to stop the rich from taking from the poor. The trickle down is just a result of the giant vacuum that has been robbing the poor for years. Think I am wrong?
What do you call golden parachutes? How do you explain stock price increases every time thousands of people get laid off? How about labor negotiations demanding concessions while the executives are getting bonuses equaling 10 times the rest of the labor cost? Doesn't Enron speak for itself?
Stop the robbery of the middle class and everyone will be better off. We should not forget the demand side of supply and demand.

Ms Gilmore, You are a hypocrite. If you believe you are not being taxed enough, then send more taxes to the government. There is no maximum amount of taxes you can pay. You said you had too much. Therefore I think you should lead by example and send your income and assets to the federal government until you only have $100K which is the median net worth of Americans. It is not surprising you have this attitude since you inherited your wealth rather than worked and risked your entire career to gain it. If you had earned it through running a business you would realize that you only become wealthy by providing products and services people want and are willing to pay for. You would have seen that in order to make products/services you would have to provide thousands of jobs. You would have had seen the crazy amount of taxes you paid for all those employees and yourself. You would have seen the risk of failure and bankruptcy and worrying about how to provide for your own family. But as a trust fund baby, you never saw how many people were benefited to accumulate that wealth. You talk of piety, now you should act on it.

I'm certainly not in the 1% but I'm comfortable enough not to have any real complaints. I do believe the American dream is largely alive for those willing to work hard and get educated. That being said, I have to disagree with your comment: "you only become wealthy by providing products and services people want and are willing to pay for." The financial crisis at least in part was driven by Wall Street bankers and their irresponsible practice of packaging up worthless financial instruments as "top grade" investment vehicles. Not only did they get bailed out by the tax payers and through interest free loans from the Fed, they got paid to sort out the mess they put America in because they were the only ones who understood it. They continued to get paid billions of dollars in bonuses while creating no value for society. They weren't making loans to fund infrastructure or drive innovation - they were merely moving money around and getting a fat cut at every opportunity. I have zero issues with innovative entrepreneurs becoming wealthy by creating jobs and improving the lives of others. But during this mess, MANY have gotten fabulously wealthy while providing no product, no service to anyone.

The question misses the point. It shouldn't be a zero sum fame. Economic data seems to support the idea that once a country reaches the level where most citizens needs are met, if to much of the wealth goes to to small a group it becomes a drag on the economy. It is simple common sense. Middle income people spend almost all their money, so their income in constantly being injected back into the economy. Rich people don't spend all their money, so the more goes to the richest folks, the bigger the chunk that doesn't get injected back into the economy. In that situation what rich people do is try to invest their money, but given the falling demand what they end up doing is jacking up the price if existing assets. They don't create growth, they create asset bubbles.

It might be time for people to re-visit Boetcker’s “Ten Cannots” (often ascribed to Abraham Lincoln):
• You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift.
• You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong.
• You cannot help little men by tearing down big men.
• You cannot lift the wage earner by pulling down the wage payer.
• You cannot help the poor by destroying the rich.
• You cannot establish sound security on borrowed money.
• You cannot further the brotherhood of man by inciting class hatred.
• You cannot keep out of trouble by spending more than you earn.
• You cannot build character and courage by destroying men's initiative and independence.
• And you cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they can and should do for themselves.
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_J._H._Boetcker)

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