Commentary

What percent are you, really?

Rob Walker Nov 29, 2011

Kai Ryssdal: Los Angeles is — as of this moment — still occupied. City officials served protesters with an eviction notice this weekend, but the tents remain on the south lawn of City Hall and the occupiers have asked the courts to step in.

Commentator Rob Walker has a question for the movement.


Rob Walker: We’ve heard the chant for months now: “We are the 99 percent!” Ever wonder what’s the most money you could make, and still honestly join in? Maybe that sounds flippant. But one of the striking things about picking on “the one percent” is that it gets very numerically specific about a longstanding American paradox.

On the one hand, material success as an admirable achievement and just reward for hard-working strivers is an idea as old as Horatio Alger and as current as Jay-Z. Even those of us who don’t admire Donald Trump — and apparently, people do — would like to make more money next year than we did last year.

But, railing about immoral fat cats is as old as the Gilded Age, and as current as celebrity chef Mario Batali slamming Wall Street bankers, complete with allusions to Hitler and Stalin. He later apologized, but many responded by calling Batali a fat cat. “Good luck with your $300 white truffle tasting menu among the 99 percent,” one critic tweeted.

Which brings us back to the idea of applying hard numbers to the question: How rich is too rich? Happily the Wall Street Journal has published a “What Percent Are You?” online tool.

Credit: Wall Street Journal

It says an annual salary of more than $506,000 lands you in the top 1 percent. So you could, in theory, make up to $506,000 a year, which is probably enough to swing dinner at a Batali restaurant, and still be part of the 99 percent.

This, I suggest, is the new American Dream sweet spot: the bottom half of the top 2 percent. The good news for me at least is that there is some — OK, lots of — breathing room between between my current income and the ceiling on my right to pillory the elite. So I remain motivated to make more money next year.

Naysayers might counter that household wealth is actually the relevant number here, but that’s harder to parse. Let’s stick with a benchmark based on one number and a click. When the revolution comes, I’m sure they’ll use this calculator.


Ryssdal: Rob Walker is a contributing writer to The New York Times Magazine and Design Observer. You can write us regardless of what percent you find yourself in.

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