Thursday, December 29, 2011

The One Percent Has Its Say (For A Change?)

In the December 29th Chicago Tribune, Dawn Turner Trice reports on a study by  Northwestern University researcher Fay Lomax Cook of the attitudes and practices towards charity, volunteering, and the government’s role in rectifying poverty. In this survey, 100 Chicago families in the 1% are interviewed. (According to the IRS, a family is in the 1% if its adjusted gross income is $343,927 or its net worth is at least $8.7million.)

Part of the motivation for doing the survey was to facilitate a dialog between the 1% and all the rest of us so that there can be some resolution of our nation’s problems of income inequity. It seems that we have been harboring false stereotypes about them – boohoo – and they’re hurt and somewhat miffed. No, they are not all selfish and greedy. Some of them are very generous in their charitable giving and their time.

The attitudes reported in the article of the 1% did not particularly surprise me. Of course, some wealthy people are generous with their time and money – although giving an average of 4% of their income isn’t especially magnanimous. Most seem to feel that the government should have a limited role in adjusting the income inequity in our country. Is the corollary that it should be up to the largesse of those who can afford it?

Americans in general are a very generous people when it comes to giving on an individual basis or volunteering and the 1% is no different than the rest of us in that respect. The problem is that this isn’t working nor has this ever worked. Before our social safety net was in place, during the Great Depression, people depended on the kindness of others and ended up selling apples in the street. Many starved and there were many evicted when they couldn’t pay their rent or mortgages. We need to have a much more systematic approach to deal with United States' income inequity which is now the most unbalanced in the world. We have a 1% who has 36% of the nation’s wealth. More and more people are becoming unable to pay for their basic needs and are finding it increasingly difficult to send their children to college or to think of being able to retire. I think that this is what the Occupy Movements have been trying to say. The issue isn’t the individual attitudes of a few people; it’s about the system. And something besides a few well meaning people has got to give.

Let’s hope that in the New Year we can get beyond all our large and small differences and arrive at some kind of resolution. Happy New Year everyone! May it be a happy, healthy, and more prosperous year for EVERYONE.

I’ll be back next year with more easy, economic recipes along with my stories and ideas. See you soon!  


Donegal H. said...

Unfortunately, it seems to be a quite pervasive attitude with not just the 1% but many conservatives that if the government reduces taxes on the wealthy, then they'll contribute more to charity. When one looks back, as you said, to a time before the social safety net, one sees that this simply isn't the case. Nor is it the case that the 1% are particularly generous; while they may (or may not, I don't have the specifics in front of me just now) donate more dollars to charity, they actually donate a smaller percentage of their income than lower income Americans.

I used to think that the majority of conservatives hated the poor, but now I think that they're well-meaning but have a delusional view of social economics.

Lisa Sachs said...

Thanks for your comment, Donegal. It goes back to the attitudes of the poor house and the deserving and not deserving poor in England hundreds of years ago. I think there's still an attitude that if people are poor, they somehow brought it on themselves and therefore, deserve it. Americans have always had those attitudes to some extent and it's really hard to change that perception.