What is So Wrong about being 1%?
In 1989, I was introduced to one of two teachers that I still look back to as a person who influenced my life. For what it matters, I can’t even begin to name all the teachers that I had, but Mr. Claude Bibeau still echoes in my memory. Why? Because he was my 1%.
What set him apart? What made Mr. Bibeau a man who I will forever remember?
He worked hard. He connected with his students. He expected the best from each one of us, and then pushed us to do better than that. He didn’t take no for an answer, neither from his students or from himself.
Did he make over a million dollars a year? Not even close. Did he have an investment portfolio? If he did, it was meager. Did he own multiple properties? Only if you consider the classroom that he got to early in the day and stayed late at night in, then yeah.
So, by the economic view, Mr. Bibeau is in no way a 1%.
In my world. He is in the 1/10 of the 1%.
Who are the “Other” 1%
Looking at the chart provided by The Economist, roughly thirty percent of the 1% are composed of “executive/managers”. In other words, members of the Wall Street crew. But, look at the bottom and you’ll find “other.” Who are the others and why aren’t we as frustrated with them as we are the Wall Street crew? According to The Economist article, “admission to the 1% began at $380,000 in 2008.” Let’s assume that is a fair benchmark. That would mean that under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement between MLB players and owners, every player is in the 1% since the new base salary for a major league player was set at $480,000 in 2012. Players like Albert Pujols and A-Rod obviously set the bar high for admission into the upper echelon of the 1% in baseball. The minimums in the NFL and NBA are $390,000 (just squeak into the 1%) and $473,604 respectively. Mind you, this is for a first year player.
It is not just athletes who comprise this despised group, but authors and actors as well.
Rick Riordan, author of the “Percy Jackson” series brought in $13 million in 2012 according to Forbes magazine. This put him at number fifteen of the top paid authors. Number one? Not J.K. Rawling. She checked in at number eleven. Pulling in an estimated staggering $94 million was James Patterson.
According to Forbes, Hollywood’s wage-earning royalty numbers 1 – 5 are Tom Cruise (5/11-5/12 est. $75 million), Leonardo DiCaprio ($37 million), Adam Sandler ($37 million), Dwayne Johnson ($36 million), and Ben Stiller ($33 million).
Add to that all the agents that represent these actors and authors who collected ten to fifteen percent. Also, the directors and producers of the films the A-List actors performed in. If you thought hard enough about it, you could probably name someone within six degrees of separation from you that resides at the low end of the 1%.
Why do they earn our wrath?
There was a time when American’s fostered a devotion to the Rugged Individual–risk takers, pioneers settling both the landscape of America and its business world, entrepreneurs, and common immigrants challenging themselves to create a better life for them and their children. Over time, this ideal has faded from the general consciousness. More and more, people are setting in the shade of the tree of life, content to wait for opportunity to come raining upon them like Newton’s apple.
As an aspiring author, I begrudge Rawling, Patterson or Riordan nothing. They worked hard. Wrote vast amounts of words that ended up in the waste basket. Refined their craft. There are scraps of paper with ideas and characters that the reader will never see. Stephen King recalls living in a small trailer in Maine while he wrote his novels; he never gave up though. And eventually they earned an address on the golden street in the 1% of authors neighborhood.
Young athletes run in stifling heat, throw thousands of passes through tires hanging from trees in gales, kick balls in drifts of snow, all to be the next Usain Bolt, or Payton Manning, or Alex Morgan. None of them chastise their idols for their wealth. These young athletes train to be the 1%.
Yet, the CEO, COO, CIO, CFO of any given Fortune 500 company is vilified. Their names etched in the tablets of humanity beside Lucifer and Hitler.
The CEO, athlete, actor, and author all share one thing in common: Hard work. Whereas the athlete spent hundreds of hours in the gym, the business leader spent hours in school. They participated in clubs like DECA. Spent at least eight years in college. Worked their way through the rank and file until they earned their spot at the top of the pyramid.
So, why the wrath?
Too Much Money
The average salary of a for a Fortune 500 CEO is $12.94 million dollars. This does not include stock option, free use of the corporate jet, and bonus pay. This amount is, indeed excessive, especially from the standpoint of the people who took the risk in buying the stock in the company. As a shareholder, I’d be in the Board office demanding a higher dividend at the expense of the bloated CEO salary. However, what these men and women do, the decisions they make, can alter the lives of hundreds if not thousands. Athletes? Actors? Authors? Not nearly as important in the grand scheme of things as the CEO.
The anti-1%ers despise the power and corruptness of the Wall Street crowd. They see their collective wealth as being able to buy into Washington. While this is true, it has to be said that it is true on both sides of the aisle. A 2010 report by Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty found that real income growth of the top 1% garnered 45 percent of the Clinton-era income growth, 63 percent of the Bush-era growth and 93 percent of the Obama-era growth through 2010.
Despite their substantive growth in personal income, the business world 1%ers aren’t the only ones with stakes in the political arena. Hollywood and politics go together like Sonny and Cher; often a love/hate relationship, but no President has been able to go after the White House without backing from Hollywood and its ability to sway fans of their actors to specific political agendas.
For me, the “too much money” argument rings hollow. Most Americans would love to have a taste of that. Doubt me? Watch the sales of lottery tickets as the jackpots climb. Ultimately, these protests are more of a “I don’t have it, nor should you” chant. I just wish the protesters would be honest about it. Think about how much they could do, things they could learn, by working hard rather than sleeping in tents.
We Should All Aspire to be 1%
Whether they are athletes, authors, or CEO, hard work earned them what they have. Mr. Bibeau shared that ethic. He worked hard at what he did and became a 1% teacher. Knowing Mr. Bibeau, sports or the business world would never have fit him. For him, his natural gift was teaching. It was his calling, and his passion showed in his commitment to his students and their lives. Will he ever earn the same as A-Rod or James Patterson? Not until America realizes that education is as important as a baseball game or a novel. I write every day. I struggle with my craft, work to perfect my style, my characters, and my thoughts. This is not unlike the little girls who just watched McKayla Maroney, Missy Franklin, or Alex Morgan and are now begging their parents to enroll them in gymnastics, swimming or soccer, and will work hard to be future Olympians. We need to return to the idea of rewarding risk. Instead of pinning all hopes on cashing in on six lucky numbers, the rugged individual needs to step up, become innovators, creators, and push the boundaries of the human body and mind.
We may never have our own address on Golden Street, but we each have what we need. Happiness is in our homes, with our families, and vast amounts of money wouldn’t improve that. I’m a teacher, an aspiring writer. I live in a modest home, within my means, with great neighbors to share a beer. Yet, everyday, I strive to be a 1%. I strive to be the top of my field. I yearn to be Mr. Bibeau.