Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Are You in the 99%?

With the recent hoopla about "99 percenters" vs. the "1 percenters" I've often wondered why such an arbitrary distinction is reached. After all, if you're in the top 2 percent, you're pretty well off, and of course even among the 1 percent there's a big difference between someone making a million dollars a year and someone making a few billion a year. (The rest of us probably wouldn't notice the difference--to us, a certain model of brand-new Mercedes looks just as nice as any other model of brand-new Mercedes--but then again, among the truly poor, there seems no difference between someone who can shop at Whole Foods vs. someone who can shop at Trader Joes).

Also, why only count the 99 percent and 1 percent in the U.S.? To the Bangladeshi rope farmer, even lower middle-class Americans seem absurdly fortunate (and to be sure, just being an American in this day and age makes you very fortunate, compared with most other countries and all previous time periods, unless you like the idea of having no indoor plumbing and doctors using witchcraft to treat your kidney stones).

Finally, how are the 1 percent and 99 percent supposed to be measured? Income--as used in this handy online tool--is a good indicator, but it leaves out people with vast savings who have no actual income, and of course equal incomes in Manhattan and Dubuque will support very unequal lifestyles.

I need to know these things, so I can figure out whether I need to sharpen my pitchfork or go buy some pitchfork-resistant armor.


  1. I thought it was because even there is a substantial gap between even the top 1% and the next 1% after that.

    Of course, as you point out, once you hit a certain point, it's all gravy...

  2. J--the gaps between percentiles are between the average within the gap, so someone in the 0.9999% might have only a slight amount more than someone at the highest end of the 99%. The cutoff has to be somewhere, but why not 98% vs. the 2%? I suspect it has more to do with what's catchy, and of course once you get out of a nice number like 1 vs. 99, it raises more questions, like why not top 97% or top 96% or so forth.