Looking Up at the 1%

Food for Thought

These days, there is much anger directed towards the “1 percent” in the US because of the extreme income disparity. One of the challenges in solving this problem is that each of us is isolated in our own socioeconomic bubble and does not comprehend the realities of the other class bubbles. The anger of the 99% towards the 1% is essentially the same as what the developing countries have been feeling towards the US. In this sense, most Americans are 1 percenters. We know this but only conceptually, like how our parents told us about the starving children in Africa when we wasted food. On the other hand, the poorer people cannot even understand conceptually the realities of the richer people.

In other words, we always have the option to understand the poorer, but the opposite is not true. So, the only way to achieve a better mutual understanding is to understand those below us, but this doesn’t happen, because we are all preoccupied with the richer people above us. We don’t think of ourselves as rich because, in relation to the richer people above, we are indeed poorer regardless of how much we make a year.

In other words, this is a structural problem. It’s not that there is a specific level of income above which we become part of this problem of income inequality. This is not a matter of degree, like something being too spicy to eat, where there is a threshold beyond which it becomes a problem. This is a problem at every level. We are all so preoccupied with climbing the socioeconomic ladder that our necks are affixed upward. We don’t go out of our ways to befriend people who are much poorer. We feel that the same time and effort would be much better spent on befriending people who are richer, who can potentially get us better jobs, sneak our kids into better schools, and hook us up to exclusive investment opportunities.

The problem won’t go away because we are like rock climbers angry at those above us who cause rocks to fall on us, unaware of those below us who are yelling at us.

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