In Defense of the One Percent

Bankers, hedge fund managers and greedy CEOs. That's the Occupy image of America's top 1%. 

But it turns out that's actually more of a caricature than a portrait. The real 1% are "hard-driving workaholics who tend to have advanced degrees and bring a level of talent and skill to their jobs that attracts premium pay in the global economy." That's the description offered by Nina Easton in a new piece for Fortune magazine.

There are a lot of reasons for the growing income gap in America, and quite a few of them turn out to be things worth emulating rather than denigrating. For instance, one-percenters (incomes starting at about $350k in 2009) often have stable two-parent homes. Combining two professional incomes turns out to be one of the keys to success. In 1979, the number of married women in the 1% who worked was 25%; by 2005 it was 40%. Another big dividing line is having a college education:

Harvard's Lawrence Katz has calculated that even if all the gains of the top 1% were redistributed to the 99%, household incomes would go up by less than half of what they would if everyone had a college degree. In other words, the financial rewards of higher education are a big contributor to the income gap.

By contrast, the wages of men without a college degree "have dropped by a whopping third over the past three decades." Some of that may be caused by increased technology and some by global competition. Neither is likely to reverse the trend any time soon. A good future often lies in a good education.

As Easton points out, demonizing the wealthy is pretty easy to do these days, but there's still a lot to admire about the people who make it into the top 1%. Do we really want to punish hard work, good schooling, stable families, and excellence (in sports, entertainment, small business and, yes, management)? Doesn't it make more sense to encourage people to emulate those good qualities rather than denigrate the 1% achievements as some kind of cheating of the system?


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