Bashing the 1 percent is ‘simultaneously brilliant and daft’

That’s how Jonah Goldberg describes the Occupiers’ rallying cry in the latest National Review:

If you got rid of all the 1 percenters tomorrow, a new top 1 percent would take its place. There will always be a top 1 percent. …

… [S]loganeering about the top 1 percent … dehumanizes the villains of the tale by turning them into a permanent mathematical abstraction. No reform will ever go far enough because there, on the horizon, like a moon you can sail toward for an eternity without ever getting closer to, will remain the 1 percent looking down on the lumpen-ninety-niners with cold disdain. In this sense the “top 1 percent’ is a more Marxist formulation than anything found in Marx. Karl talked about the inexorable laws of historical progress and the ironclad rules of Hegelian determinism. But he at least conceived of a day when the dog would catch the car. The 1 percenters are such a complete abstraction that they will remain for all eternity like the unreachable final drawing in one of those Escher paintings of an Escher painting of an Escher painting.

But while we always will have a “top 1 percent,” the particular people within that category change with remarkable frequency. Goldberg cites IRS data that show 73 percent of the 400 “richest” taxpayers from 1992 to 2008 were in that category for only a single year. In other words, about three out of four of our “richest of the rich” each year enjoy a one-year windfall. Only one-tenth of 1 percent stayed in the group all 17 years. Plus, “roughly 80 percent of American millionaires are the first generation in their families to be rich.”

Goldberg characterizes the data this way: “In other words, the top 1 percent is a mathematical palace that many people visit, but where few reside for long.”


Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...

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