WHO ARE THE FAT CATS?


Ongoing interest in the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) circus brings us back to this question. I should credit The National Review, Victor Davis Hansen, CNNMoney, and Sociological Images for part of my info. It’s not comprehensive but it might help clarify.

Much of the talk has been about “the few at the top … the one percent” who do all sorts of bad things. “They” apparently make all their money at the expense of the other 99 percent. So who are the one-percenters? Probably your doctor and mine—heaven knows all doctors are rich. What about my farmer friend, Dan, or the farmers I grew up with back in Oklahoma? They’ve all got land, so they must be flush. Was the late Steve Jobs a suspect billionaire? Should I be mad or glad that he made billions by permanently replacing our scissors, paste, and liquid paper of the 1970s? Did Leonardo DiCaprio really have to earn $77 million last year? Couldn’t he have settled for $2 million in salary in 2010, and thereby pass on a bit of that stash to his ticket-buying fans? What about George Soros? He nearly broke the Bank of England by shorting the British pound and was convicted in France of insider training. What kind of system would allow Oprah Winfrey to accumulate nearly $1 billion? Is filmmaker Michael Moore—reportedly worth $50 million—a one-percenter? Why does such an enemy of capitalism need so much capitalist largesse? Are the seven richest in the U.S. Senate—Senators John Kerry ($193 million), Jay Rockefeller ($81 mil), Mark Warner ($76 mil), Frank Lautenberg ($55 mil), Richard Blumenthal ($53 mil) and Dianne Feinstein ($45 mil)—all Democrats—and Sen. Bob Corker ($21 mil), a Republican, in that elite group? How about Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, together worth over $100 billion? They’re philanthropists, but their charities are predicated on two assumptions: They both apparently trust the private sector more than government to administer their money, and neither sees any problem in avoiding billions in inheritance taxes that would one day be due to a now-broke federal treasury. Do we really want to go down this them vs. us road? If it’s envy of, and animosity toward, the better-off, maybe we should back off. Most Americans depend on our medical care, retirement packages, food, gas and our computers from exactly these “few at the top” who seem to enrich rather than prey on society. Damning the wealthy is often a symptom of one’s longing or obsession for the perks and attention that wealth brings. Below is a table, taken from this website, http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2011/10/12/occupy-wall-street-who-are-the-1/, which shows that those in the top one percent have a broad range of professions. You’ll note that only 14 percent come from the financial sector, and a scant 2 percent are classified as entrepreneurs.

Executives, managers, supervisors (non-finance) 31.0%
Medical 15.7%
Financial professions 13.9%
Lawyers 8.4%
Computers, engineering, technical 4.6%
Not working or deceased 4.3%
Skilled sales 4.2%
Blue collar / service 3.8%
Real estate 3.2%
Business operations (non-finance) 3.0%
Entrepreneurs 2.3%
Professors & scientists 1.8%
Arts, media, sports 1.6%
Unknown 0.9%
Government, teachers, social services 0.8%
Farmers & ranchers 0.5%
Pilots 0.2%

This data doesn’t play into the story the “99 percenters” want to tell about the “top 1 percent.” The preferred narrative is that the top one percent come from the financial sector (e.g., their wealth is not earned in the same way an entrepreneur’s wealth is earned). What does this say about the validity of the Occupy Wall Street movement? Should they be focusing their efforts on challenging concentrated wealth regardless of whether it is in the financial sector or not? Or is Wall Street the perfect villain?  Does it matter if the story of who constitutes the “top 1 percent” is more muddled if the objective is met? Do the means justify the ends? CNNMoney reports that in 2009, it took $343,927 to join this group, according to newly released statistics from the IRS. Just under 1.4 million households qualified for entry. They earned nearly 17% of the nation’s income and paid roughly 37% of its income tax. Collectively, their adjusted gross income was $1.3 trillion. And while $343,927 was the minimum AGI to be included, on average, top 1-percenters made $960,000. So there you have it. Study those numbers. These are the bad guys. Now, can we figure where this needs to go? Right now, the OWS folks don’t seem to have a clue … And it does matter.

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About samuelehall

A follower of Jesus, husband, father of 3 adult children, writer and learner.
This entry was posted in Risking change/changing the risk and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to WHO ARE THE FAT CATS?

  1. K. W. Durrell says:

    I believe the dollar amounts listed might be total assets, not net income or taxable income. Income taxes are based on net income after deducting all business expenses, tax credits and other benefits that have been written into the tax code. Total assets might be an indicator of gross income or perhaps even net income, but likely not a very good indicator of taxable income. Sometime this past summer I read a news article in the Register Guard that reported General Electric Corp. had net income of $14.7 billion in 2010 and paid no Federal income tax, and Exxon had even higher net income with little or no Federal income tax.

    Based on many years of agriculture lending experience and agriculture crop loss appraisal experience, I have some thoughts as they relate to farmers. In the case of a true farmer who owns land and equipment, their total assets might be a pretty huge number, and they might even have a respectable net worth, but their taxable income is probably not too great. There are a few who made money in other professions and then invested in farm land or even in farming ventures that don’t quite fit the category of what I would consider a true farmer who has made their career and their income from farming. In one sense career farmers might be considered “fat cats” based on total assets but based on net income, I would guess in most cases they are earning maybe 2% or maybe 3% on their investment and taking a lot of risks on markets, weather, labor, etc. to make that return. There are a good number of those career farmers that do not own land but rather rent the land they farm, so of course their asset value is less than those owning some land and the value of farm equipment is depreciating with age and hours of use. Of course, depreciation is a deductible business expense at this point in time.

    Our son-in-law is a CPA working for a tax accounting firm here in Eugene-Springfield area. He has told me about some of the legitimate “loop-holes” that are in the tax code (both Federal and State) that his firm advises their clients to use to limit their tax liability. A good accountant is probably well worth their fee these days, but that doesn’t resolve some inequities that I believe have been written into the Federal tax code over the last 25 years or so.

    K. W. Durrell

    • samuelehall says:

      Ken, thanks for a good commentary on a complex issue.
      I’d like to hear more about the whole issue of farm subsidies. That’s a huge money drain that yields minimal benefit to the American taxpayer.

  2. Allison Hall says:

    I think that a big part of the OWS movement is much simpler than what all the political pundits and talking heads on both sides – right and left- realize or acknowledge. OWS doesn’t necessarily care what we think they are about, or should be about. They just want something different. Whether you agree or strongly disagree with their purpose or meaning, they are people fed up with the way things are, and they are showing that the average person CAN make a difference and they CAN let their voices be heard. I don’t have any of the answers, but as the opposite of a 1%-er I am inspired by OWS. They are taking a stand. Someone has to. And on an only slightly connected note….how cool is it that a young woman from Washington was able to make Bank of America back down! She created an online petition that collected over 300,000 signatures – no more $5/month debit card fees. That’s making a difference.

    • samuelehall says:

      Allison! Cogent comments–so refreshing to talk with someone who’s calm and rational. I hope you’re right about something positive coming from the OWS protests but it’s gotten pretty ugly. On the back pp. of the Oregonian, they even print some of the tawdry stuff–thefts, assaults of all kinds, and the destruction of public property. The Tea Party folks took a stand, too, but got mostly grief from the media which makes it kinda hard to look at this objectively.
      I agree–the gal who got Bank of A to back off should get some kind of medal. Maybe she’ll appear on a game show. She made a difference.

  3. Jan van Fredenberg says:

    Something that is almost always overlooked in these discussions is that America doesn’t have hard definitions of classes. I personally would prefer if we dropped the practice of talking about classes. Steve Jobs, Bill Gates these guys weren’t always fat cats they made something or sold something and made huge sums of money. You don’t have to be born into money to make an immense amount of money. There isn’t a ceiling on the middle income families. People from very humble origins can make it in this country if they are motivated, ambitious and brave. On the same token someone that is born loaded can end up in a lower income even land in poverty if they make bad choices. In short this whole argument of the 99% against the 1% doesn’t make sense in terms of earnings because I know in my life I have the opportunity to be in the 1%. Why would I attack that which I am currently striving to be

    • Jan van Fredenberg says:

      Now talking about deficits and spending and taxes, if the government were reduced to a limited scope then we wouldn’t need to tax the richest at 70% to pay for it. Some social programs are beneficial but you have to take into account inefficiencies in government-run programs on top of the waste, fraud, and abuse. In Obama’s stimulus bill we sent half a billion dollars to a company that failed before the end of his first term. We paid for people to trade in their cars. Bush was a huge spender, too, with prescription drug programs and TARP. That spending isn’t necessary or within the scope of the Constitution. Once we address problems with spending then we could simplify the tax code so that big time players that make billions don’t also get tax refunds.

      • samuelehall says:

        Jan, glad to have you join our merry band.
        What can I say? You make good sense to me. So go for the 1%. Let me know when you’ve arrived; I’ll let you buy me coffee …

      • Lanny Sells says:

        I do not know anyone talking about a 70 % rate, Jan ! I just pointed out that it was the upper income rate before Reagan ! The Clinton tax tables are the only ones in play at all these days.
        You make a lot of sense with your inefficiency points and it reminded me of the estimate of up to 60 BILLION $$$$ unaccounted for after being earmarked for private contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan.
        It’s great to see a young man like yourself engaged in the details of current events and politics !
        Keep it up Jan.

  4. Stan Baldwin says:

    Sam, I did not exhaustively study your tables and stats and satisfy myself as to whether or not they are valid. I don’t necessarily doubt them, nor do I doubt that others with an opposing viewpoint could marshall data and arguments to the contrary. I do know that people, even radicals, can and often do overwhelm with data. We common people are no match for them in an argument. But we can stand back and see some obvious facts. In this case, the obvious fact is that we are becoming a nation where a few super-rich are getting richer and richer while the rest are sinking economically. The Occupy Protesters are saying they don’t like that, and they are also assigning blame for it to the super-rich and to government bought by the super-rich.
    Now, if the protesters are wrong about the cause, I suggest that their critics stop attacking them and start attacking the problem that has given rise to their movement.

    What kind of country do you want the United States to be? If you want a society where a few get richer and richer while the middle-class and poor get ever poorer, then criticize and attack those who are trying to do something about it. But don’t lift a finger to address the disparity itself. If you don’t want that kind of country, then support the protesters or at least seek some way to be part of the solution. Let your voice be heard for the poor and disenfranchised. That is what Jesus did.

  5. Lanny Sells says:

    1980 was when Reagan started his version of “class warfare.” He was the only President to both lower the tax table on the top earners while simultaneously raising the tax rate on the bottom bracket earners.
    70 % is long gone, 15 % is the new norm for investors and poilticians of a certain persuasion want the rate lowered more for their cash-heavy contributors. Check out the top rate during Eisenhower, a Republican ! Yes, those rates are to high.
    My point is similar to Toby Keith’s, pay the debt down and you have to do that with the people that are stashing the money..
    Governor Fallin of Oklahoma stated in her campaign that “the poor never created any jobs.” Another statewide politician here stated that a poor person had never hired him! Both are self-professed member of the Christian Right. I had always thought Jesus wanted Christians to help the poor and not so much for Gov’t to favor the wealthy with more benefits.
    Finally, without the fruits of the labor of common workers and the roads, schools, police, etc. that all of us, including the poor, help pay for they would be much less fortunate !
    Some corporations that have lots of cash on hand are paying new hires about 1/2 of what they were paying 10 years ago and benefits are out the door. You tell me what fair is !

    • samuelehall says:

      Lanny, you’ve commented on two of the four questions I extracted from your first comment. The other two remain:
      3) What do you mean, “a fair share”? Is money the sole criterion by which we judge fairness?
      4) If you were king, what’s a fair share to allow the producers of America’s wealth?
      Reagan’s “version of class warfare”? Someone explain that to me, please.
      Personally, the lowered tax rate benefited me and I assure you, I wasn’t a top earner. You seem to be saying that lower taxes are bad.
      Agreed, pay the debt down. Can’t do that w/o cutting government spending. That’s what got us into this looming catastrophe.
      The Christian right–how did they get in this discussion? Maybe because they’re always a convenient culprit. Everybody knows they’re hypocrites, right?
      But you’re correct, Christians are exhorted to help the poor. (I would hope non-Christians would, too.) I don’t believe there’s anything in scripture about Jesus taking a position either way re government favoring or opposing the wealthy. In fact, his failure to oppose the oppressive Roman rule was part of why he was betrayed and subsequently crucified for our sins and rose from the grave. In fact, before his arrest, he said that his kingdom was not of this world.
      Without debating the points you raise (there are many) in your last paragraph, I have one last question. Fairness is an important issue with you, and I think it is with most of us. We have different concepts of fairness, based on our worldviews (discussed in an earlier posting). So, my last question: On what do you base fairness, and if we were to incorporate that into the body politic, how would you like to see it implemented?

      • Lanny Sells says:

        I did not know that we were into the q & a game or I would have played that game myself !
        I can not give you a specific, “fair” salary for every occupation but surely we could agree on a few basic premises for food, clothing, shelter and basic health necessities !
        I therefore intentionally ignore the King question !
        Reagan’s class warfare would be just what I listed, he raised taxes on the poorest earners and he dramatically lowered taxes on his class and contributors, the privileged wealthy.
        BTW, the nation’s debt tripled during his 8 years.
        As for the Christian Right, you and the featured blogger attributed, or at least insinuated, Christian sins to the OWS protesters last week.
        I will not pose specific questions regarding your comments, at least for now.
        I feel that forums like this are beneficial for all involved and I agree to disagree with others in a spirit of learning, fun, and basic sportsmanship !

      • samuelehall says:

        Lanny, it’s not a Q&A game; I asked those questions because those were undefined areas in your comment. How can I respond to, for example, your insistence that we be fair when I have no idea what your concept of fairness is? Like Michael Medved says to some of his callers, “Focus, like a laser beam.”
        I doubt we could agree on what everyone should have re food, shelter, health care. For one thing, it’s not the responsibility of government (the taxpayers) to feed everyone. If you look at Pres. Johnson’s “Great Society,” you’ll see the development of our welfare state–it’s decimated the black community, where 75% of children are living in one-parent households. The difference in Johnson and Obama is that Johnson was a master politician and was able to get what he wanted.
        Let’s not mistakenly aim for equality. Equity is the key word, as my friend, Ken Baker, points out, we are to provide for the deserving poor. Just because you’ve got a 24″ flatscreen monitor, etc. and I’ve got an old Philco radio does not qualify me to have the government take from you to satisfy my wants.
        Nevertheless, we do have a responsibility to care for the deserving poor. The undeserving poor–the druggies, the lazy–are victims of their own irresponsibility. In the past, families and the community helped the destitute. The Old Testament is rife with exhortations to care for the fatherless, the alien, the widows among you. Every church I’ve been associated with has a benevolent fund, used for that very purpose. The more we look to government, the less we meet the emotional and physical needs of our people.
        Lastly, yes, this and similar forums are for mutual edification. I like that.

      • Lanny Sells says:

        Except for your oversimplified and unproven theory of placing the blame for the plight of Blacks (welfare state, etc.) all on Lyndon Johnson and then MISINTERPRETING my words to insinuate that I believe we as a Government owe every citizen food, clothing and shelter, we are pretty much in agreement !
        My food, clothing and shelter remark was meant to be about those that work. They should be able to earn, from their employer, those basic necessities ( not a mansion or Gucci suits) in return for the fruits of their labor. The working poor, in many cases, hold 2 or 3 jobs trying to provide for their families.
        People were starving in the 60’s and the current rightwing happy talk about churches providing for all of the nation’s millions of poor people is weak, at best. The population explosion was doing just that in the 60’s.
        BTW, many churches receive Federal assistance in the form of faith based federal subsidies. “W” pushed for yet another fatter, taxpayer-funded money pot for religious entities and charity. Is that welfare also?
        I am done with this particular blog subject, I think!
        Thanks for the forum!

      • samuelehall says:

        Well, I guess you’ve proven my point that your comments need clarification/definition; otherwise, I (and others) might not be so likely to misinterpret your golden words. It was certainly not intentional, but accept my apologies.
        Okay, so we differ about LBJ’s legacy. I stand by my position. I can get you all the proof you want.
        So–employers would have the responsibility to provide a wage sufficient to sustain the employee? And who’s to determine what that is? Sounds like more big-brotherism, to me. We already have minimum wage laws in most, if not all, states. Yes, sometimes, we have to work more than one job to make ends meet. My wife was working four (4) part-time jobs when she and I first met. I was impressed.
        Rightwing? Can we talk about issues? I don’t want this to become a partisan blog. However, if I (or you) have to name names, regardless of party, to make a point, that’s fine, as long as we keep it civil.
        Nor have I seen anything about churches providing for all the nation’s millions. See there? That’s at least the second thing we’ve agreed on!
        Seems like you’re not too happy with churches and religion, Lanny? Shall I make that another blog topic?
        And you’re welcome! Always pleased to hear from people not afraid to express their opinions. Umm, did your first-grade teacher ever rap your knuckles for yielding to your (now) finely-honed art of sharing your opinion?

      • Lanny Sells says:

        There you go again !
        Employers and workers would continue to determine the appropriate pay as they do for the most part now. Unions are on the mend and upswing and when monitored by members appropriately, they work ! The UAW and the major automakers seem to have finally gotten it right. This country’s middle class was established because of workers uniting. Vacation time, overtime, the 40 hour week, and help with medical care are among the good things!
        If you are endorsing multiple jobs for working parents, please leave me out of your plan !
        No, I have had only a small problem with part of a local denomination and I am just fine with religion, thank you. Handing out voting guides and preaching partisan politics at church and then sending word that one ” can not be a Christian and a Democrat seems a bit over the top ! No, I will not be specific, do not ask !
        Now, please do not lead me into another post to clarify your assumptions, on purpose anyway.

      • samuelehall says:

        “There you go again!” That was Ronald Reagan’s line in debates with that other guy, wasn’t it? Surprised you’re quoting Reagan but it’s nice to see enlightenment spread throughout the land.

      • Lanny Sells says:

        P.S. Welfare as we knew it ended during Bill Clinton’s Presidency and with a little research I found the following;
        1. TANF or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families currently pays the poor based on their net income and size of family for 60 months if they document that they are looking for work, etc.
        (A) A family of 4 receives a MAXIMUM of $ 539.00 per mo. and a family of 8 receives $ 922.00 MAXIMUM for a month.
        2. Food stamps pay on average $ 1.75 per person per meal.

        In 2006 TANF recepients were 36 % Black, 34% White, and 26 % Hispanic.
        That should pretty much clear up the reputation for the Black community!

      • samuelehall says:

        Thanks for the data on welfare. Always helpful to get the facts.
        I’ll let your last comment pass for the time being.

  6. Eric says:

    It has been said that you can’t legislate morality. I say, Government MUST legislate morality. It’s motivation that government mustn’t legislate. All of this complaining about corporate greed is just plain silly.
    We have to understand that the basic issue of economics is not money or wealth but rather abstract value. When an entrepreneur creates some new device or other he is able to sell it and make money because he has made something that somebody else will value more than the twenty dollars or whatever it takes to buy it. He deserves to have the money because he took raw materials at some value and arranged them in such a way as to increase their value. He generated new wealth.
    It is an immoral legislation that tells the man that he should not keep that money because he did not deserve to generate that wealth. Taking a man’s property for no better reason than that he has it is theft plain and simple, If he did some immoral act to get the money, pass a law against that act and prosecute.
    Don’t be so hateful or envious of the people who have money that you trade them for a government who will have both all the money and guns as well.

    • samuelehall says:

      Thanks, Eric. I hadn’t thought of it precisely that way but your point is made: Punitive taxes will kill motivation to produce. We need the top earners to continue to provide the jobs, the stable economic base, the technology, etc., that we in the middle class and below couldn’t provide on our own. And they need us as markets for their products, and as the muscle for a stable, working society. You are right that this is not a zero sum game; i.e., the creation of wealth at the top does not mean that capital must be taken from me at the middle on down.
      That said, I am sympathetic to the desire to limit those who would rape the economic system, plundering it for their own gain. So far, I can’t see that the OWS protesters have developed a direction, much less a plan to address the problem of the plunderers.

  7. If it’s envy of, and animosity toward, the better-off, maybe we should back off.” That, I think is a key statement. This Occupy Cities seems to be the Haight Asbury of the 60’s. I want to yell at them to get a job at McDonalds, an apt with 6 other guys, go to community college, become contributive. Good job. Marion Duckworth

  8. Lanny Sells says:

    Of course there are two sides to every issue and you present the 1% ers side very well indeed !
    It appears that there is a growing “gap” between the corporations and their workers. Since 1980 the economy has doubled but adjusted for inflation, the worker’s wages have barely moved.
    Jobs have been lost in the quest for what is considered to be a fair share.
    The top 1 % used to take home 10 % of the nation’s wealth and now it is 40 %.
    Before 1980 the top tax rate was 70 % and now it is 35 % and much of their income is in capital gains which is taxed at 15 %. According to the IRS, the 400 richest Americans pay 17 %.
    Public services are being cut, our kid’s educations are among the important services at risk.
    I do not see this issue as simply a partisan one ! Do we want to tackle the nation’s debt and unemployment or not ? Cuts alone will not take care of the problem. The Bush cuts have been in place for over 10 years, where are those promised jobs for workers ?
    Google Toby Keith and taxes for another take from a wealthy individual on paying on our National debt.
    I am citing The Oklahoma Observer ( 10-25-2011) and Frosty Troy for the numbers and info. above.

    • samuelehall says:

      Thanks, Lanny, but you’re too generous. I mostly just put out some data and asked a few questions. Altho it may have appeared to represent the 1 percenters, we have to look at what is. I agree there appears to be a growing gap between corporations and workers. For the moment, I’ll not contest your numbers altho I do have some questions. 1) I’m wondering why 1980 is your touchstone … ?
      2) 70%, even for the wealthiest, seems punitive for a tax rate, don’t you think? Doesn’t it seem more in line with income distribution; i.e., socialism?
      3) What do you mean, “a fair share”? Is money the sole criterion by which we judge fairness? Or happiness, for that matter? Marion’s comment (above) applies, I believe.
      4) I’m not sure what your point is that the 1 percenters now take 40% of the nation’s wealth. Keeping in mind that (aside from inherited wealth, etc.) these 1 percenters risked everything in many cases to produce their wealth; that they provide employment for untold thousands, all kinds of services, plus new technology and products to make all our lives better; that they contribute endowments to institutions of higher learning, to charities; that many supported themselves (no pay check like you and me) while risking and working long hours for years with no promises, no 401(k), etc., etc., my question is: If you were king, how much would you allow them to keep? What’s a fair return for those who didn’t start at the top of the food chain?
      You bring up several other worthy topics but our readers are starting to yawn, so I’ll close. I’ll look forward to your response, and thanks again, Lanny, for taking the time to engage. You’re right, the problems are too great to yield to demagoguery.

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