Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

99 percent vs. 1 percent

Hannah Cohen/Collegian
Hannah Cohen/Collegian

“What do I have in common with the 1 percent? The 1 percent exerts undue influence on American politics and exploits the 99 percent for their selfish ends.”

This is a sentiment common among those on the political left, using terminology inspired specifically by the Occupy Wall Street movement and more broadly by Marxian tradition.

This may appear to be an attractive political ideology, but, when examined more substantively, it can hold back the very same people that it purports to liberate. And, the ideology is not consistent with the idea of liberty we have traditionally had in the United States.

At first glance, it might appear that the numbers are overwhelming. The interests of 1 percent should not dominate over the interests of the 99 percent, at least in a democracy.

The controversy is all about politics. Much of the 99 percent haven’t been consulted as to their inclusion in this percentage, and some of them might not even consider them a part of this large group. Within the movement, we might have a case of the 53 percent versus the 46 percent.

I can empathize with the idealism of the movement. The Marxian tradition, which inspires the Occupy movement, emphasizes that if human beings did not have to be concerned with selling their labor merely to survive, we would be free to explore the things in which we were truly interested. For example, instead of working at a major retailer, I could study art or music.

We know from past experience that such a model will collapse. There is a lot of necessary work that needs to be done to maintain our modern way of life. But, we can choose if this work will be assigned to us by someone with authority or if we do it by our own free choice.

It has been asserted that the 1 percent has undue influence in society, and admittedly they do get their voices heard more often, but this more likely correlates with their high levels of success rather than causes their success. Part of the way people become successful is by being involved with life and society. It makes sense that they may be involved with government. In addition, the 1 percent are enormous contributors to society, and for this they often work behind the scenes and do not get the credit they deserve.

The work of the 1 percent may be both direct and indirect. The 1 percent is often involved in many projects that improve society, either through business or philanthropic efforts. In many cases, they are the ones that are at the forefront of culture. Many of the cultural institutions we are familiar with exist as a result of the generosity of successful individuals, and much of the technology we enjoy is a result of innovative entrepreneurs.

The argument of the Occupy movement makes it seem as if there is a vast cultural divide between the 1 percent and the 99 percent, but this is not the case.

The 1 percent live all around us, and many are down-to-earth people. The best thing for the 99 percent to do would be to find the 1 percent and learn from them. If someone who started life in the 99 percent goes on to discover a medical breakthrough, not only will they join the 1 percent, but they have just improved life for the 100 percent by curing those who were previously sick.

The idea of liberty as it has existed in the United States, at least historically, has not been based on the liberty to do whatever we feel like, but rather on the freedom to advance our talents and improve our personal wellbeing.

It might seem that Marxian ideology will make us the most free, as its vision is such that we have no responsibilities other than to explore what we truly enjoy, but this is only freedom in the sense that a young child has the freedom to explore the grounds of his preschool. This false freedom is circumscribed by the fact that we are ultimately dangerously dependent on someone else for our survival.

If we want to be truly free, as much as human beings can be free in this world, then we have to be able to take on the entire burden of responsibilities. This includes things such as housing, transportation, medical care and other expenses. In addition, we ought to be expected to not only provide these things for ourselves, but go beyond this by being active in improving society around us.

I know that the realities of life are often complicated, and I’ve reduced much of these complications into simple ideas. Nevertheless, there is a general mindset that every person can adopt regardless of her or his life circumstances. We can believe that we are being held back by an unjust society, or we can look to what we do have as a blessing, take direct responsibility for our personal needs, learn from those who have come before us, strive to improve our living conditions and work to improve the quality of life in our communities.

Eric Magazu is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected].

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  • I

    I Am 1 PercentApr 16, 2012 at 9:58 pm

    What a great commentary! I am the 1 percent and came from the 99% through hard work…no hand outs

  • M

    masonApr 14, 2012 at 2:06 am

    I do not think three samples listed above are extrapolative of the 1 % population. Also it should be noted and probably obvious to most that the 1 % does not an scientifically derived number it is more symbolic figure to easily identify the argument that is an Elite class which controls most of society’s resources and dictates our lives. This seems to be undeniably true, society is innately hierarchical and so perhaps the real question you should be asking, is the “1 %” doing a good job of creating a prosperous and optimal society.
    When I look at the OWS I see an entirely different perspective, most people seem to either accept or reject them.
    First it should be acknowledged what OWS is and that it is has communism underpinnings however it is in the form which is called the “New Left” and this emerged in the 1960s and basically they rejected communism in it’s strictest form and their previous attempts to achieve communism in the United States(by “revolution” and/or having their party members elected to congress to form a third party) and tried to re-emerge their goals in a way that was less radical and instead of trying to overthrow the status quo to instead profoundly alter society to their chosen modus operandi to achieve their modus vivendi(literal translation, way of life) of how a society should be. So instead of a command economy, you hey highly progressive tax system to redistribute wealth; instead of the guarantee of fundamental needs(housing, healthcare, et cetera) you have subsidized rent programs or housing for the poor, instead of revolution being achieved by proletarian you instead improve their condition and marshal their power through the use of unions; et cetera.
    Anyway so the new left movement chiefly because of the vietnam war was pretty successful and gained alot of support and power. However they all but withered away after the end of the vietnam war and re-emerged the past few years.
    Anyway my point is when I look at the OWS I don’t see some noble movement, I don’t see people fighting for a better vision of what society should be. I see the movement is hypocritical, it is exactly the opposite of what they claim to be.
    They are exploitative. They are exploiting ills faced by the unemployed, the ills faced by those with foreclosed homes, the ills faced by those suffering after our economy calamity not because they genuinely care but because it is their means to an end and that end is power.

  • B

    BrianApr 12, 2012 at 10:00 pm

    When you say the 1% are “successful”, what exactly do you mean by “success”? Most of them made their money by playing with stocks and bonds in that great casino called Wall Street. Some made money by buying and selling land (Donald Trump). Others simply inherited wealth from their parents (the Koch brothers). A few started companies with other people’s ideas. I do not know of anyone in the 1% who got there by coming up with some big medical breakthrough or anything like that. So yes, they are “successful” in the sense that they’re good at what they do – making a profit – but this is not good or praiseworthy. You can be a successful thief, but that doesn’t mean we should be inspired by your success.