My 3% Problem

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by Joel Stein,

from TIME Magazine,

Income inequality is so unfair. How can I fight it without giving up any money?

most of the time I’m jealous of the 3% of Americans who make more money than I do, with their tacky, slightly more expensive cars and their gaudy, slightly bigger diamond rings. But sometimes I feel bad for the 97%. And I want everyone to know I feel bad. Not bad enough to give my money away, but whatever the level of bad is that’s right below actually doing something about it.

So when I read Bruce McCall and David Letterman’s terrific new book, This Land Was Made for You and Me (But Mostly Me), I was deeply jealous. Not because the jokes and drawings that parody one-percenters are great (a 36-hole golf course built on the Sahara, an Olympic-size Jacuzzi powered by its own nuclear plant). No, I was jealous because McCall and Letterman were rich people who had figured out how to seem like they cared about income inequality. And got paid to do it.

I too want people to know that I think it’s unsustainable for 1% of Americans to have over 35% of the wealth, while 80% have just 11%. I want everyone to know that I think it’s wrong that the CEOs of the largest American companies make in one hour what their average employees make in a month and that I silently judge my CEO friends for this at their parties. I want to inform the public that I’m certain that if cities like Los Angeles continue to have a 66% high school graduation rate in an economy where there are no jobs for people without a high school diploma, we’ll have gated-off security zones for rich people like they do in Johannesburg, which is a look I find aesthetically displeasing. I want them to know that I vote for candidates who will raise my taxes because I want a more just society and not because I’ve noticed that even when they win, they never succeed in raising taxes.

As to what I should actually do, I sought advice from a rich friend who created a foundation to help fight income inequality. He told me that giving away my money wouldn’t change anything, which I thought was just another way the 1% make fun of how little money we three-percenters have. But he meant that the problem is systemic and complex, and can’t be solved through single donations or perhaps even by simple redistribution. He advised me to work on grassroots problems instead of calling people hypocrites. In other words: Write columns that no one will read. The only income inequality that is going to solve is mine.

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