• Wed, Oct 19 2011

Bullish: Actually, We’re All Kind of the 1% (And How Not to be a Jerkface About It)

So, in addition to being able to actually do something in emergencies, I suggested microlending — Kiva is the most well-known place to lend money (as little as $25) to entrepreneurs in developing nations, and Microplace actually pays interest (3.5% is better than you’re going to get from any bank these days). Here’s something called The 101% Society (“Sharing 100% of our talent and 1% of our income”), comprised of young professionals who have agreed to give 1% of their incomes to an organization that works to help first-generation college students complete college. Or one could simply — as many wealthy people do — work with nonprofits and leverage both money and connections for good ends. This necessitates being nice to one’s dad’s friends. Sometimes the right thing to do is to suck it up.

So, I pretty much think that you (and I) should endeavor to become as rich and powerful as possible, so when — for instance — a cheerleader refuses to cheer for her rapist and is ordered to pay $45,000 in court costs, you could just, you know … send her a check. And flowers. And a scholarship. And kittens. (Do you want to fucking cry about something? The girl’s dad told a journalist: “I look at my kid and say ‘Wow, she’s my 15-year-old kid, and she’s my hero.’”)

In Bullish: How to Make Money as an Artsy-Artist Commie Pinko Weirdo, Part I, I suggested finding a rich person you actually admire. (People seem to like Steve Jobs a lot lately. Tina Fey is totally rich. Warren Buffett’s not a bad guy.) People with an irrational hatred of the rich are undoubtedly sabotaging their own networking and moneymaking prospects, and thus preventing themselves from garnering more power they could use to make the world better.਍ഀ
Allow me to undoubtedly draw the ire of some internet trolls, but: not long ago, I said something on Facebook about social justice, and attracted the attention of an Ayn-Rand-loving acquaintance, who bragged that, despite being unemployed, he didn’t want handouts from anybody, and that I was trying to, you know, rape the rich of their capital gains by suggesting that funding public education properly would be a good idea.

This debate is so fucking tiresome. (Do you drive on the roads? Do you feel pretty confident about your job search because public schoolteachers taught you to read? Do you like clean air? How’s the tap water? Pretty good, right? Do you expect 911 to work when you call? Isn’t disaster relief a good use of our tax money? Do you balls feel bigger when you pretend you are totally self-sufficient?) This guy responds by saying that he can’t believe I’m not an Ayn Rand fan, because: “But Jen! You ARE Dagny Taggart!”

I have gotten this before. It’s flattering, sure. Maybe I could run a railroad. (I could certainly go on plenty of dates with libertarians if I wanted, although I doubt either party would opt for a second date once I started talking about the tap water again and going all Upton Sinclair on some dude’s ass. WE CAN’T ALL TEST OUR OWN FOOD FOR TOXINS AND HUMAN FINGERS!)

Have you ever actually read Atlas Shrugged? (If you didn’t do it as a teenager, it’s hard to justify the time now.)

Sure, if you can ignore badly-written dialogue and hilariously one-dimensional characters (did you know that all capitalists have firm, noble countenances, and all collectivists have soft, jiggly jowls?), a little Ayn Rand can make you feel motivated. I WILL RUN THAT GODDAMN RAILROAD, you might say to yourself. After reading a little too much Rand as a teenager, I turned into a raging asshole and claimed to my mother that no one with less than $100,000 in the bank should have children. Nice.

In the world of Atlas Shrugged, REAL MEN MAKE METAL. HARD, HARD METAL. And they are sexy loners. Of course, rich capitalists in this country don’t really make anything anymore, nor do they invent things themselves; rather, they capitalize on the inventions of others. The magnates of today do indeed order people in Asia to make things (possibly out of metal) and then run marketing campaigns about the stuff made in Asia and also have to do a lot of thinking about their “network” and getting along and working in teams. Ayn Rand hates teams.

There’s one part in the book wherein, due to the incompetence of people who believe in the redistribution of wealth, a train stalls in a tunnel and everyone in it dies from breathing exhaust (the exhaust of incompetence!) And then Rand goes through the passenger list cataloging the lack of “rationality” of every single one of the passengers, who obviously deserved to die.

There was a particular dig at housewives (choking to death on fumes, babes in arms), which made me pause, even as a teenager contemplating becoming a huge asshole, because the noble characters in the book were pretty much made up entirely of heroine Dagny Taggart and the three hot industrialists she bangs by book’s end. No other women get a pass — in fact, in the hidden free-market utopia Dagny crash-lands her plane in, there seems to be only one other woman, a beautiful film actress. What are all the upstanding capitalists there supposed to do, bang a Fleshlight full of money?

The part where the book really lost me was after Dagny, her insatiable capitalist-vagina serving as a radar system for the weirdest, meanest, most nobly-jawed man on earth, finally chases down John Galt and crashes her plane into the hidden free-market utopia (sorry if I’m losing anyone here — it’s a really long book and that woman really loves any type of heavy industry that can be described using the same type of language used to describe erections), which normally you can only get into by vowing, “I swear that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another to live for mine.” Galt rescues her from her plane crash and makes her some eggs. Then he charges her for the eggs. (He charges her for the eggs! Because he respects her capacity in the market. Sweet.)

Of course no one in the book has children. At all. Except the housewives who die in the tunnel. Because then you’d have to, you know, live for them, and make them free eggs.

The end of that little tiff was that my unemployed friend said that obviously I work very hard, and I should be mad that the government is taking my money. And I said that I was only able to work hard at awesome things (rather than at cleaning bathrooms, for instance) because of public education, and that I wish we all paid more to make sure that public schools in poor neighborhoods achieved parity with those in rich neighborhoods. And he said, after arguing for the total abolishment of public education (and libraries, hospitals, etc.): “Oh, come on. If there hadn’t been public education, I’m sure you would’ve worked something out.”

I said, “WHEN I WAS FIVE?!”

He said, “Well, I’m sure your parents would’ve worked something out for you. It’s not like you were an orphan.”

And I said, “Are you saying that orphans don’t deserve to go to school?!”

That was actually exactly what he was saying. He intimated that maybe some charities would step up.

And that’s why I’m glad for every bit of success I’ve achieved that that guy hasn’t. In fact, maybe it’s that dude’s lack of regard for others that’s hurting his employability. (I’m not a fan of group work either, but can you imagine that guy in an office?)

Sometimes, it is good and righteous and feminist and just to be able to say to someone, “I pay more in taxes than you even make.” Or, “Every time you say something douchey, the Obama campaign gets $50. Go!”

As I wrote in Bullish: How to Use Your Career to Make the World A Better Place, money isn’t evil; it simply magnifies the desires of whoever holds it.

(See Bullish: Maybe Work-Life Balance Means You Should Work MORE and Bullish: Thinking More Productively About Money.)

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  • Uma

    This is the best thing I’ve read all week. WORD.

  • kari

    I just forwarded this to everyone. This is awesome.

  • Alice

    This column is why I come back to the gloss everyday.

  • Kelly

    My gnat-length internet attention span always takes a vacation for Bullish articles, which I read immediately and in full. I just wanted to make sure you knew that.

  • Erin

    Fantastic!
    My friend just showed me this website and this column yesterday. I’m so happy I have it in my life now.
    Can we be friends and have hilarious meet-ups please?

    • Jennifer Wright

      I keep wanting to have meet-ups, but I’m frankly terrified of just sitting around in a bar all by myself approaching every woman saying “you’re a gloss reader?” and having none of them, you know, be Gloss readers and then, basically, the world would end! So, yeah, that sounds awful.

      Sometimes I think about posting my apartment address on here and just saying “stop by anytime!” but then I remember everything I ever learned about safety.

  • Jamie Peck

    Part of me agrees with you, and part of me is trying very hard to look at the bigger picture. Sure, you can use money to do good things under the current system that we have. But even if you were the richest person in the world, it would still only be a drop in a huge bucket of fucked-up-ness, much of which is caused by uncontrolled capitalism, colonialism, etc. In an ideal world, the government would be able to step in and provide a humane buffer against that corporate greed (even Adam Smith thought this was perfectly appropriate), but it’s pretty clear that that’s never going to happen in any meaningful way. It’s easy to think that reformist, incremental changes are the way to go, but that’s a position born of privilege. The more I learn about the world outside of my own privileged bubble, the more I think that radical solutions are the only truly practical ones. I’m not totally on board yet with it yet, but I’ve been thinking pretty seriously about it. “It” being a non-hierarchal revolution of the people that de-couples democracy from capitalism(!!!)

    • Jennifer Wright

      At TheGloss, we’re into bias. We like dissent. And we’re down with conflicting opinions. We also dig on people who have different positions and politics and who own them.

      Off to my Young Republicans meeting!

    • MR

      Yes, economic democracy – and to achieve it one must first not live above their means. Wealth means ownership. No wealth than no ownership. I have always lived below my means and invested the difference. My goal, starting 20 years ago, was to one day have my investments grow to a size where combined they would generate an income equal to my job income. I achieved that about a year and a half ago, and had a great 12 months starting mid year last year where the return on my investments was more than triple my job income. Now anybody can do this, it just takes the discipline, in my case over a 20 year period, to not live above your means. Now I own of piece of Wall St; it doesn’t own me.

  • Jinx

    Wonderful article.

    I’m a first-generation immigrant from a poor third-world country (so…99%?). But I’m part of the 1% very privileged, rich minority who could actually afford to come to the US and go to university here. While my chosen career isn’t likely to make me much money (I’m studying to be a therapist), I plan to take over my parents’ business. Then once I’m rich and powerful, I can send scholarships and kittens to little girls in my country.

    • Jennifer Dziura

      I just noticed the “scholarships and kittens” in this comment, and thus I wanted to share my love of this comment.

      Jen

  • Genevieve

    I love the point about the activists, for the most part, having at least some college experience and a stable home to go back to if the protest gets tiring. I believe that the entire Occupy movement is a great example of poor allyship at its finest. Wouldn’t it be messed up to see a civil rights march led by whites? Why does this “class uprising” consist of people who have the leisure time (and expensive camping equipment/outerwear) to spend weeks speaking on behalf of the working class?
    Being an ally means letting the oppressed lead, for a change. Offering support and hard work where needed, but not insisting that their voices be the main ones. I believe that the class system in this country is pretty messed up, but I do not believe that it can be fixed by a scrappy group of (mostly) young, middle class whites yelling their own opinions about the matter.

    • Keely

      In fairness, a lot of the people who went to Occupy had the “leisure time” because they had no jobs because they’d been fired–or had just graduated–and couldn’t find anything in this economy. And I believe those who had (or could afford to buy) camping equipment shared it with those who didn’t (including the homeless).

    • Cassie

      I don’t know if you’re part of the generation that came of age under Bush. A lot of us did the two to four years of college thing, only to find out that the economy was now demanding four minimum, ideally a M.x. degree. This was for barely-a-living-wage work. The bar got moved while we were listening to outdated career advice in high school and college. This is partly why I’d like to become a guidance counselor: someone’s got to move with the bar. At least by the time Obama took office, parents knew their kids were going to have difficulties establishing themselves, and those kids will be able to plan accordingly. We couldn’t. So a lot of us do have an anomalous amount of free time on our hands, and some are using it to protest. Sure beats lying around watching daytime television.

  • Ellen

    Seriously awesome article, could have something to do with the fact that I agree with quite a few of your points. This is my first article @ TheGloss but I’ll definitely be following.

  • Jennifer Dziura

    Thanks so much for the comments, everyone!

    I just wanted to share that the photo is by Nevin Sabet, and the woman pictured is Carly Jean at (or on her way to) Occupy LA.

    @Jamie, I completely agree that actual structural, legislative change is needed, but I’m a big believer in pushing forward on multiple tracks at once; we can push for a fair taxation system and campaign finance reform (for instance) while also kicking some ass.

    Sincerely,
    Jen

    • Jamie Peck

      I agree. I was talking to my boyfriend about this the other day at OWS, actually. He’s a communist and I’m still nominally a liberal (although I’ve been re-thinking that identity like whoa). Radical and reformist goals can coexist so long as things are this messed up. If we ever make any real progress, we can have debates with each other about where to go from there. It’s possible to deal with the world in which we live while at the same time pushing for a better one. I mean, he’s a communist opposed to the idea of wage slavery, but he also works three jobs, because he needs to survive in the meantime. Multitasking!

  • Kj

    Awesome post as always!

    I think your analysis of Rand is spot on. When I was a wee little critter of 18, I read it not knowing anything, and about halfway through I started to give it the side-eye…….. “Suuuuuuuuuuure, Ayn. I’m sure those awesome industrialists (WITH THEIR HARD STEEL!!) mined and forged that all themselves without the help of anyone.

    She does have some great points, particularly about people embracing mediocrity (and therefore shunning people who try to be better), and that made me feel better for being a shun-ee.

    My humble, semi-educated opinion is that change requires a balanced mixture of activism and work within the system. Protests are important because they are pretty much the most effective way of communicating en masse with politicians. However, real change really has to come from within, and if everyone is on the outside of the system, they will never have enough influence to improve the situation.

    The trick is to get into a powerful position without becoming indifferent or jaded, which I think happens a lot. As my mom (who worked in politics) always said, “power is like the Ring from Lord of the Rings. It’s hard to stay ethical once you have it in your hands.”

    • MR

      If everyone owns a piece of the economy, that is a piece of Wall St., then everyone has control over it’s structure. It’s kind of like communism, but the capitalist version.

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  • Ed Thompson

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