The 1 percent are being pummeled because it’s politically convenient to do so. The problem is that the world and this country should not talk about envy of the 1 percent. It should talk about emulating the 1 percent. The 1 percent work harder. The 1 percent are much bigger factors in all forms of our society.
– Sam Zell yesterday on Bloomberg Television
I’ve seen clips of you on television several times in the past. I can’t say those appearances elicited strong reactions from me. I can recall being offended at things you have said, and I can remember agreeing with you on other occasions. However, yesterday I found your statements on “class warfare,” “envy” and the “1%” delusional and dangerous. I will address these two points separately.
Why Your Statements Are Delusional
Individuals, social classes, even cultures and nation-states develop storylines and so-called “myths” about themselves and how they fit into the bigger picture of current events and human history. We all see ourselves and whatever group(s) with which we identify within a particular social, political and economic context. This is obvious, yet it is much more difficult to look at your owns myths and question them. It is far easier to look at other groups’ myths and heap criticism on them. That is basically all you do.
For the purpose of this letter, I will focus on socio-economic groups that people are now using in these contemporary United States. Ever since Occupy Wall Street popularized the terms, many people have divided themselves into two overly-simplistic groups, the so-called 99% and the 1%. However, this isn’t the real struggle. I was always against the 1% label, because the true cancer, the true problem comes from a much smaller slice of the population. It comes from what I call the “oligarchs,” the 0.01%, and the politicians that do their bidding. This is your class Mr. Zell, so let’s get that straight right off the bat. That doesn’t mean everyone in the 0.01% should be vilified. I am certain there are many well meaning, decent and honestly good people in that bucket. Nevertheless, what the past five years have proven without a shadow of a doubt is that this class collectively represents the most destructive, delusional and counter-productive members of our society.
Your statements on Bloomberg yesterday prove my point exactly. Let’s start with the most offensive and asinine statement. You said:
The problem is that the world and this country should not talk about envy of the 1 percent. It should talk about emulating the 1 percent. The 1 percent work harder.
First of all you talk of envy. Now without a doubt, there is a significant portion of the so-called 99% that would want nothing more than to have the riches and the power of the 1%, but certainly not all of them, or even necessarily the majority. In my life I have had various experiences and met a lot of people. I lived most of my life in Manhattan and the last three years in Boulder, Colorado. What defines Manhattan more than anything else is that it is a money-chasing place. People who live there are generally obsessed with money as well as materialism, and want as much as they can get in the shortest period of time. People in Colorado are not this way. When I lived in NYC, almost every conversation I overheard would consist of how to make more money or get a bigger bonus. In three years in Colorado, I cannot recall a ever hearing a similar conversation. Of course this is an over-generalization, but there is certainly truth to it.
It’s fine to want to make money, and it’s also fine to just want to be comfortable, content and fulfilled in what you do. I’m not making a judgement call here. What I am saying is that people like you, who are constantly surrounded by people that think just like you, people who obsess 24/7 about how to make more money on money, you think that everyone thinks just like you. Sorry to break it to you, they don’t.
So this is where your delusional begins. You think everyone that has issues with you oligarchs and how the 0.01% is destroying our economy and society is simply envious because you assume they think like you do. Certainly, if you were poor you would be envious of the the rich. You’ve made that clear. However, that is not the primary motivation of the anger and resentment swelling up from the underclasses.
I will use myself as an example. I worked on Wall Street from the moment I graduated Duke University. By the time I was in my mid-20s my career was taking off. I was well into the “1%” by my late-20s and if I had continued along that path, who knows maybe one day I could’ve been an oligarch like you. If you were me, you would have continued to pound the pavement of the world’s financial centers to one day become a “master of the universe.” But I don’t want to be you Sam Zell. I voluntarily took myself off that career path, at the very top of my game because I became so disillusioned by the monetary and financial system after the crisis and the bailout of the crooks (your socio-economic class) that caused it. I’m not trying to portray myself as special or some sort of a hero. I am just making the point that from your point of view my choice was completely irrational, and probably one you could never comprehend. Yet there are plenty of people like me out there and you don’t seem to understand this because your entire worldview revolves around wealth.
Your misdiagnosis of the root cause of the current dissent in America is a result of your obliviousness to the actual concerns of the 99%. A group about with you speak with such certainty, yet certainly know almost nothing about. In fact, my website is dedicated to highlighting all of the destructive trends happening in this nation today. From record high food stamp participation, to declining real wages and the reality that young people need to take on so much debt they become indentured serfs from the moment they enter the workforce. From a loss of 4th Amendment rights due to illegal NSA spying, to the militarization of the police force. From oligarch immunity from serious financial crimes that average citizens would be thrown in jail for life for, to trillion dollar bailouts with zero strings attached for the financial community. From the over-prosecution of some of our bravest citizens such as Aaron Swartz, Barrett Brown and Private Manning to a fraudulent two-party sham political system entirely controlled by your socio-economic class.
While I agree that President Obama talks in simplistic, imbecilic “class warfare” terms, what does he do in reality. He is the most oligarch-coddling President this nation has ever seen. Talk is cheap Zell. I only listed a few of the root problems causing dissents in the country. They are very real, they are not going away and as long as oligarchs like you pretend they don’t exist and this is all the result of “envy” nothing will get better. In fact, it will get much, much worse. I see no envy. I see a populace waking up to a gigantic fucking fraud, full of below average cronies thieving and people getting pissed about it. I see a 0.01% class of oligarchs to which the free market and the rule of law do not apply. So I’m not sure what exactly the 99% is supposed to be emulating. Your unaccountable criminality?
Of course I couldn’t end this section without calling you out on the most absurd thing you said: “The 1 percent work harder.”
Where to begin…First of all, I’d like some hard data to back up this statement. You complain about class warfare and then hypocritically say something like that? How is that not class warfare. You, a billionaire, come on television and tell 320 million people that the reason they feel disillusioned and agitated is because they are lazy. If that’s not class warfare I don’t know what is.
But let’s take this a step further. Let’s assume that the average person in the 1% works harder than the average person in the 99%. This reality still means that there are likely millions, if not tens of millions of above average workers within the 99% that work considerably harder than the average 1% person. Even if you don’t accept my numbers, you can’t deny there would still be hundreds of thousands that fall into that bucket. So what do you have to say to them? Furthermore, where does your expertise on the work ethic on the 99% come from? I highly doubt you spend much time hanging around them.
Why Your Statements Are Destructive
There is genuine dissent in America and it would behoove you to actually try to understand it, rather than assuming it is represented by inane political rhetoric from Barrack Obama. In case you hadn’t noticed, Obama isn’t popular. Neither are Democrats and Republicans. In fact, a recent Gallup Poll showed that 42% of Americans identify as Independent, versus 31% as Democrats and 25% as Republicans. This is the highest “Independent” identification on record. People know something is very wrong, they know the system is broken.
Generally speaking, the dissent from both the “progressive” side and the “libertarian” side overlaps on many issues. Issues that you seems to be oblivious to. These are:
1) Opposition to Wall Street bailouts, the concept of TBTF and the growth of crony capitalism generally.
2) The fact that the “rule of law” is not applied to oligarchs, politicians and government officials.
3) The destruction of civil liberties through the nation and the militarization of police.
4) Endless and pointless wars abroad, as well as the destructive war on drugs at home.
As you yourself admit: “the 1 percent are much bigger factors in all forms of our society.” This is true, and since the 0.01% wields even greater power, you must accept responsibility for these issues. Instead, you just come on television and call everyone envious.
The fact that there is such tremendous overlap on such major issues from activists on the so-called “left” and the “right” is extraordinarily important. These are real grievances that are not going away. Angst on these issues must be dealt with, and no amount of superficial, ignorant statements will change that reality. The only thing that the arrogant oligarch attitude will do is cause more people to despise you. Is that what you want?
I don’t think you’re a bad guy with evil intent. I think you are a money obsessed financier who hasn’t taken the time to actually understand what is really going on within your own country because you have your head so far up your own ass. It’s hard for anyone to actually look at themselves in the mirror and be honest about themselves and the myths they create. However, history shows us that when decadent plutocrats are unable to do so, we end up with disastrous situations. Situations which are often times violent and result in despotism. A situation I desperately hope to avoid, and I truly hope you and others like you recognize your error before it is too late.
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An Open Letter to Sam Zell: Why Your Statements are Delusional and Dangerous originally appeared on A Lightning War for Liberty on February 6, 2014.
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