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the 10% who believe they are the top 1%

We interrupt our normal apolitical topics to comment on something I heard during my trip… a friend mentioned a study that revealed that the top 10% earners in America were convinced that they belong to the top 1%.

Simple enough on the face of it, but this little statistic wheedled into my brain like a bad pop song. Since my political awakening on the staff of the Generation at SUNY Buffalo, I’ve been stumped by the refusal of my compatriots to even consider topics like unemployment, education or health insurance as political. I could never understand why so many people who would obviously benefit from health care would be so emotionally opposed to it.

Finally, this 10-to-1 statistic resonates with a possible explanation. After all, if the top 10% earners believe that they are among the top 1%, then it’s likely that a substantial portion of the population believes they are among the top 10%, as would a disproportionate majority count themselves among the top half of the country’s earners. That rings of truth in a country where opinion places you solidly among either winners or losers, responsible for your own fate. And perverse for a country leading the western world in the divide between wealthy and poor.

If anyone knows where that statistic comes from, please let me know. I’d love to follow this up, but haven’t had any luck searching for references.

There are 2 Comments to this article

Nima says:
11/12/2011

It’s probably because nowhere else are people such huge slaves of their ego. If you’re not rich, you can be conditioned to believe you are rich or that any new government program will cause you to lose money. Basically the Republican Party has undergone a radical transformation under Karl Rove – it’s no longer just “the party of the rich” but “the party for all the bitter losers who can at least pretend that ‘big tax-and-spend liberal’ government sees them as rich”. Many of the losers are uncomfortable with facing up to their own mistakes, so they pretend they are really “wronged winners” and blame every one of their problems on “big government”, minorities, affirmative action, foreign labor markets, and of course their favorite bogeyman, the liberals. If only all these were eliminated, then surely life would be “perfect”… that’s the ego talking.

Hence the “Joe the Plumber” phenomenon. People who don’t even make $50,000 a year are convinced that they are the “top 1%” that every populist politician and protestor rails against. Of course this is a bit easier to comprehend when you realize that most of the “Joe Plumbers” out there don’t have a college education, can easily be manipulated as long as you use very simple slogans, and have amassed huge amounts of mortgage debt for houses they could never afford – so the thought of anyone having to pay more taxes scares them dumb with fear. But hey – if you have a million-dollar jumbo loan to pay off, and just marginal break-even success with a plumbing business that you don’t even have a license for, you must be rich, right?

drip | david’s really interesting pages… says:
01/15/2012

[…] wrote a while back about the top 1% of American wealth owners, and the 10% who believe they belong to that exclusive […]

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