Last year, the “Occupy” movement highlighted the contrasts between the super-wealthy – the so-called 1% – and main street. I’ve always been part of that 99%; my family has too. I was raised by middle class parents, who, in turn, were raised by their middle class parents; I, likewise, am raising my children in a decidedly middle class neighborhood with a decidedly middle class attitude.
That said, I have had the privilege – and, at times, the burden – of knowing individuals who belonged to the 1%. I went to Duke, for heaven’s sake; half my classmates – well, their parents, at least – were staunch members of that elite group. But the story I’m about to tell you isn’t about my former roommate or the president of my sorority; instead, it’s about my father’s boss.
We’re going to call him John, and we’re going to call his business ABC. Now, ABC is a family-run business; it’s been in John’s family for generations. John, his family, and ABC all benefited from Wall Street deregulation as well as the Bush-era tax cuts. Now that the Democrats are threatening to place stricter regulations on Wall Street and allow some of those tax cuts to expire, John is worried about how it’s going to affect his bottom line.
Please note: I said how the changes are going to affect his bottom line – not ABC’s bottom line, but his own personal finances.
My dad is the chief financial officer at ABC. One day about six months ago, my dad was going over some figures with John when he brought up how those changes might affect business at ABC. John’s response?
“Just as long as I’m drawing out the same salary, everything’s fine. Regardless of what they do down in Washington [DC], I’m going to get mine.”
I’ll let you digest that for a few moments, while I tell you that John is not a good businessman: he is a great businessman. He has turned ABC – a company his grandfather founded and his father nearly ran into the ground – into a regional powerhouse in the industry. I’ve heard dozens of stories over the years about how John came up with an out of the box way to solve a problem, or about his amazing compassion and generosity toward a co-worker stricken with cancer. So I was surprised when my dad relayed what John had said during their closed-door meeting.
Those words – “I’m going to get mine” – stuck with me. How many more employers, even great employers with a compassionate heart, were going to make sure the same amount of money ended up in their bank accounts come hell or high water – or political finagling, for that matter? How would that concept of protecting #1 (or, in this case, the one percent) affect the rest of us, that 99 percent?
There’s an economic theory that by allowing the rich to keep more of the money they earn – and, let’s be fair, they do earn it (well, most of them) – the entire system benefits. That trickle down theory has some merits to it, but only in good economic times, when the rich are willing to spend that extra money; when they choose to save or invest it instead, the money is slower to trickle to those who desperately need it. I’d like to think that John was simply adhering to that theory, but my head knows better than my hearts wants to believe. And, whether you believe in trickle down economics or not, you have to admit that you wouldn’t be thrilled to take a major pay cut courtesy of Uncle Sam, even if it would – in theory, at least – help buoy the economy as a whole.

Reader, do you know any “Johns” in your life (no prostitution jokes, please)?

Libby Balke
Libby Balke