The One Percent – Documentary Notes
Reading time: ~5 min.
Jamie Johnson, a 27-year-old heir to the Johnson & Johnson pharmaceutical fortune narrates this documentary and gives an inside view and also some analysis of the 1% and the wealth gap.
The financial adviser the family has keeps telling them the same thing — they are constantly getting richer. Probably a rare among his peers, Jamie doesn’t feel it is right that so few have so much. The top 1% make in a day what takes a year the average american family to make. The same top 1% own as much as the bottom 90%. His father opposes to him making this movie but doesn’t give him any valid reason for that, trying to avoid having the conversation in the first place.
A conference, exclusive for people of very high wealth (the average net-worth of people attending it was $300k), is shown. The director explains that he believes it is better for society that very wealthy people are wealthy because they use that wealth to create jobs and businesses, and that their wealth is more useful in their hands that if it was distributed by social programs to the middle-class/low-class population. This belief is a central part of the trickle down theory in economics.
The wealth disparity in America is at an all-time high. Jamie tries to pass the idea that rich people believe poor people have more choice and opportunities than they have. When refuting that view, a taxi driver is interviewed and says: ” “They must not ride through the same neighborhoods I ride, they must not go to the same towns I go to, they must not visit the same people I visit. And they can’t do that riding a damn limo and a helicopter.” There are rich people that are moving to traditionally low-class families cities that have displaced them from their old houses in order to improve the riches’ neighborhoods. One rich guy is interviewed who has moron ideas, revealing how he couldn’t care less about what these people suffer.
Robert Reich (US secretary of labor) talks. Hubert Spencer coined the term survival of the fittest. He thought that if we allowed the rich to get richer, we would discourage the poor to have a lot of children and therefore focus on surviving.
The Top 1%’s Mentality
A rich powerful guy that financed a war is interviewed. He explains how this things go. He says rich people have ways of manipulating the government and vice-versa. He takes advantages of opportunities that come. You have a contact with someone else. You call that person and tell them you want to see them, go to a dinner and introduce them or they introduce you to another person, and business ensues. He rationalizes doing bad stuff, saying it is allowed by the free system. It is just a game to be played.
Some very rich companies make a lot of profit with sugar. By a system of artificially raising sugar price, and because there’s a law that states that any surplus sugar produced by US companies the US state buys it, then they make sure the state has to buy them a lot of sugar at stupidly high profit margins. They managed to pass that law by bribing (though they don’t call it that) people in both parties (republican and democrats). It is seen as an exchange of favors, with plenty of rationalizations in the middle to justify any ideas of immorality that might come up. Another example, when the sugar barons needed cheap labor, the US made an exception to immigration laws.
Then there are those that rationalize income and wealth inequality with their innate capacity given by God. “God wouldn’t give you more than you can handle. God gave you a lot of assets for you to take care of, and he’ll watch how you do it.”
Then there’s Chuck Collins, a guy who inherited a fortune but gave it away. When he told his father his decision his father questioned him about many what ifs question (consequences of giving away his money) like what if he had a child with a severe disease? He answers that with — “I’d be in the same boat as 99% of people?” He persevered through all those worst-case scenarios. He says he knows people that say it’s hard to get by on 50M, that they need to get more. He says those people are sick. “Take a look at yourself buddy, if you feel that you don’t have enough at that point.”
Jamie then speaks very eloquently responding to his father who was criticizing him during the making of the movie. He also then touches a great point. He’s not surprised that some people are upset with this movie. Their job is to ensure that the members of the 1% keep getting richer. And for them the growing wealth gap is an indication that they are doing their jobs.
Gates Sr. supports Jamie. He says society enabled rich people to become so rich in the first place. In a way, they are in debt to society. [How true is this? Partly I understand. Not everyone is born with the same luck. If I was born in an underdeveloped country my odds of success would be so much lower. It is not just individual skill that matters for success.]
The same guy that financed a war talks again. He says “we are what we are. there are the servants that serve you the food. And there are the people that will buy the facilities and enjoy them. What can you do? It’s life!”
Jamie’s final remarks:
“Self-preservation has given rise to the growing rise to the wealth gap. And the bigger the gap, the more removed those people get from the world around them. But if you’re always hiding from the problem, you’re never going to find any solutions.”
An interesting related video: