The words “One Percenter” have been popping up constantly in the media. This label refers to the distressing fact that over 40% of the nation’s wealth is held by a mere 1% of the nation’s population. The top Point One percent of our population is said to have the same wealth as the bottom 90%.
I live in a neighborhood surrounded by proud One-Percenters. Many are outrageously proud of their wealth and achievement, their stellar Ivy League educations, and their equally stellar track records on Wall Street. They believe that giving money to charity helps to equal the playing field. But for the most part, they feel good about who they are, what they have and how they live.
However, all of the media attention about the terrible unfairness of the wealth distribution has caused some One-Percenters to become closeted. They want to be absorbed in the collective as part of the “99” and they live in a state of shame and fear that they could be outed.
I spoke to one the other day. I will call him John.
“We make our bread, after we grind the flour.” John told me. He lives up North, so his behavior is not as outside his grid as it sounds to a born and bred Upper East-Side person like me. After telling me that they never allow the kids to eat sugar, and after extolling the virtues of the local chickens dropping eggs and the local cows sharing organic unpasteurized milk, he mentions his real estate holdings and his ski trips.
John would never identify himself as a member of the class of wealthy One-Percent Americans. He would say he has little in common with those spoiled, entitled rich people who whine when first class seats on the plane to the Caribbean is booked or their upgrades don’t work during peak holiday times. (Unlike the Point One Percent who fly on private jets with two pilots, One Percenters tend to fly commercial and first class.)
Maybe these closet One Percenters used to be called Limousine liberals. We all know them. They are the stealth spenders who vocally cling to their self-image as working class folk, and privately cling to their comfort zones. Like John, they are very focused on what they eat and where they vacation. They tend to ski in the winter and hike and bike in the summer. Their affinity for outdoor sports, and willingness to brave the elements is somehow meant to erase the indulgent nature of the fact that the ski lift tickets cost hundreds of dollars and their biking and hiking equipment can cost thousands. They wear the best outdoor apparel designed to keep them warm and dry. They drink craft beers and local vineyard wines with their organic, farm-raised meats and vegetables. They curate their lives as much as any other One Percenters; they just tend to do it without a staff.
They acquire their dogs from shelters, not breeders. They exercise outside and never in a class. They wear clothes that wick sweat as opposed to look good. They have their own yoga practice which they do in the privacy of their homes or on the decks of their summer homes, and never in the latest Zen facility. They value comfort over style. They usually wait for the latest movie to show up for “free” on their Cable TV premium channels where they can watch it without leaving the couch.
The absence of staff is the major difference between closet One Percenters and their more ostentatious class members. Closet One Percenters are largely self-reliant.
Sure they may have a cleaning person who shows up once or twice a week, who doesn’t?
But they do their own cleaning, administrative work, schlepping, organizing, cooking, vacation planning, and sometimes they have the skills to do some light contracting work on their homes. They value self-reliance. When they compare themselves to the clearest examples of spoiled self-indulgent One-Percenters, they award themselves clear superiority in living a moral and ethical lifestyle which does not take advantage of income disparity.
Sure they may occasionally Uber and forget that their drivers are captive personnel being treated for business reasons as employees but for tax and benefits reasons as independent contractors, after all the slashers in the subway are scary. Yes, they often use doctors outside the insurance network and pay out of pocket for the additional expense, but those are exceptions to their “every day” existence.
When you get right down to it, the closet One Percenters are just the same as me. Entrenched in their comfort zone with enough self-awareness to be embarrassed by their relative good fortune. They should come out of the closet. Their shame and fear isn’t helping anyone.
Aphorism: Authenticity is beyond value.
Takeway: We can feel good about our good fortune and still be a good person.
Recipe – MUD PIE in a BUCKET
This dessert is rich and messy and can be made all in one pot without the need for extra staff
Buy My T Fine chocolate pudding and make according to directions.
Buy or whip heavy cream
Refrigerate or eat immediately