Analysis: who are the 99 percent?

Police guard the bronze Charging Bull sculpture on Broadway in Bowling Green Park on the 1yr anniversary of the Occupy Wall St protests on September 17, 2012
By Eleanor O'Neill, Student Blog

6 February 2017

There has been much talk of the '99%' in recent years, but what is it, and where did the term come from? 

The ongoing divide between the '1% elite' and the rest of the world has been a point of some contention for years and has been a significant contributing factor to the rise of populism in recent times.

Income and wealth inequality have been clearly visible issues in the third world for a long time, with poverty-stricken slums existing on the outskirts of thriving cities. 

Recently, attention has been called to the issue in the US, UK and Europe among a declining trust in large corporations in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. 

Workers who lost livelihoods and small businesses saw much of the recovery go in favour of multinationals, a situation further exacerbated by tax avoidance scandals and repeated government bail-outs.

'Occupy Wall Street' protesters adopted the slogan "We are the 99%" in 2011 as the movement called out socio-economic inequality and corporate 'greed' by marching on New York City's financial district. 

This '99%' represents the disenfranchised middle and lower classes who desire social reform and a new economic, and by extension, monetary system. There is a prevailing belief that certain economic groups hold considerable political influence too. 

Where does politics come into it?

In 'Just Because We Are the 99%', author Mary Marks argues that there is a common view that Republican supporters in the US are typecasted into being affiliated with the 1% when in fact, the vast majority fall under the 99% bracket. Not even Wall St bankers are part of the 1%! 

The 1% is now portrayed as a collection of people with particular viewpoints that go against the collective rights of society, but the evidence is contrary. 

Warren Buffet, who is regarded as one of the eight people who hold the majority of the world's wealth (as reported by Oxfam), has earmarked 99% of his $60bn fortune for charitable causes. He also supports the Democratic party at a presidential level, which sits in opposition to the idea that Republicans are at the roots of the 1%. 

Inequality is not only keeping millions of people trapped in poverty, it is fracturing our societies and poisoning our politics. Mark Goldring, Chief Executive of Oxfam GB.

The recent report from Oxfam, titled 'An Economy for the 99 Percent', points to an ongoing global crisis fuelled by business models built around delivering ever-higher returns to executives and owners, and singles out individuals such as Warren Buffet as fuelling wealth inequality. 

The fundamentals of businesses are reportedly structured to benefit wealthy individuals, rather than society as a whole.

Oxfam's proposed solution, and its critics

The charity has called for a restructure of fundamental economics, concluding that "our economy must stop excessively rewarding those at the top and start working for all people".

This proposed economic model would rely on improved cooperation between governments to prevent multinational tax evasion, action to encourage companies to act for the benefit of their workforces (and wider society), higher taxes on wealth to fund education and healthcare, and action against gender inequality in the global workforce.

"Inequality is not only keeping millions of people trapped in poverty, it is fracturing our societies and poisoning our politics," said Mark Goldring, Chief Executive of Oxfam GB.

Executive Director of Oxfam International, Winnie Byanyima, addressed the highlighted problems of aggressive wage restraint and tax evasion at the World Economic Forum in Davos. She stated that businesses should feel obligated to help create jobs and opportunities for young people globally, a goal that the charity believes is not being met.

However, the charity has come under fire from economists for presenting a simplistic, accusatory view of an intricate and multi-faceted problem. Sam Dumitriu of the Adam Smith Institute, for example, argued that Oxfam has the wrong perspective in an article for the Huffington Post.

He states that levels of poverty have in fact fallen in the last 40 years, due largely to the employment opportunities afforded by globalisation and multinational businesses.

What do you think? Has the 99% movement come to represent a wider political issue? Leave a comment below.


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