Wondering about Capitalism: The One Percent

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Do the rich need the poor?

The economy. Two words that once-upon-a-time simply described the system in which goods and services are consumed or exchanged within a particular people group. Today, these two words embody a world of emotions, questions, and fears that is nothing more than “bad” news: Dollar at record lows against the Euro. Unemployment high. Record foreclosures. Blah blah blah blah… You cannot watch CNN, listen to NPR, or read the news without hearing about it.

In the midst of this unavoidable subject matter, an interesting subplot has received its fair share of attention: the inequality of wealth distribution, also known as “the wealth gap.”

The UN released a report a little over a year ago that claimed that the wealthiest 1% own 40% of the world’s wealth – the top 2% owning half. On the flip side, the poorer half barely makes up 1% of the world’s wealth. And the gap continues to be on the rise… inevitably leading to the “rich get richer” and the “poor get poorer” conundrum.

To be honest, this is no real surprise being that the majority of the world lives in an either “thriving” or “not thriving” capitalistic society. And one of the fundamental elements of free market capitalism is – if you have a winner, you have a loser (depending on our definition of the two). What does this mean? Well, two prominent questions immediately rise within this discussion:

What is needed (resources) to “win”? (Are the poor capable of winning?)


When are the winners “winning” too much?

Although the latter question is unbelievably subjective, it is exactly the question that makes the recent activity amongst the wealthiest 1% so interesting. In fact, it was #1 (Bill Gates) and #2 (Warren Buffet) that grabbed the world’s attention when #2 made a promise of $30 Billion to #1 (The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation) in 2006.

Around the same time, a somewhat of an unlikely figure amongst the one-percent club began making headlines, but in a completely different form. Jamie Johnson, an heir to the ginormous Johnson & Johnson fortune made a decision to turn filmmaker. In 2003, he directed Born Rich, a documentary specifically on the children of the insanely rich – putting himself in the mix. In 2006, he released the first cut of The One Percent [trailer below] – a film that specifically addresses the “wealth gap” issue. Interestingly enough, Buffet’s adopted daughter, Nicole Buffet, was a part of the film and joined Jamie on Oprah to discuss back in 2006.

The One Percent has only recently made its way to the broader public via the HBO/Cinemax scene – airing for the first time last month. Though the film could be an interesting discussion in and of itself; I have become more intrigued by the simple reality that a handful of the super rich are calling “foul.” What does this say about human nature? What is the internal reality of Johnson (Buffet and Gates included) that has put relationships, status, and bottom-line at risk? What prompts the pause? The questions?

Here at rednow, we have recently been exploring a reality that is seemingly subjective in nature: “that which ought not be.” A reality without justification. A reality that should NOT exist, but does. These few amongst the world’s wealthiest seem to be entertaining the same unsettling reality. Of course, these three are not the only ones asking these questions, but they are the ones that make it a bit more interesting… Is this irony? Or is this at the very heart of what it means to be human? Chime in.


The One Percent (Trailer)

Clip from The One Percent : via NPR

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