What's Up With the 99%?
What is this Occupy Wall Street movement? For several weeks we’ve watched a small group of people, who claim to represent 99% of the people, stage protests around the world. I am still wondering exactly what they are protesting. Are they mad at the banks for sinking the economy, creating tons of bad loans and creating financial WMD’s? Are they mad at Wall Street for making so much money? Are they unhappy that capitalism is not fair to everyone? I’m not sure that I get it. Certainly it’s true that the middle class has not gained much real income in the last 30 years. But I’m still confused. The demonstrators claim to represent 99% of the people. That seems ridiculous. The top 10% of earning families in America make over a six figure income. That’s not so bad. The bottom 10% of Americans receive more money from unemployment or welfare than 90% of the world’s population. We Americans seem to take our high standard of living for granted, but it seems to me that everywhere in the world that I travel, it looks like the majority of people are much worse off than we are.
I think that anger is at the root of these protests. I do understand and share the anger. There have been many unfair and absurd things that happened in the past three years. The list of grievances is long, but in a democracy we have free expression to vote and express our views. We have forums and a free press. We have twitter and facebook. Somehow sitting in the street blocking hard working people from getting to their jobs doesn’t seems to do much except create mayhem and foment resentment. The big issue is how to solve our problems and create a better world.
The focus of these demonstrations is Wall Street but I think that the focus should be on how to have a good life through education, hard work, some risk and of course, some good luck. One of the greatest things about America is that anyone can start a business. A year ago we established Gerber Kawasaki because we had a vision for a new kind of wealth and investment management firm. We did the paperwork, called upon years of experience in the business, put a team together and opened the office. It is a lot of work to build a business, but what is great about America is that anything is possible. Many of the richest Americans earned their wealth by owning their own business, sacrificing and working very hard for a long time. Of course some inherited their wealth from the success of their families. Anything is possible. It still is.
We have become a little like Europe, with less interest in hard work and taking risks. We have to look inward and decide if we want to embrace the slogans of the Occupy Wall Street people. Would we be happy living on social services? Can we expect raises if we don’t provide more value? Are we willing to go back to school or learn a trade if we can’t find a job, or will we start to expect unemployment insurance to last forever?
One final thought. When I was younger I used to go to the Grateful Dead shows. The Dead had its own local economy. It would follow the tour. The hippies knew that if they were going to go to every show and not have a real job, they would have to make money by selling something (hopefully something legal). At the shows you could buy food, clothing, music instruments, art, etc. These hippies figured it out - they didn’t want to be on the Forbes 400, they knew they could live the life they wanted by being entrepreneurial. If the Occupy Wall Street people who claim to represent 99% of the people want to send a message to Americans it should be to work hard, be creative, take risks, vote, tweet and keep Wall Street honest.
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