Well, please allow me to retort…

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I came across this op-ed piece by a supposed economics professor named Bradley Schiller this morning. It has been sticking in my craw all day ever since. His piece comically misses the mark on so many points, I honestly didn’t know where to start. 

After some stewing, I decided to reply to it directly. As if I were debating somebody on a Facebook, Huffpost, or web forum thread. It just seems to be the most appropriate way to respond. So here it goes. His statements are quoted and italicized, followed by my responses, item by item.

By Bradley Schiller
Sun Dec 4 2011 12:00 AM
“The class war is on. It’s the 99% of “us” versus the 1% of “them.”

In the rhetoric of this war, we are fighting the 1% because they possess most of the nation’s wealth, bankroll their handpicked political candidates, control the banks and get million-dollar paychecks and billion-dollar bailouts; yet they don’t pay enough taxes or invest their wealth in creating American jobs. They’re the “millionaires and billionaires” President Obama has called out as needing to pony up more for progressive reforms of our healthcare, banking, tax and political systems. They are the enemy of “us” — the 99% who toil at low-wage jobs, hold underwater mortgages, face foreclosures, suffer recurrent and protracted job layoffs and plant closings, and yet pay our fair share of taxes.”

You seem to be rather cheeky in your synopsis of the situation. If not incredibly general for someone who claims to be an economist. You obviously know better, or you should. Would it be too hard to say that, at the very least, perhaps the “99%” have figured out that the game as laid out by Corporate America, Wall Street, and the overwhelmingly wealthiest sliver of the population, has been rigged in their favor? You also tend to use the “us” in parentheses as if you are being facetious about being part of that “us”. Suffice it to say, knowing what a typical economics professor earns as a salary, that you are definitely part of the “us”. Even if you don’t want to admit it.

“But there’s a flaw in this strategy. The Occupy Wall Street movement envisions the 1% as a monolithic cadre of entrenched billionaires who have a firm and self-serving grip on all the levers of the economy. But a closer look at that elite group reveals how untrue that perspective is.

Forbes magazine compiles a list of the richest 400 Americans every year. To get on that list, you must have at least $1 billion of wealth. They are the creme de la creme of the 1% — indeed, the top 0.0000013% (!) of Americans. So who are these dastardly people?”

Wow, are you serious? The vast majority of people in this country are under the economic beck and call of 1% of the country’s population. Which, to remind you, hold the vast majority of the nation’s economic wealth. And you try to somehow dismiss the majority’s “strategy”, whatever that may mean, on what can deemed as ludicrous. On the basis of who comprises the wealthiest 400 people in the country?

What about the other 2.5 million or so of the remaining wealthy “elite” of the population? Do they not account for this disparity at all? Why in the world would you not include them in any counter-argument you would make?

“The late Steve Jobs was in that elite club this year. In his earlier days, Jobs would have been camped out with the OWS crowd, probably passing around a joint. Should we count him as one of “us” or one of “them”? (And you can’t use your iPhone or iPad to vote “them.”)”

Ok, and? Steve Jobs also benefited notoriously from his stock and manipulated stock options. Which, exploited Apple’s other stockholders. He also participated in very predatory and backward practices in an effort to preserve an artificial value perceived around Apple’s “brand” for YEARS. For all the supposed “good” that he’s done, he’s also participated in some particularly greedy and dirty business practices to boot. In many ways, that no one would like to imagine. Now that he’s dead and gone.

So what exactly is your point?

“Then there’s 27-year old Mark Zuckerman (No. 14 on the Forbes list), whose Facebook innovation enables the OWS movement to communicate so easily. He and five other Facebook entrepreneurs just joined the Forbes 400 this year.”

Well, I don’t know who Mark “Zuckerman” is, but I do know a Mark Zuckerberg. Who coincidentally, was somewhat involved with Facebook’s creation incredible growth in recent years. They even made a movie about him. Apparently you missed it. Might you be actually talking about him?

And again, what exactly is your point in citing him in your argument? Are you saying that your case is that if someone like Mark Zucker”man” can become a billionaire almost overnight with some zany internet idea, then all is good? That perhaps there is nothing wrong with the current system??

“We’d also quickly recognize among “them” Sergey Brin, Larry Page and Eric Schmidt, who became billionaires developing Google. And, as they are sipping a latte to keep warm, the OWS campers should also reflect on whether Howard Schultz, Starbucks’ founder and No. 330 on the Forbes list, is with “us” or “them.””

Ok, you’ve got a point there. Collectively, Google and Facebook are involved in some of the most profound revolutions of how the average citizen can access information in the digital realm. No doubt about it.

On the other hand, these few wealthy individuals also now command tremendous power over the very privacy and personal information of those very same average citizens. It’s no secret that both Facebook and Google have been mining private data on pretty much everyone for some time now. So much so, that finally even the government had to step in. And we all know how often that happens.

And again, so what??? what is your point? So far you have named off exactly FIVE people out of an estimated 3 million that comprise the 1%. What argument are you trying to make here?

“Not every member of the Forbes 400 is a high-tech folk hero. There is a lot of inherited wealth on that list too (the Mars, Walton, Cargill and Ford dynasties). But 70% of the Forbes elite are self-made billionaires.”

You make it sound as if being a “self-made” mogul automatically means that the fortune was obtained via legitimate and honest means. Not so fast. You ought to think about that a while. It’s apparently very easy for only a scant few people to reach that level of insane wealth in our system. That’s not necessarily something to brag about. It doesn’t even support your argument, whatever that may be.

Consider also, that in Russia, the vast majority of its wealthy elite (mostly billionaires, big surprise), are none other than opportunistic OLIGARCHS who exploited the breakup of the Soviet Union. In fact, a large part of the problem in Russia’s progress as a developing country is that much of the country’s economic wealth is in the hands of these few scant oligarchs. They are HOARDING the wealth and keeping it out of the economy in a way that it undermines the economic growth of the rest of the country. Tell me, as an economist, do you not see ANY strange parallels at all between them and us? Really?

“Those entrepreneurial successes include not just the names behind Facebook, Google, Apple and Starbucks but also EBay (Meg Whitman, Pierre Omidyar), Yahoo (Jerry Yang), Nike (Phil Knight), AOL (Steve Case), Amazon (Jeff Bezos), Subway sandwiches (Peter Buck, Fred DeLuca), “Star Wars” (George Lucas) and even Beanie Babies (Ty Warner). Does anyone doubt that these members of the reviled 1% have enriched the country in significant ways?

” I really have to say, this is one of the most INSANE editorials I’ve ever read, regarding someone trying to justify or even elevate the state of the US’s wealthiest class. You go on dropping names as if they comprise of the vast majority of the country’s 1%. When in reality, you’re not even close to being right about that. It’s rather sophomoric to be honest.

No one doubts that these people have not contributed in some way to the US progress and excellence in their respective fields. But again, so what?? This does not diminish or change the fact that the vast majority of the 1% are engaged in practices that don’t. The numbers themselves PROVE that they don’t. So with all due respect, you’re really not making any case whatsoever with your “brilliant” references to these movers and shakers. Not one bit.

“Even more to the point is that all of these club-400 elites were once just like “us.” Jobs worked on the first Apple computer in a garage on a shoestring budget.”

Yes, and again, back at a time when there was a much more level playing field and greater opportunities for entrepreneurs. Most of which exist today the way they did 10, 20, even 30 years ago.

“He had vision, not wealth, to propel him to fame and fortune. Oprah Winfrey (No. 139) rose from poverty to TV queen through determination, hard work and a couple of lucky breaks. Even Warren Buffett, No. 2 on the Forbes list, started out looking very much like just another hardworking middle-class kid with good Midwestern values.”

Yes, and Oprah Winfrey was a beacon for subesequent black woman billionaires to follow in her footsteps to the tune of… how many? To repeat, these entrepreneurs got their footing at a time when there was far greater opportunity and equity in the US’s system. Unfortunately, within just the last 20 years, things have rapidly deteriorated on that front. To further add insult to injury, education in this country is in the toilet. There is now little or no support for new and emerging small businesses in this country. Banks have looted the wealth of the country via incredibly brazen means. And now, that wealth is hoarded away. They refuse to release it back into the flow in the form of loans and financing of those budding entrepreneurs who seem to be everywhere according to you. The reality is these hoarding oligarchs and their institutions stifle competition and thwart economic progress. They keep those entrepreneurs from emerging with the next, bigger, better widget. And yet, you give them a pass.

In other words, unless you’re a Mark “Zuckerman” with just the right idea, at just the right time, you are essentially screwed from making it to the big leagues. But please, do keep on citing your success stories and your cornpone, homespun sentiments about “good Midwestern values”. Please. Just remember, John Wayne Gacy was from the Midwest, and he was considered a good guy until they started finding bodies everywhere.

“These storied rises from “rags to riches” are what make America the unique and prosperous nation it is. Some critics would have us believe that the American dream is dead.”

How proud you must be. To be from a country of well over 330 million people, that you can cite the success of less than a dozen or so. Your list of winners, as testament to the notion that the “American Dream” still thrives. Who are you kidding??

The saddest part of this, is that you ignore the facts. You ignore the statistics. Having spent a lot of time in Latin America, I’ve come to understand the concept of oligarchical power and plutocracy. The US, virtually before my very eyes, has transformed into such a state. Be assured this is not my summation due to opinion. The facts are there as clearly as anyone wants to see them. Even you. In fact, you should see them better than most people.

“But that’s a view purveyed by those without the vision, the grit, the energy or the single-mined determination to build a better mousetrap. Starry-eyed inventors and entrepreneurs have no doubts about that dream. They know it exists and that they are going to achieve it. Maybe not on the first try, but eventually. That’s the entrepreneurial spirit that drives competitive markets, that not only makes the American dream come true for some (the 1%) but also improves life for the many (the 99%).”

Yet, you fail to account for the vast majority of the rest of the population. You know, those who don’t necessarily want to build a better mousetrap. They just want to work hard, be valued by their employers, earn a decent living, raise their kids, and retire comfortably. You don’t seem to have a place for these less-lofty dreamers in your vision of America. It’s actually a rather lame and naive vision. Particularly, from someone who claims to be an educated economist. I would expect a more concise “vision” from my 14 year-old nephew.

“What really motivates the OWS movement is not resentment against the 1% but a sense of futility in grappling with a weak economy. With unemployment hovering around 9%, and with all the recurrent plant closings, foreclosures and cutbacks in public services, there is a lot of anger to vent. But class warfare isn’t the solution.”

It’s strange that you think you know what motivates the OWS movement. Particularly, when you so readily dismiss them as being clueless. Did it ever occur to you that you perhaps missed some important items? And you don’t find it odd that all the factors you cite in your disturbingly shortsighted opinion misses the obvious? That you don’t include the obvious CAUSES for all the economic mayhem that exists today? Or the fact that corporate irresponsibility, fraud, lack of self-regulation (so as to avoid government regulation), GREED, and yes, lack of respect for the average US worker perhaps played a major role in all this? Apparently not.

“Our frustrations are more the product of Washington than Wall Street. We have been promised a lot and received little. Obama (who made millions in book royalties the last few years) sowed the seeds of disillusionment when he overpromised what his February 2009 stimulus package could deliver.”

You mean the stimulus package that was in fact started by his predecessor (you know that other multi-millionaire who garnered his wealth the old-fashioned way, via his family and the Carlyle Group)? That was solely intended to bail out the banks that were “too big to fail” and their principals, rather than save jobs and keep the economy afloat? Then, Obama inherits the mess, and somehow it’s all his fault. He’s to blame that things didn’t get fixed due to his “overpromising”.

But how can you say all that, without also saying that his predecessor’s policies caused the mess in the FIRST PLACE? Then UNDERSTATED the damage caused by those policies?

“A series of policy failures and political deadlocks has left people feeling disenfranchised and forgotten. Calling out millionaires and billionaires as the culprits in this economic saga is disingenuous and ultimately self-defeating.”

It’s only self-defeating in the sense that “calling out” the wealthiest three million or so of the US population will mean nothing unless real action follows. The game that has clearly been rigged needs to be changed. Since it’s clear that those in power will not change the rules of the game, those not in power need to change the way the game is played.

“Those 1 percenters are not an avaricious “them” but in reality the most entrepreneurial of “us.” If we had more of them and fewer grandstanding politicians, we would all be better off.”

Bradley Schiller is a professor of economics at the University of Nevada-Reno and the author of “The Economy Today.”

Your last paragraph pretends that you have somehow been able to argue this conclusion with some semblance of confidence and credulity. When you clearly haven’t.

First of all, you didn’t actually cover all the “1 percenters”, you didn’t even come close. You named a scant, tiny, micro-sliver of them to support your incredibly lame points of argument. This is not to mention that despite your scant-ness, you misnamed perhaps the most popular one of them, rather egregiously. Second of all, you make it sound as the most “entrepreneurial” of the US population have access to the same opportunities that these “creme de la creme” had. Which is utterly, absolutely, LUDICROUS. This economic system has been so badly decimated over the last ten years that you can be assured that it is far more difficult for an entrepreneur to break through now than ever before in this country’s history, barring perhaps the Great Depression. And finally, you still refuse to accept the fact that the average US working citizen is a VICTIM of what has transpired. You fail to place responsibility for all the incredibly evil and horrible shit that has been perpetrated by Corporate America, and yes, the vast majority of the 1% who benefited from their crimes and misdeeds.

Your piece, to be mild, is silly, nonsensical, and beyond fairy-tale whimsy. Particularly when it comes to discussing the actual economic realities. It further leads me to believe that your position as an economics professor, at a state university no less, is a symbol of all that is wrong in this country. It surely reflects the dismal state of the quality of our nation’s educational system far more eloquently than I, or anyone else, can possibly argue.

Congratulations.


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