Tag Archives: Plutocrats

Plutocrats Author Running for Parliament in Canada

I happened to be reading through some of my old posts and noticed that I was going to write a post after I’d finished reading Plutocrats. I guess somewhere along the way it got removed from my to do list. I did write something that came to me while reading the book about looking down our noses, but nothing really about the book after that.

I think the author, Chrystia Freeland, did a really good job of bringing the issues to light and explaining them in ways that were accessible. It’s been more than a few months since I read it, a couple of the main points stuck with me.

1. It’s not just the wealthy that control the global economy, but the uber-wealthy.

Meaning, it’s not the 1% that are controlling the economy and affecting the 99% (as was the main message from Occupy Wall Street), but it’s the 0.1% who control the economy and affect the 99.9%. This may seem like splitting hairs, but Freeland offers compelling data that shows even the “wealthy” (i.e. the 1%) look like small potatoes next to the 0.1%.

2. The wealth gained by these folks wasn’t necessarily from unsightly means.

I don’t know remember if she says unethical, but some may consider it unethical. She makes the case that the uber-wealthy got that way — and continue to stay that way — because they’ve manipulated the market to funnel the wealth in their direction. She also does a little bit of debunking of the “trickle-down” economics perspective.

Overall, like I’ve said before, it’s a book that’s certainly worth reading.

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Something that I find fascinating — Freeland was (as of a few days ago) a Managing Director and Editor of Consumer News at Thomson Reuters. As you learn from the book, this position allowed her to cultivate the contacts with people in high places to make the book that much more compelling (with stories and anecdotes).  Anyway, like I said, she had this position. She recently left it. Why? She’s running for a seat in Parliament. The Canadian Parliament (she is Canadian).

One of the most storied politicians in Canada in recent history (Bob Rae) left his seat in Toronto Centre to become the chief negotiator for the James Bay area First Nations in negotiations with the provincial government. This vacated his seat and as a result, they’ll be a by-election in the Fall (date not set, yet). Freeland has met with some of the Liberal Party of Canada leaders and decided to seek the seat.

I don’t know if she’ll win the seat (she hasn’t even won the right to represent the Liberal Party just yet), but if she does, I wouldn’t be surprised to see her become part of the “brass” very quickly. In fact, if Justin Trudeau and the Liberals can win enough seats to form a minority or majority government, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Freeland become a Cabinet Minister or at the very least, a senior advisor. Of course, the Federal election isn’t until 2015, but it’s certainly something to think about.

US Congress: 48% Millionaires, US Population: 2.85% Millionaires

I recently saw an article in The Atlantic with the title: Does the Rise of the Super-Wealthy Require New Global Rules? It’s a provocative question based on a book by Chrystia FreelandPlutocrats. I highly recommend taking the time to read it! Anyway, while the article was good, there was something near the beginning that caught my eye and made me think:

When the 113th Congress opened in January, the number of millionaires in its ranks rose to 257 out of 535, or just over 48 percent.

My first thought — that’s a lot of millionaires in Congress, isn’t it? Forty-eight percent! Then I thought, that percentage probably doesn’t hold for the whole population of the US. Meaning, 48% of the United States probably isn’t made up of millionaires. In fact, it’s not. A study found that there are 9 million millionaires in the US. If we use the clock on the US Census Bureau, we can say that there are approximately 316 million people living in the US. So, if we divide 316 million by 9 million, we get a percentage of… 2.85%. Meaning, 2.85% of the US are millionaires. And yet, 48% of Congress are millionaires. Is something wrong here?

The US has a representative democracy. This means that a group of elected officials represent the people who elected them. Maybe it’s just me, but isn’t the keyword here representative? Do we really think that a Congress in which 48% of the body are millionaires can accurately represent a population in which only 2.85% are millionaires?

If you’re an American, this is certainly something worth thinking about today as you enjoy your holiday.

PS: Happy Independency Day!

Can We Make “Looking Down Your Nose” a Good Thing?

A couple of days ago I mentioned that I was going to be doing a post about Chrystia Freeland‘s book Plutocrats. I haven’t yet finished it, but there is something I wanted to talk about before I got to the end. I’m about halfway through the book and the main focus of the conversation is the 0.1% vs. the 1%. The sad truth in Freeland’s words is that those in the 1% continue to spend like they’re in the 0.1% (for a variety of reasons that I won’t get into right now). The important piece here is that they’re not happy with where they are — and they’re looking up.

The idea of the “grass is greener on the other side” seems to be a theme that runs throughout (at least the first half) of Freeland’s book. So, as I was reading, I thought, if people just looked down, they’d be a lot happier. Proverbially down, of course. And not in a pejorative fashion as in the phrase, “looking down your nose.”

I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase that someone’s always got it worse than you — why don’t we implement this as a way of being? Instead of being upset that we can’t buy the newest Bentley or Ferrari, why can’t we “look down” to the person next on the wealth list and realize that we have it better than they do? I hope it’s clear that I’m not suggesting that people think of themselves as “better than” the people who would follow them on a wealth list. I’m merely trying to emphasize how well that people have it and that if they compared themselves (down the chain) they’d probably feel better about themselves. My secret wish is that this would also foster more empathy within us.

So, I wonder… do you think that we can take back the phrase “looking down your nose at someone” and turn it into a good thing? Probably not, but I hope that the next time you hear someone say this (or the next time you think it?) you’ll remember my brief conversation about how much better we’d feel if we compared ourselves to those who had less than to those who have more.

Perception vs. Reality: Revisiting Wealth Inequality in America

This past summer, I wrote a post that shared some information about wealth inequality in the US. I was actually sharing information that had been published the summer before (in 2011). There was a telling graphic that followed as a result of the study (I’ve included it below): Average Income by Family, distributed by income group.

Keeping in mind that this study was published in 2011, so the three boxes may have shifted. If anything, I would imagine that the actual distribution (the top box) is more pronounced in its inequality and because of Occupy Wall Street and books like Chrystia Freeland‘s Plutocrats (which I’m currently reading and will probably have a post on in the near future), I would guess that people would be more aware of the wealth inequality, so the middle box would also be more pronounced in its inequality.

The reason that I decided to revisit this information is because there’s a video that’s being passed around that uses the information from this study (and this graphic) and presents it in a much more effective way. Before reading on, I’d urge you to watch it:

Now, can you see how much more effective that is in accentuating the differences between perception and reality? I especially appreciated the way the creator of the video used the an aggregate of 100 people to illustrate the differences between the percentiles. I’ve found that when numbers get really large, it can be hard for people to conceptualize the differences. For instances, if we look at the graphic above (in this post), the differences are plain to see, but there’s something about the limits of the rectangle. The representation of the quintiles don’t make for easy transferability from one quintile to the next. That is, it might be hard for to conceptualize that each of those colors is suppose to represent 20% of the population. In watching the video, though, the creator so eloquently differentiated between quintiles by taking an aggregate of 100 people and then actually showing the people from each group.

I think the video was really well done and I hope that it raises public awareness around this important issue. More than that, I hope that it motivates the public to actually want something to get done. If enough of the population pressures their legislators, we just might be able to make a change.

Put Down the Non-Fiction and Walk Away Slowly

I read a lot of non-fiction. I’ve written about some of the books I’ve read on here (Good to Great, The Art of War, The Art of War (again), etc.), but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Most of the articles I share on Facebook (about 5 per day) comes from something I’d read in the past month. I believe it’s important to continually refresh ourselves (through learning). I do that by reading as much as I can — non-fiction.

About 2 years ago, when I decided to go to business school, I read everything about business that I could get my hands on. I read the Heaths, Collins, Christensen, Pink, Godin, and many others. In amongst that reading, I continually came across a piece of wisdom — read fiction. At first, I was a little shocked by it. Read fiction!? And then, I started to understand a little bit more about what the reasons for reading fiction.

Empathy.

Empathy is at the heart of the beginning of the solution to many of the world’s problems. When we empathize, we are able to recognize the emotions that another is feeling. At the root of compassion is empathy. [Note: sympathy is quite different from empathy. Sympathy is simply a concern for another’s well-being, where empathy usually refers to one sharing the same emotional state.] So, now that I’ve explained empathy, I need to tie it back into reading fiction.

Reading fiction ‘improves empathy’, study finds — Sept. 2011 — The Guardian

Reading boosts empathy — May 2012 — The Globe and Mail

Fiction is an exercise in empathy — June 2012 — New York Times

Dots connected?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still going to continue to read non-fiction — and lots of it. Though, I may start to whittle down the number of non-fiction books I read. I’ve just finished Dan Pink’s most recent To Sell Is Human, and I still want to get through Chrystia Freeland’s Plutocrats. Once I do that, I plan to make the switch and start reading more fiction. Will you join me?