Being part of the 1%

If you see me scowling: please kick me.

If you see me scowling: please kick me!

This week’s news stories have caused me to reflect on my good fortune.

The stories (Oxfam and Guardian and BBC and Hans Rosling) report that 1% of humanity owns roughly half of all wealth i.e. they own about the same amount of wealth as the poorest 99%.

On hearing this I was at first shocked as I envisaged the hardships of my fellow humans, and envied the dreamy life of those in the lucky 1%.

But after shock came surprise:

  • I realised that I – as part owner of a house in Teddington – was probably amongst that 1%!
  • Additionally, my annual salary of £53,000 (about $80,000) placed me amongst the 1% of highest earners globally (link, link).
  • And my PhD in Physics must surely place me amongst the top 1% of best educated people.

And in addition to my astonishing income, wealth and education, I have been blessed with a beautiful wife and two healthy children.

Reflecting on these facts, I have been curious as to why – given my obvious and astonishing good fortune – I did not wake up each morning full of joy.

In fact I spend most of my life chronically anxious – worrying about my family, my weight, my work, or about the minutiae of one scientific endeavour or another.

But if all this good fortune isn’t enough to make me happy – or to allow me to feel happy – then what am I waiting for?

So I have resolved to be happier.

  • If you see me and I am not smiling: please kick me!
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2 Responses to “Being part of the 1%”

  1. Fiona Auty Says:

    It is sobering isn’€™t it!

  2. Emma W Says:

    I have thought about this a lot and for a long time – and I get extremely annoyed by the 1%/99% movement for exactly this reason – so many of the people who are complaining are actually in the top 1% and don’t realise it! There are ~70 million people in the top 1%!

    Wealth and income are both very long-tail distributions, which means the top x% is always owning a shocking proportion of the money, whether x% is 10%, 1%, 0.1% or 0.01%.

    What annoys me about the movement is that it becomes “someone else’s problem”. The sobering realisation that “I am in the top 1%” (or 2%, or 10%!) makes it my problem. And it’s always easier to complain about other people than to do something about myself.

    The irony is that I don’t feel at all rich. And that’s because you judge your wealth by those immediately around you – and when the people immediately around you live in Teddington, your definition of “rich” is rather skewed!

    But also I don’t feel I have any spare money to hand out – well, perhaps a bit more than I do (my charitable donations are with “surplus” rather than making me uncomfortable), but certainly not enough to make a real dent in the inequality. And that is because with living in Teddington comes a large set of expectations – the first of which is that I must pay £1000 a month rent and another £1000 on childcare costs.

    And that’s when we start to realise that behind the headline is a more fundamental problem – because it’s a lot more complicated than just the rich giving the poor money (although a lot more of that would be a good start).

    When Oxfam started this campaign I sighed with “here we go again”, but I was thrilled to see the discussions that started to realise that “the top 1% includes me”. Maybe it is the start of a shift…

    I don’t have answers, but I found it very helpful to read the journal of John Woolman (18th Century, American Quaker who persuaded Quakers to stop owning slaves) – he said that he realised that if he could live a life that was much simpler, and need less material stuff he wouldn’t need to work so hard to earn the income he needed and therefore would have more time free to do what God was leading him to do (in his case go round bugging the conscience of slave owners until they couldn’t keep slaves any more). But when I discovered Sainsbury’s economy range is full of palm oil – I realised that it was going to take far too much thinking to balance “live on as little as possible”, “buy ethical products” and “lower my carbon footprint” … 😉 So I’m trying not to over-think this …

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