By James Kwak
The Huffington Post Books section is hosting a discussion of 13 Bankers; there are links to all the posts so far here. Mike Konczal, usually of Rortybomb, weighed in with a post that included this chart:
People from the 90th to the 95th percentile make about 11% of total income; people from the 95th to the 99th percentile make about 15%; and people in the top percentile make about 23% (in 2006, presumably). But mainly, look at the way that black line shoots up relative to the others since 1980 (along with financial sector profits and per-employee banking compensation).
One of Konczal’s points is that one group that is opposed to Wall Street — and supports stronger reform — is people who are doing well, but not nearly as well as the bankers and fund managers in the top 1%. He focuses in particular on certified financial analysts — people who make a lot of money and know how the financial system operates, and are outraged at Wall Street. 68% of them support the Volcker Rule to prevent banks from engaging in proprietary trading. Konczal calls it the “rage of the 1.5% class.”
Michael Lewis, in an interview with Christopher Lydon, said that in his book tour, a lot of his audiences are well-off and moderate well-off professionals — doctors, dentists, lawyers, small business owners, etc. These are people who (at least according to them) followed the rules, worked hard, paid their taxes, made a fair amount of money, etc. — and just saw the economy almost collapse because of what they see as the shenanigans of a tiny, tiny elite that plays by a different set of rules. Lewis or Lydon (I can’t recall which) called it a “revolt of the petty bourgeoisie.” And it is true that one of the societal forces behind the French Revolution was a traditional official class that saw its status threatened by the new capitalist class. (Yes, this is the opposite of what Marx and Engels thought.)
I don’t want to make too much of this. But I think it is true that the pitchfork-wielders of today are not rock-throwing Trotskyites; they are, largely, politically moderate (or conservative) people who believe in capitalism and in making money. And I also think that there has been a relative shift in economic fortunes away from the small business owning class that we like to think of as the bedrock of American society (the modern version of the yeoman farmer of the eighteenth century), and toward a new elite made up of corporate CEOs, investment bankers, and hedge fund managers. Where this will end up I do not know.