Pearls of Wisdom: A Response to Billionaire Bonanza

Morris Pearl is the Chair of the Patriotic Millionaires, a group of high net worth individuals who advocate for higher taxes on the wealthy and are committed to building a more prosperous, stable, and inclusive nation. A former Managing Director of BlackRock and veteran of Wall Street, Pearl is an established member of the 1%. Morris and his fellow Patriotic Millionaires have been featured on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, The New York Times, The Boston Globe, and many other national and local news outlets.

In a report entitled Billionaire Bonanza released December 2, my fellow Patriotic Millionaire Chuck Collins and Josh Hoxie of the Institute for Policy Studies detailed the extreme and growing level of wealth inequality in America. The results truly scared me and you should be scared too, whether you are part of the 99% or part of the 1%.

Many middle class Americans love watching “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” because, in the back of their minds they believe that just maybe they or their children (or grandchildren) will be rich and famous too someday. It is this belief in the greatness of purpose and availability of opportunity that our country provides that allows for the system to keep working, but for millions of Americans this belief is becoming a fairy tale.

In a well known piece by Nick Hanauer, he writes of crowds with pitchforks coming for the billionaire class. While we are not there yet, there were days when the Occupy Movement seemed to be moving in that direction. Our society depends on general cooperation by the populace at large. Without the consent of the governed, the resources needed to enforce law and order would be massive and result in our nation more closely resembling a police state than a free society.

People are now realizing that we are rapidly becoming a country where the secret to success is not hard work or ingenuity, but instead simply having the right grandparents. At present, over one third of the top of the Forbes 400 are the heirs to massive fortunes made years ago by people like the late Forrest Mars (of Mars Candy) and the late Sam Walton (of Walmart).

While the wealthy have always had more political power in America; since the founding was orchestrated by landowners and not indentured servants, the trend has always been toward making our democracy more inclusive. Over the last 200 years we have removed arbitrary requirements to participation in civic life such as gender, race, and landowning status.

We have made significant progress…until now. For the first time since the aftermath of the Civil War, the political establishment is now systematically erecting barriers to prevent the poor from participating in both political and civic life. With the growing segregation of our society, the less affluent are so out of sight that to the most affluent that they become out of mind.  The underclass becomes invisible to the rest of us. We see the man silently removing the empty plates from our table at the restaurant and never wonder where he lives or where his children go to school. We see the woman with the mop waiting for us to finish walking across the lobby before she continues scrubbing the floor and never wonder who is caring for her children.

When the wealthy don’t know the poor, is it any wonder that elected officials – who must spend so much time soliciting donations from people who have money – don’t know them either?

When our country is bifurcated, when we become two nations living in our country, nothing incentivizes the haves to cooperate with the have nots.  I am scared that my children will see real social turmoil and be telling their children about the good old days of the Occupy Movement.

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