All the talk of class warfare surrounding the “1% v. 99%” dialogue has me thinking – if America is actually a two-class society of elites and peasants, then how could we accurately distinguish between members of these two classes?
Two things come to mind, and the first should be obvious. The elite class owns land. The exploited class must pay rent, or mortgages, in order to dwell on the property of the elite without fear of policemen coming to forcibly evict them.
The second is about how the elite profit compared to how the working class does. It should come as no surprise – they call it the working class because they need to work to survive! They pay the bills with labor, that is usually rewarded through fixed wages or salaries.
(Free market orthodoxy imagines these terms are negotiated, but in reality the only negotiation is “accept what I’m willing to pay you [often minimum wage or less] or you don’t get the job.)
Meanwhile the elites either profit from the rent they charge to the tenants of their land, or they profit from capital gains – returns on their investments.
Within the elite group there are special categories. Celebrities (actors, musicians, athletes, entertainers in general), politicians, investment bankers and finance traders, and of course, everyone’s favorite – CEOs!
The precise mechanism for how each of these elites extracts titanic wealth from the general populace varies from group to group, but the underlying pattern of harvest remains constant.
We can thus observe that working class people use their own work as their primary source of profit (often however, they depend on infrastructure built by the elite in order to enable that work).
By contrast the elite use the resources of others as their primary method of profit – stocks that get their returns from the exploitative nature of wage-based labor, inheritance that can be invested.
Casting too wide a net of opinion over either group unfairly reduces both of them. There are hard working people in debt, just like there are hard working members of the 1%. However the way our system is designed, wealth tends to concentrate in increasingly few hands – a precursor to effective royalty.
Nature operates through mathematical averages, which can be applied to the weather and human talents alike. I would be very interested to see how the bell curve distribution of money in the US matches up to the standard bell curve of talent we can generally infer about the populace.
If the curves did not match up and varied significantly, it would imply our distribution of wealth today is in fact not natural and not the result of individual talents or hard work, but could be the result of fundamental flaws in the infrastructure and design of our economic system itself.