America's new aristocracy: the 9.9% and their delusion of hereditary meritocracy

Wasn’t there an interesting video the other day where US demographics were defined in terms of out population being only 100 people. I may have miss heard it or his overall analysis is suspect. He said that of the 100 3 people made more than 100 k per year. And this article list the top 10 percent as making much more then that.


Judging how “successful” a school is is difficult. How can one be sure one isn’t judging how wealthy the children are rather than how adept the teachers are?

My city does things differently from Denver. We have a “lottery” system, where you rank school choices and a computer assigns you. Some people think they win, some people think they lose, and about 1/4 of the kids go to private or parochial school.

By high school the schools are citywide and kids spend hours on public transit every day no matter where they live or go.



assets vs. income


Kids need to learn how to use public transportation (as well as learn how to live civilly with other people who don’t look exactly like them.)


I agree, and I think being the masters of their own transportation is super for kids. There are drawbacks too. It’s very time-consuming, and most kids can’t manage to do homework on a jerky bus or train. Seven hours of school, 3-5 hours of homework, 3 hours on public transit… if kids want to do anything else besides use the facilities and eat, they take the time out of their sleep.


I was wondering this too. While I do not exactly live pay check to paycheck…I’m not far off from it. I have a sizable retirement thanks to aggressive saving on my part coupled with a generous company match and profit sharing for the last 18 years at my employer and good asset allocation and growth for my chosen investments.

My spouse works in public education and is at the upper end of the pay scale there as a school professional, so she has a sizable pension awaiting her upon retirement.

We are definitely in that $1m+ value because of those retirement assets…but we are by no means rich. We get by and can afford some moderate comforts like a couple of late model cars and a nice family vacation every other year…but some days it is a struggle.

What is really the definition of rich or elitist 1% or 9.9% or whatever percent. Feels like the bar moves at times.

1 Like



But, they are being criticize, isn’t that the very same thing? /s


@doctorow I believe your references to 1% should be .1%. The article breaks out .1% and 9.9%, equaling the top 10%.


Reading the article, being in this group is about more than income or net worth. It’s also about social capital, inter-generational economic mobility, quality education and the options and earning premiums it brings, the place you live, etc. Stewart isn’t moving the bar but he’s expanding the defining characteristics beyond scorekeeping with money.

Your net worth is higher than that of 90% of the population of a country that is wealthier than most. That doesn’t mean that the other 90% is poor, but increasingly it doesn’t mean they’re all middle-class in financial terms, either.

Your situation describes that of a middle class person in mid-20th-century America, one that is only currently available to people who were the equivalents of millionaires in the 1950s and 60s.


That includes anyone who owns their own house in the Bay Area.


I certainly do not FEEL wealthy at all. But I do appreciate having an actual retirement that will sustain my spouse and I. Both our parents did not plan well for retirement and it has been on us to help them more and more which has been a strain to say the least (especially given we have 3 kids).


I looked this up on and the numbers it fed back were interesting. Median in the US is about $45K/year for a firefighter and $75K/year for an OR nurse, so about $120K/year, gross. Their tax rate is 25% - let’s assume that property and other taxes and deductions balance out and leave it at that. So their take home would be 90 K/year.

Let’s say they are married with 2 children (it’s all about hereditary wealth here), so using one estimate of the cost to raise a child (~14 K/year) that brings it down to 62K/year. Let’s also assume mortgage or rent costs of 1.5K/month, so 18K/year, that brings it down to 42K/year. Let’s say 1K/month (12K/year) for food and power, so that’s 30K/year. Transportation costs, other miscellaneous stuff, health insurance, etc. - let’s say these cost ~$1K/month. Generously, this would leave them ~20 K/year to work with. Let’s say they invest that with a 5% net annual return. It’s going to take them about 25 years to hit the 1 million dollar net worth mark, to which you could add the price of their modest paid off home and they would just be entering the 1.2 million net worth range. This excludes some things and double counts some others, but it seems like a reasonable ballpark estimate. Of course they might aspire to a nicer than average home in a nicer neighbourhood, more expensive car, and paying their kids tuition in university, all of which take a significant bite out of that.

Though well into the top half, I doubt this couple makes it into the 9.9%.


The phrase, “failure of imagination” comes to mind. In postwar USia we love to use our imaginations to pretend-spend our imaginary lottery winnings, but it’s somehow considered rude to use our imaginations to predict the things that may go wrong. And invoking the French terror seems like pretty weak tea compared to the futures I can imagine.

Try this one on for size: none of your family or friends get your heads chopped off, but rather, you live out your lives in a walled compound, unable to leave without heavy armed guards. You’re never a victim of a war crime, you’re just complicit in them.

This is one of those futures I’m pretty sure I’d rather die than inhabit.

And in a minor, pedantic, kind of grumble way, substituting %10 for %1 is also a ploy to try to get us to thinking about our own complicity in this horror. The number could get bigger, even, maybe 15%, or 25%?

Logically, you could expand it all the way up to 49% before the math starts to argue against you.

The way I read this, it’s a matter of phase change. From quantitative to qualitative change. On the Fahrenheit thermometer, the difference between 32 degrees and 33 degrees doesn’t read any differently than any other adjacent digits. That figure only really seems significant if you know something about the nature of water and its thermal properties.

It’s a similar sort of game, twiddling between 1% and 10%. I think the author is pointing toward some kind of measure of moral hazard. Presumably the 1% are going to be significantly more reluctant to repent their sins than the 10%. And the unasked question is, "what’s your number, anonymous audience member? And how bad will it have to get before you flip? (or are flipped?)

Income is a far easier value to quantify than environmental degradation. Especially if you include" fake news" wars of distraction, dirty water and lights out in Flint and Puerto Rico… It may be devilishly hard to quantify all the things going wrong, but the variable there is still a very real value nonetheless. And the tipping point, the transition from ballot boxes to guillotines, that value is of great interest to everyone, even if we can’t agree on a numerical value to assign it.

When democracy melts, the will of the people stops being a question of, "who shall we elevate? ", and becomes instead, “who shall we demote?”


Fair enough

Sandwich generation. That can be tough. If you’re helping out your parents you’re digging into your own capital, so I can see why you wouldn’t feel wealthy. A struggle is a struggle.

That said, Stewart’s point (and, in a different way, the one Richard Reeves makes) is that once you take out the top 1% or 0.1% (at least in terms of net worth) and take into account those other factors I mentioned you are indeed wealthy by domestic and global standards whether you feel that way or not. That’s not poverty Olympics or discounting your own challenges.

If one is wealthy, though, it’s unbecoming and dangerous in the domestic context to pretend that you’re anything but, because that does nothing but breed resentment amongst those in the 90% who aren’t and who (along with their children) likely never will be.

It’s worse if you’re not white, of course. From the article:

The Institute for Policy Studies calculated that, setting aside money invested in “durable goods” such as furniture and a family car, the median black family had net wealth of $1,700 in 2013, and the median Latino family had $2,000, compared with $116,800 for the median white family.

I’m not sure if you’re white, but if you are from what you said you have 8x or 9x that median. Then there was this Twitter thread that came through my newsfeed today to add more perspective:


Mine too. I feel that what things like that thread, with its responses, point out is that there’s more of a widening gulf between the classes. It’s far from the mostly evenly divided upper class, middle class, working class, poor strata of the past. It’s more like super-rich, rich, middle class, poor but not on assistance, poor and on assistance, homeless now, and the middle class is slowly disappearing as they either get financially successful (or lucky) or their credit card debts, student loans, and mortgages bury them.


What does the Y axis represent? Percentage of US wealth?


The definition of “rich” has pretty much morphed into meaning “someone with more money than me”. At just about every income/wealth level, if you ask someone if they’re rich, they’ll say no and point at the next level above them, saying: “that’s what rich is”.


Yes. Total national household wealth.