Saturday, March 26, 2011

The One Percent

       I just got done watching a documentary called "The One Percent," and it inspired me to start this blog. It's the kind of movie that everyone should watch simply because of its inherent social ramifications.  The topic is one that has bothered me for quite some time.  Its focus is on the wealth gap in the United States, and how such a small amount of people control such a large amount of the wealth, as well as the consequences on the lives of so many.  I have always had the belief that one should respect everyone, despite their socioeconomic status.  That stems from a deep seeded belief that it is impossible to place yourself in someone's shoes.  So while I feel that I have a pretty good ability to do so, there is a limit to it because everyone's life is so different.  You cannot possibly understand what a person has gone through to make them who they are.  Someone who inherits a multimillion dollar trust fund had no more control in the situation they were born into than someone born into a poor housing project.

      Take, for example, the documentary "The One Percent."  Jamie Johnson, an heir to the Johnson and Johnson fortune is the creator of the film and he leverages his family name to get interviews with highly respected(and super rich) individuals.  Jamie, despite his inherent financial situation, with millions of dollars at his disposal, chose to make a film documenting how his family controls so much of the way everyday Americans live their lives and how he feels that the increasing wealth gap in America is a very large problem.    

      I am about to graduate from Purdue University's Krannert School of Management with a degree in Management and a minor in Marketing.  While I love the business side of life, and I firmly believe that I could make millions someday(I have a dream of opening a pancake restaurant), I have a hard time accepting the fact that some people literally have no realistic shot of capitalizing on the American dream because of the situation they were born into or placed into.  For example, a situation was portrayed in the film about the sugar industry in Florida.  The Fanjul brothers, Alfonso and Jose, own the Florida Crystals Corporation, and they used their economic clout to lobby political leaders for subsidies in the sugar industry.  At one time, the  brothers were among the leaders in presidential campaign funding on both the Democratic and Republican sides.  No matter who won the election, the Fanjul's subsidy would be covered despite it making virtually no economic sense.  The price of sugar in the United States at the time the documentary portrayed the story was about 3 times the price in neighboring countries like Canada and Mexico, and that raised price was passed onto everyday consumers while the Fanjuls got rich off of it.  Not only were they able to leverage government subsidies, the Florida Crystal Corporation imported migrant workers to work at a very low wage scale to work dangerous jobs.  When questions began to be raised about workplace conditions, the jobs were mechanized, leaving the unskilled workers with virtually no where to turn.  While swindled Jamaican immigrants had no where to turn, the Fanjul brothers were living it up.

       So what's the answer to this problem?  I think if you were to watch the film, you can answer the question pretty easily.  There is no concrete answer, because it would take something radical to happen for a radical change to take place.  When so little people control the wealth in a country, those people have no incentive to change things!  Our society is not immune from the problems that have graced past civilizations, and serious changes need to take place if we want to continue to thrive as a whole, not just the top 1%