Sure the 1% owns multiple homes, yachts, private jets, and lavish cars, while the 99% struggle to own one home, occasionally cruise on pontoons, fly coach, and buy Toyota Camrys. The 1%’s blatant inadvertent hogging of wealth is no less different than the 99%’s. If you earn millions, then you will not only want to sustain your millions, you will want to expand upon it at all costs. If you earn $30k a year, then you will strive for more no matter what it takes.
Don’t agree? Try this exercise…
One of my favorite professors from Illinois State University, Dr. Virginia Gill, exemplified how market competition spurs greed with a very interesting, yet simple game. The class was split into three groups. Each group would receive a handful of different colored poker chips, each color representing a different point value. Groups were then allowed to trade chips between groups, and after each round of trading the group with the most points were allowed to make a rule. The team with the most points after all trading rounds would receive extra credit towards their grade in the class.
The first round of trading ended and my group had the most points. I proudly strutted to front of the class, marked our score on the white board, and then began to strategize with my group members about what rule to institute. We made a rule that would be only beneficial to our group, and that would maximize our chances at receiving higher point totals.
The rule worked. After each round my group came out on top, implementing more rules, and widening our margin of victory. Looking around at my group, I noticed we all shared the same sense of fulfillment and pride over our perfectly constructed plan to win.
The game ended and Dr. Gill notified us that the game was rigged. Each team was predetermined to start with a specific amount of points; this point distribution represented the socioeconomic class that everybody is born into. The team with the least points to start represented the lower, working-class. Another group represented the middle-class. My group represented the wealthy, upper-class.
She explained how this was an oversimplified way to show how social inequality exists. The wealth, upper-class, or the 1%, in society has the capital and power to implement rules, laws, and regulations that are primarily beneficial to them at the expense of all others, the 99%. The 1% use means of justification like free-market economics, scientific management, or the laws of supply and demand.
For example, tax breaks for the wealthy. Supporters of this policy swear that decreasing tax percentages for the wealthiest Americans will stimulate growth in the economy because they will use that extra money to reinvest it into businesses. What an ingenious justification of inequality? Tax the wealthiest people less, they will reinvest it into the economy, which will spur economic growth for the nation, and create more jobs.
I am by no means part of the 1%, in fact, I am far from it. I'm actually a sociology scholar that has studied social inequality in depth. The behavior that I demonstrated during that game was astonishing. The ideology was there, but the knowledge did not translate into practice. I don’t think I am greedy or that I participate in the exploitation of others, but my actions suggest otherwise. Try this exercise with your class, co-workers, students, friends, or family and see how they react to the game. My bet is that it won’t be too different from mine.