Last year 82% of the world’s money was made by the top 1%. Gross, right? This is no coincidence, as the rich getting richer is not mutually exclusive with the poor getting poorer. Many of our Moxie discussions center around neoliberalism and it’s all-encompassing effects. A core idea I’ve taken away is that our global neoliberal economy serves as a catalyst for economic prosperity for those who already have wealth. For those who start with close to nothing, we so generously supply the rhetoric of the “American Dream”, near synonymous with the concept of “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps”.
This concept runs under the assumption that in our free market capitalist economy, all people have an equal opportunity to succeed. This can be reflected in the idea of the “homo-economocus”: that we as humans are capable of rational thought, so all are completely capable of free choice. It also operates under the assumption that all people have full information and options for the decisions they make. Under the logic that humans have both free choice and all available information, the market allows everyone equal opportunity to succeed, so poverty must be a result of a lack of effort. The result of having ideological roots in neoliberalism, which constructs a false equal playing field, while the country is founded in slavery, systemic racism, colonialism, and imperialism, is a neo-feudal economic order.
In order to allow the populations that have been so deeply marginalized throughout U.S. history, a massive overhaul of the systems in place is needed. More realistically, the country at least needs radical reform. A key aspect of radical reform would be a re-distribution of wealth and political power. This means that those who profit off of our patriarchal, heteronormative, and capitalist economy would need to relinquish some of the tight grasp they hold on global economic and political power. In simple terms, rich, white people (especially cisgendered and heterosexual males) need to be willing to work towards a system that does not perpetually benefit them and marginalize those different from them. This is hard for many reasons, but I will explain two: living in a bubble and socialized greed.
And this is where this political rant relates to me, the 1%.
I can personally speak to the bubble and the socialized greed. I grew up on the North Shore of Chicago, a suburban area filled with some of the wealthiest towns in the county. For context, my high school, New Trier, was the basis and inspiration of the movie “Mean Girls”. A $500,000 house is considered small, and the town I lived in (Wilmette), with a shocking $117,526 per year median annual income, was called the “Wilmetto”, as it is considered poorer than the neighboring neighborhoods of the New Trier Township. When I was young, I naively thought that U.S. poverty looked like the smaller houses in my neighborhood. I didn’t know what it actually looked like on the South Side of Chicago, less than an hour away. You didn’t meet anyone openly struggling with financial issues or falling victim to systems of oppression. From the view in the bubble, these problems are easy to ignore. They can very easily become “not my problem”.
Moreover, thanks to free market competition and extensive privatization rooted in neoliberal ideology, the universal objective is to make as much money as possible, creating rampant greed. Under neoliberalism, your value and worth is defined by your current assets and your capacity to earn (thus promoting a whole cascade of evil “isms”). This perpetuates greed and the pattern of valuing one’s wealth over human welfare, and the belief that we are owed every dollar we were born into or given. As a person of privilege, the easy choice is to look the other way and continue to reap the benefits of a flawed system. I know that I did nothing to earn the economic situation I was born into and that the successes in my life have only been possible because of the opportunities I’ve been allotted.
It is necessary and powerful to come to these realizations, but it is not enough. In order to not only fight oppression but to not be a part of the problem, it requires using one’s privilege to help create change. I have constantly grappled with whether it is one’s moral responsibility to use that privilege to do good or if it’s okay to reap the benefits of your wealth. Personally, I feel a duty to use the privilege that I sit on to join the fight against systems of oppression. What I’ve struggled with is the knowledge that the jobs that result in me doing good, may not result in me enjoying the same comforts I’ve had growing up (this is where the greed comes in). My ideal self would be able to completely let go of the idea that happiness necessitates wealth, and fully embrace the knowledge that money is a sociallyconstructed means to happiness. However, I’m 20 years into deeply rooted capitalist socialization that trickles into nearly every aspect of my life.
At my core, I know I would feel an overwhelming guilt if I just sat on my privilege and continued to benefit from it without using it to better the world. I am thankful for my time at Girls for Gender Equity, with Moxie, and in New York to allow me the time and opportunities to see myself and the world around me from a critical and necessary lens.