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The 1 Percent Are Not All Wall Streeters—They're the Bosses

Wall Street is an important symbol of capitalism run amok, but we should really be taking aim at the executives who set the wealth gap in motion.


The "Occupy" movement started at Wall Street, but how many of the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans work there? Not many, according to CNN's Nicole Lapin, who crunched the numbers and found that only 14 percent of that top tier work in the financial services industry. The biggest single group at the tippy-top is doctors, making up 16 percent of the ruling class. Lawyers make up 9 percent.

But forget individual industries for a minute; in some ways, that's beside the point. CNN also found that the most-represented members of the elite are executives and managers in industries other than financial services, at 31 percent. This statistic is more deserving of our attention than any other figure, because it highlights exactly who is driving the cavernous wealth gap. Yes, tax codes matter, but CEOs and boards are the ones making the salaries and doling out bonuses. They're the ones making obscene amounts of money for no particular reason—John H. Hammergren, the CEO of McKesson pharmaceuticals, made $131.2 million last year, 11 percent of the net income for a company that employes more than 36,000 people. They have the most direct power to redistribute the wealth and give their employees decent pay and benefits. Indeed, many Wall Streeters aren't these bosses; the average salary of a financial services professional is $311,000, which is high by any reasonable standard, but not enough to qualify to be in the top 1 percent.


Of course, directing ire toward greedy CEOs in other industries doesn't replace Wall Street's symbolism. It's not a zero-sum game. The stock market is shorthand for capitalism run amok, for putting the volatile free market before human need and stability. Still, we should remember not to take the "1 percent" part so literally, and realize the system isn't the fault of that random investment banker or doctor making six figures. It's on the shoulders of the board member who decides to give the janitor minimum wage, and on the executive who lays off thousands of employees off while giving himself a bonus.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user zoonabar.

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