No, actually I am the 99%.

Posted by Arkady K. On 10/16/2011

"We are, the 99% - we are, the 99%".   This is the chant from the multiple 'occupy' movements heard around the country and as of recent times, around the world.   As my previous article indicated, this particular movement is an amalgamation of socialist fringe elements, unions, leftists, angry liberals and an assortment of libertarians/conspiracy theorists and yes, even average Americans.  However I would like to take this opportunity to invite you into my personal life and show you the real 99%.

My parents brought me to America in 1988 from Soviet Russia where life had become so unbearable and so awful that for the sake of my future and my soon to be born brother's future, everything was left behind and opportunities provided by the free market and capitalism were chosen.  The very thing that the protesters now demand to be destroyed was entirely non-existent in the USSR and life for many consisted of nothing more than survival.  Unless politically connected people acquired nothing, had nothing, had no hope, had no inspiration and no imagination.  It was a "life" that many North Koreans and Cubans still experience, perhaps without the gulags as those have at least shutdown with the passing/murder of Stalin.  Still, gulag or not, life where private property did not really exist was just barely existence.  The Bolshevik revolution certainly started with far more benevolent desires. A war against the wealthy and the worker's socialist utopia involving the distribution of wealth with the ultimate goal for everyone to have as much as he/she can - never live in poverty, never be hungry and always be content.  We know how that turned out.  Despite what some clueless America college graduates like Jon Phoenix  from the Occupy Boston movement thinks, Soviet Socialism did not fail because there was a lack of a Democracy, it failed because without private property and without the free market there is no desire or capacity to create a better you, better me or better world.  I would refer our future Leninist thinker to F.A. Hayek's Road to Serfdom for a clearer explanation, but one requires a tad more than fantasy to formulate cogent thought.

I got my first job at the age of 12, delivering the Boston Globe in my neighborhood.  It was very hard work, but I had no choice because my grandparents refused to hand me quarters to play Street Fighter at the local theater.  If I wanted to play games, I had to work for it.  After paper delivery came grocery bagging, then working at Hollywood video, mixed in with shoveling snow during our crazy winters. With manual labor losing its appeal my interest in computers lead me to the library.  I rented several books and learned how to design web pages, navigate UNIX and even started learning C (condolences to the Ritchie family).  My inspiration was my father who worked in the software industry and from our first day in America refused to accept one dollar of welfare despite speaking barely any English.  Instead he lied to his first employer about his knowledge of a particular programming language and then learned it on the fly without the employer suspecting anything out of the ordinary.   Sophomore year in high school my dabbling in web development lead me to a webmaster job at a local PR firm.  All during high school I avoided spending money recklessly and unlike my friends bought clothing very rarely and avoided  restaurants.  I was labeled cheap by many, but it was preferable to be labeled something then go into debt.

 I went to a state school and gave everything I accumulated to my parents who then fielded the remainder, poor grades in high school did not merit a more expensive college.  Combined with loans and parents' generosity I graduated from Penn State with only 15k in debt.  After graduating with a Computer Science degree my first job resulted in a very poor salary (under median income).  So I decided to live at home and spend every dollar I made to reduce my school loans.  Took a while, but it finally worked.  To make additional money I went back to books and learned how to navigate and trade the stock market and play poker online competitively.  Both of these resulted in small, but important cash flows that allowed me to buy a used car to replace a hand-me-down that broke down.   There was an opportunity to buy a much nicer and newer car, but getting yet another loan after just paying off my school loan seemed entirely asinine.  My position was terminated in about two years and I went looking for a new place of employment.

I interviewed for a long time until finally landing a new position.  It took many months of studying, prepping, practicing and honing my skills to impress my future employer.   I studied, learned and worked overtime as often as I could to impress my new boss and it began to pay dividends.  This was roughly six years ago and my salary went from below median income, to slightly above it and then doubling it in five years.

Then came the decision to purchase a home.  At the time my salary allowed for a $300,000+ home, but it became apparent that assuming such a debt burden would be too crippling so I settled for a townhouse for $219,000 instead.  It was far from Boston, but it was all I could really allow myself to spend. During that time I tried to do as many improvements as possible by myself in an effort to save money, once again, dad's knowledge and assistance helped immensely.  Still, my frugality never diminished.  My clothe shopping, going out habits and even large ticket item purchases remained virtually unchanged.  In fact I sold my car because the upkeep, insurance and gas mileage were too expensive and downgraded to a Nissan Sentra which now results in slight ridicule from my friends.  Whatever, rather get ridiculed and get 31 MPGs then pay out the nose for a slick looking Audi or Mercedes.

Living within my means is still a top priority.

This means:  I do not have a smart phone, I cook instead of going to restaurants, I do not have HBO, Cinemax or anything other than basic cable.  I buy clothing when my existing wears out and becomes so old that even the Salvation Army regrets accepting my donation.

Perhaps for the many protesters currently occupying our streets this may be a very sad existence, but it is what I deserve based on my abilities.  Yes, I wish I was born a genius or a super athlete or had family connections to get me into lucrative banking, but alas, I am just an average Joe Arkady. We are not all born equal, such is life.  I repeat we are NOT born equal, we simply demand that we have equal opportunities.

So why tell you all this?

Because I am the 99%.  

I am now paying almost half of everything I earn in taxes and more awaits me if I get promoted.  25% for federal, 15% for Social Security/Medicare (money I will never see again), 5.3% for Massachusetts and almost 4% in real estate taxes.  This does not include the sales taxes, gas taxes, license fees and other hidden costs.  My health care costs are staggering and currently standing at over $2,000 in premiums alone with thousands upon thousands of hidden costs that are absorbed by my employer at the expense of salary.   Before you ask, this is the cheapest plan available to me and one that I must purchase or be penalized thanks to Mitt Romney and other bastard politicians dominating this state.

I am the 99%.
Not the 42% on food stamps.
Not the 33% on Medicaid.
Not the 47% who did not pay a penny in federal taxes last year.
Not the millions on welfare, on their way to 99 weeks of unemployment.
I am the 99%.

Do I wish to live right in Boston?  Drive a nice Mercedes or BMW, shop at Banana Republic and go out to eat every week?  YES.  Very much so.  However that would require spending almost everything I make today and possibly even borrow from the future.  A model practiced by our Government and many of my fellow Americans.  How do I know?  See for yourself:

For thirty years the American people, American Government and the financial sector accumulated debt.  This debt is now starting to destroy everything.  This is why half of my income now goes to pay for the food stamps, medical care, housing subsidies and welfare of my fellow citizens.  Our profligacy now stands at almost 50 Trillion!

Yet the amount taken from me still pales in comparison to what is taken from the 1% of the American population.  A visual representation once again speaks volumes.

So to all the protesters claiming to be the 99%, here is a very simple request.

If you are the 42% on food stamps.  Go home.
If you are the 33% on Medicaid.  Go home.
If you are the millions on unemployment.   Go home.
If you are the millions on housing subsidies.  Go home.
If you went to college and willingly took on debt, but can't use your anthropology, english, economics, art history <insert useless degree here> to find a job.  Go home.
If you have never had a job and paid income taxes.   Go home.
If you have exhausted all your federal benefits, but still struggling.   Go home.
If you have taken on debt that you cannot pay back and are angry at Wall Street.  Go home.

For those that remain, please redirect your misplaced anger and embrace the following real and legitimate issues.

- Our Government should spend money only those things the State cannot provide.   This means end all spending on education, energy, agriculture, parks, welfare, food and housing.
- Our Government should protect the best and most effective economic model in history, the free market.  That means no cheating, exploiting and lying.  Allowing certain corporations to get away with what others cannot is called CRONY capitalism and while the name may sound similar, has nothing to do with the free market.  That means NO Tarp, no auto bailouts, no tax breaks, no loopholes, no subsidies, no loans to failing solar companies and no special privileges to anyone or anything.   That also means those that break the rules are punished and jailed, something we have not seen during the start of the crisis in 2008.  
- Our Government must allow competition in money.  That means no more manipulation of interest rates by the Central Bank.  No more punishing savers, punishing capital formation and forcing the 99% of us to chase risky assets just to keep up with inflation that benefit certain banks that happen form the Federal Reserve structure.  Repealing the Federal Reserve Act of 1913 and returning money to the States.
- Our Government, should live like the 99%, that is, within its means.  No more borrowing until the existing debt is reduced to $0. 
- Our Government should embrace fairness.  A system where half of all Americans pay for the other half is perverse and wrong.  Do away with the current tax system that benefits the powerful and the privileged, this will automatically kill lobbyists and the power to dispense special favors.  Then collect an equal share from every single person.  Provide an option for the wealthier to donate more if necessary, call it the "Government spends money better than You, please donate" Fund.    

Hopefully the window to my life exposes an important fact.  There are many of us that work everyday, live within our means everyday and get virtually half our private property taken away from us everyday.  We do this while watching our neighbors live off our fruits and labor.   When times get tough and I am forced to seek help, my parents is who I go to.  My parents' influence when it comes to work, career, avoiding debt and living prudently is a large part of who I am.  The few times I had to borrow money, for example to make the full down payment on townhouse to avoid the PMI came from my father.  I paid him back as quickly as possible, WITH interest.  That is right, nobody owes me anything, not even my dad.  Still, when I think of who will help me in times of need I think of my family and my friends.  Not a giant Bureaucracy that relies on wrestling away private property from others to help others.

I also fully recognize that not everyone is as lucky and perhaps does not have a family that can act as such a strong and positive influence.  There are many people who went through my exact same path, but for some unfortunate turn of events and perhaps bad luck cannot make ends meet.  They have tried and exhausted all options.  This is exactly why every year I donate to charity, because we need to come together as a society and take care of those who have fallen behind.  When we form together in our hardest times, we emerge even stronger in easier times.  Goes without saying that  losing 50% of my income to pay for the largest Federal and State Governments in America's history makes it much harder to be charitable, so even charities now depend on the wealthy.  

I am the 99%.  Watching fellow Americans who live off my taxes while protesting "unfairness" and "inequality" while texting on their smart phones is disgusting.  Instead of complaining against the wealthy, why don't you thank them instead and then take the grievances highlighted in blue up above and go to Congress, go to your State house, go to your local town halls and demand REAL fairness.

Anything else is misplaced anger by a bunch of petulant children completely void of basic knowledge, economics and sense of reality.  

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"It is no crime to be ignorant of economics, which is, after all, a specialized discipline and one that most people consider to be a ‘dismal science.’ But it is totally irresponsible to have a loud and vociferous opinion on economic subjects while remaining in this state of ignorance.” - M. Rothbard