By Robert Wynne, Contributor
Fighting back is usually a good idea. 99% of the time, publicly explaining your position if you or your client has been criticized, makes sense.
But sometimes, in a tiny majority, let’s say 1% of situations, a publicist needs to tell their client to be quiet. Such is the case for the wealthiest Americans. As you may have heard, the 1% have done quite well lately.
The Guardian notes that in the U.S., “over the last three decades, the wealth owned by the top 0.1% households increased from 7% to 22% even as the wealth of the bottom 90% of households declined.”
The Economic Policy Institute reports in the U.S., “Income growth has been lopsided since the recovery began in 2009, with the top 1 percent capturing an alarming share of economic growth … Lopsided income growth is also a long-term trend. Between 1979 and 2007, the top 1 percent took home well over half (53.9 percent) of the total increase in U.S. income. Over this period, the average income of the bottom 99 percent of U.S. taxpayers grew by 18.9 percent. Simultaneously, the average income of the top 1 percent grew over 10 times as much—by 200.5 percent.
Apparently that’s not enough. Some feel stung by protests such as Occupy Wall Street(which happened almost four years ago), a bestseller by economist by Thomas Picketty, “Capital in the 21st Century,” comments about income inequality by politicians, and a recent report by the Pew Research Center as reported in the New York Times. The Pew Research Center report notes “Some six-in-ten Americans in the Pew Research survey said they were bothered a lot by the feeling that “some wealthy people” and “some corporations” don’t pay their fair share” of taxes.
The 1% is fighting back. In the media.
So far, the results are not good.
The Guardian recently profiled therapists who specializes in counseling the 1%. “…And as they stroll through Manhattan, what issues are America’s 1% struggling with? There is guilt over being rich in the first place, he (Clay Cockrell) said. There is the feeling that they have to hide the fact that they are rich. And then there is the isolation – being in the 1%, it turns out, can be lonely. It seems F Scott Fitzgerald was right, the very rich “are different from you and me”. Especially in 2015.
“From the Bible to the Lannisters of Game of Thrones, it’s easy to argue that the rich have always been vilified, scorned and envied. But their counsellors argue things have only gotten worse since the financial crisis and the debate over income inequality that has been spurred on by movements like Occupy Wall Street and the Fight for $15 fair wage campaign.”
“The Occupy Wall Street movement was a good one and had some important things to say about income inequality, but it singled out the 1% and painted them globally as something negative. It’s an -ism,” said Jamie Traeger-Muney, a wealth psychologist and founder of the Wealth Legacy Group. “I am not necessarily comparing it to what people of color have to go through, but … it really is making value judgment about a particular group of people as a whole.”
The media, she said, is partly to blame for making the rich “feel like they need to hide or feel ashamed.”
This article attempting to obtain sympathy for the 1% follows earlier efforts. Take the case of Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein telling the Times of London, “We’re very important,” and claiming his company is “doing God’s work.” His comments were widely panned, but it wasn’t the most disparaged defense. Not even close.
In 2014, venture capitalist Thomas Perkins compared the criticisms of the 1% to persecution at the hands of the Nazis in a letter to the Wall Street Journal. ”I would call attention to the parallels of fascist Nazi Germany to its war on its ‘one percent,’ namely its Jews, to the progressive war on the American one percent, namely the ‘rich,’” wrote Perkins.
The Koch Brothers, long the target of an investigative press, have experienced income growth for the past few years along with a resultant rise in their political influence. Last year they were the subject of an unflattering expose in Rolling Stone. Has anything happened as a result of that story (or other articles) in terms of regulations, lawsuits, loss of access to charitable boards, regulators, officials, politicians or candidates? I doubt it.
Some in the upper class still complain about victimhood, but what’s the point? There’s an old saying in Sales: When you’ve sold, quit selling. Or in this case, once you’ve won, quit whining.
Despite the missteps, the PR efforts to humanize the 1% may have worked a little, as some people admire the 1% as sages and rock stars. As Thomas Frank notes in his latest book, “Pity the Billionaire.” In an interview in Amazon, Frank said: “The book is about people trying to depict themselves as the victims of a situation where they are manifestly not victims: imagining that corporate enterprises are ground under the iron heel of an over-regulating government, that banks were forced to issue the loans that puffed up the real-estate bubble, that taxes are by definition onerous and thieving, that businesspeople are all, as a rule, hard-working, unassuming, and straight-shooting—and that they have risen up righteously in a great strike, like in Ayn Rand’s and John Boehner’s fantasy.”
Some have bought into the premise that Frank explains, while many others, as noted in the Pew Research poll do not.
But public opinion polls and PR campaigns are not necessary for the 1%. This is not the French Revolution. Occupy Wall Street is over. Most Americans will be fine with updates on the Kardashians, Caitlynn Jenner, the latest college football “controversy,” and the battle round on “The Voice.” I think Adam Levine’s team will definitely win this year. Now what were we talking about again?