GUEST COMMENTARY: Status of 'the other 99 percent' around the world

Tuesday, December 6, 2011 | 12:20 p.m. CST; updated 8:53 p.m. CST, Tuesday, December 6, 2011

One reason why the Occupy Wall Street movement grabbed the world’s attention was its protest against the injustices of 21st century capitalism.

The Occupiers focused on the fact that "the other 99 percent" — the non-wealthy majority of the population — are increasingly excluded from the world’s economies.

The other 99 percent didn’t benefit from the economic booms of the 2000s. The other 99 percent didn’t cause the global financial crisis.

The other 99 percent paid for the bank bailouts of 2008. And yet, the other 99 percent are now being asked to suffer cuts in pay, benefits, and government services. Increasingly, the other 99 percent are saying "no."

Occupy movements have now sprung up in at least 20 countries, and probably more. They all speak, in one way or another, for the other 99 percent. But the other 99 percent means different things in different places.

In some countries, the other 99 percent are truly oppressed.  In others, they manage reasonably well.

The figure linked here shows the percentage of total income going to the other 99 percent in eight different countries. The data are taken from the World Top Incomes Database produced by economists Emmanuel Saez, Facundo Alvaredo, Tony Atkinson and Thomas Piketty. 

This database uses tax records to analyze the distribution of income across countries.

What immediately stands out in this figure is that the other 99 percent do far worse in the United States than in any other developed country listed. 

The other 99 percent take home just 82.6 percent of America’s personal income. In the United States the share of the other 99 percent has been falling for decades.

(The data in this figure are from 2005 because that’s the latest year for which comparisons are available for most of our peer countries.)

The other 99 percent share of total income reached a high of 92.3 percent in 1973. Back then, U.S. income distribution looked the same as it does in continental Europe today. It fell slightly in the late 1970s and early 1980s. In the mid-1980s it was still over 90 percent. Then the slide began.

The share of the other 99 percent's income fell from 90.9  percent to 83.5  percent between 1986 and 2000. It reached its lowest point at the height of the 2000s boom, just before the global financial crisis. By 2007, the income share of the other 99 percent had declined to just 81.7 percent.

In other words, between the 1970s and the 2000s the United States went from looking like a European country to looking like an African country. Data are available for very few poor countries, but even in South Africa the income share of the other 99 percent is higher than it is in the United States.

The only developed country that comes close to the United States in the decimation of its other 99 percent is the United Kingdom. In the UK, the other 99 percent take in 85.8 percent of total income, down from 90.2  percent in 1990, the earliest year with data are available. Surely it’s no coincidence that some of the biggest Occupy encampments have been in New York and London.

Back in the 1970s, the United States and United Kingdom looked, statistically, more or less like the rest of the developed world. We may have had our own distinctive institutions and policies, but the outcome for the other 99 percent was similar in the U.S., UK, Europe, Japan, and Australia. It’s simply not true that American — or British — capitalism has always been more unequal than in the rest of the world.

With the Reagan-era tax cuts and union busting in the 1980s the United States moved decisively from being a country for the other 99 percent to being a country for the top 1  percent. The same happened in the United Kingdom after the premiership of Margaret Thatcher, though her policies were more strongly resisted and took longer to have an impact. Today, the United States and the UK represent pathological economic models, out of step with the rest of the developed world.

The decline of the other 99 percent in the United States has been underway for 30 years or more. It will take a major, sustained effort to restore normalcy. If we want to restore a healthy income distribution, somehow we have to claw our way up from the low 80s to the mid-90s.

In other words, it’s not enough to stem the decline of the other 99 percent. At some point in the near future, ordinary workers have to start getting raises that are actually higher than those of their bosses and CEOs, and they have to keep getting those higher raises for 30 or 40 years. That may sound like a fantasy scenario, but it happened from the 1930s through the 1970s. It can happen again.

Policies to support the other 99 percent include a shift in taxation from payroll taxes to capital gains taxes, an expansion in government employment and government salaries, support for unions and much higher minimum wages. The experience of other countries shows that such policies are possible in the United States. It all comes down to politics: If the other 99 percent demand these policies, they certainly have the numbers to get them.

Salvatore Babones writes for

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J Karl Miller December 6, 2011 | 1:18 p.m.

Thankfully, only a very small percentage of the "99 percent" is composed of unashamed freeloaders who believe they are entitled to a living wage without the responsibility of shouldering any of the load. Who is left to pull the wagon after everyone climbs aboard?

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield December 6, 2011 | 1:49 p.m.

"In other words, between the 1970s and the 2000s the United States went from looking like a European country to looking like an African country. Data are available for very few poor countries, but even in South Africa the income share of the other 99 percent is higher than it is in the United States."

And yet millions of immigrants still come here, legally and illegally, because there's so much opportunity.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith December 6, 2011 | 1:59 p.m.

"The other 99 percent didn't benefit from the economic booms of the 2000s."

Really? So my efforts NOT to become one of those awful "1 percent" people were all for naught. More than a few of the so-called "99 percent" as individuals did very well during the economic booms. A reason could be because they were sinking as much disposable income as they could into carefully selected financial instruments, rather than buying the latest retail "toys."

(Having knowledge of the petroleum, mining, metallurgical and chemical industries didn't hurt matters. Lean on what you know, and get professional advice for what you don't know.)

An old Ozark proverb says that "them that gets off their dead a**es usually does much better than them that just sits on their dead a**es and talks.

(Report Comment)
Corey Parks December 6, 2011 | 2:08 p.m.

I guess in light of the recent exposure of our beloved politicians in Washington getting free insider trading and making billions. I will now acknowledge that there is a 1% and they have been voted in by the same people that protest. The funny/sad part is they will be voted right back in.

(Report Comment)
frank christian December 6, 2011 | 3:37 p.m.

This writer sprays us with one of the most (there are so many)ridiculously worded excuses for the liberal attempt to destroy capitalism in our country, that I have ever read.

The progressive liberal has long professed astute knowledge about the supposed three "classes" in U.S. The poor, the middle class, the rich (the ugly, the good and the bad?) Now, for their latest purpose these classes are forgotten, are molded into the "other 99%" and according to this guy, All are suffering degrading poverty, due to the greed of the 1%.

The improvements to their countries created by Reagan and Thatcher are undeniable by honest historians (a whole 'nuther story). If this writer was honestly sharing his information (which imo he ain't), he would tell us he wants the 99% share of our wealth to be equal to the shared poverty of socialism.

(Report Comment)
frank christian December 6, 2011 | 3:40 p.m.
This comment has been removed.
Derrick Fogle December 6, 2011 | 5:40 p.m.

Well, this should really get all you economic and social justice experts going: Obama just delivered a speech saying point blank that trickle down economics doesn't work.

(Report Comment)
frank christian December 6, 2011 | 6:18 p.m.

"Obama just delivered a speech saying point blank that trickle down economics doesn't work."

What would you expect our community organizer-in-chief to say? Don't answer!

(Report Comment)
frank christian December 6, 2011 | 6:34 p.m.

Joy - Does anyone there know what the name of "cracker" in Florida or Georgia means? It's like calling an American a "yankee". I expect the description of a bad President, whose only experience for the job is "community organizer" will earn me another removal. If so, do it quickly and accept my goodbye.

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield December 6, 2011 | 6:38 p.m.

Was this the same speech where he said it was good to be in Texas when he was actually in Kansas?

I'm nowhere near the top 1% of incomes, but I don't covet what those above me make. I'm more pissed at the whiny babies who major in English, drop out of high school, waste their money on HBO and smartphones, have kids they can't afford and do the myriad other things that undermine their earning ability and financial stability. Time for them to start blaming themselves for their dissatisfaction.

(Report Comment)
Joy Mayer December 6, 2011 | 8:21 p.m.

@Frank, I'm not sure why you think criticizing the president would be against our policy. I wasn't involved in the decision to remove your earlier comment, but I will tell you that substituting asterisks to disguise profanity won't fly.

Joy Mayer
Columbia Missourian

(Report Comment)
frank christian December 6, 2011 | 9:34 p.m.

Joy - Political controversy is enjoyable for me, not anything of that nature with you, the hostess. Neither do I wish to create problems for other innocent posters, but should someone not have noted that "asterisks" in mine were from a quote from a previous post that has not been removed? Mine is an "accidents happen" approach, if not acceptable, let me know.

(Report Comment)
Derrick Fogle December 6, 2011 | 10:41 p.m.

Meanwhile, Karl Rove is behind the scenes undermining Gingrich, and it's fairly obvious by now he was the one behind Cain's slippery descent.

I hope the Republicans can learn to like Romney. I hope they can learn to like his tax plans even more. You should study them, and see exactly how they would change your tax burden.

Right now, the Occupy movement is denying banks their right to forclose on and auction off homes. One auctioneer, having been out of work for a year and that was the only job he could find, was in tears of joy that he was unable to complete the auction due to Occupy disruption.

This is too much fun!

BTW, Frank *was* just quoting Ellis. Hard to tell, I know.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith December 7, 2011 | 5:40 a.m.

Derrick Fogle:

I don't mind being quoted, as long as I'm quoted correctly and not out of context.

I don't mind being called pejorative names, as long as I'm always called when it's time to eat.

Old Ozark joke. It was the first day of school at a one-room country school in Reynolds County, Missouri. There were several new students, and the teacher was taking their names. She asked a little girl what her name was.

"My name is Snotty Brown," said the girl. The teacher was incensed, and gave the girl a stern lecture on impertinence. The little girl, tears streaming down her cheeks, walked toward the door, but stopped and pulled a little boy out of his seat.

"C'mon, *****y," she sobbed, "She ain't goin' to believe you neither."

(Report Comment)
frank christian December 7, 2011 | 6:55 a.m.

Ellis - "Neither do I wish to create problems for other innocent posters,"

Would that I could Knight you and bestow upon you the title, "Ellis the Innocent". Then all could know of your ability to slip obscene profanity past our eavesdropping hosts. Loud Laughter!

(Report Comment)
frank christian December 7, 2011 | 7:10 a.m.

It seems they have been clearing the streets of occupiers in San Francisco. San Francisco? California? unbelievable!

(Report Comment)
frank christian December 7, 2011 | 7:47 a.m.

Romney, tax plan - "Gingrich said, “The Forbes Flat Tax is more than a big idea. It is the right idea and it is a doable idea.” A lot of Gingrich’s ideas show this influence

But as seen below, the Romney ad culminates in class warfare demagoguery of which Obama would be proud: “The Forbes Tax isn’t a FLAT TAX at all — It’s a TAX CUT for FAT CATS!” Now, when he wants the Presidential nomination, he has toned down the rhetoric a little, but has he really changed?" the ad was from 1996 in Mitt's losing campaign against E.M. Kennedy for Senate. I expect this is why liberals are promoting Romney, since they know the R' nominee will be next President. Also a good reason to elect Newt, since balancing the Budget and improving the economy are "old hat" to him.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith December 7, 2011 | 8:29 a.m.

Innocent? Moi? Never mind the knighthood, I'll gladly settle for one cold Killian's Irish Red Lager, brewed in Golden, Colorado with water from Clear Creek. Ya didn't know Colorado was part of Ireland, did you?

[I've had a few posts removed. However, all but one of them were submitted knowing they might cause deletion. Never hurts to test the waters.]

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield December 7, 2011 | 8:48 a.m.

Those darn Koch brothers! They forced me to get this sleeve tattoo and make art history my major! Now how am I supposed to land a well-paying job?

That darn LeBron James! He forced me to buy those season tickets and that $30/month sports tier when I really wanted to put that money toward retirement and extra principal payments on my mortgage!

That darn Steve Jobs! He came to my high school freshman year and forced me, a white male, to spend the next four years slacking and playing the fool! While he was there, I watched him hand-pick my classmates from first-generation immigrant homes and personally tutor them on math and science every night! I swear he did! You saw his jet at COU every night, right?

That darn Realtor and that darn BofA branch manager! They forced me to buy more house than I knew I could afford!

Those darn Republicans! They blocked every reform that the president tried to pass even when his party was the majority in Congress! I don't know how they did it, but they thwarted democracy and silenced my vote! It's true!

It's not my fault! It's those darn 1 percenters keep their boot on my neck from cradle to grave! I can't catch a break!

(Report Comment)
Gregg Bush December 7, 2011 | 8:58 a.m.

From the gallery:
A defense of the Feudal
American States.

(Report Comment)
mike mentor December 7, 2011 | 9:40 a.m.

Another whiner whines while the self determination he owns rots within himself. Sad to see when one reaches adulthood...

(Report Comment)
Gregg Bush December 7, 2011 | 12:30 p.m.

Woolworth's lunch counters
Were occupied by whiners,
Too, in your version.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz December 7, 2011 | 2:16 p.m.

Those occupiers
Were breaking government laws
And yet, you want more?

(Report Comment)
Joy Mayer December 7, 2011 | 2:44 p.m.

@Frank — my mistake. It seems your comment was removed not because of profanity but because of the term you used that can be perceived as racial insult.

Thanks to those of you who pointed out that Frank was just quoting Ellis, and sorry for my delay in responding.

Do any of you guys hang out offline? You seem to have quite a rapport!

Joy Mayer,
Columbia Missourian

(Report Comment)
frank christian December 7, 2011 | 3:06 p.m.

Thanks Joy - Did anyone look @ ? I believe the only race ever involved with word "cracker" in this country was the whites of the frontier in FL & GA. Maybe someone should get a grip or undertake some diversity training. Just a friendly thought.

(Report Comment)
Joy Mayer December 7, 2011 | 8:07 p.m.

Frank, I was thinking more of this usage:

Joy Mayer,
Columbia Missourian

(Report Comment)
frank christian December 7, 2011 | 10:03 p.m.

"In 2008, former President Bill Clinton used the term "cracker" on Larry King Live to describe white voters he was attempting to win over for Barack Obama: "You know, they think that because of who I am and where my politic[al] base has traditionally been, they may want me to go sort of hustle up what Lawton Chiles used to call the 'cracker vote' there." Democrat governor Lawton Chiles has apparently allowed his name to be listed among the prominent FL crackers shown on my link. Yet, you and yours are preoccupied with, "The term Cracker was also given to the farm hands that would work on the plantations as slave drivers. They would put a short length of twisted twine or string attached to the end of a whip to produce a cracking sound. The plantation owners as well as the slaves began to refer to them as the Crackers."?

Mr. Smith, in his statement that all we people would better our lives by standing up and Doing something, rather than sitting around doing nothing, was great though he used the vernacular of a redneck (here we go again). I only approved the sage information with my reference to others with the same opinion. Can it be that only those that love and respect the accomplishments of the United States of America can remember that "Yankee" was a term applied to the colonists here, meant only degrade and demean those people, but was thrown back at those of the "Crown" with the song Yankee Doodle Dandy?

I've wandered here, but only to show that my use of "cracker" in the context had no racial intent and would have intent only to those overly concerned with racism. This is sometimes referred to as "political correctness".

I still love posting on your blog.

(Report Comment)
Vega Bond December 7, 2011 | 11:11 p.m.

"them that gets off their dead a**es usually does much better than them that just sits on their dead a**es and talks." said Ellis Smith.

"but I will tell you that substituting asterisks to disguise profanity won't fly." said Joy Mayer.

For the record, Ellis, what position were you in when you relayed that bit of inspiring folklore to us?

(Report Comment)
Derrick Fogle December 7, 2011 | 11:51 p.m.

LOL, this is the 2nd time that's been pointed out, and Ellis's original, asterisked comment still stands.

I'll point out the "Report Comment" link at the bottom of each comment. No doubt, it would be easy for someone to selectively report comments, depending on whether they like that person or not, regardless of duplicate comment. And I would suspect that reported comments get 1st priority for a critical eye from Eds.

(Report Comment)
Derrick Fogle December 8, 2011 | 12:20 a.m.

Someone who supports the Occupy movements might point out the inherent unfairness of the selective post removal, like this:

Derrick Fogle December 6, 2011 | 10:41 p.m.
BTW, Frank *was* just quoting Ellis.

OTOH, the Darwinists on this board should be cheering Ellis as the successful "Information Creator," and wanting his comments to all be placed at the top; while dissing Frank as a jealous wannabe, scratching their heads because they just can't figure out what Frank wants, or stands for, and cheering as the thought police crack down and evict him from trying to occupy Ellis's discourse.

I do believe I got my money's worth of entertainment tonight:
Cost share of internet connection used: $.27
Cost share of computer used: $.34
Cost of electricity: $.02
Cost of website access: $free
Irony of situation: Priceless!

(Report Comment)
Salvatore Babones December 8, 2011 | 4:25 a.m.

Wow -- thanks everyone for your comments! The truth is that I'm a liberal campaigner. I'm a social statistician who's just so amazed by the data I see that I've started to share it. For example:

* Forget the poor. Even American families at the 95th percentile of the income distribution (families making up to $180,000 per year) have seen no increase in income, on average, since 1999.

* Forget the almost-rich. Over the past 20 years S&P 500 CEOs have given themselves an average raise of 8.8% per year. They've given their seconds-in-command (the second-highest paid person at each firm) an average annual raise of just 5.4%. In other words, CEOs are fast pulling away from rich people -- nevermind from the rest of us.

* And what about our kids? The average income of a 30-year-old American male has DECLINED 20% since 1973 (adjusted for inflation). The economy has grown 80% since then, but the average 30-year-old's wage has actually fallen. Kids today are (on average) making less than their parents did in the 1970s! No wonder all the college graduates are coming back to live at home.

Anyway, SINCERELY, thanks to all of you for your readership and your comments. I'm always happy to hear from people at And if anyone wants to invite me back for another editorial, I'm available!

Salvatore Babones

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith December 8, 2011 | 5:47 a.m.

Seems like a lot of fuss over some semi-literate engineer.

If, in the future, I translate possibly objectionable words or terms into either Spanish or German would that suffice?

You'd be surprised at how much nicer certain English words sound when translated into Spanish. German? Not so much.

(Report Comment)
Derrick Fogle December 8, 2011 | 9:00 a.m.

I think any english thesaurus should suffice. Except, that's not true. There are no references linking the asterisked word in question, and the (hopefully) slightly more acceptable word butt, at

Still, looking at the first definition, and synonyms, of the asterisked word in question should drive home the point that Ellis did not misuse the word.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith December 8, 2011 | 10:13 a.m.

Derrick says, "...Ellis did not misuse the word."

I'm overjoyed to learn that. People like me who received faulty higher educations at a small, backward campus in southern Missouri are acutely aware of our educational shortcomings.

Our alumni who are corporate officers and NASA astronauts and such have been able to hide the fact they are barely literate, but live in constant fear that one or more of them will be found out.

Some of us have additional deficiencies. Remember when "streaking" was in vogue? I was never interested in becoming a "streaker," because I didn't want to expose my physical shortcomings. :)

[Derrick, I agree that this episode is an inexpensive form of entertainment.]

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams December 8, 2011 | 10:36 a.m.

Ellis says, "I was never interested in becoming a "streaker," because I didn't want to expose my physical shortcomings."

Yes, recognition that your belly is a 6-pack rather than an 8-pack can be rather embarrassing, as I well know.

My education, too, was a bust. (Sigh)...all that public tax money down the drain. Thank gawd for luck.


(Report Comment)
frank christian December 8, 2011 | 11:33 a.m.

"Yes, recognition that your belly is a 6-pack rather than an 8-pack can be rather embarrassing, as I well know."

Are you attempting to place each individual into some group as is oft times done around here? How can you assume so offhandedly that Mr. Smith was concerned about the shape of his belly? (It's fun to live on the edge like this.)

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams December 8, 2011 | 12:00 p.m.

Frank: Mr Ellis did not streak because he was concerned about his physical shortcomings.

I was reasonably sure he was discussing the definition of his belly muscles. All people know this is the primary concern of the male of the species. It's the number 1 issue by a long shot. Through thick and thin, I can't think of anything else he might have been concerned about.

Perhaps he will firm up his post and enlighten us...given the current controversy.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith December 8, 2011 | 2:51 p.m.

I suppose it is time to firm up my post (truly brilliant, Williams!).

One must be careful formulating an expansion of one's previous post, lest one's present post be deleted. With that in mind, I will simply quote Sigmund Freud:

"Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar."

I recall my daughter's first semester at an unnamed Big 12 university. I asked whether she'd learned anything interesting. "Yes," she said, "I've learned that Sigmund Freud was a dirty old man." (Daughter obviously takes after her late mother.)

(Report Comment)
mike mentor December 8, 2011 | 3:39 p.m.

Gregg says...
Woolworth's lunch counters
Were occupied by whiners,
Too, in your version.

The lunch counters at Woolworths had "assigned seats".

Today, we have general admission. Welcome to the party!

(Report Comment)

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