I had a dream last night that I was trying to escape Europe in the 1930s. It was an improbable situation because the events in my dream happened almost 50 years before I was born, but doors kept closing around me and I woke up before I knew the outcome.
I think the dream was induced by watching a video that compared the economic struggle in America today to that of Germany in the 1920s. American unemployment has increased. The number of working poor has risen. Our national debt has increased and we have responded by printing money, which is the precursor to inflation. Most disturbing is that class warfare has entered the popular debate for the first time in my life. And you don’t need a PhD in History to know that whenever someone singles out the 1% or the 2%, racial and religious discrimination are right beneath the surface.
I work all day with entrepreneurs, and as a result I know many people who have done well for themselves. In my experience they have two characteristics. First, they started companies. Some of these companies are in the financial services industry, but many others are in real estate, professional services, and increasingly the Internet. The second characteristic is that they give a lot to social causes. They have their own charities. Some of the causes are clean water for Africa, eradicating AIDS, and curing cancer. This is the social pact of the 1%.
Some of these people also consider taxes a form of giving. They understand, of course, that income is redistributed, but they believe the government does the best it can. They would rather give more than be singled out.
When I watch the Occupy Wall Street movement I am concerned for the future. The movement has polarized us and turned Americans against each other. It also has a dangerous undercurrent that denigrates the entrepreneur, the risk taker, the people who are willing to work harder than the rest of us. Yes, there are some people who became wealthy without building anything, but they are the minority of the minority.
I am also concerned for my generation. We graduated college on the downside of the tech boom, and for the last decade the US economy has created too few jobs and incomes have risen too slowly. Inflation has also hit in the two areas where we could least afford it – education and housing. The increase in college tuition over the last 30 years is now hovering at 800%. Similarly, housing costs where I live in Manhattan have increased an unspeakable 1,000% over the last three decades. I recently met a woman who purchased an apartment in 1979 for $250,000. She sold it last year for over $7,000,000.
It is hard for someone in my generation not to be discouraged. But rather than occupy public parks and carry signs, I think we should occupy America with our ingenuity and ideas. Invent. Build. Volunteer. A lot can be accomplished in 90 days if people put their minds to it.