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The 53%: We are NOT Occupy Wall Street

The 53%: We are NOT Occupy Wall Street

@CNNMoney October 26, 2011: 9:50 AM ET
occupy wall street

Frank Decker has a message for those at Occupy Wall Street.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Occupy Wall Street protesters might say they represent 99% of the nation, but there's a growing number of Americans who are making it clear they are not part of the dissident crowd.
They call themselves the in the 53% of Americans who pay federal income taxes. And they are making their voices heard on Tumblr blogs, Twitter and Facebook pages devoted to stories of personal responsibility and work ethic.

The number originates in the estimate that roughly 47% of Americans don't pay federal income tax, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. The 53 percenters stress the fact that they are paying the taxes that support the government assistance the protesters say they want.

Kevin Eder was among the first to galvanize those who wanted to differentiate themselves from the thousands of people rallying across the nation to raise awareness of the growing economic gap between the rich and everyone else.

In early October, Eder created the Twitter hashtag #iamthe53, which has since been posted in hundreds of tweets as the backlash to Occupy Wall Street mounts.

"I would never identify myself with those occupying Wall Street," said Eder, 26, a business analyst in Washington D.C. "The frustration was born out of people claiming to speak for me who don't."

Meet the Occupy Wall Street protesters

Many of those tweeting share the belief that the protesters need to stop complaining about the government and financial institutions and start looking for work. Ken Gardner, an attorney in Dallas, joined the conversation because he opposes government handouts.
"We don't want to be the 53% who carries the 47% on our shoulders," said Gardner, who thinks more people should pay federal income taxes.

Eder's hashtag helped inspire Erick Erickson, editor-in-chief of the conservative website and a CNN contributor, to set up a Tumblr blog called "We are the 53%." It mimics Occupy Wall Street "We are the 99 percent" site.

The 53% site gives a voice to those who reject the contention that most Americans are victims of the system, said Josh Trevino, "quasi-official spokesman" for the blog.

"What the 99% is missing is the element of personal responsibility," said Trevino, who is also vice president at the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation. "The 53% want to bring that into the conversation."

More than a thousand people have sent in entries to the 53% site, which generally features their photo next to a piece of paper that outlines their views, as well as their struggles and work histories.

"I am responsible for my own destiny," writes one 34-year-old father of three. "I will succeed or fail because of me and me alone."

"I took jobs I didn't want. Why don't you?" says one poster to the protesters. "Suck it up and become part of the 53%."

As Frank Decker read through the posts, he felt he could relate. A public school teacher in Vancouver, Wash., Decker and his wife lived below the poverty line until they decided to go back to school to become educators. He sent in a post because he wanted to share his story.

"We didn't go through all that struggle while raising three kids to support people who don't feel they need to work or people who feel they are entitled to something they haven't earned," said Decker, 44.

At this point, neither Keder nor Trevino plan to shift their 53% efforts from the online world to the physical one. But they are both surprised at how popular the backlash has become.

"It's lasted far longer than we thought and it's become much bigger than we thought," Trevino said. "It's not over yet." To top of page

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Comment by Davy on November 5, 2011 at 8:23pm

What they also asking for is a more democratic way of governing using modern technology in which the people have more say in the governing of the country I am lead to believe! 

Comment by Davy on November 5, 2011 at 8:01pm

The American tax rates across the board are less than what the typical Australian pays across the board. When I was working I was paying around the 25% tax mark. Any money earned is taxed that includes some social security payments that you receive to help you live like a person! 

In Australia though it is a joke everyone that earns an income is taxed but it skewed so that the workers the producers pay the most tax while the rich pay the least amount possible. Even heard that one wealthy mongrel only paid 6% one year when his income was in the high 6 figure mark!

The poor old worker here cannot claim what the wealthy can claim to reduce his his tax debt!

As an aside and looking into the US it appears that that the US is  so scared of socialism yet is it socialism to care for those of your society that require help for what ever reason? A democratic society takes care of those less able to care for themselves! 


Comment by Doone on October 30, 2011 at 1:01pm

What Does Inequality Do To Society?

Richard Wilkinson charts how greater inequality influences almost every measure of a society's well being, from life expectancy to mental illness, violence to illiteracy. Nilofer Merchant applies the lesson to innovation:

Societies with a bigger gap between rich and poor are worse for everyone in them, including the well off. And America now has the widest gap in income inequality of every developed country measured. Inequality undermines the trust, solidarity, and mutuality. And yet these elements of trust, solidarity, mutuality are the core of a culture of innovation. ... Business performance goes up when engagement and collaboration go up.

Comment by Neal on October 30, 2011 at 11:43am

Sassan: Why would anyone dismiss the right to protest? This is in our constitution, as american as apple pie. I'm not understanding how any american can piss on our democracy like you seemingly do.

Comment by Doone on October 29, 2011 at 11:59pm

Let Us Not Mince Word on who exactly pays the bulk of the income taxes in this country

  • top 10% of earners.
  • The top-earning 10% of taxpayers reported 43.19% of all AGI and paid 70.47% of total income taxes.
  • Together, you and the other 13.8 million taxpayers with incomes of $112,124 or more paid a total of $610.1 billion in federal income taxes.

  • adjusted gross income (AGI) puts you in the top 5% of earners.
  • The top-earning 5% of taxpayers reported 31.72% of all AGI and paid 58.66% of total income taxes.
  • Together, you and the other 6.9 million taxpayers with incomes of $154,643 or more paid a total of $507.9 billion in federal income taxes.
  • lowest 50% of earners.
  • The lowest-earning 50% of taxpayers reported 13.48% of all AGI and paid 2.25% of total income taxes.
  • Together, you and the other 68.9 million taxpayers with incomes of $32,396 or less paid a total of $32.4 billion in federal income taxes. This includes millions of low-income workers who actually paid negative income taxes because their Earned Income Tax Credits wiped out their income-tax liability and refunded to them part of the Social Security taxes they paid.

Or in other words unless you are in the top ten percent you really do not pay that much in taxes. 

Comment by Doone on October 29, 2011 at 10:59pm

Let us not mince words = most of the so called 53 percent are working against their best interest


Henry Blodget, the Editor-in-Chief of Business Insider, has compiled an excellentseries of graphs this week illustrating the various ways that the distribution of wealth has grown more unequal over the last forty years. Inspired by the Occupy Wall Street protests, Blodget highlights the ongoing economic injustice: middle class wages remain stagnant and the unemployment rate hovers near historic highs, but corporate profits and incomes for the nation's wealthiest members are reaching levels unseen since the late 1920s.

I combined two of Blodget's more powerful graphs and reconfigured them to compare the change in wages and corporate profits as a percentage of GDP since 1960.

Wages vs corporate profits change of gdpSource: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

The data is shocking: with the exception of a brief respite from 1967 to 1972, workers' wages have been steadily declining as a share of the economy for over forty years. At just 14 percent, wages have never been lower as a percentage of the economy than they are today


Comment by Doone on October 29, 2011 at 10:52pm

The Ideological Fantasies of Inequality Deniers

  • 10/26/11 at 2:58 PM
Paul Ryan, deep in ideological fantasy.

Paul Ryan, deep in ideological fantasy.Photo: Jacquelyn Martin/AP

Rising income inequality, like climate change, is an ideologically inconvenient issue for conservatives. They would prefer not to discuss it altogether. If forced to discuss it, they will generally either deny its existence or simply carry on as if it doesn’t exist.

The underlying facts, like the facts of climate change, are stark. Over the last few decades, income growth for most Americans has slowed to a crawl, while income for the very rich has exploded. That’s a reversal of the three decades following World War II, when all income groups got richer, with the poor and middle class rising at a faster rate than the rich. Crucially, the Congressional Budget Office’s new analysis shows that changes in government policy over this period have made inequality worse. (In CBO-speak: “The equalizing effect of transfers and taxes on household income was smaller in 2007 than it had been in 1979.”)

We’re not having a debate about how to reverse or even stop the growth of inequality. Nobody has a real plan to do that. The Democratic plan is to slightly arrest the growth of inequality by hiking taxes on the rich a few percentage points, so as to minimize the need to cut the social safety net. The Republican plan is to slash taxes for the rich and programs for the poor, thereby massively increasing inequality.

That is a hard position to defend in the context of exploding inequality, and conservatives would rather not defend it. Instead the right’s response has been to persistently deny or ignore the facts. Rick Perry, pressed by a reporter to explain why he was proposing a tax plan that would widen income inequality further, replied, "I don’t care about that." The Wall Street Journal editorial page today dismissed the Tax Policy Center, whose calculations persistently show the ways in which various Republican tax proposals would widen inequality, as “liberal.” It didn’t even pretend to dispute the substance of the calculations.Eric Cantor gave a speech about income inequality centering on stories about how his grandmother worked hard and pulled herself up by the bootstraps in the old days. It was a nice speech if you like stories about plucky grandmothers. It failed to grasp the central dilemma, which is that it was a lot easier for poor people to move up sixty years ago, when tax rates on the rich happened to be far higher, than it is today.

Ah, but here comes Paul Ryan, fawned over in the media as “the GOP's strongest policy wonk,” to take the issue head on in a speech before the Heritage Foundationhyped inadvance by conservatives as a definitive statement of right-wing thought. Ryan’s speech is the portrait of a mind in the grips of an ideological fantasy, refusing to confront inconvenient facts.

Ryan establishes the tone of his argument by accusing President Obama of attacking “straw men,” and then proceeds to build a series of his own straw men, beginning in the very same sentence:

[Obama] is going from town to town, impugning the motives of Republicans, setting up straw men and scapegoats, and engaging in intellectually lazy arguments, as he tries to build support for punitive tax hikes on job creators. … he has launched his second campaign by preying on the emotions of fear, envy, and resentment. …

Also according to the President’s logic, spending restraint is incompatible with a strong, well-functioning safety net. 


Right, so Obama favors “punitive” tax rates, he promotes resentment of the rich, and he opposes any spending restraint whatsoever. Ryan produces no evidence to support these statements, because none exists. In reality, Obama never attacks the rich, he constantly insists that he respects economic success and merely wants to lessen the burden of budget cuts on the most vulnerable, and he agreed to reduce spending by more than a trillion dollars just this last summer. Ryan repeatedly accuses Obama of favoring “equality of outcome,” which is absurd.

Here is the closest Ryan comes to addressing Obama’s actual argument, which is that requiring somewhat higher taxes on the rich will reduce the scale of cuts required on programs for the poor and middle class:

The President has been talking a lot about math lately. He’s been saying that “If we’re not willing to ask those who’ve done extraordinarily well to help America close the deficit… the math says… we’ve got to put the entire burden on the middle class and the poor.” This is really a stunning assertion from the President. When you look at the actual math, you quickly realize that the way out of this mess is to combine economic growth with reasonable, responsible spending restraint. Yet neither of these things factors into the President’s zero-sum logic.

It’s “stunning,” says Ryan, because it relies on zero-sum math. More tax hikes on the rich means less spending cuts. Ryan finds this stunning because he believes in supply-side fairy tales in which cutting taxes for the rich will produce enormous growth. Never mind that the last two presidential administrations have disproved the supply-side theory about as conclusively as a real world experiment can do. (Bill Clinton raised taxes on the rich, conservatives predicted disaster, and instead we experienced a long boom; George W. Bush lowered taxes on the rich, conservatives predicted a huge boom, and instead we got an weak recovery with no income growth for anybody save the very rich.)

Ryan likewise assails Obama’s calculations by trying to persuade his audience that there’s really not much money to be raised by taxing the rich:

And his math is no better on the tax side. Let’s say we took all the income from those the President calls “rich” — those making $250,000 or more. A 100 percent tax rate on their total annual income would only fund the government for six months. Just six months!

Uh, has anybody told Ryan that there are only twelve months in a year? Because six of twelve months is not a trivial percentage. Another way to put this is that the richest 1 percent of taxpayers earn 17 percent of the nation’s income, and federal spending accounts for a little over 20 percent. Obviously, taking all the income from the top 1 percent would be a terrible idea, but taxing a decent chunk of their income clearly can get you pretty far.

Ryan likewise insists that the debate over rich investors who pay lower tax rates than the middle class is contrived:

Obama quotes Reagan as saying that bus drivers shouldn’t pay a higher effective tax rate than millionaires. Well, that’s a no-brainer. Nobody disagrees with that.

Nobody disagrees with that? How about Paul Ryan? His tax plan from 2010 would exempt all investment income from taxes, meaning that large segments of the rich would pay nothing at all. The average federal tax rate on households earning more than a million dollars a year, under Ryan's plan, would be well under 13 percent, compared with a 19.5 percent average federal tax rate for households earning $50,000 to $75,000 a year.

Ryan concludes his speech with a ringing endorsement of equality of opportunity, which he contrasts with the stagnant, European-style class-bound society that Democrats crave to replicate:

Telling Americans they are stuck in their current station in life, that they are victims of circumstances beyond their control, and that government’s role is to help them cope with it — well, that’s not who we are. That’s not what we do.

Our Founding Fathers rejected this mentality. In societies marked by class structure, an elite class made up of rich and powerful patrons supplies the needs of a large client underclass that toils, but cannot own. The unfairness of closed societies is the kindling for class warfare, where the interests of “capital” and “labor” are perpetually in conflict. What one class wins, the other loses.
The legacy of this tradition can still be seen in Europe today: Top-heavy welfare states have replaced the traditional aristocracies, and masses of the long-term unemployed are locked into the new lower class. …

Whether we are a nation that still believes in equality of opportunity, or whether we are moving away from that, and towards an insistence on equality of outcome.


It’s a compelling vision. Unfortunately, Ryan’s understanding of reality is a complete inversion of actual reality. “Equality of opportunity” bears no relation to the reality of the American economy or any economy. Parents can benefit their children by giving them money, better schools, better home environments, tutoring, camp, and other advantages. Opportunity is overwhelmingly unequal. One result is that rich kids perform far better in school than poor kids. But that is not the only result. Poor kids who beat the odds and get high test scores are less likely to complete college than rich kids with middling or even low test scores. Poor kids who beat those odds and graduate from college are still less likely to grow up to be rich than rich kids who did not graduate from college. I'm not sure if there's a perfect solution, but pretty sure Ryan's plan to slash Pell Grants is not going to help.

Ryan’s decision to cite Europe as a place where people can’t move beyond their birth station is especially unfortunate. In fact, social mobility in Europe is higher than in the United States, a fact even Rick Santorum has acknowledged.

The way to understand Ryan is that he’s deeply influenced by the theories of Ayn Rand, who believed that the root of all evil lay in attempts to alter the wealth distribution created by the free marketplace. Rand may have been a deranged cult leader, but she did live at a time when the fear of the poor devouring the rich had an actual real-world basis. She escaped communist Russia for the United States, Franklin Roosevelt — while not a reprise of the communists, as she mistakenly believed — really did denounce the rich and impose confiscatory tax rates. The world of Rand’s imagination bore a slight resemblance to the world she inhabited, but it bears no resemblance to the contemporary United States.

Ryan cannot process the realities of this world because they are so at odds with the imagined world of his ideology. After his speech, he was asked about the CBO’s report on inequality, and he brushed it off, falling back on Rand-esque lingo the virtuous rich (“takers”) and parasitic poor (“makers”):

“Let’s not focus on redistribution, let’s focus on upward mobility,” he said. “If these studies are used as justification for erecting new and more barriers for making it harder for people to rise, all that will do is reduce our prosperity in this country.”

“We’re coming close to a tipping point in America where we might have a net majority of takers versus makers in society and that could become very dangerous if it sets in as a permanent condition.


Don’t confuse Paul Ryan with the facts. If studies run up against Ryan’s ideology, then the studies must give way.

Comment by Doone on October 29, 2011 at 10:40pm

The facts are this - the rich countries are becoming more unequal and poorer.  We are enduring a reverse development trend - this may change in the future but right now we have an increasing unequal society in which the rich are getting much richer and the 90 percent are getting much poorer.  It is not "fair" or in a democracy sustainable.  The constant drumbeat from the right about the need to reduce the taxes of the rich did not help matters.  Here is a breakdown of the CBO report from

The following graph is taken from the CBO data and shows the post-tax shares in total household income for various cohorts (quintiles and percentiles). I indexed the shares to be 100 at 1975. You can see how the lower quintiles have lost share and the top three cohorts have gained share. These shifts in income distribution have been dramatic and resemble the sort of outcome you would find in a poor nation.

Second, the unemployment rate has now become entrenched at around 9.5 per cent (with minor variations around that) and long-term unemployment has entered the US scene for the first time, previously being a European/Australian phenomenon. Broader indicators of labour underutilisation published by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics suggest that around 18 per cent of available productive workers are idle in one way or another in the US.

Comment by Michel on October 29, 2011 at 10:21pm

In your enlightened estimation, how long do you think most of these OWS protesters who do not currently work have been looking for a job? How long would be long enough to be legitimately pissed?

And BTW, what do you do for a living?

Comment by Sassan K. on October 29, 2011 at 7:58pm

Did I ever claim they should pay taxes? I was simply making an observation. How long has their protests been for? What is really the use? You are telling me in all this time they can't go looking for jobs instead of laying camp and living in the streets and claiming they are going to stay there all winter? Isn't that becoming a homeless by will and volition?vol Do some of these protesters even have places to stay anymore?? IT is kind of getting ridiculous.

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