Menu

Opinion

Let's Give Thanks for the One Percent

In a country mired in recession and unemployment, it may seem hard to find things to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. But there are many. Because we live in America, even those of us who are going through hard times have access to abundant food, racks of clothing, secure shelter, heating and air-conditioning, and an amazing array of learning and leisure activities.

This is important to remember, not just to keep our spirits up, but to avoid a tragic mistake societies often make: taking the good for granted. It is all too easy to fixate on our problems without appreciating the good in our lives. Societies that make this mistake are easy prey for scapegoating charlatans--such as those who tell us that our salvation lies in redistributing the wealth of “the 1%.”

In this past year, it has become popular to collectively blame the most financially successful Americans, “the 1%,” for America's economic problems. The grain of truth here is that some Americans are rich because of government favoritism, such as bailouts, handouts, and other cushy deals. But the solution here is to attack favoritism--not to attack "the 1%" as such. America is still a free enough country where most of its 1% earn their success--through superior productivity that benefits us all.

Consider the impact of some leading 1%ers in recent years.

There's billionaire George Mitchell, whom Forbes has called "the father of shale gas," was the prime mover behind the growing shale gas revolution, which is creating hundreds of thousands of jobs and dramatically increasing America’s ability to produce energy--including the clean, cheaper-than-ever natural gas that will heat many of our homes this Thanksgiving.

As author Matt Ridley recounts:

George Mitchell turned the gas industry on its head. Using just the right combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (fracking)--both well-established technologies--he worked out how to get gas out of shale, where most of it is, rather than just out of (conventional) porous rocks, where it sometimes pools. The Barnett shale in Texas, where Mitchell worked, turned into one of the biggest gas reserves in America. Then the Haynesville shale in Louisiana dwarfed it. The Marcellus shale mainly in Pennsylvania then trumped that with a barely believable 500 trillion cubic feet of gas, as big as any oil field ever found, on the doorstep of the biggest market in the world.

Note that 500 trillion cubic feet of gas is the energy equivalent of one third of Saudi Arabia’s declared oil reserves.

Other 1%-ers are also revolutionizing industry. In the oil industry, billionaire Harold Hamm unlocked the previously-useless Bakken Shale oil deposits in North Dakota, contributing to the reduction of that state’s unemployment rate to 3.5 percent.

When you do your holiday shopping, money may be tight but you can buy more than ever thanks to the efficient logistics pioneered by Wal-Mart, which is overseen by the super-rich descendants of 1%er Sam Walton.

If you do your shopping online, ask yourself whether you would we be able to order millions of affordable gifts with fast, cheap shipping without Amazon.com billionaire Jeff Bezos, who pioneered online commerce, or FedEx billionaire Fred Smith, who pioneered ultra-fast delivery.

And of course, how much more backward and less user-friendly would our consumer electronics be without the late billionaire and Apple co-founder Steve Jobs?

Look at the industries that have dramatically improved over the past several decades, and you’ll see a pattern: certain super-productive individuals have led the way. These individuals invariably fall under the 1% of income earners--often the 1% of the 1%. 

They made so much money precisely because they created something that was so much better than what came before.

We should not take for granted that we live in a country that fosters and rewards productivity like no other. There is a reason why we are the destination for the “brain drain” from other continents. In no other country are high achievers as free to have a vision, to act on it, to reap the rewards, and to accumulate and reinvest capital--even when they are unpopular, even when “the 99%” disagree or are resentful or envious.

So, at a time when the 1% are the easy scapegoats, it’s fitting this Thanksgiving to take a moment to thank the 1%--and to be grateful that our country rewards success. And as we approach the new year, let’s resolve to keep it that way.

Alex Epstein is the founder of the Center for Industrial Progress.