Most Americans are familiar with the “1 percent” — those at the top who hold the most wealth, despite paying a true federal tax rate of only 3.4 percent between 2014 and 2018. Historian and philosopher Matthew Stewart argues there is a larger group of 9.9 percent who account for the nation’s most money, setting America’s wealth gap back to where it was during the pre-depression era.
“We’ve bought into a culture of values that don’t really benefit us, they benefit the wealthy.” –Matthew Stewart, “The 9.9 Percent”
Listen: The extreme state of modern wealth inequality.
Matthew Stewart is a philosopher, historian and author of “The 9.9 Percent: The New Aristocracy That Is Entrenching Inequality and Warping Our Culture.” He says the 9.9 percent are made up mostly of those in professional and managerial classes.
“It’s a complicated mix [of people],” says Stewart. “For me, the interesting thing is more the social aspect of it, the people in the group who define what it means to succeed in America.”
“It’s a culture that came out of a post-war world America,” he says, noting that the wealthy have created an exclusive economic system that denies most people access to building their own wealth. “These people in the 9.9 percent have decided they need to sort of slam the door behind them.”
Stewart says the idea of the American free market is a fallacy that disguises the inequalities and un-freedoms built into it. “Inequality is not just about money. The money in inequality follows from power … I would like people to understand that when you have a society with high inequality, that makes a society with high power inequality.”
Stewart says America is still a nation of workaholics, which is part of this culture that protects the wealthy and locks out people who aren’t wealthy. “We’ve bought into a culture of values that don’t really benefit us, they benefit the wealthy,” he says.