Is it Really Class Warfare?

The Occupy Wall Street movement no longer occupies Wall Street, but the issue of class conflict has captured a growing share of the national consciousness. A new Pew Research Center survey of 2,048 adults finds that about two-thirds of the public (66%) believes there are “very strong” or “strong” conflicts between the rich and the poor—an increase of 19 percentage points since 2009.

Not only have perceptions of class conflict grown more prevalent; so, too, has the belief that these disputes are intense. According to the new survey, three-in-ten Americans (30%) say there are “very strong conflicts” between poor people and rich people. That is double the proportion that offered a similar view in July 2009 and the largest share expressing this opinion since the question was first asked in 1987.

A 46% plurality believes that most rich people “are wealthy mainly because they know the right people or were born into wealthy families.” But nearly as many have a more favorable view of the rich: 43% say wealthy people became rich “mainly because of their own hard work, ambition or education,” largely unchanged from a Pew survey in 2008.

If we’re going to have class warfare, let’s at least start on a level-playing field philosophically and see if we agree on the issues at stake:

So, here’s the question: What’s more American? Creating economic mobility even if it doesn’t happen organically? Or, survival of the economic fittest?

Most importantly, what happened to the American middle class? For the rest of us it’s this: what do I have to do to become one of the top 10 percent?

As someone who has been around self-made wealth creators all his life, maybe here’s where we can skip the rhetoric of class warfare and maybe begin to outline a prescription.

Hard work: Taking risks is difficult, both personally and financially. Successful private business owners all took risks to become successful and they continue to take risks every day. Persevering in the face of adversity is not a trait that most middle-class Americans exhibit to the same degree as the top 10 percent;

Long hours: This speaks for itself, really. Here’s where you can see a lot of similarities between the top 10 percent and another group that demonstrates outsized economic mobility–immigrants. Both groups work extraordinarily long hours, typically more than 60 hours per week while the middle-class still enjoys a 40-hour work week;

Education: The importance of education takes on three meanings among the top 10 percent: First, they’ve studied at that most famous institution, the School of Hard Knocks. This means, they’ve learned by taking on burdens that most of us avoid, such as making promises they don’t know how to keep but are willing to try. Second, networking: the top 10 percent know how to maximize the value of relationships and many of their most important relationships are the ones they develop at college. Third, and truly last, are the skills and knowledge they accumulate in the classroom at the feet of their professors.

The lesson of the top 10 percent? Not everyone should become an entrepreneur but if you behave more entrepreneurially, you might achieve greater success.

Share your thoughts.

Written by

Ziad K Abdelnour, Wall Street financier, trader and author is currently President and CEO of Blackhawk Partners Inc., a private equity and physical commodities trading firm based out of New York City, Founder & President of the United States Committee for a Free Lebanon (USCFL), Founder & Chairman of the Financial Policy Council, Member of the Board of Governors of the Middle East Forum and Former President of the Arab Bankers Association of North America.