This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.
Do you want to be part of the one percent, earning more than the peons below you and doing little, if anything, of consequence? Did you read that question and scoff, who wouldn't?! Boats, babes, hunting lesser humans for sport—what's not to love? If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, the Ottawa Citizen has just the how-to for you.
William Watson is a professor of economics at McGill, and he's prepared a handy summary based on this study of who typically inhabits the top one percent of the economic hierarchy in Canada. The results will astound and amaze even you, an avid student of the upper-upper-upper class.
"First, be male," Watson writes. "Eight of 10 one-percenters are, though that's down from more than nine of 10 in 1981 and presumably will continue to fall." Whew! Sounds like women have this pretty much sewn up, give or take several decades of progress with no setbacks. And trans people? Well… maybe someone is looking into those numbers.
"Beyond that: work hard. One-percenters work 45.8 hours a week on average, with almost 40 percent working more than 50 hours a week. For many, their job is their life. That's not necessarily a condemnation. They often have very interesting jobs that also pay well, a double gift. But they don't get a lot of down time."
Now, more than 50 hours certainly does sound like a lot of work to me, although what do I know about being successful? I'm a journalist, and I studied history in school. But if they really do have interesting jobs, working for your entire life is probably not so bad. So what kind of fascinating careers are these overworked men dedicating their lives to? Are they professional spelunkers? Indiana Joneses? Maybe they're social workers and teachers, putting in too many hours but knowing they're making the world a better place each day?
"The two industries that provide the most members of the one percent are business services, at 19.2 percent of the total, and health and social services, at 13.3 percent. Finance and insurance are third (at 11 percent) … What will you do? Manage."
Sounds great! Who wouldn't want to spend half his life working a completely superfluous job sending memos in "business services"? If for some reason that inscrutable name doesn't inspire you to (economic) greatness, Watson notes that the financial industry is growing quickly in Canada, so you can get in on the ground floor of a rapacious industry that almost destroyed the global economy less than ten years ago. Fun!
A lesser academic—someone from the humanities, probably, who never learned the true value of a dollar—might have used this information to examine why middle-aged men working in unnecessary pencil-pushing jobs occupy so many spots in the upper echelons of the economy. That hypothetical person might have used their space in the national capital's paper of record to discuss some of the reasons women and people of color so rarely make it to the top; though it's unmentioned in both Watson's column and the study, as of 2010 visible minorities were barely ten percent of the Canadian one percent, whereas they made up 20 percent of the general population (and on average earn far less than white Canadians).
People with jobs of actual import might be another avenue of inquiry: why does our economic system reward "management" and predatory industries like finance over, say, farming or providing affordable housing to those who need it? But not Watson, because that kind of thinking is for people who don't have their eyes on the prize. "The prize" here being, as it always is, more money.
So, yes. There are some important qualifiers for entering the one percent, which you still definitely want to do even though if we all got into the one percent it wouldn't be "one percent" of the population. Arguably, the entire concept of "the one percent" is predicated on the existence of a less fortunate 99 percent, meaning that striving for that vaunted status is kind of a shitty way to approach life. But we have no time to worry about the pernicious qualities of capitalism, such as that it requires a struggling majority of people so that a sliver of the population can dine on unfertilized fish eggs and watch a team of precarious laborers bring the yacht ashore! We must continue on our quest to reach The One Percent, with Watson serving as our helpful travel guide.
Lest he be accused of giving us all false hope by starting us on this quest, Watson gently reminds us of the fickle nature of hyper-capitalism. Even though his advice is rock solid today, and there's no need to question the nature of "the one percent," everything can change in an instant and William Watson is in no way liable for any actions you take after reading his column.
"Finally, realize the world changes. As the stock prospectuses say, 'Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results.' What 2011 required may be quite different from what will be needed in 2031."
Wise words, William Watson. Words we would all do well to live by.
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