The One Percent Movie Review

The One Percent is a 2006 documentary directed and produced by Jamie Johnson of the Johnson & Johnson fortune.  In his movie, he sheds light on the growing wealth gap in America.  He shares that this gap is dangerous and cannot continue forever.

Johnson interviews leaders in economics and wealth, such as Milton Friedman, Bill Gates Sr. (the Microsoft founder’s father), Ralph Nader and Steve Forbes.

Save for a couple of the interviewees, such as Bill Gates Sr. and Nader, most of those in the one percent didn’t seem to have a problem with the income inequality.  Because of the access Johnson has to his family and his family’s financial advisor, Johnson obtains insight on how the wealthy put forth significant effort to preserve and protect their wealth regardless of downstream impacts.

Of course, most of those Johnson interviews towards the bottom of the 99% are outraged by the disparity.  Johnson meets with residents living on the south side of Chicago and those left behind in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.  Their feelings of frustration and of being looked down upon are palpable.

Most shocking for us was Johnson interviews of sugar cane farm hands that were hired and transferred from their homes in Haiti to Florida by U.S. Sugar Corp. with the promise of wages and other benefits.  Many of these men didn’t see exactly what they were promised and there are several claims of physical abuse of employees.  Johnson also covers the lengths the U.S. Federal Government and Presidents, including Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, have gone to keep U.S. Sugar Corp. happy because of the power of the sugar lobby in Washington, D.C.

Also Read: The Real Reason for Inequality in America

At this point, we paused the movie to discuss the power of the sugar lobby.  Studies suggest that sugar can have the same affect on the brain as drugs, such as cocaine.  Sugar is addictive.  Over the past 20 years, sugar and high fructose corn syrup have been added to more and more of our foods.  Could it be that the powerful sugar lobby has added their product to all our food knowing sugars’ addictive properties in order to build a committed consumer base?  Are the sugar and healthcare industry working together?  We know we sound like conspiracy theorists, but with the obesity epidemic in America, it doesn’t seem farfetched.

As if it isn’t enough that a member of the one percent sheds light on why they control over 40% of America’s assets, Johnson’s father, James Loring Johnson, funded a documentary about apartheid and economic unfairness in South Africa when he was younger.  This is covered in The One Percent.  Apparently the executives of Johnson & Johnson, at the time, instilled the fear of God in young James Johnson, as his son’s documentary covers.  Even discussing income inequality ties Johnson Sr.’s tongue.  It was at this point in the movie when we looked at each other and agreed that neither of us think James Johnson Sr. is all that smart.  We were also uncomfortable with how sternly a man hired by Johnson Sr., the financial advisor, talked to the younger Jamie Johnson.  It feels like the advisor is the head of the household and, maybe, that’s the case.

While we think the movie is informative and interesting, it doesn’t hit the nail on the head for us.  We feel Jamie Johnson, though his intentions are good, created this movie with preconceived beliefs about income disparity being bad and getting progressively worse.  He didn’t connect the dots as to why this is the case.  Though he talks with powerful and educated people, there weren’t many statistics or analysis.  There is mention of previously great societies falling because the rich ate the poor, but no more than passing references.  He explained that he thinks the growing wealth gap is bad, but doesn’t sufficiently explain why.  Statistics, economic trends and historical context would have added much needed substance to this movie.  Ultimately, The One Percent feels like Jamie Johnson’s atonement for being born into the upper upper class.  With this father having created a documentary about a similar topic in South Africa, maybe this is how the Johnsons absolve their guilt.

As was reinforced by yesterday’s news, the wealth gap in America is growing.  The least well off are not able to find jobs or find enough of a job to meet their needs.  Washington, D.C. is absorbed in a vortex of its own wealth accumulation, ignoring the needs of their constituents.  Expenses to cover basic necessities are becoming ever more out of reach for the middle and lower classes.  As history shows us from The French Revolution to The Slovene Peasant Revolt to Poncho Villa, this growing wealth gap can’t continue because eventually the least well off will become too angry.  Hopefully improvements to the U.S.’s current situation are achieved through political and civil action and not civil unrest.   

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