The Insiders
October 16, 2011 11:45 AM   Subscribe

Jamie Johnson, a heir to the Johnson & Johnson fortune, uses his family connections to gain a critical insider’s perspective and remarkable unguarded interviews of those who hold 50% of America’s wealth in two self-made documentaries: The One Percent (parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8) and Born Rich, along with a Vanity Fair blog. From the other side: Elizabeth Warren, The Woman Who Knew Too Much.

Kilmer House, the Johnson & Johnson corporate blog, previously
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul (58 comments total) 98 users marked this as a favorite
If the Vanity Fair Blog link doesn't work for you--it didn't for me--try this link to the archives.
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 11:53 AM on October 16, 2011

I've watched 10 minutes of the first one and I already want to kick a rich person.
posted by empath at 12:15 PM on October 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh god Friedman shows up in 2/8. Consider yourself warned.
posted by mek at 12:37 PM on October 16, 2011 [5 favorites]

Oh, empath; we all know you wanted to kick a rich person anyways.
posted by kaibutsu at 12:42 PM on October 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

The Elizabeth Warren article is just fantastic, and gives me half a mind to just dump everything and go volunteer for her.
Middle-class families “are getting hammered and you know Washington doesn’t get it,” she said. “G.E. doesn’t pay any taxes and we are asking college kids to take on even more debt to get an education, and asking seniors to get by on less. These aren’t just economic questions. These are moral questions.”
“My first choice is a strong consumer agency,” she said. “My second choice is no agency at all and plenty of blood and teeth left on the floor.”
It's about god damn time to have a Democrat willing to talk about what's been happening in this country in moral terms and leave some fucking blood and teeth on the floor if need be
posted by crayz at 12:42 PM on October 16, 2011 [65 favorites]

I can't really watch all the videos right now (first one was interesting, and I'll watch more when I can), but while the Warren article was great, the blog is sort of "Things Rich People Like", and not in a good way.
posted by vidur at 12:44 PM on October 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

"The One Percent" is streaming on Netflix.
posted by twoleftfeet at 12:49 PM on October 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

empath, may I help you along a bit further? I was trying to find more information about the lawsuit that was brought against Johnson over the Born Rich film, and did find this article. Please allow me to share the opening paragraph, which describes the person in the film who brought about the lawsuit...
The star of HBO's documentary "Born Rich" is a brash trustafarian named Luke Weil, the heir to the Autotote gaming empire. The guy reeks of everything we want to hate about the stinking rich, as he boasts about a four-figure bar bill, or how Brown University let him get away with academic murder, or his disgust for ordinary people. "If some small-town kid came up to me," he says about his school days, "I could be like . . . `I'm from New York. . . . My family could buy your family.' " Like a bratty villain out of "The O. C.," and one that's played by uber-creep Crispin Glover, he's awful.
posted by Houstonian at 12:56 PM on October 16, 2011 [5 favorites]

metafilter: boasts about a four-figure bar bill.
posted by cjorgensen at 1:03 PM on October 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

A gentrifier's perspective, from part 3:
"It's easier to just cleanse the earth of these people, send them to the far reaches of the universe, and the mayor's office will build a big police station, build a bunch of town houses, and the yuppies will buy in and boug-ify the place, and suddenly we'll have a community. Yeah there will be a bunch of people displaced, yeah there will be a bunch of crime problems, but it's easier. We found an easy solution."
posted by kaibutsu at 1:06 PM on October 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

metafilter: boasts about a four-figure bar bill.

Metafilter boasts about its four-finger bar bill, as I recall.
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:21 PM on October 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

So the rich advocate trickle down economics, because they're so much more likely to give away wealth through philanthropy, ok I get it.

You know how else poor people could monetary aid? If they could earn a living wage to start with. Making reliance on crumbs from the rich your starting plan is just a cruel joke.
posted by Chekhovian at 1:21 PM on October 16, 2011 [7 favorites]

Also, this documentary has Steve Forbes talking about businessmen with "unpleasant personalities, you know the kind, that really make babies cry" about meta-ing the video...damn. How did that guy ever think he could be president?
posted by Chekhovian at 1:39 PM on October 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thanks pts, now I have to go listen to some Pulp.

You'll never live like common people/You'll never watch your life slide out of view
And then dance, and drink, and screw/Because there's nothing you can do.

posted by cali at 2:12 PM on October 16, 2011 [6 favorites]

pts, that's exactly right. I've known a couple of extremely wealthy people over the years, and one in particular who was born into it. Even though his family had a fairly modest lifestyle (at least in proportion to their wealth), there was something about them that seemed so totally different than anybody else I knew at the time. It was freedom from the kind of worry the rest of us live with. It allowed them to take risks, and make decisions that would've been unthinkable by someone who was worried about coming up with rent, or filling a gas tank so they could get to a low-paying job. And almost invariably those risks paid off, thus making them even richer...
posted by gofargogo at 2:17 PM on October 16, 2011 [10 favorites]

Oh, empath; we all know you wanted to kick a rich person anyways.

Yeah, but it's usually more of a background thing. Like "Someday, i'd like to kick a rich person."

This film made it more of an urgent need.
posted by empath at 2:20 PM on October 16, 2011 [16 favorites]

Not all of the Johnson clan is so introspective. Take Paris Hilton wannabe Casey Johnson for instance.
posted by Eekacat at 2:33 PM on October 16, 2011

But what really haunted me about the film and the people it depicted, what frankly still haunts me, is that while every character in that film seemed to be basically a human being with all the good and bad that implies, they were free from one aspect of the human experience that is totally universal to me and everyone I've ever known: Worry.

Thank you, pts. I've often had the same thought, but I hadn't been able to distill my observations so clearly.
posted by vidur at 3:07 PM on October 16, 2011 [6 favorites]

I love Elizabeth Warren. I've already given substantially to her campaign and plan to give more.

Hers is a voice we have needed for so very long in this country. Frankly, I hope she's planning to run for president in 2016. From what I hear, a few years in the senate is a good way to launch that plan.

You can tell how important her voice is from how much the banks and the right wingers fear her.

Oklahoma women: do not fuck with them.
posted by spitbull at 3:48 PM on October 16, 2011 [15 favorites]

Ten minutes in: my god, that kid is surrounded by douchebags. No wonder rich kids are so fucked up.
posted by klanawa at 3:50 PM on October 16, 2011

Elizabeth Warren makes Timothy Geithner squirm needs to be her campaign commercial.
posted by heathkit at 3:55 PM on October 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

The poor have access to negative risks - the risk that you might kill yourself or destroy everything you have this time. The Rich have access to positive risks - they can risk affordable quantities on the chance that it might pay off and reward them manyfold. Two different kinds of risk, that benefit the rich and condemn the poor.
posted by Grangousier at 4:22 PM on October 16, 2011 [13 favorites]

Not all of the Johnson clan is so introspective. Take Paris Hilton wannabe Casey Johnson for instance.

Yeah I hate it too when rich people use my bed as a vibrator disposal.
posted by mannequito at 4:56 PM on October 16, 2011

Is it that the poor are risk-averse, or that they don't have access to (or perhaps just don't know about) the tools the better off have?

It's rather difficult for a blue collar family of four to corner a market or become a monopoly.
posted by benzenedream at 5:06 PM on October 16, 2011

When the asian guy actually used the word choice of "cleanse" when talking about the poor folk of the projects in the city, I emotionally puked.
posted by Evernix at 5:56 PM on October 16, 2011

I was reading this article from Doug Saunders that talked about how this is a question of getting people to pay taxes, as opposed to raising them--and it's a point that Johnson makes obliquely--but Friedman (and this pains me to say) makes a point--the rich will always evade paying taxes, how do we convince them to?
posted by PinkMoose at 6:24 PM on October 16, 2011

Also, the poor get tired of being poor. I doubt the rich get tired of being rich.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:34 PM on October 16, 2011

The first impression I got from Jamie Johnson (JJ) videos is that raising questions about inequality makes some relatively ultrawealthy people uncomfortable, expecially when it comes to inequalities in distribution of wealth.

Inequality as a status is rationalized as a fact that has always part of human history, and nothing should be attempted to reduce the undersiderable effects of inequality for any attempt would be doomed anyhow (intreatable problem), or possibily produce effects that are worse than those generated by inequality (Friedman's no system is perfect, but this is the best among the known systems, "evidence" being offered by the fact that Jamie and others can own an advanced tech camera).

Capitalism "with an human face" (mitigating the effects of inequality) isn't even considered as a possibility?
posted by elpapacito at 6:37 PM on October 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

the rich will always evade paying taxes, how do we convince them to?

I think if they were to start handing out 30-years-hard-time sentences to a dozen or so banker types, the rest would fall in line pretty damn quickly.

posted by bashos_frog at 6:49 PM on October 16, 2011 [6 favorites]

Exactly pts and gofargogo...I was brought up to believe I was just one wrong decision away from living in a cardboard box. It definitely affects your mentality and makes you much more risk-averse...especially when you have so much less to risk in the first place and far fewer 'fall back' options. That lack of a financial safety net may be 'freeing' for some...but for me, it's got me working tiredly at a very secure job..keeping the cardboard box at arms length for now.

And watching Born Rich reminded me of a friend saying years ago about some extreme sporting video 'that no one should be allowed to be filmed speaking on camera until they are over 25'. Which sort of was borne out when one of the friends tried to sue Jamie J for putting him talking privileged nonsense, drunk, and on film for eternity.

A day free of worry- yeah, I would love to experience that. Soberly.
posted by bquarters at 7:24 PM on October 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

I was brought up to believe I was just one wrong decision away from living in a cardboard box

You're telling me, untill I moved out during college I had to stay seated or in bed after 10 pm lest I walk too loudly and wake the landlord downstairs. "What are you doing walking so loud, are you trying to get us evicted? We'll see how you like living on the street"
posted by Ad hominem at 8:00 PM on October 16, 2011 [4 favorites]

Milton Friedman - "Omelets/Eggs, yada yada"

OK? Fine. Let's break the eggs of the rich then you fuck. Christ, what an asshole.
posted by symbioid at 8:17 PM on October 16, 2011 [3 favorites]

This guy is making a fool's argument. It does NOT depress me to see him doing this.
posted by vicx at 8:37 PM on October 16, 2011

Oh - also - for Friedman's argument that "hey everyone's better off than they were" (which of course, we see isn't necessarily true these days)...

Noam Chomsky addresses this...
posted by symbioid at 8:40 PM on October 16, 2011 [3 favorites]

(I mean, again, that was my internalization and interpretation...I think it would actually have taken quite a few seriously wrong decisions for any of us to end up in cardboard boxes, then or now. A bit of hyperbole, and anxious child's take on things. There, disclaimer finished. Family honor and pride remain intact. And housed.)
posted by bquarters at 8:41 PM on October 16, 2011

Is it that the poor are risk-averse, or that they don't have access to (or perhaps just don't know about) the tools the better off have?

Both really. Being poor, to a great extent, is having fewer options for failure. And knowing those options, they may be less willing to take a risk if they know the price of failure is losing everything, with little chance of recovery.
posted by ZeusHumms at 8:53 PM on October 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

This thread seems to dovetail nicely with "The Percentages" thread. Both even remind some of Pulp's "Common People".
posted by ZeusHumms at 8:54 PM on October 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Just chiming in to say that The One Percent is a fucking killer documentary and really gets you into the heads of the people who are up at the top without either apologizing for them or demonizing them. It's fucking brutal and beautiful.

Oh and there's a moment at the end with his father that is just so full of despair and pain that I nearly cried.
posted by Scientist at 9:00 PM on October 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thanks pts, now I have to go listen to some Pulp.

I think some solo Jarvis is more appropriate here.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 10:00 PM on October 16, 2011

The guy who bothered me the most in "The One Percent" was the lumber heir from Louisiana who suggested that he deserved to be rich because God must have wanted him to be rich, otherwise he wouldn't be rich. It's that kind of circular logic, that sense of unexamined entitlement, that leads to aristocracies.

Where else does this work? If my grandfather was one of the top 1% marathon runners, how could I possibly think that I should be one of the top 1% fastest runners, without even running? If my father made it to the top 1% in singing ability, where I get off believing my voice is more beautiful that anyone else's, given that I don't sing?

That kind of thinking is the opposite of the beloved "free market". If you are entitled to wealth, even though you haven't don't anything to merit it, then the free market has failed.
posted by twoleftfeet at 10:27 PM on October 16, 2011 [13 favorites]

Speaking anecdotal, the poor (read: most of my friends) take risks that allow them to maintain a status quo. And those risks are short-term. Such as driving a car with bald tires in the rain because they still have to get to their job so they can afford food, even though they can't afford tires. If they crash, they are completely lost, because at best they now have no car (and can't afford another), at worst they die.

The rich I've known, take risks such as immersing themselves in a new industry or skill for a few years with little to no pay so they can change careers or start working in a much more lucrative market. But even beyond their access to greater opportunity while being able to afford the costs, it seems like their confidence gets them farther than anything else.

Having deep, almost unshakable confidence is very hard to fake, and I've only seen it happen in con movies, and among the very wealthy in real life.
posted by gofargogo at 10:45 PM on October 16, 2011 [14 favorites]

In case you don't make it to the last minute or so of part 7 of 8 (7/8) of this documentary, Jamie Johnson winds up in the cab of some random guy in maybe it's south Florida who tells him and us something that is the whole goddamn point:
I could tell you something. And you might think I'm a idiot.

My family's one of the richest families in the world. But not with money. With love, kindness, courage and patience. Qualities that are worth more than money. And you can't buy that.

They taught me how to love people for who they are and not what I want 'em to be. They taught me how to get along with people. They taught me to treat people the way I want to be treated. They taught me to treat each person for who they are, and not clump 'em together - 'cause we all different in our own way.

That's the richness that I was brought up in.
It's somewhat cliche and maybe almost trite that it's a Mystical Negro taxi driver who tells him this. Fucking guy is backing up the car as he's explaining this, because it's so offhand obvious. That noted, it's still fucking true.
posted by gompa at 11:23 PM on October 16, 2011 [12 favorites]

twoleftfeet, and others: though I certainly sympathize, I have to disagree. Knowing a bit about Louisiana, I think the Louisiana guy might be the least unsympathetic of the people defending their vast wealth. Only because, to my eyes, he seems to actually believe the nonsense he spouts.

I think that the thread is on to something with the "worry" aspect--there are degrees of worry, but there is a very easily perceptible divide between those of us who have real worries and those who don't.

Let's take an average upper-income youngish American who loses his or her job in an economic downturn, and who is unable to procure medical insurance because of a pre-existing condition, at any price. Said person will very quickly be in dire straits if a catastrophe occurs. They will become more vulnerable to the "poor" risks and less available to the "rich" risks. They are vulnerable to a very quickly falling standard of living.

Let's take an actual poor or working-class American in a similar situation. Lacking any support from family and minimal support from government, they are at risk of near-starvation and very serious health problems.

Let's take a person in a third-world country in the same situation. At least many of them would face all the problems of the poorer American and also quite possibly death.

And finally, the ultra-wealthy profiled in this film? The situation could not possibly exist. It is almost literally inconceivable to them. It's so much easier to avert your eyes than to even vaguely consider the problems of 99% of the world, to which you are actively contributing, because it's not "real."
posted by lackutrol at 11:35 PM on October 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

There wouldn't be capitalism without the anxieties driven by class warfare. The super-rich, those most driven to maintain the system are also very anxious. I agree with what people are saying about the rich and having more of a certain kind of confidence, and less fear of taking certain kinds of risks. But many of the rich in this documentary strike me as very fearful and risk-aversive. Jamie Johnson's father comes across as a timid man, withdrawing from his own values in order to preserve a "family name" when he knows it comes at the expense of having a family worth preserving. You can tell there is something wrong with him from the very beginning just by the way he carries himself, and this is before we are told that he used to be like Jamie. He is timid and sad.

The Italian baron's braggadocio is pathetic. What was he so afraid of that he had to hire a marketing firm to make up fake ads about him lest he be forgotten or unknown? And what's up with Warren Buffet disowning his granddaughter for appearing in the documentary? She didn't say anything mean or disrespectful at all. His action was certainly driven by a kind of fear. Does any kind of legacy matter besides money?? And that Johnson family financial advisor, over and over again with the vague "disappointment with what you are doing" and never able to say exactly what he objects to. "If it's not a threatening thing then why are you reacting this way?" Indeed, Jamie. Indeed.

I am amazed at how much goes unsaid. That is a very fearful environment, where people want to speak desperately and they just can't, walking around in circles and shaking their heads. There is a lot rich people don't say.

There's a stark contrast with the interviewees who live in and around Cabrini Green. Different people expressing the same fear: that the powerful don't care about them and believe they don't care about each other so their lives are worthless. It broke my heart a little when the one guy felt he had to say that he loves his son and that the people in his neighborhood love their children. Or the other man who said he wishes people understood they have a community there and they do care about each other.
posted by Danila at 4:40 AM on October 17, 2011 [6 favorites]

I grew up with an inordinate number of rich kids (by which I mean their families are worth hundreds of millions or billions), and Born Rich captured what it's like to be a rich kid better than anything I've seen or read. There's a vacillation that seems universal among them, at least in my experience, in which they go back and forth between "I'm rich—I don't have to work, and I can do anything I want" and "I must renounce my family's wealth, get a job, and live simply." I'm 33 now, and none of my rich-kid friends and acquaintances have yet settled down and stuck with one or the other.
posted by waldo at 5:20 AM on October 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

I don't think anyone is arguing that the capitalist rich are happier than the capitalist poor, or have better or more fulfilling lives.

The only real difference is in crisis management at Maslow levels 1 & 2: when you're rich, you can buy your way out of any such problem without a thought and then go back to worrying about who your friends are. When you're poor, you're stuck in that crisis, trying to put a roof over your head, food in your mouth, trying to keep warm, and in the US even hoping to get treated for whatever disease you've got.

There's no cure for angst -- we all have to fight that battle, but there sure as fuck is a cure for hunger, cold and homelessness.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:55 AM on October 17, 2011 [5 favorites]

And I think that from their side, that's probably the aspect of the 99-percenter experience that the genuinely wealthy have the hardest time intuitively understanding—that most people live lives with the constant background awareness that all it takes is a little bad luck to put you in a place where you're totally fucked, where there is nothing you can do, full stop. The wealthy cannot imagine being out of options.

I think that one of the most frustrating things about the movements against public healthcare, public support for the unemployed etc.: these things are basically just ways for the people of a particular country to manage risk. Everyone gets together and creates a system that means that everybody - even the superficially undeserving, even the genuinely undeserving - gets to live in a state of less fear.

We know more about managing risk than we ever have. The insurance industry exists because we accept the idea that bad things can happen unexpectedly. And yet, we are supposed, as a society, not to try to plan for that, not to try to spread risk out so that we are all protected. It's insane.

Generally, proposing that we do that is attacked as being "anti-capitalist". But I just don't understand that. Proposing that some areas of society operate in a non-capitalist way, or that people should have a choice between public or private - that's not anti-capitalist. Not unless you think that capitalism means never allowing people a choice about some of the most important aspects of their lives. Unless you feel that capitalism is so fragile an ideology, so poor a way of doing things, that it should never be allowed to compete with a government-run, public alternative.

People who advocate market-based solutions to social problems often argue that their market-based solutions are fairer because they don't involve "imposing" choices or solutions. But in fact they do: they involve imposing a capitalist approach. And it may be the case that other ways of doing things are better - in fact, it pretty demonstrably is the case that other ways of doing some things are sometimes better. These so-called libertarians are as much a bunch of choice thieves as anyone else, they're just hiding it.

The problem is that some kind of choice theft is sometimes necessary for a society to function at all. In order to set up a social structure, we have to choose not to set up another social structure instead. Offering people the choice between health-care provider X (who will screw them over) or healthcare provider Y (who will screw them over) is no real choice at all, if you are also denying them a solution that is simply better, fairer and more sensible morally and economically.

Put simply: the whole libertarian premise that there is a zone called "the market" which is removed from society and where people can choose freely is wrong. In setting up a market at all, in determining how that market operates, you have already imposed your philosophy on others in hundreds of ways. "Socialism" and "capitalism" are morally equivalent in the sense that they are both solutions to the question that every society has to answer - how do we deal with the resources that we have.

And in this case, by attempting to use law and the control of resources to prevent poorer people from solving their problems by working together, as a society, I think that the 1% are not operating from some superior moral position of preserving free choice - they are actively sabotaging everybody else, by advocating policies that for most people amount to self-harm under the guise of greater consumer freedom.
posted by lucien_reeve at 6:00 AM on October 17, 2011 [14 favorites]

The Italian baron's braggadocio is pathetic. What was he so afraid of that he had to hire a marketing firm to make up fake ads about him lest he be forgotten or unknown?

I've actually run into him in an academic context a few times, and while I wouldn't exactly call him pathetic (he is a very smart and well-read guy), you can sort of feel the tension and insecurity he has when dealing with career academics, because he was reared to have an appreciation of history explicitly as a hobby.
posted by oinopaponton at 7:03 AM on October 17, 2011

Thanks for posting this, I can't wait to watch it.
posted by Theta States at 7:39 AM on October 17, 2011

The first rule of wealth is: you do not talk about wealth.
The second rule of wealth is: you DO NOT talk about wealth!
Third rule of wealth: someone yells "stop!", goes limp, taps out, ignore them as if they do not exist....
posted by caddis at 9:22 AM on October 17, 2011

Before he passed away, I had the good fortune of spending some time at my uncle's in the ridiculously giant mansion part of the Hamptons, and I'd say that, from my limited exposure, pts' points about worry are pretty much dead on.

But it's not that they don't worry, they just worry about things other than the bottom tiers of Maslow's pyramid where much of the rest of the world lives.

It was unspoken, but a lot of the worry seemed based in feelings of personal worth, and they seemed to derive a lot of it from things like the size and ornateness of their houses, or the clubs that they belonged to.

I felt very much like an outsider, but the thing that amazed me was that my uncle, who grew up relatively modestly, seemed to so easily slip into that worry-free lifestyle. I don't believe that people in that top 1% don't worry, they just don't realize that the stuff they are worried about has nothing to do with keeping themselves alive and everything to do with them feeling good.

Which is probably why they don't understand our half of the conversation, because I imagine it would be easy to believe that this was the same for everyone.
posted by quin at 12:18 PM on October 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

First Percent Problems?
posted by symbioid at 2:28 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

I could only get 15 minutes in before having to bail. Ack.
posted by Theta States at 6:40 PM on October 17, 2011

Speaking of Elizabeth Warren, here's an article from Naked Capitalism on her. I think she's another Obama-style "progressive"... she may have done some good things, don't get me wrong, but it seems like she's no lefty.
posted by symbioid at 3:26 PM on October 18, 2011

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