Who Are the 79 Percent?



The simple answer is you. You’re the 79 percent. Let me explain.

In my three decades as a business analyst and manager, I stumbled across rules of thumb to explain just about everything. Some were partly true, most were nonsense, and a relatively few were accurate enough to be used in real-world situations. The Pareto Principle, sometimes better known as the 80/20 Rule, falls into this latter category. Simply put, the Pareto Principle states that for many events, 80% of the effects come from 20% of the activities. For instance, 80% of your company’s sales often come from 20% of the customers. Eighty percent of software defects usually do come from 20 percent of the code. In social situations, 20% of your Facebook or Twitter contacts would produce 80% of the posts, according to the Pareto Principle.

First explained by management consultant Joseph M. Juran, the Pareto Principle is a purposely oversimplified means to explain the world. The percentages aren’t precise, but the precept works: in many clusters, a large number of the effects are caused by a small percentage of causes.

We at The 79 Percent believe this axiom works in human dynamics as well. According to Inequality.org, as of the date of this posting, 36% of the wealth in the U.S. is owned by the top one percent. Obviously, that number is highly skewed, as is Fortune Magazine’s citation that one-half of the world’s wealth is owned by the top one percent. However, if we move away from the politically charged implications of the top one percent for a moment, further research shows that the richest 20% of Americans own 80% of the country’s financial assets. Woo Hoo! The Pareto Principle holds!

Importantly, so does a side principle, which we’ll call the Elitist Principle, or the Rule of the one percent. This new rule says that the top one percent of any social class attains an elitist stature that the other 99% neither actually aspire to nor have a realistic capability of attaining. In other words, the top, one-percent tier is substantially different than the rest of us. Here, we aren’t just speaking of wealth, but also fame, social status, or learning. If this theory holds, then approximately one percent of all eligible people would hold the highest educational degree. The 2013 U.S. Census tells us that 1.68% percent of eligible people (over 25) hold Ph.D.’s. That’s close enough to being one percent that we’ll say our principle holds true.

There has been a backlash in recent years, undeservedly, regarding intellectuals. Contrary to popular belief, doctoral candidates aren’t the most educated people in the room. They are specialists. You don’t get a Ph.D. in General Education; you get one for discovering the cosmetic applications of Brazilian Bumblebee vomit. Elite education isn’t better. It’s just more focused. The wisely educated person limits the expression of their expertise to those few things about which they are actually expert. The unwise intellectual does not. As such, we normal people have soured on intellectuals who tout educational ideals without regard to how they apply to average folks.

Writers and editors publish summaries of education journals that either assume that 1) most people are idiots and won’t understand them, or 2) that readers want to learn technical jargon instead of explanations in simple language. Knowledge is meant to be shared, and most Ph.D.’s wish to share what they’ve learned. I daresay I don’t think that’s true of most intellectuals. To them, all too often, knowledge is an asset to be hoarded. Those without it are treated as intellectually impoverished. We’re made to feel stupid, just as middle-class people are made to feel poor. Again, let me be clear. I am not condemning university degrees or implying there is anything inherently wrong with formal education. I have a couple of degrees myself. I’m stating that the reason so many people rage against intellectuals is that too many people have the mistaken belief that having education makes you smart and lacking it makes you dumb. Truth is an opinion that cannot be taught. It must be found on one’s own.

We at The 79 Percent are dedicated to the enlightenment of the rest of society, whom we call the Untellectuals. We seek truth, don’t shy away from it, and don’t hoard it. Of course, not everyone embraces truth. The Pareto Principle implies that there will always be 20% of people at the bottom who are responsible for 80% of the stupidity and ignorance in the world. I’m not talking about the uneducated, or the learning impaired. I’m talking about sheep–those who’d rather follow what they’re told than think for themselves–and the predators who prey on them. You’re born uneducated. Stupidity takes work.

There have been innumerable opportunities on the Interwebs for the Bottom 20% to be heard. And, if you’re patient, you can sift through interminable information that the most learned 1% publishes. Sadly, most of us don’t have time for that. We are dependent upon a slanted Press, reporters short on time and information, and small spaces to explain complex principles and stories. We the 79% in the middle get the information shaft. We’re too smart to be stupid and too busy to be well-informed. We rely on Google, Twitter and (cough, spit) television to stay informed.

So, who will be our advocates? Who will search through the blurbs for the real story and present it in a way that we can understand and digest? Who out there recognizes the simple truth of the world, that most of us are much smarter than anyone in the media assumes?

We will.

We hope you will search through the stories we present, even go to the sources for more information. Maybe we can’t quickly snatch our piece of the pie from the one percent at the top of the world’s economic penthouse, but we can certainly match any Ph.D. out there in knowledge and understanding. We, The 79 Percent, are tired of the dark.

Let the Light start here.

W.E. Jones, Jr.

Note: Top photo and featured photo taken at the Rally to Save Humanity, Washington, D.C., 30 October 2010. Photos © Bill Jones, Jr. All Rights Reserved