Surprise, surprise. Even if the Occupy Wall Street protesters find it challenging to articulate precisely what they want, 35% of millionaires surveyed by Spectrem Group say they are making "a good and valid point."
These results startled Spectrem president George Walper, who had assumed the percentage of affluent individuals who sympathized with the protests that have spread around the globe would be in the high single digits or low double digits. Of course, 38% of the wealthy folks surveyed by Spectrem say that "for the most part, the protests represent the anti-capitalist and anti-free market elements in our society."
Moreover, some believe that when the weather turns cold in a few weeks, many protesters will either head home to their parents or south to warmer climates. But the staying power of the protesters has surprised millionaires and only 30% think their activities will turn out to be short-lived and end soon.
What explains the sympathy with the protesters? Most millionaires are professionals or small business owners, not Wall Street investment bankers and derivative traders. The Great Recession has caused serious pain for small businesses and many doctors and lawyers, and many of them blame the Wall Streeters who got bailed out just like the protesters do.
When it comes to raising taxes on the rich, millionaire investors recognize the need for it and seem resigned to it. Spectrem research reveals that fully 67% believe that raising taxes on those earning more than $1 million a year would improve the economic situation.
However, unlike some politicians, millionaires realize there is a huge difference between earning $250,000 a year and $1 million or more a year. Only 45% think raising taxes on individuals earning $250,000 would improve the economy.
Warren Buffett's call for higher taxes on the wealthy meets with modest approval from millionaires, of whom 36% say their opinion of the Oracle of Omaha has changed for the positive. Only 18% say Buffett's tax talk has changed their opinion in a negative way. Of course, raising the top income tax rate from 35% to 39% would only cost Buffett a few nickels, so it's easy for him to say.
The larger lesson underlying Spectrem's research is that while many millionaires have dodged the financial suffering inflicted by the Great Recession, they haven't been immune to the psychological pain. Indeed, successful folks who generally are optimists may have experienced more dramatic changes in their psychological outlook than average folks.
Several factors seem to be driving the anti-Wall Street protests -- the scarcity of job opportunities, soaring education and health care costs, and the sense that a select group of society gets to play by a different set of rules and gets Federal bailouts. Underscoring this outlook is the finding that only 18% of millionaires think the next generation will live better than the current generation, while 82% think they won't.
Take the case of a successful eye doctor I know. His daughter is attending a top medical school and wants to be a GP. Sure, money isn't everything, but what's her future? A job as a $55,000 a year doc in the box, which wouldn't be so terrible if she wasn't going to wind up with more than $200,000 in student loans.
Whatever sympathy some millionaires may have for the protesters, they decidedly are not shared by folks in NYC's lower middle class. Shortly after posting this, I happened to listen a radio segment that interviewed citizens of the South Bronx and some poorer areas of Brooklyn. Several people interviewed noted that McDonald's and several supermarkets in their neighborhoods had part-time work and suggested the protesters might want to inquire about employment there.
One phone caller was already arbitraging burger flipping jobs. Other youngsters interviewed said they were working in lousy jobs to fund their education to get better jobs. That's the world we live in.