A scorching, trenchant, analysis of how the wealthiest group in American society is making life miserable for everyone—including themselves.
In 21st century America, the top 0.1% of the wealth distribution have walked away with the big prizes even while the bottom 90% have lost ground. What’s left of the American Dream has taken refuge in the 9.9% that lies just below the tip of extreme wealth. Collectively, the members of this group control more than half of the wealth in the country—and they are doing whatever it takes to hang on to their piece of the action in an increasingly unjust system.
They log insane hours at the office and then turn their leisure time into an excuse for more career-building, even as they rely on an underpaid servant class to power their economic success and satisfy their personal needs. They have segregated themselves into zip codes designed to exclude as many people as possible. They have made fitness a national obsession even as swaths of the population lose healthcare and grow sicker. They have created an unprecedented demand for admission to elite schools and helped to fuel the dramatic cost of higher education. They channel their political energy into symbolic conflicts over identity in order to avoid acknowledging the economic roots of their privilege. And they have created an ethos of “merit” to justify their advantages. They are all around us. In fact, they are us—or what we are supposed to want to be.
In The 9.9 Percent, Matthew Stewart argues that a new aristocracy is emerging in American society and it is repeating the mistakes of history. It is entrenching inequality, warping our culture, eroding democracy, and transforming an abundant economy into a source of misery. He calls for a regrounding of American culture and politics on a foundation closer to the original promise of America.
About the Author
Matthew Stewart is an independent philosopher and historian who has written extensively about the philosophical origins of the American republic and the history of management. With degrees from Princeton University and Oxford University and a stint as a management consultant, he was once a respectable member of the 9.9%. His work has appeared in The Atlantic, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and Harvard Business Review, among other publications. He lives near Boston, Massachusetts, and you can visit him at MWStewart.com.
"Matthew Stewart’s new book is a captivating account of how America got into our current plight of extreme inequality and why that should concern all of us—especially those of us in the top 9.9 percent. It closes with some suggestions about what we might do about it, which alone should make the book must reading in the Biden White House."
— Robert D. Putnam, author of Bowling Alone and Our Kids
"A charged study of the second-tier wealthy in America, the principal engine of inequality. . . . A sharp-tongued, altogether readable, and welcome assault on unrestrained wealth."
— Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"The 9.9 Percent is a bracing and necessary read. Matthew Stewart does not pull his punches, making clear that the inequality and social stagnation plaguing the United States cannot be blamed on the billionaires. The ideology of meritocracy has been perverted to support a growing aristocracy, even as many of us passionately profess our commitment to universal equal opportunity. Highly recommended."
— Anne-Marie Slaughter, CEO, New America
"[A] withering assessment of the overweighted, nearly intractable socioeconomic power of [the] 9.9 percent—all conveyed with an acid humor that recalls the late social critics Henry Fairlie and Paul Fussell."
— Booklist (starred review)
"In The 9.9 Percent, Matthew Stewart studies . . . the social class just below the new millennial robber barons—the overcompensated, self-regarding, yet terminally anxious cohort of the merely extravagantly privileged. . . . [a] clear-eyed and incisive study."
— Chris Lehmann
"A rip-roaring argument against oblivious privilege. Stewart is an agile, witty writer with philosophical gifts. He can make you laugh while you make better sense of America."
— Alissa Quart, author of Squeezed: Why Our Families Can’t Afford America, Executive Director, Economic Hardship Reporting Project
"Like the ancient curse of Midas, today’s extreme inequality poisons even those it privileges, as Matthew Stewart reveals in this urgent and convincing book. It’s not just the plutocrats who are ruining lives; it’s all of us who enable the toxic myth that our society is a meritocracy and who engage in practices we fail to recognize as ruinous. To understand how your life got so harried and your country so cruel, read this book."
— Nancy MacLean, author of Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America
"At a time when there is much focus on billionaires—the top 0.1 percent of American households—Matthew Stewart's book The 9.9 Percent provides us with a welcome, in-depth look at another vitally important group. . . . This important, often gripping book gives us a much-needed analysis of a powerful group, the 9.9 percent, that is too often overlooked as it plays a pivotal role in shaping—and mis-shaping—21st century America."
— Steven Greenhouse, author of Beaten Down, Worked Up: The Past, Present, and Future of American Labor