Brilliant ... Compelling ... Stewart is both cartographer and critic, serving as a kind of appalled anthropologist as he reveals the self-justifying delusions and harmful customs that define the demographic ... Each chapter in the book examines the behavior and beliefs of the 9.9 percent in a specific domain — fitness, merit, housing, parenting, gender, education, real estate, race, etc. Many of these chapters are extraordinary investigations in their own right, dense with empirical detail and insightful analysis, and they collectively establish beyond any reasonable doubt the book’s fundamental claim ... The political and moral arguments for decreasing inequality through public spending on public goods are as old as America ... Stewart’s book is a worthy contribution to this long tradition, and his arguments deserve the widest possible audience ... What gives the book its relentlessly sharp edge is his exposure of so much conventional wisdom as ultimately self-serving and deluded.
A far-reaching indictment of a conceptually indefensible but institutionally rigid status quo, and it’s to Stewart’s credit that he resists portraying the 9.9 percent as some sort of fallen patrician elite ... Stewart writes trenchantly about the inner workings of this system because he knows it firsthand: He’s the former founding partner of a global management consulting firm ... Stewart counsels a reclamation of the ideals of liberal democracy within the context of our productive lives ... It’s admittedly an exceptionally tall order in today’s reason-averse and authoritarian-trending plutocracy, but as Stewart makes clear throughout this clear-eyed and incisive study, the template we’ve inherited for discussions of the social democratic harms wrought by the regime of American inequality are exhausted to the point of futility ... If nothing else, The 9.9 Percent is a bracing glimpse of life on the other side of the blindfolds—together with a provisional blueprint for reform once our powers of sight are fully restored.
Unfortunately, Stewart’s portrait of the 9.9 percent draws on few firsthand interviews with members of this class. He relies instead on examples culled from sources like Slate and on made-up characters such as 'Ultramom,' a cartoonish figure ... Such caricaturing may resonate with the popular anger at elites. But it fails to lend much insight into what Stewart calls 'the mind of the 9.9 percent,' or for that matter, to demonstrate that such a uniform thing exists ... In contemporary America, the lives of the wealthy bear increasingly little resemblance to those of working-class people, much less to those who are poor. Stewart is surely right to view this as a problem and to question why it has generated so much less outrage and concern than the obscene fortunes of the superrich. But the growing chasm between the 9.9 percent and the rest of society only underscores why pushing beyond reductive stereotypes to explain how affluent professionals think about, and justify, their wealth and privilege is important. Doing so can help illuminate both how deep the economic disparities in America have become and how inequality is validated and sustained.
The latest in [a] series of backhanded apologias ... The 9.9 percent, according to Mr. Stewart, is a 'state of mind,' a 'way of thinking,' a 'system of values.' The 9.9 figure, in other words, is a gimmicky way to headline a book about the dreary topic of economic inequality ... Mr. Stewart indicts one supposed convention of upper-middle-class American life after another—helicopter parenting, marrying for status, maniacal fitness regimes. Each one, he contends, ultimately serves to keep the rich rich, and the poor poor. His arguments are dizzyingly complex and rife with a social-science-fueled inferentialism. He bombards you with statistics and jumps from one point to the next ... You soon get the sense, though, that these indictments are cleverly arranged to avoid blaming any individuals or institutions associated with the political and cultural left. Whatever your politics, that’s a tough sell ... In a chapter on how American culture perpetuates a racist economy, Mr. Stewart proposes the existence of what he calls the 'race dividend': the added income and privilege a white person gets for being white. It’s a 30-page chapter, laden with statistics and citations to studies, and honestly I’m not sure I get it ... The only actual racists named in the chapter—I am not making this up—are the Republican strategist Lee Atwater and Republicans generally ... It’s a tricky business to arraign an entire society as bigoted and repressive without in any way admonishing its dominant class. Mr. Stewart has done it with élan.
A charged study ... Stewart’s charges are comprehensive, and sometimes he can be a little testy...but he matches them with a reasonable demand for a commitment to economic justice that would elevate all Americans, not just the lucky few ... A sharp-tongued, altogether readable, and welcome assault on unrestrained wealth.