In 2003, Jamie Johnson's Born Rich profiled several young scions who spoke frankly about a "taboo" subject they'd been scrupulously taught to avoid: their family's money.
In his new film, The One Percent , Johnson exposes this taboo to deeper scrutiny, questioning the efficacy of a system that allows a widening gap to exist between America's most wealthy individuals, and the rest of us. As Johnson notes, "one percent of Americans own roughly 40 percent of the country's wealth, and they share an aggregate net worth that is greater than the net worth of the bottom 90 percent combined. Even though the last 26 years have brought America the largest economic boom in the history of finance, most of the rewards went to those who are already at the top of the ladder - and they still do."
Concerned about the widening chasm between the rich and everyone else, Johnson tracks down several icons of capitalism, pressing them to elaborate on their beliefs.
Milton Friedman, the celebrated economist and champion of the "trickle down" economics that began with Ronald Reagan and continues today, chastens Johnson for suggesting increased taxes for the rich, calling his ideas socialist before cutting short the interview.
Others are more circumspect, including Paul Orfalea, whom we see giving up a dollar to a beggar outside his first Kinko's store, and Karl Muth, a investment-bank heir who lives with a tangible symbol of resentment in his once-depressed Chicago neighborhood: a bullet hole in his apartment window, no doubt shot by a less-affluent neighbor.
Other intriguing subjects of The One Percent include Adnan Khashoggi, the billionaire at the center of the 1980s Iran-Contra scandal; Roy Martin, a Louisiana lumber tycoon who uses his Bible as a guideline for business and life; Chuck Collins, a great-grandson of Oscar Meyer who gave up his inheritance for moral reasons; Bill Gates, Sr., conscientious father of the world's richest man; Cody Franchetti, Italian baron and stateside socialite; and (in abstentia) Alfie and Pepe Fanjul, industrialists who made millions harvesting Everglades sugar and selling it at guaranteed high prices to consumers and the U.S. government.
Credits: Directed by Jamie Johnson; Produced by Jamie Johnson and Nick Kurzon; Written by Jamie Johnson and Nick Kurzon; Director of Photography: Nick Kurzon; Editors: Nick Kurzon, Michael Levine and Matthew Hamachek; Music by Robert Miller.