On March 24, Professor of Sociology at the University of California, San Diego Isaac Martin spoke about what he calls “Rich People’s Movements,” namely grassroots campaigns aiming to un-tax the One Percent. His book of the same name, published in 2013, won several awards, including the Charles Tilly Book Award. The talk, attended by many professors and students, focused on the ideas of taxation and how these rich people’s movements operate.
He began the conversation by talking about how the property tax revolt is still relevant.
“I set out to write a book about rich people’s movements, not only because I hope to learn about the origins of [the movement], but also because I hope that comparing these many cases to each other can teach us something about movements in general,” Martin said.
He said that these rich people’s movements are interesting topics to research as they shine a light on another, not commonly seen kind of mobilization. These kinds of mobilizations are normally seen as targeting the poor.
“Rich people’s movements are theoretically interesting… especially for sociology, because most modern social movement theories tailor to fit the movements of the poor and the dispossessed,” Martin said.
He focused on the historical context of these movements and cited history as one of the main reasons for the prevalence of them.
“Social movements studies in sociology, unlike social sciences, need to be historical,” Martin said.
He also spoke of several reasons why these movements exist that determine whether or not they are successful.
“What makes these rich people’s movements anomalous and theoretically interesting and the reason why I call them rich people’s movements…[is that] they’re movements not just of and by the rich, but the distinctive thing is that they are movements for the rich,” Martin said.
He explained that some people believe that the rich contribute to the economy and create jobs, and therefore, some of the general public advocates for them.
“By a policy threat I mean a policy change that threatens a loss of economic security,” Martin said. “A policy change [affecting] many people at once has a special power to provoke protest for a couple reasons.”
Martin also linked the effectiveness of these movements to their ability to appeal to a larger group of people, who believe that they could benefit, even slightly, from the changes that could be enacted.
“The game is not just in rhetoric, but through proposing policies that would massively benefit the one percent and not as much, but some other people too,” Martin said.
According to Martin, the effectiveness of these movements is debatable. He questioned whether or not this inequality has anything to do with what he called the tradition of what was written about in “Rich People’s Movements.”
“These specific demands have a deep cultural tradition, this tradition of mobilization on behalf of the rich,” Martin said.
He also said that these kinds of movements are not limited to the United States, and there are similar movements in countries such as Denmark.
“I think [rich people’s movements] help us understand some very important facts about American politics and I think we should not look forward, but expect that we are going to see a lot more of them in the century to come,” Martin said.
Lynn Ma ’16 found the topic very relevant to what she is learning as a College of Social Studies major.
“First of all, I didn’t know about the existence of these movements so when I saw the poster I was very confused,” Ma said. “I’d want to check out more because this talk was very brief and short. It would be cool to check out the book and find more about how those movements and exactly who was involved.”
One audience member asked about whether or not these rich people’s movements are necessary, and Martin answered immediately.
“Do rich people need these movements?” Martins asked. “My answer to that is no. That’s what astounds me. Why do they even bother?”