Want the 1 percent to listen? Speak their language

The Ear.001The World Economic Forum hosts a week-long event in Davos, Switzerland. Thousands of business leaders, international political leaders, economists, celebrities and journalists discuss global issues in over 500 public and private sessions.

In 2014, the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief, (OXFAM) released a report while urging action from Davos attendees to stem inequality before backlash happened.

OXFAM officials argued back then that unprecedented income and wealth inequality, poverty, rampant unemployment, and various schemes by the rich resulting in regulatory capture would increase poverty around the world. So they called on Davos attendees to pledge to refrain from behavior that would continue their self-ingratiating largess.

OXFAM published a report reiterating what we all know today then offered the uber-wealthy Davos attendees seven recommendations for fixing the problems:

  • Not dodge taxes in their own countries or in countries where they invest and operate, by using tax havens;
  • Not use their economic wealth to seek political favors that undermine the democratic will of their fellow citizens;
  • Make public all the investments in companies and trusts for which they are the ultimate beneficial owners;
  • Support progressive taxation on wealth and income;
  • Challenge governments to use their tax revenue to provide universal health-care, education, and social protection for citizens;
  • Demand a living wage in all the companies they own or control;
  • Challenge other economic elites to join them in these pledges

One thing you’ll quickly notice about all seven: none of them speak to the elites’ self interest.

A key element of any sales pitch (and yes, getting the 1 percent to budge is a major sales effort) is to speak the customer’s language. Equally important is to offer something aligned with their self interest.

Imagine you’re a sales person.  A customer comes into your store. What do you do? Yell at them? Blame them for you not making any sales? Call them names? Threaten to take all their money? Shoot them?

Taking that approach do you think you’ll make a sale? Likely not.

Look. Not to discount hard work the 85 people the OXFAM report calls out, but timing and fortune played a huge part in how their wealth got made. They know that. Beneath their bravado and opulent displays they ask themselves the same questions sole survivors of plane crashes and massacres ask.

“Why me?”

Gates and Buffet know fortune played a big role in their success. I’m sure Zuckerberg knows it too. Perhaps that’s why Gates and Buffet committed to give all their wealth away. Not too sure about Zuckerberg.

Trouble is, the significant work their philanthropy funds does little to solve The One Wicked Problem: a system that no longer works well for the majority of us. It doesn’t work well for anyone, as I’m sure Gates, Buffet and the other 85 already know.

While we’d give OXFAM an “A” for showing up to the party, their recommendations are terrible. Why? None of them speak to the self interests the audience OXFAM addresses.

What does? How about these:

  1. Help create an economy that doesn’t put a burden on your ability to increase your wealth, especially that messy, social one called “the poor”.
  2. Support efforts that will free your family from having to pay for healthcare and education.
  3. Get behind efforts designed to eliminate taxes, debt, payroll and fees not just for your business, but for everyone, including the poor. They’ll love you for that.
  4. Help make it easier for the poor to become rich. You’ll get richer too.
  5. Your legacy is intact as a successful business person, now, start building a legacy people will love you for by creating better opportunities for them than the ones you had to face in building your empire.
  6. You can do all this and not worry about anyone trying to take a dollar from you.

The 85 people OXFAM calls out could do all these things – things which benefit them directly – simply by supporting an alternative that promises better performance than Status-Quo economies, not just for the one percent of us, but for everyone. By throwing their weight behind Copiosis, they can make Davos an irrelevancy by making everyone rich and poverty a thing of the past.

Until the rest of us start speaking their language, the 1 percent aren’t going to lift a finger to change things. People change only when it’s in their self-interest. That’s the key to getting them to listen.


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