An Arena Full of the Richest Americans Would Own as Much Wealth as 70% of the World

Paul Buchheit

Paul Buchheit Author, editor, expert on income inequality

That's 25,000 American adults, about the number of people in a large basketball stadium. That's the richest .01% of America. Together they own nearly $10 trillion, which is approximately the total wealth owned by the 3.5 billion adults who make up 70% of the entire adult world. 

Data is taken from various current sources: the Credit Suisse 2018 Global Wealth Databook (GWD), the Forbes 400 rankings, and Business Insider's reporting on the world's billionaires. A summary of the calculations can be found here.

But Only India has a Greater Percentage of its People in the World's Poorest 10% 

Inequality in America is out of control. A careful look at the GWD (Table 3-4) makes that clear. While our nation has by far the greatest percentage of its people in the world's richest 10%, it is second only to India in the percentage of its people in the world's poorest 10%. This is almost certainly due to the number of Americans mired in unmanageable debt. 

To put it another way, one out of seven American adults is among the world's least wealthy 10%. 

To put it yet another way, while 100 million American adults are among the world's richest 10%, 34 million American adults are among the world's poorest 10%.

We Let a Few Individuals Take the Wealth that Society Has Built 

Jeff Bezos has $160 billion. That's more than double his wealth from early 2017. That's equivalent to the combined budgets for Education, Housing, and Health and Human Services. 

The American people created the Internet, developed and funded Artificial Intelligence, and built a massive transportation infrastructure. Amazon takes full advantage of all of that. Same with the other big tech firms. All the technology in our iPhones and computers started with government research at the Defense Department, the National Science Foundation, the Census Bureau, and public universities. Google is using some of its billions to buy technologies that were built by DARPA with our tax money. 

Yet we let individuals like Bezos and Gates and Zuckerberg take almost all the credit, along with hundreds of billions of dollars. 

Defenders of the out-of-control wealth gap insist that all is okay, because, after all, America is a 'meritocracy' in which the super-wealthy have 'earned' all they have. They heed the words of Warren Buffett: "The genius of the American economy, our emphasis on a meritocracy and a market system and a rule of law has enabled generation after generation to live better than their parents did." But it's not a meritocracy. It's getting harder and harder to survive on individual skills. Children are no longer living better than their parents did. 

Jeff Bezos has $160 billion in wealth. While he has been profiting from the Internet and the infrastructure built up over many years by many people with many of our tax dollars, he has continued to avoid the taxes that are meant to pay for all the benefits received by his company.

'Social' is Not a Dirty Word 

A strong society empowers individuals, not the other way around. For 35 years Americans have been duped into believing that well-positioned individuals should be allowed to do whatever they want, and the result is the perverse level of inequality described above. In two weeks we will be given the opportunity to vote to help stop the flow of wealth to the super-rich. We just have to hope Americans have learned about the greed and deception of that arena full of super-rich.

***

Reposted from Common Dreams

Paul Buchheit teaches economic inequality at DePaul University. He is the founder and developer of the Web sites UsAgainstGreed.org, PayUpNow.org and RappingHistory.org, and the editor and main author of “American Wars: Illusions and Realities” (Clarity Press). He can be reached at paul@UsAgainstGreed.org.

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