The 20 richest Americans will sit down to breakfast this morning to lovely dishes carefully prepared by their chefs and served them in the most elegant of dining rooms that can be imagined. How will they greet the news that they now have more wealth than half of America combined? Twenty people, all white and mostly male, nine of them from just three families, are now richer than the poorest 152,000,000 Americans combined.
The Institute for Policy Studies makes that and many other eye-popping revelations in the just released report, Billionaire Bonanza: The Forbes 400 and the Rest of Us.
What will those rich people think when they realize that the top 100 of the Forbes 400 own as much as all the African-Americans in the nation combined. Except for a handful, all the richest 100 are white males; will they recognize that their wealth has accrued in a society built on the enslavement of Africans? Will they decide to give the wealth back?
What will the Latino population of the country think when they learn that their combined wealth just comes equal to the top 185 richest Americans? Will they feel satisfied knowing that at least the white American capitalists had to steal their wealth in illegal wars of aggression that took the Western states and all the gold in California?
The combined wealth of the remaining Native American population is not even considered in the report as the wealth of the people that once cared for this land must be not be much more than pocket change to the truly rich.
Most of us did not have breakfast this morning wearing a Tiffany diamond and sipping champagne. Many of us were lucky to have time to grab a cold Pop-Tart and a cup of instant coffee. If you are in the bottom 62 percent of America – and the chances are nearly two out of three that you are – you will be happy to know that all our wealth combined is equal to the richest 400. That is, 194 Million of us have the same net worth as the richest 400 Americans. Besides enormous wealth the richest 400 don’t conform to our nations profile in other ways; 97% of them are white and 85% are men.
It could be a great party when the Forbes 400 gather. They would just fill the restaurant at the top of the Seattle Space Needle. 400 people, owning 2.34 trillion. What would make it a great party is dividing their treasure equally among all the 115 million households in America. Dividing the wealth of just the 400 richest would add over $20,000 to the wealth of every family and more than double the wealth of the typical African-American, Latino, Native American, poor white and Asian-American families.
The Billionaire Bonanza: The Forbes 400 and the Rest of Us report delivers strategies for reversing this extreme inequality. The strategies include tax reform. Closing the billionaire loopholes in the 76,000-page tax code, stifling the overseas secret tax heavens, instituting a truly progressive income tax, and increasing the capital gains and estate taxes are all called for as are strategies to increase the earnings and advancement of working people.
Probably the simplest reform recommended involves taxing wealth when it is concentrated in the obscene quantities we see today. No better way could exist than to help the wealthy give their money back to the workers and the society that created it.
Dariel Garner was a member of the wealthiest 0.01 of 1%. He is the inspiration for Billionaire Buddha, a novel by Rivera Sun about a man who had incredible riches, turned his back on wealth and found everything worth living for. He speaks, holds workshops on wealth and income inequality and blogs at riverasun.com. You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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