‘Tis the season for charity, kindness, generosity, and nothing says Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Man quite like a handful of the richest Americans holding as much wealth as the bottom 160 million.
I used to use a pizza analogy where 5 people divvied up a pie and the first person got nine slices while the last person got a crumb. That was vastly understating the case, but it was an attempt to put the problem in perspective. In reality, it’s more like 14,000,001 people divvying up a pizza, the first person getting half and the next 14 million people splitting up the second half on a sliding scale. Tens of millions of us are battling after our piece of the crumb.
If that fact doesn’t put you in the jovial spirit of the Ghost of Christmas Present, I don’t know what will.
“America’s 20 wealthiest people — a group that could fit comfortably in one single Gulfstream G650 luxury jet — now own more wealth than the bottom half” of Americans, according to the new report by Chuck Collins and Josh Hoxie, both veteran analysts of inequality in America.
But there’s a big problem with that memorable image: It seriously understates just how much wealth these 20 people have.
Probably just 12 or 15 of those at the top own as much as America’s worst-off 160 million people. That’s about $732 billion on each side of that equation. For the top 20, it averages $36 billion each; for the bottom half, $4,575 each.
What’s a cool $732 billion between friends? What’s 12 or 15 people hoarding vast sums of money while 16 million American children struggle in hunger and poverty? It’s not as though poverty contributes in any way toward instability in the home, social, emotional and behavioral problems, poor physical and mental health, or anything of the sort.
The bums lost, Lebowski. The bums will always lose!
The intense concentration of wealth matters because it makes the economy less efficient, discouraging investments that create jobs while giving a relative handful of superrich Americans vast sway over the agendas that politicians pursue.
Just 158 families, along with companies they own or control, provided nearly half the contributions to the presidential candidates in both parties, though giving was heavily skewed to Republicans.
The result is policies that take from the many and redistribute to the already rich few through stealth techniques that rarely make the news but can be found in the public record. Among these policies are a failure to enforce the laws of business competition, severe restrictions on unions and subsidies galore for big companies.
Five years ago, the 400 households reporting the largest incomes on their tax returns captured an astonishing 6 percent of all the increased income in America, as I revealed a year ago. Such massive inequality reflects not market economics but political influence that tilts the economic playing field.
And because of their political influence, those at the very top get tax favors, especially the deferral of taxes into the distant future, which transforms the burden of taxes into a bonanza of increased profits.
If you wonder why Washington doesn’t seem to fix problems that affect most Americans, this is the answer: Politicians take care of the hands that feed them, the donor class.
In an era when so many voters are easily swayed with angry rhetoric, made-up facts and slick marketing of policies that sound great but actually hurt the vast majority, most politicians pay no price for catering to the richest of the rich at the expense of the many.
No matter who you are supporting in the Democratic Primary for the Presidency, this is why it’s important that Bernie Sanders is in the race. This is a conversation critical to the survival of our republic. My only hope was that he would pull the conversation in this direction, and so far he is accomplishing that.
Pandering to the donor class, kowtowing to the moneyed interests, is nothing new in American politics. But it the situation needs to be recognized before it can be tackled. It needs to be acknowledged before it can be corrected. Slowly, we’re getting there. But we have promises to keep, and miles to go before we sleep.
The first Gilded Age brought about the Progressive Era and it got messy. Frankly, it got messy on a scale that I’m not sure Americans today would have an easy time handling. But I’m not one to bet against the capacity of the people of our country to confront Big Problems as we have so often before.
Suffice it to say that a lot of people spilt their blood and lost their lives fighting for the things we have today that too many take for granted: collective bargaining, vacation and sick time, child labor laws, the 40-hour work week, etc. And we have it much easier to protect those things and build on them. We just have to get people to vote in their own self-interest.
We are now in a Second Gilded Age, where inequality has ballooned to a point not seen since the first. The times now call for a Second Progressive Era. And this time, I say, every person among us must be included. The first first Progressive Era culminated in a New Deal, and the second must bring us a Renewed Deal. It’s time to shake off this shameful injustice. It’s time for 14 million people to stand up to the one.
“‘Spirit. are they yours?,’ Scrooge could say no more.
‘They are Man’s,’ said the Spirit, looking down upon
them. ‘And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers.
This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both,
and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy,
for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the
writing be erased. Deny it.’ cried the Spirit, stretching out
its hand towards the city. ‘Slander those who tell it ye.
Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse.
And abide the end.’
‘Have they no refuge or resource?’ cried Scrooge.
‘Are there no prisons?’ said the Spirit, turning on him
for the last time with his own words. ‘Are there no workhouses?'”
D.C. DeWitt is a writer and man of sport and leisure. He has also written for Government Executive online, the National Journal’s Hotline, and The New York Observer’s Politicker.com. He is the Associate Editor of The Athens NEWS in Athens, Ohio. DeWitt can be found on Facebook and Twitter @DC_DeWitt.