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Monopoly men*

from David Ruccio

Wealth inequality in the United States has reached such extreme levels it is almost impossible to put it into perspective.

But the folks at the Institute for Policy Studies (pdf) have found a novel way, by comparing the fortunes of the 400 wealthiest Americans to the meager assets of everyone else.


Here’s what they found:  

  • The three wealthiest people in the United States—Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and Warren Buffett—now own more wealth than the entire bottom half of the American population combined, a total of 160 million people or 63 million households.
  • America’s top 25 billionaires—a group the size of a major league baseball team’s active roster—together hold $1 trillion in wealth. These 25 have as much wealth as 56 percent of the population, a total 178 million people or 70 million households.
  • The billionaires who make up the full Forbes 400 list now own more wealth than the bottom 64 percent of the U.S. population, an estimated 80 million households or 204 million people—more people than the populations of Canada and Mexico combined.


Here’s another way: the average wealth of the top 10 billionaires (from the Forbes 2017 list) is $61 billion. In 2014 (the last year for which data are available), the average wealth for the United States as a whole (the blue line in the chart above) was only $297 thousand, while the average wealth owned by the middle 40 percent (the green line) was even less, $202 thousand. As for the top 1 percent, their average wealth (the red line) was $1.15 million—clearly far more than most other Americans but not even close to the extraordinary level of wealth that has been accumulated by the tiny group at the very top.

As the authors of the report explain,

The elite ranks of our billionaire class continue to pull apart from the rest of us. We have not witnessed such extreme levels of concentrated wealth and power since the first Gilded Age a century ago. Such staggering levels of wealth inequality threaten our democracy, compound racial and class divisions, undermine social cohesion, and destabilize our economy.

The problem is, while mainstream economists look the other way, politicians in Washington continue to allow the Monopoly men to pass Go, collect their additional billions in wealth, and win the game.


*”Monopoly men” are not just men: there are 50 women on the 2017 Forbes 400 list, who are worth a combined $305 billion. (An additional five women who built and share fortunes with their husbands also made the list.) They include Alice Walton (with a net worth of $38.2 billion), Jacqueline Mars ($25.5 billion), Laurene Powell Jobs ($19.4 billion), Abigail Johnson ($16 billion), and Blair Parry-Okeden ($12 billion).

  1. patrick newman
    November 20, 2017 at 3:53 pm

    What about Melinda Gates who is currently concerned with sexual harassment. I can’t imagine she is the poor half of her marriage to Bill. The Panama and Paradise Papers must pose the question as to whether the wealth quantified above is a serious under-estimate. If the UK is anything to go by little is being done to tackle and tax large accumulations of wealth. What this also reflects is that the rewards of business and enterprise are just fabulous even when the individual has long passed their ‘entrepreneurial’ phase during which they may have contributed something to society.

  2. November 20, 2017 at 4:11 pm

    As for me and my house, we are looking forward to the euthanasia of the rentier ( https://boingboing.net/2017/11/18/blood-funnels-jammed.html )

    • November 21, 2017 at 2:40 pm

      As for me and my house, we are looking forward to the euthanasia of the rentier ( https://boingboing.net/2017/11/18/blood-funnels-jammed.html )

      While executing all of the billionaires on the list to put them out of our misery may provide a supreme moment of schadenfreude, I would much prefer the pleasure of witnessing the imposition of a steeply progressive income tax on them: levied on gross personal income, with marginal rates up to 99% on the top level of earnings, no deductions or allowances, phased in of course over a period of time.

      To their stunned surprise, they would discover—after the dust had settled—that they would still remain at the top of the economic ladder, that they would still have the highest disposable incomes (+ wealth accumulations) in the land.

      Because this is true, and because we have a market economy, it is also true that such a tax code would not actually impose any material sacrifice on them whatsoever. Nor would it deprive them of any of their purchasing power in the marketplace. Nothing about their privileged lifestyles would be degraded in any way.

      In the end, they would have little choice but to agree that steeply progressive income taxation is actually the fairest method of taxationto rich people—that could ever be employed by a government.

      Not really the ironic pleasure of schadenfreude, but a supreme moment of satisfaction nevertheless…

  3. November 20, 2017 at 4:43 pm

    Thanks so much for posting this and the pdf link. I’ve long advocated that we must name names and paste a target on the backs of the $10000 Kiton suits.

  4. November 23, 2017 at 1:18 pm

    David, I want to comment on another blog of yours that I cannot find. I like your blogs, but I disagree with that one. The world may have more than one crisis that is important. “Clash of civilizations” is not a false red flag (cape).



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