Wednesday, November 7, 2018

The Power of America's Dynasties

Let's open this posting with two definitions:

Plutocracy: - a state or society governed by the wealthy.

Oligarchy: a small group of people having control of a country or organization.

Now, let's look at three quotes:

"Of all forms of tyranny the least attractive and the most vulgar is the tyranny of mere wealth, the tyranny of a plutocracy."

Theodore Roosevelt

"We’ve been saturated with cultural images and a kind of cultural deification of wealth and those who have wealth. They present people of immense wealth as somehow leaders, oracles even. We don’t grasp internally what an oligarchic class is finally about, or how venal and morally bankrupt they are. We need to recover the language of class warfare to grasp what is happening to us. And we need to shatter this self-delusion that somehow if, as Obama says, we work hard enough and study hard enough, we can be one of them."

"The screen of great fortunes without apparent cause is a crime forgotten, for it was properly done."

Now, let's take a look at America's plutocracy, thanks to a recent publication entitled Billionaire Bonanza 2018 by Chuck Collins and Josh Hoxie at the Institute for Policy Studies.  According to the authors and apparent to the rest of us is that wealth has become increasingly concentrated in the hands of very few Americans.  

Here are two interesting comparisons:

1.) Minimum wealth required to make the Forbes 400 wealthiest Americans: In 1982, a wealthy individual needed at least $75 million ($200 million in today's dollars) to be part of the Forbes 400; this has risen to $2.1 billion in 2018 meaning that 204 American billionaires didn't even make the 2018 list.

2.) Total wealth of the Forbes 400 wealthiest Americans:  In 1982, the combined wealth of the Forbes 400 wealthiest Americans totalled $92 billion ($242 billion in today's dollars) compared to $2.89 trillion in 2018.  This is more than the entire GDP of Great Britain, the world's fifth largest economy.  The average wealth on the 2018 Forbes 400 list is $7.2 billion, up 7.5 percent from 2018

Half of the total wealth of the Forbes 400 can be attributed to just 45 individuals with three individuals, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet owning a combined $348.7 billion, more wealth than the bottom half of the country combined and more than the combined wealth of 4 million typical American families.

In recent years, we've repeatedly heard about the "one percent".  According to an analysis by Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, the top one percent of Americans consists of 1.6 million families with a net worth of at least $3.9 million which own 42 percent of the nation's total wealth.  The top 0.1 percent consist of 160,000 families with a net worth of at least $20.6 million which own 22 percent of the nation's total wealth.  The top 0.01 percent consist of 16,000 families with a net worth of at least $111 million which own 11 percent of the nation's wealth.  In contrast, the bottom 90 percent of American households own 23 percent of America's total wealth, about the same amount as the top 0.1 percent.

One of the greatest concerns about wealth in the United States is the existence of wealth dynasties.  Of the 400 wealthiest people in the United States, 136 have inherited their wealth from a previous generation (including the current president).  Here is a complete listing of the wealth of the top 15 dynasties which have total wealth of $618 billion:

The Walton, Koch and Mars dynasties have seen their wealth go up by nearly 6000 percent over the past three decades at the same time as Main Street Americans have seen their median household net worth stall and decline.  Here is a table showing the top three wealth dynasties and how their wealth has grown over the decades since 1982:

Let's close this section of this posting by looking at the world's wealthiest individual, Jeff Bezos.  Mr. Bezos of Amazon/Washington Post fame has total wealth of approximately $160 billion with his fortune rising by $78.5 billion in the last year alone.  To put his wealth into context that we can relate to, a full-time worker at Amazon making $15 an hour would have to work for 2.5 million years to make as much money as Mr. Bezos made in the last year alone.

Now, let's look at the wealth statistics for Main Street America.  Median household wealth in 1983 was $84,000 in 2018 dollars and has actually dropped to less than $82,000 in 2018.  While median household wealth did rise to a peak of $127,000 in 2007, the Great Recession wiped out these gains and Main Street America has not experienced wealth growth despite the soaring stock market, dropping unemployment and relatively healthy economic growth.  God help us all when the next recession hits!  In addition to stagnant wealth, 19 percent of American households have zero or negative wealth, up from one in six households in 1983 and 40 recent of households could not come up with $400 in emergency funding.  The average wealth of the bottom 40 percent of Americans dropped from a meagre $6900 in 1983 to a frightening negative $8900 in 2016.

Obviously the concentration of wealth in the United States is having a significant impact on governance, particularly at the federal level where Congress functions largely on the backs of donations from the some of the world's wealthiest individuals like Sheldon Adelson and the Koch family members.  Additionally, media owners like Jeff Bezos can play a significant role in swinging public opinion, propagandizing American voters to see things through his viewpoint.  These are but three examples of how America's plutocracy/oligarchy are controlling the narrative that drives Washington during both Democratic and Republican administrations.  These individuals have had an obvious impact on the implementation of legislation, particularly as it relates to taxation of their incomes and their estates.

I would encourage you to watch this interview with Chris Hedges which will provide you with an excellent summary of the plutocracy/oligarchy that is developing in the United States and its impact on American society and politics:

Since I opened this posting with a quote, let's close it with another quote that nicely summarizes the plight of Main Street Americans:

"The central issue is we’re developing into a plutocracy. We’ve got an enormous number of enormously rich people that have convinced themselves that they’re rich because they’re smart and constructive. And they don’t like government, and they don’t like to pay taxes.

Paul Volker - former Chair of the Federal Reserve


  1. Thank you for compiling this info. It would be very interesting if it weren't so disgusting.