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Monday, February 18, 2019

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

Last year it was eight men, then down to six, and now almost five.

While Americans fixate on Trump, the super-rich are absconding with our wealth, and the plague of inequality continues to grow. An analysis of 2016 data found that the poorest five deciles of the world population own about $410 billion in total wealth. As of June 8, 2017, the world’s richest five men owned over $400 billion in wealth. Thus, on average, each man owns nearly as much as 750 million people.

Why Do We Let a Few People Shift Great Portions of the World’s Wealth to Themselves?

Most of the super-super-rich are Americans. We the American people created the internet, developed and funded artificial intelligence, and built a massive transportation infrastructure, yet we let just a few individuals take almost all the credit, along with hundreds of billions of dollars.

Defenders of the out-of-control wealth gap insist that all is OK, 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. Children are no longer living better than their parents did. In the eight years since the recession the Wilshire Total Market valuation has more than tripled, rising from a little over $8 trillion to nearly $25 trillion. The great majority of it has gone to the very richest Americans. In 2016 alone, the richest 1% effectively shifted nearly $4 trillion in wealth away from the rest of the nation to themselves, with nearly half of the wealth transfer ($1.94 trillion) coming from the nation’s poorest 90% — the middle and lower classes. That’s over $17,000 in housing and savings per lower-to-middle-class household lost to the super-rich.

A meritocracy? Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos have done little that wouldn’t have happened anyway. All modern U.S. technology started with, and to a great extent continues with, our tax dollars and our research institutes and our subsidies to corporations.

Why Do We Let Unqualified Rich People Tell Us How To Live? 

In 1975, at the age of 20, Bill Gates founded Microsoft with high school buddy Paul Allen. At the time, Gary Kildall’s CP/M operating system was the industry standard. Even Gates’ company used it. But Kildall was an innovator, not a businessman, and when IBM came calling for an OS for the new IBM PC, his delays drove the big mainframe company to Gates. Even though the newly established Microsoft company couldn’t fill IBM’s needs, Gates and Allen saw an opportunity, and so they hurriedly bought the rights to another local company’s OS — which was based on Kildall’s CP/M system. Kildall wanted to sue, but intellectual property law for software had not yet been established. Kildall was a maker who got taken.

So Bill Gates took from others to become the richest man in the world. And now, because of his great wealth and the meritocracy myth, many people look to him for solutions in vital areas of human need, such as education and global food production.

Gates on Education: He has promoted galvanic skin response monitors to measure the biological reactions of students, and the videotaping of teachers to evaluate their performances. About schools he said, “The best results have come in cities where the mayor is in charge of the school system. So you have one executive, and the school board isn’t as powerful.”

Gates on Africa: With investments in or deals with Monsanto, Cargill and Merck, Gates has demonstrated his preference for corporate control over poor countries deemed unable to help themselves. But no problem: according to Gates, “By 2035, there will be almost no poor countries left in the world.”

Warren Buffett: Demanding To Be Taxed at a Higher Rate (As Long As His Own Company Doesn’t Have To Pay)

Warren Buffett has advocated for higher taxes on the rich and a reasonable estate tax. But his company Berkshire Hathaway has used “hypothetical amounts” to pay its taxes while actually deferring $77 billion in real taxes.

Jeff Bezos: $50 Billion in Less Than Two Years, and Fighting Taxes All the Way

Since the end of 2015 Jeff Bezos has accumulated enough wealth to cover the entire $50 billion U.S. housing budget, which serves five million Americans. Bezos, who has profited greatly from the internet and the infrastructure built up over many years by many people with many of our tax dollars, has used tax havens and high-priced lobbyists to avoid the taxes owed by his company.

Mark Zuckerberg (6th Richest in World, 4th Richest in America)

While Zuckerberg was developing his version of social networking at Harvard, Columbia University students Adam Goldberg and Wayne Ting built a system called Campus Network, which was much more sophisticated than the early versions of Facebook. But Zuckerberg had the Harvard name and better financial support.

Now with his billions he has created a charitable foundation, which in reality is a tax-exempt limited liability company, leaving him free to make political donations or sell his holdings, all without paying taxes.

The False Promise of Philanthropy

Many super-rich individuals have pledged the majority of their fortunes to philanthropic causes. That’s very generous, if they keep their promises. But that’s not really the point.

American billionaires all made their money because of the research and innovation and infrastructure that make up the foundation of our modern technologies. They have taken credit, along with their massive fortunes, for successes that derive from society rather than from a few individuals. It should not be any one person’s decision about the proper use of that wealth. Instead a significant portion of annual national wealth gains should be promised to education, housing, health research, and infrastructure. That is what Americans and their parents and grandparents have earned after a half-century of hard work and productivity.

Paul Buchheit is the author of “Disposable Americans” (2017). He is an advocate for social and economic justice. His essays, videos, and poems can be found at YouDeserveFacts.org.

This article was made possible by the readers and supporters of AlterNet.

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3 responses to “Much Wealth As Half The World’s Population”

  1. Wealth inequality is a danger that has only heightened tensions in the world. The persistence of this gulf of disparity is one of many factors that are a cause of conflicts today, and will lead to further violent conflicts and confrontations—wars and revolutions of the past have been initiated because of unfair distribution of resources and money.

    The majority of wealth is concentrated in the northern hemisphere, and social and biological evolutionary trends have contributed to the disparities of resource distribution between the northern hemisphere and the equatorial regions and southern hemisphere.

    Be that as it may, it’s time to reconsider how we arrived at such a wide gap of income distribution by regions and within nations, how it fits in with humanity’s social/spiritual evolution as a single species, and how to view income distribution looking through the “lens” of Baha’u’llah. And then consult among ourselves as to what principles need to be applied to narrow the wealth gap between the inordinately rich and desperately impoverished.

    It would be unrealistic for everyone to have the same amount of money, but extremes of wealth and poverty need to be eliminated, nor should everyone be expected to contribute equally to the generation of wealth in society due to some physical or mental impairment, or due to being a child or elderly.

    However, by incorporating the consciousness of the Oneness of Humankind, a reality tirelessly put forth by Baha’u’llah, and allowing it to inform of actions and decisions, and by consultation among members of societies, a fair and equitable redistribution of resources and wealth can be arrived at. At some point, any wealthy person, would never be able to go to sleep comfortably, knowing that a neighbor nearby is starving, nor will a nation be able to feel at ease knowing that communities elsewhere in the world are suffering from dire poverty. This, I think, is what it means to truly be a human being.

    But no one should be made to feel obligated to part with their wealth, and those able-bodied people able to work be allowed to live off the means of others without an effort.

    Obviously, a new way of thinking about wealth and about the oneness of humankind is needed, along with consultation on how to devise specific plans to eliminate extremes of wealth and poverty. To that end, Baha’u’llah has cited the principle requiring a spiritual solution to economic problems. Altruism, making education mandatory, and insuring that girls be the priority for education when families’ funds are limited for educating children.

    Finally, what good is having all the gold in the world when you can’t take it with you to the next world. Once Death knocks on your door, there is nothing from the physical world that can be taken to the spiritual realms beyond the door of Death.
    And then, there are some specific quotes that touch on this entire subject of such great importance:

    “They who are possessed of riches, however, must have the utmost regard for the poor, for great is the honor destined by God for those poor who are steadfast in patience. By My Life! There is no honor, except what God may please to bestow, that can compare to this honor. Great is the blessedness awaiting the poor that endure patiently and conceal their sufferings, and well is it with the rich who bestow their riches on the needy and prefer them before themselves. – Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 202.

    • FireBaron says:

      Similar to before Teddy Roosevelt’s days as a Trust Buster. Then about 10 people controlled about 90% of the country’s wealth. Only now, instead of people with “real” assets (Morgan, Rockefeller, Vanderbilt and company) most of the wealthiest hold “virtual” assets. At least the old-school monied class actually were job creators. You needed people to pump and move oil. You needed people to run railroads. You needed people to build buildings, ships, trains, etc.

  2. I of John says:

    Wealth inequality is not particularly new to this world. We’ve suffered under its yolk for as long as there has been wealth to acquire. In the twentieth century we attempted to make things a bit more fair after WWII but there was always old money secreting their influence and reinforcing their glass ceilings. This is how capitalism rewards its winners after. The winners game the rules, set the norms and creates their secret handshakes and exclusive clubs. If the untra rich go too far, we cut them down a few pegs. It is not really a great system but it is the only one we have.

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