A project of the
Institute for Policy Studies

New IPS Report: Billionaire Bonanza

Wealthiest 20 people own more wealth than half the American population.

forbes400-cover-537x695By Chuck Collins and Josh Hoxie

“Billionaire Bonanza,” a new report from the Institute for Policy Studies, exposes the extreme wealth concentrated within the fortunes of the 400 wealthiest Americans and compares this wealth to the much more meager assets of several different segments of American society.

The report proposes several solutions to close the growing gap between the ultra wealthy and the rest of the country. These policies include closing offshore tax havens and billionaire loopholes in the tax code that the wealthy exploit to hide their wealth.

The report also proposes a direct tax on wealth to break up the concentration of wealth and generate trillions of dollars in new revenue to invest in wealth building opportunities for working families.


  • 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 the American population combined, a total of 152 million people in 57 million households.
  • The Forbes 400 now own about as much wealth as the nation’s entire African-American population ­– plus more than a third of the Latino population ­– combined.
  • The wealthiest 100 households now own about as much wealth as the entire African American population in the United States. Among the Forbes 400, just 2 individuals are African American –­ Oprah Winfrey and Robert Smith.
  • The wealthiest 186 members of the Forbes 400 own as much wealth as the entire Latino population. Just five members of the Forbes 400 are Latino including Jorge Perez, Arturo Moreno, and three members of the Santo Domingo family.
  • With a combined worth of $2.34 trillion, the Forbes 400 own more wealth than the bottom 61 percent of the country combined, a staggering 194 million people.
  • The median American family has a net worth of $81,000. The Forbes 400 own more wealth than 36 million of these typical American families. That’s as many households in the United States that own cats.

We believe that these statistics actually underestimate our current national levels of wealth concentration. The growing use of offshore tax havens and legal trusts has made the concealing of assets much more widespread than ever before.

Two types of policy interventions can reduce extreme wealth inequality in the United States. 

First, we must close wealth escape routes. 
Wealthy individuals are moving quickly to shift wealth into offshore tax havens and bury it in private trusts, avoiding accountability and taxation every step of the way. This hidden wealth now totals in the trillions. Our first step must be to close these escape routes and tax dodges.

Second, we need to implement policies to reduce concentrated wealth. 
Without action to directly reduce private concentrations of wealth, inequality will continue to grow. By seriously taxing our wealthiest households, we could raise significant revenues and invest these funds to expand wealth-building opportunities across the economy.

Read the full report here.

  • tomherzog

    Neoliberal capitalism’s policies for shifting wealth from the lower and middle classes to the already very wealthy began to be implemented in the mid 1970s. This operation of class war and wealth confiscation ramped up into higher gear under Reagan’s administration and came to a culmination with the housing bubble and the Financial Crisis of 2008 and the accompanying TARP bail-out shifting trillions of dollars of public wealth into private hands.

    Well-regulated capitalism that came out of FDR’s New Deal and the Keynesian consensus that stimulated a moribund, over-mature capitalist economy in the 1930s are now dead and “off the table” never again to be taken up by the US Congress and never to be discussed among the US establishment which essentially has its Orwellian Ministry of Truth in the US main-stream-media.

    Now, in 2015 with deregulation of the financial markets in particular and the salient sections of the Western world’s economy in general capitalism has reverted to it primary, predatory, social Darwinian form: the rich and the powerful take all for themselves leaving the poor and powerless to scrape by as best they can and to die if such be the case. The oligarchs and plutocrats are indifferent to the plight of the masses.

    This is raw “naked” capitalism as Yves Smith calls it. This is the irrational, grossly unjust system of economics that facilitate the 1/10 of 1% in hording, stealing, and expropriating virtually all the wealth society creates (through the value added to goods and services by the work force) while the workers are emmiserated by their capital accumulating masters.

    Sadly the vast majority of Americans don’t know what has been done to them; they are so heavily propagandized by the controllers who benefit from this economic system that they, the workers and so-called middle-class,rather than seeing the evil inherent in the economy of capitalism, seek to demonize scapegoats such as illegal immigrants for all their problems.

    It’s time to wake up America! Your economic system is killing you and you are willingly participating in your own destruction.

    • Picobill

      Personally reading this article as a whole and with the Supreme Court’s declaring Corporations are people too they left out even more mega billionaires which would bring the total wealth for that extremely elite group to more likely to be equal to 90% of the US Population… given that just the top 216 companies are worth 1.67 Trillion Dollars compared to the entire Forbes 400s worth of 2.34 Trillion which considering those 216 companies as individuals puts over 4 Trillion dollars in the hands of 616 “people”… So they’ve got pretty much all the money BUT! We The all too Human (Real Human not Supreme Court Designated Human Corporations) People of the United States Control a Voting Majority! This probably would cause laughter among that .1% richest but if you consider that with a revived version of Occupy America let’s call it Make America Fair again could in the blink of an eye vote for a Constitutional Convention to Address Wealth Inequality in the US and bringing the Declaration of Independence’s All Men and Equal to a New Constitution… First part of Convention Declare Corporate “People” Illegal now and forever and confiscate all their assets. Next Acknowledge that much of the Wealth now in the possession of that top .1% to have arrived there through lobbied and supported Senators and Congress people and to decide who what when and where would be too complicated so just calculate the total assets of all legal American Citizens and divide that by the total number of All Americans… the only holdout being 1 primary residence. Once the total wealth has been redistributed equally anyone who owned multiple residences would have right of first purchase on those properties at the current Market Valuation of said Properties.
      Into this newly equalized population a new Constitution would now be written that for a start I would make it a Federal Felony for Anyone trying to influence any Federal Employees Actions in any way that includes an exchange of anything of Value to the Employee or his Family. Federal Employees to include All Elected Officials who would be Guilty of the same feloney if they accepted compensation in any form. Senators & Congressmen as well as any Federal Employee of a rank to be able to affect any Federal Spending would have their Employment Contracts made exclusive to the Federal Government (Meaning No “retiring” from Federal Office or Military Rank to a cushy Vice President’s job in some company that they nudged a contract to..
      Tax System – Acknowledging that peoples salaries will immediately begin causing Wealth Inequality a sliding scale of income tax would be established that would increase as one’s salary increased but with enough of the higher income left in the wage earners hands to encourage people to work towards getting ahead. Percentage to be worked out by Finance people much smarter than I am *L*

      This “Reset” of the American Wealth would give every State an immediate income influx as their Welfare lists would immediately become Empty! Figuring those over 18 Sorry kids! (pssst hit your folks up for a cut) equalling 250 million then the Total US Net Worth at around 200 Trillion dollars the redistribution would drop around 800 grand into every American’s pocket a one time reset. For the Disabled it would really be a one time deal. However with the Wealth redistributed and the sliding tax scale bringing more tax revenue into the Federal Level to make disability payments more fair. As for the formerly poor they would now have the assets available to purchase decent housing and afford a better education so they could get out of the poverty trap.. Here is where the relief to State governments of no more Welfare at least for a while could help matters; States could once again support College Education which would lower tuition costs. The Shake out after this massive redistribution of wealth would be many and could allow the Federal Government newly formed with a Balanced budget written right into the new Constitution (with a small allowance for over spending) I would also like to see a part of the Constitution eliminating Pork Barrel bills and eliminating things like “Fact Finding travel by Senators & Congressmen to 5 star hotels.. unless the Honorables would like to pay their own way…

      Bottom line there is so much in our Countries current systems that a Congressional Congress could correct that I could go on and on.. and it’s within the power of the poorest 99% of this Country’s voting population to correct. So my message to that .1% or 1% of the richest who’ve taken their wealth from all the American people beware you can only beat and starve a hound dog so long before they bite!

  • Picobill

    Confused here if this site is just about inequality then why in this article is the comparison of the Forbes 400 to just the African Americans made? Followed if I may add by another African American reference and a Latino American comparison. There are a lot of poor white people out there too you know.

    • JohnDille

      Actually read the whole article… it does not mention White folks… but, anyone who knows anything at all knows that there are just as many poor White folks than poor minority folks!!! Those poor White folks are the people who keep Republicans in total control of the USA, so, yeah… attention IS being paid to them!!!

      • Picobill

        And here I thought it was just the performance of the Democratic Presidents that keep putting a Republican in office every 8 years or so… you know.. Carter, Clinton, & Obama…

        • JohnDille


          • Picobill

            Til the 2016 Presidential election that is… looking ahead OMG! Got an option to refuse them both and do over????

          • JohnDille

            The beauty… if you want to call it that… of the American political system is that NO ONE totally controls the show. EVERYONE… EVEN DONALD TRUMP… has had to and will have to get a majority of Congress to go along with whatever it is they want to do… or nothing much will happen! OF COURSE… WE HAVE HAD REPUBLICANS IN CONTROL OF BOTH HOUSES OF CONGRESS FOR 16 OF THE LAST 22 YEARS… AND EVEN WITH A REPUBLICAN IN THE WHITE HOUSE… NOTHING MUCH HAS HAPPENED… not counting Bush’s 2 incredibly stupid wars, and his massive tax cuts for the rich… and the resultant explosion in Federal debt, of course!!! and that whole Great Recession, thing, to boot!!! LOOKED AT THAT WAY… WE NEED TO TURN YOUR ASSERTIONS AROUND… YOU HAD IT BACKWARDS…. Democrats get elected every 8 years or so… because of inherent Republican incompetence and obstructionism! The voters get tired of Republican lies and baloney and incompetence… and they break down and vote for Democrats!!! BUT… BILLIONAIRE RIGHT WING REPUBLICAN FASCISTS DO NOT LIKE THAT… so they spend huge amounts of money to make sure Republicans get back in control of the country… yet again…. so that Republicans can show us what incompetence and stupidity and arrogance and selfishness looks like… yet again!!! And the public finally wises up… yet again… so Democrats are put back in charge… so that Republicans can obstruct and block and distort and pervert everything that Democrats try to do…. yet again!!!

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