Barely a year ago, my colleagues Chuck Collins and Omar Ocampo noted the passing of “a disturbing milestone in the U.S. history of concentrated wealth and power.” On August 13, 2020, just twelve obscenely wealthy Americans held a combined $1.015 trillion. They called those twelve the “Oligarchic Dozen.”
Oh, how quaint, how yesteryear.
On October 29, 2021, just half that group — just six extraordinarily rich people — held wealth totaling $1.003 trillion.
Meet our “Oligarchic Half-Dozen”: Elon Musk ($292.6 billion), Jeff Bezos ($195.9), Bill Gates ($137.4), Larry Ellison ($130.0), Larry Page ($126.2), and Sergey Brin ($121.6). That number for Elon Musk, definitely not a typo: America now has its first “quarter-trillionaire.”
Chuck and Omar had it right: The arrival of the Oligarchic Dozen last year should have disturbed us all. The appearance of the Oligarchic Half-Dozen just one year later should be absolutely alarming.
But apparently not alarming enough to Congress and the Biden administration. In the face of recent blockbuster reporting — by ProPublica on the paltry rate that gigantic wealth increases translate into taxable income and by both ProPublica and Bloomberg on the routine use of obscene estate tax loopholes — the Biden administration’s Build Back Better framework released last week threw every proposal directed at billionaire wealth concentration overboard.
At the behest of Joe Manchin and a few other lawmakers, the so-called “Billionaire Income Tax” proposal developed by Senator Ron Wyden suddenly disappeared off the bargaining table. Wyden’s modest proposal would have required billionaires to recognize their wealth gains as income and pay tax as those gains accrued.