For decades in the mid 20th century, our nation’s grandest private fortunes were becoming less pronounced. And then . . .
Not quite five years ago, I wrote about a select group of enormously rich people that I dubbed the Trillion-Dollar Club. Who belonged to this exclusive club? I asked readers back then to imagine everyone in America standing in a line, with the nation’s richest at the front of that line and our poorest at the back.
Suppose we asked all those Americans standing in line to start walking through a gate, one by one, the richest first, until the collective wealth of those who had walked through totaled $1 trillion. Those who made it through that gate would automatically become charter members of America’s Trillion-Dollar Club.
How many members did this exclusive club have nearly five years ago? According to Forbes magazine calculations, just 51.
I found that level of wealth concentration that incredibly obscene.
Now, nearly five years later, that 51 almost seems like the good ol’ days. Over recent years, America’s Trillion-Dollar Club has become even more exclusive. Today, according to the latest Bloomberg estimates, we don’t have to count out 51 billionaires to assemble a group with a combined fortune of $1 trillion. Here in 2018 we can fill our Trillion-Dollar Club roster with just America’s 20 richest individuals.
All these 20 happen to be white and male. Their combined wealth could fund the Social Security benefits of over 50 million retired Americans for an entire year — and still leave each of the 20 with an average personal fortune worth $6 billion. Try to remember that the next time someone tells you the Social Security budget needs cutting.
Meanwhile, more than one in eight Americans live in poverty. Almost half of these poor Americans live in deep poverty, with incomes less than 50 percent of the poverty threshold.
Can we expect today’s level of wealth concentration to change over the next five years? Yes. If our public policies on taxes and the economy remain the same, our national level of wealth concentration will surely get worse.
We need to prevent today’s staggering concentration of wealth from worsening. If we don’t, this concentration will be the end of us.
Bob Lord practices tax law in Arizona. His analyses of contemporary inequality have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Dallas Morning News, and many other publications.