How we can prevent the wealthiest of our wealthy from exempting virtually unlimited billions from tax.
The Expedition, an SUV that can seat eight passengers, rates as the biggest SUV Ford makes. So how much can an Expedition be worth? That all depends. If the eight passengers sitting in an Expedition happen to be the eight wealthiest Americans, the net worth of that Expedition and everyone in it — as of yesterday — would be over $1 trillion. To be more precise: $1.023 trillion dollars, plus the value of the vehicle.
Let me spell that out for you: $1,002,300,000,000. At Wall Street’s market close yesterday, according to the billionaire trackers at Forbes, America’s eight richest individuals held over $1 trillion for the first time ever.
Six of the eight — Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Warren Buffett, and Larry Ellison — each now sit on a personal fortune worth $100 billion or more. But don’t feel bad for the other two, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, both of Google. With wealth of $98.6 billion and $95.6 billion respectively, they’re both sitting just a rounding error away from “centi-billionaire” status.
Think about that. A group of white guys so small they could all fit into an SUV now controls a trillion dollars of the nation’s wealth. Need some perspective? One trillion dollars equals the collective wealth of a million millionaires. We have states in this nation where the entire population holds significantly less than $1 trillion in wealth.
Eight white guys, $1 trillion. Just seven years ago I was ringing the alarm that just 51 billionaires held personal fortunes worth a combined $1 trillion. But make no mistake. Wealth concentration in America was indeed running out of control seven years ago. That our distribution of wealth back in 2014 now looks mild compared to the present level should absolutely terrify us.
Our current obscene concentration of wealth should also be all the proof we need that our tax system has totally broken down. For decades now, we’ve taxed work more and more and wealth less and less. We’re reaping today what we’ve been sowing.
Eight white guys controlling a trillion dollars won’t work, especially with tens of millions of us reeling from a pandemic. But we can reverse the trends of the last four decades. We can require the ultra-rich to start paying their fair tax share. Or we can submit to oligarchic rule.
And if we do submit, I’ll be rewriting this column a few years from now — with a Ferrari two-seater in the lead.
Bob Lord, a veteran tax attorney based in Phoenix, writes about income and wealth inequality as an Institute for Policy Studies associate fellow.