At Thursday night’s Democratic debate in Miami, Sen. Bernie Sanders noted that three billionaires have as much wealth as the bottom half of the U.S. population. Some critics no doubt assumed this was democratic socialist hyperbole being spouted by the only presidential candidate who puts that label on himself. However, as fact-checkers at mainstream media quickly found out if they didn’t already know, that assertion is spot on. The inequality skew, as critics have pointed out for more than a decade, is now as bad as it was 90 years ago, in 1929, just before the Great Depression got rolling. And there are no signs that it’s going to get any better, certainly not with the accumulation of still more millions by the ultra-wealthy as a consequence of the Trump tax changes. 

Not quite two years ago, the Institute for Policy Studies released a study on the 400 wealthiest Americans—Billionaire Bonanza: The Forbes 400 and the Rest of Us, a comparison of megarich with the meager wealth of other segments of our nation. The data come from the 2017 Forbes 400 and the Federal Reserve’s 2016 Survey of Consumer Finances. Here are the key findings:

The three wealthiest people in the United States—Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and Warren Buffett—now own more wealth than the entire bottom half of the American population combined, a total of 160 million people or 63 million households. America’s top 25 billionaires—a group the size of a major league baseball team’s active roster—together hold $1 trillion in wealth. These 25 have as much wealth as 56 percent of the population, a total 178 million people or 70 million households. The billionaires who make up the full Forbes 400 list now own more wealth than the bottom 64 percent of the U.S. population, an estimated 80 million households or 204 million people—more people than the populations of Canada and Mexico combined. The median American family has a net worth of $80,000, excluding the family car. The Forbes 400 own more wealth than 33 million of these typical American families. One in five U.S households, over 19 percent, have zero or negative net worth. “Underwater households” make up an even higher share of households of color. Over 30 percent of black households and 27 percent of Latino households have zero or negative net worth to fall back on.

These figures underestimate our current levels of wealth concentration. The growing use of offshore tax havens and legal trusts has made the concealing of assets more widespread than ever before.

Contrary to the perspective of the keepers of the status quo, a wealth tax and a return to higher marginal tax rate for the richest among us are not bad ideas for going part of the way to diminish the skew imposed upon us by what even Paul Volcker—no democratic socialist he—calls “plutocracy.”

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“The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults.” ~~Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Vol. 2, 1840   

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"How far left can Democrats go without damaging their chances in a general election?" asked Chuck Todd this morning — meaning of course "How far left can Democrats go without Chuck Todd asking how far left can Democrats go without damaging their chances in a general election?"

— Victor Laszlo (@Impolitics) July 1, 2019

BLAST FROM THE PAST

On this date at Daily Kos in 2003—So who is in charge of finding WMDs?

How can anyone claim Bush knows what he's doing, when he doesn't even know who's in charge of finding WMDs in Iraq?

Meeting last month at a sweltering U.S. base outside Doha, Qatar, with his top Iraq commanders, President Bush skipped quickly past the niceties and went straight to his chief political obsession: Where are the weapons of mass destruction? Turning to his Baghdad proconsul, Paul Bremer, Bush asked, "Are you in charge of finding WMD?" Bremer said no, he was not. Bush then put the same question to his military commander, General Tommy Franks. But Franks said it wasn't his job either. A little exasperated, Bush asked, So who is in charge of finding WMD? After aides conferred for a moment, someone volunteered the name of Stephen Cambone, a little-known deputy to Donald Rumsfeld, back in Washington. Pause. "Who?" Bush asked.

The rank incompetence within this administration's Iraq team is breathless. And Bush's ignorance as to the most important issue facing him—the finding of WMDs—is startling.

Good thing Mr. Cambone, lurking in the bowels of the Pentagon, is on the trail of those "missing" WMDs. With any luck he should trip over a germ lab or two in just a matter of days.

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