I think that most Americans would jump at the prospect of becoming a millionaire, especially in the times when so many people are living paycheck to paycheck. But hitting that billionaire mark is just too lofty for many of us. Being a billionaire in this country is certainly an elite club. Forbes magazine calculates the number at 540, a tiny club in a country with somewhere in the neighborhood of 320 million residents. But the real number to remember is that those 540 billionaires have a combined net worth of $2.399 trillion; yes you read it correctly $2.399 trillion.
The $ 2.399 trillion in the pockets of 540 people comes at a time when this country faces enormous income inequality as far too many people are in debt up to their eyeballs and have trouble scrapping the money for minor emergencies. The Federal Reserve reports that the median American family net worth is $ 80,000, certainly a modest figure. But there are far too many Americans who fall beneath that number. The Institute for Policy Studies states that almost 20% of US households have zero or negative net worth; not surprisingly African- Americans and Latino households make up huge levels of that downward spiral- 30% of African-Americans and 27% of Latino households are in the zero or negative range.
Those 540 billionaires are starting to feel the heat as poll after poll supports policies that chip away at all that wealth and the inequality that accompanies the bulging bank accounts of the super rich. Already the billionaires are whining about increased tax proposals saying it deprives them of their hard earned wealth and will crush the economy. Nowhere is there the admission that the recent Trump/Republican Congress tax cut bill was heavily weighted to further enrich the rich or that stock market schemes like share buybacks have lined the pockets of these billionaires.
Sure most of these billionaires are hard working, savvy risk-takers who are model capitalists. Some of them like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet give away millions and millions of their wealth to noble causes. But it is not an exaggeration or radical to state that something is wrong with an economic system that creates such inequality and outright poverty. Those middle class people and the African-Americans and Latinos work hard and take risks everyday but don’t get the bonus wealth that too easily comes the way of the billionaires.
There is no way that these calls to somehow end the wealth of the billionaires are realistic; in fact they are a bit wacky. The super rich will fight any confiscatory policies that diminish their status as billionaires and more importantly they have plenty of supporters from both parties in the Congress to derail legislation that ends their unique status. Slowly chipping away at their privileged tax status, giving a real tax boost to the middle class, and funding programs to address those Americans at the low end of the economic ladder seem the best strategy rather than public shaming, idle threats and legislative proposals that are going nowhere. These alternatives are not socialism or radical progressive claptrap but clearly in the tradition of making the American Dream accessible to all our citizens. As the comedian W.C. Fields said years ago, ” A rich man is nothing but a poor man with money.”