Stratification of wealth

You’ve heard the expression, “the rich get richer”? Well, check this out:

The total net worth of all Americans in 1989 was $25 trillion (in 2004 dollars). Of that amount, the top 1 percent owned 30 percent, or $7.775 trillion. The bottom half owned 3 percent of the total, or $763 billion.

Fifteen years later, in 2004, the total wealth of all Americans had doubled to $50.25 trillion. The top 1 percent of the population now owns 33.4 percent of the total, or $16.774 trillion. Their percentage share of the total has increased by more than 3 percent in fifteen years. At the same time, the total wealth owned by the bottom 50 percent increased to $1.278 trillion, but its percentage of total wealth declined from 3 percent to 2.5 percent in the same time period.

Thus the wealth of the top 1 percent was ten times the wealth of the bottom 50 percent in 1989. Fifteen years later, the wealth of the top 1 percent was thirteen times the wealth of the bottom 50 percent.

The rest of the article from The Nation is well worth reading. This, to me, is just further evidence that capitalism has grown to be so topheavy as to be unsustainable.

2 thoughts on “Stratification of wealth”

  1. Ok. So let me get this straight…the ‘bottom half’ of our nation’s wealth increased from $763 billion to $1.278 trillion in 15 years and you see this as proof that (what you call) capitalism is a bad thing?

    If you want to argue that our ‘all boats lifting with the rising tide’ growth isn’t necessarily the best thing for societies outside our own, then I’ll happily agree with you, but to claim some sense of righteous indignation because the ultra rich got a higher percentage of insane wealth than the ‘rest of us’ strikes me a mere classism and beneath your normally well reasoned intellect.

    Even the most dejected homeless person on American streets is wealthy compared to the wretched masses in most of the world. Could the ultra rich in America do more? Of course, but given the global dichotomy in incomes, we all could do more as Americans.

    I’m sure that you and LM donate money/time toward causes that you find worthy, like Tracey and I do, but to be perfectly honest, we could do more.

    I could forgo that next generation Nikon that I ‘need’ for work and you could forgo all that nice Line 6 equipment. We could throw that money that we saved at the problems we see, but we don’t.

    James, to someone on the streets of Calcutta you and I ARE those ultra rich whom you so dispise.

  2. Heh heh. OK, Michael, I’ll play….. :-)

    First, I never said the article was “proof” of anything. Just more evidence.

    Second, was I being righteously indignant? Didn’t realize it. I just thought the article was interesting, and shows that the poor in the US (not in Calcutta) have fewer and fewer “pieces of the pie” as time goes on. We’re now at the point where the least wealthy half of the US has to split 2.5% of the pie. That’s just wrong.

    Third, I don’t “dispise” anyone. My problem with how our society is set up is structural, not personal. Imagine, I even have some love for George W. :-)

    I’m not sure what your point is by saying (something I too have argued many times in forums we frequent) that even the poorest US person is wealthy by global standards. Yeah, obviously. But what does that have to do with the fact that the poor in the US control less and less of “the pie”? So what? The point of the article (that a higher percentage of wealth is increasingly concentrated in a smaller percentage of souls) would, I imagine, only be magnified if it were widened to include the global population.

    The economic system in place in the US, and increasingly in the world since US economic policies are being imposed on the rest of the world, is one that encourages stratification of wealth. Period. This article shows that this phenomenon is measurable. And ultimately, this is why capitalism is unsustainable in the long run: it will marginalize too many people, and concentrate too much wealth in the hands of too few.

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