10 November 2014

American plutocracy

A new paper by Emmanuel Saez of the University of California, Berkeley, and Gabriel Zucman of the London School of Economics suggests that, in America at least, inequality in wealth is approaching record levels...
The top 0.1% (consisting of 160,000 families worth $73m on average) hold 22% of America’s wealth, just shy of the 1929 peak—and almost the same share as the bottom 90% of the population.
From The Economist, where the chart is interactive.  The phenomenon is discussed in greater detail in another article there:
Because the bottom half of all families almost always has no net wealth, the share of wealth held by the bottom 90% is an effective measure of “middle class” wealth, or that held by those from the 50th to the 90th percentile...

The 16,000 families making up the richest 0.01%, with an average net worth of $371m, now control 11.2% of total wealth—back to the 1916 share, which is the highest on record...


  1. What a stupid thing to be anxious about. Bill Gates might be 1,000,000 times richer than me, but his food doesn't taste 1,000,000 times better, nor does he eat 1,000,000 times more. He doesn't sleep in any more beds than I do, and he doesn't sleep 1,000,000 more or better. His clothes aren't 1,000,000 times better looking or more comfortable. So why should I care? All I care about is whether I have the freedom and opportunity to improve my own life, and I know enough history and economics to know that envious attempts to snatch away money from the wealthy don't help with that.

    1. "So why should I care? All I care about is whether I have the freedom and opportunity to improve my own life..."

      By your own statement, you seem to have the "freedom and opportunity" to improve your life. Many Americans don't - and they care.

    2. "All I care about is whether I have the freedom and opportunity to improve my own life, and I know enough history and economics to know that envious attempts to snatch away money from the wealthy don't help with that."

      Then you don't know much about history or economics. Also, belittling efforts for equity by claiming it's about "envy" reveals a lot about you, as well as the clueless claim that everyone in the U.S. has the freedom and opportunity of a middle class white man.

      Meanwhile, the first time your car is damaged from sinkholes in the road or falling concrete from a dilapidated bridge, you might start to realize that no one has "freedom and opportunity" as an individual unless we all work together on the physical and political infrastructure of our country.

    3. What exactly is stopping any of the bottom 50% with no net-worth from doing things to improve their life? Unless were talking illegal immigrants with no SS, you can go to college. Actually when you file your FAFSA will be a time having no low-income is an advantage... If you want to change your life, and have never been to college... Try filing a FAFSA, you may be surprised.

      In this amazing technological = age there are many new advantages to those who aren't well off. Anyone can start selling things on Ebay, Etsy, etc. with a very minimal investment. Buy $20 in art supplies, and turn it into a few hundred via Etsy. Don't have a computer, use a library.

      Anyone can register a .com domain for $10, and ~$20/month hosting, that could easily become your livelihood. You don't even have to know how to program with OS-Commerce systems of today...

      Sure I can't guarantee you will be a billionaire, but its a pretty safe bet that if you work hard it is very possible to find a place in the middle - upper class. Even illegal immigrants can do most of this.

      So someone please explain to me what law or action or external force is stopping you from improving your own life? Oh wait there isn't one. Sure Microsoft won't just make you the CEO and give you millions, that does not mean they are in any way stopping you from improving your own life.

      There is such a huge indie arts movement: video game, movie, and music... You can learn so much for free with an internet connection and some time. For example, look at Unity3D, its an amazingly powerful modern and 3d free development platform, until your game makes $100,000 a year, then they want $1,500 one time. There are lots of people who are making good money just doing youtube videos, reviews, let's plays, etc with ad-money. You no longer need a record deal to make lots of money selling music...

      If you simply take what you are handed, you will be a wage-slave. If you do something for yourself you can become much more.

    4. Entrepreneurship and self-employment are really hard and risky, it's not a good thing if economic pressures push people towards that kind of thing.
      Citing success stories is just a stupid ANECDOTAL argument, for naive people, how about a level headed approach. How many people succeed developing games in Unity, and how many fail (financially). Even though entry barriers are low, there is still enormous time and life commitment and risk. What kind of realistic hourly wage do artists on Etsy eke out?

      Even if you are successful, how do you then protect yourself against the hundreds of desperate imitators who can use the same tools to almost instantly copy your success.

      Blaming the individual for his supposed lazyness, is the oldest foil in the book. The US was built on the backbreaking folly of people who believed, that working harder can compensate for whatever injustice they received. (SHIFTING BLAME, is the first entry in the "A Conservative's Comprehensive Catalogue of Political Bullshit Rhetorics".

      Finally the higher the economic pressures, the higher the chance of people to turn towards easy money, like narcotics, peddling stolen goods on ebay and copying. Makers on Etsy probably made most money when they made copy right protected "Avengers" or "Star Wars" stuff or whatever their girly equivalents. The market for indie, isn't all that big, and I suspect only indies themselves and the rich with a social conscience buy there. Youtubers are just people who parasitically profit off large popular franchises, by making unboxing videos, "let's plays" and tutorials. This isn't exactly an "honest living".

      So yeah your argument boils down to a FALLACY or two, regardless of how many examples you use to pad it.

  2. One of the reasons for this is the fact that while companies are making record profits (and paying their CEO's record sums), they continue to pay the majority of their employees minimal salary, and expect those employees to give maximum effort and labor in return. This is because they fail to understand that it was on the backs of those employees that the company grew so large and profitable. That is because one person, working by themselves can only keep a single employee company (the owner) running a maximum of 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. If you want to expand beyond that, then you HAVE TO HAVE employees. And the larger the company, the more employees.


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