Thoughts

On wealth inequality and the 1%

Can you explain this elusive concept of the “1%” and the better method for distributing wealth in the US? Or point me to literature that would help demystify it? My dad was saying that wealth is “infinite” and it isn’t correct to say people own “1% of the wealth.” Is it ok to buy into Bernie’s shtick and be filled with anger towards the wealthy in this country? I think I’m just bummed I can’t afford SF. Help!

 

First, watch this video:

It’s the quickest, most powerful education about wealth inequality in America you’re gonna get.

Also, your dad is an idiot. Wealth is not infinite. Wealth is a fluid concept, but until we no longer live on a planet with limited resources, not only is wealth limited, but it will inevitably be concentrated amongst a powerful few. Like a relentless gravitational force, wealth coalesces and flow back into itself, creating grotesque power systems ranging from the Catholic Church during the medieval period to the financial services sector in contemporary late-stage capitalism.

While the concept of wealth may be increasingly abstract, within a given monetary system, the wealth of individuals can be accurately measured by their net worth. (A person’s net worth is all their assets minus all their liabilities.) When it comes to high net worth individuals, it’s not about how much money they have in the bank. It’s about how much they own (businesses, real estate, stocks, bonds, etc.) versus how little debt they have.

It’s all about ownership, and your father is wrong, because the 1% really do own an outrageous percentage of everything that there is to possibly own, and the rest of us don’t own dollar store dick. What’s worse, is most of us (especially Millennials) have a negative net worth because of crippling student loans and consumer debt.

Now, there’s no general reason to be filled with anger towards wealthy individuals in this country, (except for the Rich Kids of Instagram — those fuckers should all die in a fire.) What we should be angry about is the rigged system that perpetuates wealth inequality in America, and the simplest way to fix that inequality would be to close all the sheltering loopholes and ratchet up estate taxes to previously unheard of rates. Rich people get to stay rich as long as they’re alive, but when they die, the American people get most of that money back instead of it going to the next generation of spoiled rotten heirs and heiresses. All we’d have to do is sit back and wait a few decades as all the hoarded wealth steadily flows back into the treasury where a progressive government uses those funds to rebuild America’s crumbling infrastructure, schools, and eventually the middle class itself.

That’s all it would take. It would be a renaissance of the American dream. Unfortunately, that kind of thing could never ever happen. Even a guy like Bernie Sanders couldn’t pull that shit off as President of the United States without getting totally JFK’d.

To quote the anarchist philosopher Lucy Parsons, “Never be deceived that the rich will permit you to vote away their wealth,” and boy, was she ever right.

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17 thoughts on “On wealth inequality and the 1%

  1. compagno says:

    “Our epoch, the epoch of the bourgeoisie, possesses, however, this distinct feature: it has simplified class antagonisms. Society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other — Bourgeoisie and Proletariat.”

    Marx and Engels _Manifesto of the Communist Party_

  2. M says:

    I remember watching that video in my 12th grade econ course and it really did teach a group of 17-18 year olds about the harsh reality of wealth inequality within a matter of minutes. It’s a fantastic overview.

    Question: How much wealth redistribution could realistically happen in the next 25 years? Would it be possible to increase social benefits enough that the majority of our poor would have adequate housing, health care and food?

  3. Tessa says:

    So, most people are not taught about credit, 401s, investments etc in school. I made it halfway through grad school and the only way I’ve learned to save for my future is through my dad and Google. What would you say is the best thing you could do by 30 for retirement and making your money grow rather than saving a bunch of shit in the bank?

    As 30 Rock said:
    Jack: Where do you invest your money, Liz?
    Liz Lemon: I have, like, twelve grand in checking…
    Jack: What are you, an immigrant?

    • Rainbowpony says:

      Seriously (I said this a few weeks ago, sorry to repeat) get a Roth ira from vangaurd, invest in the mutual fund for your retirement decade (it’s easy to figure out and will be self explanatory once you are in there). You only need 1000 dollars and if you do it all online there are no fees. Vangaurd has consistently the highest output for pleb investors and the lowest fees.

      It’s a good place to start. In a few years you can warm up to other things.

      Whatever you do, don’t stop investing because the market it taking a down turn. You are looking 30, 40 years out. Buy low.

      • Margo says:

        Second the Roth IRA from Vanguard vote. Maybe the most responsible thing I’ve ever done. It’s not as difficult as it seems, you just have to be willing to sit down for an afternoon and get your ducks in a row. Also while I loathe reddit generally, I’ve discovered that r/personalfinance is a really well-organized source for information on these topics – see the sidebar on the right.

  4. Rainbowpony says:

    Americans have too much pride and don’t want to receive things through taxes. They want to earn it. It’s better to cut out the middle man anyway and have companies improve the economy more directly. A higher minimum wage, a ratio law where the highest paid employee can only make 300% (or whatever percentage) what the lowest does or be taxed to pieces, a reinvestment law where companies must apply a certain percentage of profits to company growth (usually hiring more people and doing more research) or be taxed to death, enforcement of 40 hour work weeks so that companies are forced to hire more people to fill the overtime other employees use to work, etc.

    • The Coquette says:

      Americans have too much pride and don’t want to receive things through taxes? That’s adorable. (If we’re picking from sins and civic responsibilities, I’d say Americans have too much gluttony and don’t want to receive things through education.)

    • Nina says:

      It’s not about earning them. A lot of people are just plain opposed to other people having nice things. Raising minimum wage is very much needed but a sizable amount of the population believes those workers don’t deserve to get paid more.

  5. Gaybeard says:

    Have you read Georges Bataille? His reconfiguration of economics as the study of excess instead of the science of scarcity is a very interesting way to think about the flow of wealth in a society. It’s worth checking it out if for no other reason than the line: “the tiger is in space what the sex act is in time”.

    • The Coquette says:

      “Of all conceiv­able luxuries, death, in its fatal and inexorable form, is undoubtedly the most costly.” Oh yeah. Bataille ain’t nothin’ to fuck with.

      • Yeoja says:

        wait!! I’ve never heard of him. What by him should I start with?
        I finished my first book in a few months (possibly years…) recently and I feel good.

        • The Coquette says:

          Go straight to “The Accursed Share.” You’ll have to read Volume 1, “An Essay on General Economy,” before you move on to Volumes 2 and 3, “The History of Eroticism” and “Sovereignty,” but it’s worth eating your vegetables before you get to dessert. If you can read it in the original French, do so. If not, read it in English with a French accent. (It’ll help.) The text isn’t dense, but it’s wild. It’s sort of like reading a Salvador Dali painting. (That is to say, you’ll understand it, but you’ll still go, “what the fuck?”)

          • Anna says:

            “If you can read it in the original French, do so. If not, read it in English with a French accent.”
            This definitely made my day. Zisse wood actualey bi hilarios !

  6. Anna says:

    “Rich people get to stay rich as long as they’re alive, but when they die, the American people get most of that money back instead of it going to the next generation of spoiled rotten heirs and heiresses. All we’d have to do is sit back and wait a few decades as all the hoarded wealth steadily flows back into the treasury where a progressive government uses those funds to rebuild America’s crumbling infrastructure, schools, and eventually the middle class itself.

    That’s all it would take. It would be a renaissance of the American dream. Unfortunately, that kind of thing could never ever happen. Even a guy like Bernie Sanders couldn’t pull that shit off as President of the United States without getting totally JFK’d.”

    Why not take the money away from them while they’re still alive and if they try any JFK have them prosecuted ? I mean all you need really is strong central political organ supported by the masses 🙂

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