How the Wal-Mart Heirs Got Their Wealth

  • submit to reddit

All men and women are not created equal. Some are lucky enough to be born very, very wealthy. And they just get wealthier with the passage of time.

Last month, economist Paul Krugman spoke with Bill Moyers about the US’s growing inherited wealth problem in the United States while discussing Thomas Piketty’s bestselling book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century. “[R]ight now, what we’re really talking about is Gordon Gekko’s son or daughter. We’re talking about inherited wealth playing an ever-growing role,” he said.

In this clip, Vox’s Ezra Klein lays out why wealth inequality is a more dangerous cousin of income inequality. Close to 40 percent of America’s national wealth rests in the hands of the top one percent of US households. What that means is that the top one percent in the country holds more accumulated wealth than the bottom 90 percent.

Watch:

And all that wealth gets passed on to their children, with whom it just continues to grow. As Piketty revealed, the rate of the return on capital — on wealth — is greater than the growth of the economy as a whole. So the wealthy and their offspring continue to get fatter wallets unless something disruptive like a war — or high taxes on those at the top — get in the way.

“Take the heirs of Sam Walton, the founder of Wal-Mart. None of them have founded Wal-Mart,” says Klein. “None of them were created equal either. The six of them have more than $140 billion of wealth. That makes those six people wealthier than the bottom 40 percent of Americans combined.”

Income inequality, Klein says, actually comes with an upside, as talent or risk or hard work can pay off with higher wages. Wealth inequality, on the other hand, often comes from just being born with a silver spoon in your mouth.

Read the post on Vox to learn more about wealth inequality.

  • submit to reddit

BillMoyers.com encourages conversation and debate around issues, events and ideas related to content on Moyers & Company and the BillMoyers.com website.

  • The editorial staff reserves the right to take down comments it deems inappropriate.
  • Profanity, personal attacks, hate speech, off-topic posts, advertisements and spam will not be tolerated.
  • Do not intentionally make false or misleading statements, impersonate someone else, break the law, or condone or encourage unlawful activity.

If your comments consistently or intentionally make this community a less civil and enjoyable place to be, you and your comments will be excluded from it.

We need your help with this. If you feel a post is not in line with the comment policy, please flag it so that we can take a look. Comments and questions about our policy are welcome. Please send an email to info@moyersmedia.com

Find out more about BillMoyers.com's privacy policy and terms of service.

  • AnnaFrieda

    Since voices of concern are frequently dismissed as envy, reasonable discussions on this subject are rarely possible. My dark vision of these enormously wealthy people is rooted in their inexperience of how life for the vast majority of us works, which makes their meddling in politics right down scary. And the Walmart heirs have proven over and over again that they do not have the ordinary people’s best interest in mind.

  • Anonymous

    So let me ask you this. Would Americans be better off if the Walton heirs took their inherited fortune to China? Or, if instead of an American – Sam Walton – a French company – Carrefour (#2 retailer in the world) came to dominate American retail?
    Of course not. So there is an advantage to America when Americans create wealth, and the wealth is passed on to their American heirs who keep it invested in America. In the case of the Walton heirs, the vast majority of their wealth is simply invested in Walmart stock.
    There absolutely no down side that Sam Walton created the Walmart success story and his heirs now hold stock on a very successful company. Same with Ford, or Johnson and Johnson or any other company.
    So stop being envious and antagonizing the heirs of the successful. Or they may just decide to pack up and go to Hong Kong dump their US holding and invest the money over there.

  • Anonymous

    If the Walton heirs “took their fortune to China” what exactly would they be taking? All the land and goods would still be here along with the market. It’s not like the world would end if there were five less parasites. Thirty years ago every little town had a Sears, a JC Penny, and an A&P, no one had even heard of Walmart and working people had a better standard of living if real income is any measure. Walmart improved the standard of living in China and lowered it here.

  • NotARedneck

    So true. So true!

  • NotARedneck

    With every post you demonstrate that you are either completely clueless about the forces impacting the lives of average people or a paid shill on behalf of the wealthy right wing interests.

    This is sad but true and not an “attack” as the moderators would like to believe. The fact is, if one is looking out for the interests of all, they do it on their own dime while there is an industry in place with probably 200,000 well paid apologists for the right wing “cause”.

    The FACT is – Walmart ( and its fellow travelers) has improved its bottom line by driving suppliers out of business, buying their assets at 5 cents on the dollar and moving them to China. They then use tax haven corp holding companies to skim the profits that they make from using slave labor over there and pay no taxes. Anti dumping rules can then be circumvented and they drive their competitors (and American workers) further to the edge.

    It truly is disgusting but what is even more disgusting is the role of their paid apologists in constantly posting nonsense about how this is actually good for us! Crawl back in your hole – no, more likely your 5000 sq foot beltway mansion.

  • Anonymous

    I’d have to agree with NotaRedneck by large measure. I’m not certain you’re a shill for anyone but your abdication of understanding the dynamics that are occurring in our society is willful ignorance. I also say that not as a personal attack but if various sides of the inequality debate are to have a discussion, a meaningful one, it would be helpful understand why the abdication of the facts is so prevalent. That said:
    A.) “Would Americans be better off if the Walton heirs took their inherited fortune to China?” Love it or leave it baby.

    The only way to make that question viable is that it is predicated upon a threat ‘if you call for equality we’ll leave’. Is that what this country should be about? Here’s an easy response that will appeal to those on the right – If they care so little about their country, the one their family built almost the entirety of its empire upon, to threaten your fellow Americans…than leave it.
    B.) and, I have NO problem if such threats were leveled in seizing assets. None. Take the gloves off at that point because your ridiculous justification for such vast inequality is, tacitly, ‘well be happy with the scraps we do give you’. How ridiculous and how dehumanizing of anothers worth. It would also imply the end of a Democracy. The electorates wishes no longer exercised because of the power of the plutocrats. Surprise – that’s what we now see and you seem perfectly content with that.
    C.) As for the ‘absolutely no downside’ that smells of that willful ignorance because, upon a moments reflection, it’s clear that’s not true. Have all the outcomes been negative? Of course not. But, there are many downsides. e.g. Wal-Marts handing out directions how to apply for Govt. assistance while refusing to pay a living wage – a wage they could afford to pay but refuse to. The winners of the genetic lottery simply do not care and why should they? We do nothing but facilitate their every wish and desire.
    D.) ‘stop being envious and antagonizing’ How utterly simplistic. I’d not fault anyone for vast riches, inherited or otherwise, IF those same people paid wages that were not a joke.

    We’ve allowed corporations and the very wealthiest to dictate terms that are entirely unsustainable and if you think the trajectory of our current inequality trends can be sustained you’re completely unaware of what is happening in our society. Completely. The prose should not read ‘stop being envious and antagonizing toward the richest’ it should be ‘why do Americans continue to act against their own best interests and promote policy that deepens the economic divide at every turn?’
    E.) You must be unaware of the class war that has been waged successfully against the poor and middle-class for decades. Since 1973, adjusted for inflation, real-wages have remained stagnant. During this same time CEO pay has exploded, purchasing power has declined, tax rates on the wealthiest have gone down, effective corporate tax rates sit at roughly 12-15%, the cost of post-h.s. education is now something like 1,100% or more, One has to live in a vacuum to be unaware of this class war being waged not against the rich but against the poor, the middle-class, and those trying to work hard and get ahead who did not start with a silver spoon in their mouth.

  • Dude

    Let’s take the authors logic one step further. I bet some of the commenters here are worth at least 50k USDLRS we’ll guess what , that makes you more wealthy than millions of other Americans. I would suppose the author of this article and many of the commentators here would agree that that means this wealth should be redistributed as well. After all, there are millions of Americans that have less than one dollar of net worth. So, if you are happy to see the Walton’s money redistributed you, I am sure, will also be happy to see your money redistributed. After all you are wealthy compared to millions of other American. Oh, but maybe not…

    It really is easy to give away other peoples money isn’t it? It’s a lot harder to agree to let other people redistribute your own money isn’t it.

  • ComradeRutherford

    “How the Wal-Mart Heirs Got Their Wealth”

    They stole it from their employees and the federal government.

  • Dude

    I assume the reason you use the name “comrade” is because you have Marxist leanings. Am I correct? I say this because the redistribution of wealth to the point where we are “all equal” is a tenant of Marxism and that is really one of the points I am making. There is always someone with less money that looks up and sees someone with more things or more money. So, if people are willing to allow the “proletariat” to take the Walton’s assets they should also be willing to allow for the redistribution of their own assets so that we can all be “equal”. That would be fair … Right everyone? Does everyone agree to sign on for this new tax system?

  • ComradeRutherford

    “Am I correct?”

    No, it’s from George Orwell’s ’1984′, the users manuals for today’s Demicans and Republocrats. In the story, Comrade Rutherford was one of the original English Socialism revolutionaries who was ‘purged’ and disillusioned as their dream turned into the horrific world of Big Brother. I use it as an ironic statement about how today’s America is a horrific distortion of what it could have been – had the totalitarian Conservatives not taken over…

    And your argument is sophomoric, Mark doesn’t say everyone has to be exactly equal.

  • JonThomas

    Lol…. that was too easy… he served himself up as a gimmee.

  • Dude

    I am only a gimme if you are driven by ideology and not facts.

    First, I will rephrase my question to you. Comrade R, do you
    then deem yourself a “socialist”? Yes I did not catch the 1984 reference as I read the book over 40 years ago. Thank you for pointing out the context.Ultimately, I was trying to make the point that it’s easy to give away other people’s money. It does not take as much effort as actually making the money.

    I don’t agree that my point was sophomoric. It was somewhat sarcastic and intended to be a counterpoint to a sophomoric article. You know, the same old, all rich people are bad all working class people good take on America. It mirrors many articles on this site that display a reflexive dislike of affluent
    people. It’s very repetative after the first twenty or thirty reads. My opinion is that rich people are for the most part just as moral and immoral as poor people. There is plenty of “bad” to
    go around unfortunately. I am glad that you would be willing to part with $50K if you had it.

    Secondly, nobody that was affluent paid taxes at the 90 pct
    marginal tax rate in the 50s and 60s. If you knew the history of that era you would know that there were many many tax loopholes available to the wealthy and upper middle class during that time. Many wealthy people paid an effective tax
    rate of zero. In some ways this was even worse than today. Look into it and you will find this is true. There was much justifiable consternation over this fact (just like today). Not only because this was unfair, but also because it was causing the non-economic use of capital for perverse tax purposes.

    Also, the union movement has been at the very least tainted by egregious levels of corruption and moral ambiguity. That is also part of the history of the 50s and 60s. Look to the well documented and dismal history of the Teamsters union during this period. I know people that were the victims of unions gone wrong. It was not pretty. The union movement has had major issues. The mob was very involved. A strong argument could be made that the unions first helped build and then ultimately destroy Detroit by overpricing their labor vis a vis rising international competition in the 70s and 80s. So, I am not so sure that unions are a big part of the solution. The dismally poor management of the auto companies was also a major factor in the decline of the US Auto industry during this period. Certainly the unions were not responsible for the lousy car designs.

    The late 40s and the following 50s and 60s was
    a unique period during which the US was the only major economy left intact after the war decimated the other major world economies. It’s not a proper period of comparison because of this fact. Today’s American corporations face intense foreign competition. You perhaps don’t fully appreciate this unless you work in international commerce and finance.

    The real facts need to be put forth if we are going to solve
    the problems that beset the poor and the middle class. Tearing down the Walton’s isn’t a solution. It may make people feel good, but it accomplishes nothing. As
    Maggy Thatcher said, the problem with socialism is that it works until you run out of other people’s money. There needs to be a marriage of the best ideas of the responsible liberals and conservatives. America’s politics are being poisoned by ideological purity. Look for solutions not slogans.

  • Dude

    Jon – I dont think I agree.

  • JonThomas

    No dude, I didn’t for a second think you would.

    However, you set yourself up for that fall. Pride Dude… pride.

    Hang in there… humble yourself and your words may become relevant.

  • ComradeRutherford

    “it’s easy to give away other people’s money.”

    Typical false Conservative argument. It isn’t ‘easy’ at all. The Republicans in my area don’t want non-land owners to be able to vote on the school budget because they lie when they say that non-land owners are eager to increase the budget as high as the school board wants solely because they don’t have to pay for it. That is a lie. Not one non-land owning voter says that or believes that. These programs exist due to need, and the rich, who have so much excess cash they don’t even know how much they have, can afford to pay their share for the cost of having a First World society. The biggest problem facing America, one of the biggest problems, is that the few rich – like the Waltons, who have made their fortune by stealing it from their workers by drastically underpaying them for decades, and now are stealing from the taxpayers by intentionally underpaying their employees so much that they qualify for foodstamps that their workers then spend at WalMart – are eager to turn the US into a third-world dictatorship. This is obvious due to the Conservative Republican and neo-liberal Democratic policies of the last 40 years.

    “a reflexive dislike of affluent people.”

    That use their power and money to buy politicians and rig the tax laws so that they don’t have to pay their fair share. I have the utmost respect for rich people that support America instead of try to destroy it.

    “nobody that was affluent paid taxes at the 90 pct marginal tax rate in the 50s and 60s.”

    Duh, that’s what ‘marginal’ means. And yet even with their using loopholes (AKA: Deductions) to lower their rate, it’s still what allowed the US to have a middle class and a space program. With today’s Conservatives, the USA would have instantly shut down the booming factories, capitulated the Cold War to the Soviets and never have gone to the moon because the rich should pay a lower tax rate than the middle class…

    “the union movement has been at the very least tainted by egregious levels of corruption and moral ambiguity… The union movement has had major issues. The mob was very involved… ”

    So by that argument we should eliminate all unions because a few were corrupt?

    “I am not so sure that unions are a big part of the solution.”

    The unions are no longer corrupt or run by the mob. And unions exist to represent people that actually WORK for a living, forcing the lazy rich who leech off of the profits generated by those actual workers to pay a decent, living wage. By not supporting unions, you automatically side with slave labor. Because those are the two poles. Without unions there is no middle class, there are only a tiny few rich, and the vast numbers of impoverished.

    “The dismally poor management of the auto companies was also a major factor in the decline of the US Auto industry during this period.”

    Way, way more so than, “the unions first helped build and then ultimately destroy Detroit by overpricing their labor vis a vis rising international competition in the 70s and 80s.”

    So your response (which mirrors the Conservative agenda) is to lower US wages down to those of Bangladesh, the lowest paid nation on the planet? Working conditions in Bangladesh are almost exactly the same as they were in the USA 100 years ago – before we had unions.

    “You perhaps don’t fully appreciate this unless you work in international commerce and finance.”

    You do work in international commerce and finance? One doesn’t have to be a hedge fund manager to know that US businesses moved to Communist China specifically because they don’t want to have to pay their workers enough money to support life. Anyone paying a modicum of attention knows that all businesses would pay NOTHING if they could get away with it. This is the true motivator behind the crackpot Rights’ demands to eliminate minimum wage laws.

    “Tearing down the Walton’s isn’t a solution.”

    But forcing them to pay their share in taxes is! They pay less now in taxes than in all of US history, and that’s why we can’t afford to replace our crumbing infrastructure (for one example).

    “As Maggy Thatcher said, the problem with socialism is that it works until you run out of other people’s money.”

    Which is just an arch-Conservative lie, and can be dismissed as such. When the rich intentionally destroy a nation’s economy to force a ‘race to the bottom’, of course that nation runs out of money.

    “There needs to be a marriage of the best ideas of the responsible liberals and conservatives.”

    I don’t disagree with the sentiment, but in reality, all we’ve had for the last 40 years is 99% Conservatism (and neo-liberalism which isn’t that different from conservatism anyway), and that’s led to the dismal state of the US today. We need to bring back the liberalism that made America great in order to balance out the sociopathic conservatism. And liberalism doesn’t mean taxing the rich so the poor don’t have to work, BTW, that too is a Conservative lie.

    Germany has done very well keeping their good-paying middle class manufacturing jobs and taxing their lazy rich people that produce nothing while making their living solely through stealing from their workers.

  • Dude

    Thanks for the reply. Take some business classes. That is my best advice. Once you have some accounting and finance and economics under your belt you will better understand my points.

  • ComradeRutherford

    I understand your points just fine, I run *two* businesses, thankyouverymuch. You just espouse debunked Conservative nonsense, like 2 – 2 =5 (cutting taxes increases revenue).

    You can’t reply to one thing I’ve said because facts rest with me: A CEO class that sucks up ALL the money and doesn’t pay back into society in the form of taxes leads inexorably to a failed totalitarian state.

  • Dude

    You run two businesses but you don’t have $50k? Like I said, you may be well served by taking some businesses courses.

  • Dude

    Let me better understand, you run two businesses, but you don’t have $50k? Like I said, you might gain a lot by taking some business classes.

  • Dude

    Trust me I can reply, but I don’t have the time or inclination to write a book here on international business, economics, business history, political history, accounting , finance and international trade. You seem well, intentioned, but way too angry. It’s much more effective to solve problems by finding common ground and being pragmatic so that you are able to build coalitions to solve problems. Rhetoric just turns off a lot of people that are in a position to help and inclined to help. I know it’s great to vent here at the worlds injustices, but blind ideology is the enemy of real progress.

  • Anonymous

    Fair wages is not redistribution of wealth. However, taxpayer subsidy of Walmart employee’s health insurance (Medicaid) and food (SNAP benefits) is redistribution — to Walmart. Low wages mean less spending, which isn’t good for any business, including Walmart.

  • Dude

    Comrade, you could not be more wrong. It’s not healthy to be so angry. Love your neighbor guy. He might need your help today and you might need his tomorrow. Don’t be so mad at the Walton’s. You don’t really know them. Its not a zero sum game.

  • moderator

    ComradeRutherford and Dude,

    Time to agree to disagree. Please move on without further comment.

    Sean @ Moyers

  • moderator

    Dude and ComradeRutherford,

    Time to agree to disagree. Please move on without further comment.

    Sean @ Moyers

  • lostinbago

    I think you missed the point. it was not so much about wealth as inherited wealth. If I had 50k inherited wealth, it very well could be shared by the nation as a whole-I didn’t earn it or work for it or create something for it. That is the problem with inherited wealth as happened with aristocracies in previous centuries. It fosters a sociopathy of entitlement and sense of superiority based on winning the sperm lottery.
    they see no need for improving human society but amass more and more wealth so they can buy protection (legislative and bodyguards) to protect themselves when the top heavy economic system collapses and social structure crumbles. By their non participation in improvement they actually foster the very collapse that will occur.

  • lostinbago

    Missing the humorous intent of using “comrade” indicates you have accepted the paranoid fantasy promulgated by the oligarchs that try to keep the lower income groups at each others’ throats so they are too busy to think about the really obscene inequality at the extremes.

  • Anonymous

    So, your response is to not refute or respond to ComradeRutherFord but to simply infer him/her to be stupid and simply your academic inferior within those domains. At least you’re consistent with how you view others who disagree with you. In essence your calls for a ‘coming together’ are fantastic as long as they occur on your terms and comport with your world-view.

  • Anonymous

    Could not agree more with what you’ve noted in their exchange.

  • Anonymous

    Sam Walton once said in the nineteen eighties that his company would always support American Manufacturers and workers and that he would never sell foreign products in his stores. Sam was the product of an earlier America where patriotism was not just another political catch phrase. A few years later Sam cast off this mortal coil and somebody in the Walmart empire struck a fantastic deal with the Chinese that essentially led to the deindustrialization of this country and the end of the Middle Class. The real cost of our very liberal inheritance policies that aggressively support the continued existence of various wealthy family dynasties. The curse of a dominant oligarchy that our founding fathers tried to escape when they departed Europe and came to this country !

  • bobbyhansonf898

    odjebati.