This post originally appeared at Common Dreams.
America has always been great for the richest 1 percent, and it’s rapidly becoming greater. Confirmation comes from recent work by Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman; and from the 2015-16 Credit Suisse Global Wealth Databooks (GWD). The data relevant to this report is summarized here.
The Richest 1% Extracted Wealth from Every Other Segment of Society
These multimillionaires effectively shifted nearly $4 trillion in wealth away from the rest of the nation to themselves in 2016. While there’s no need to offer condolences to the rest of the top 10 percent, who still have an average net worth of $1.3 million, nearly half of the wealth transfer ($1.94 trillion) came from the nation’s poorest 90 percent — the middle and lower classes, according to Piketty and Saez and Zucman. That’s over $17,000 in housing and savings per lower-to-middle-class household lost to the superrich.
Put another way, the average 1 percent household took an additional $3 million of our national wealth in one year while education and infrastructure went largely unfunded.
It Gets Worse: Each MIDDLE-CLASS Household Lost $35,000 to the 1 Percent
According to Piketty and Saez and Zucman, the true middle class is “the group of adults with income between the median and the 90th percentile.” This group of 50 million households lost $1.76 trillion of their wealth in 2016, or over $35,000 each. That’s a $35,000 decline in housing and financial assets, with possibly increased debt, for every middle-class household.
Housing Wealth for the 90 Percent Has Been Converted into Investment Wealth for the Plutocrats
In the 1980s, the corporate equities owned by the richest .01 percent made up about 1.2 percent of total household wealth (Figure 8 here).
Housing was 12 times greater than super-rich stock holdings back then. Now they’re nearly equal. The home values of 112,000,000 households have been reduced to just over 5 percent of total wealth, while the stocks and securities of the richest 12,000 households are approaching 5 percent of total wealth. Our homes have turned to dust, and the plutocrats have turned the dust into gold.
Even the Wages of the Poorest Americans Have Been Transferred to the Plutocrats
As Piketty, Saez and Zucman note, the richest 1 percent and the poorest 50 percent “have basically switched their income shares.” They explain, “We observe a complete collapse of the bottom 50 percent income share in the US between 1978 and 2015, from 20 percent to 12 percent of total income, while the top 1 percent income share rose from 11 percent to 20 percent.”
Making America Great for 1 Percent of Us
In his book, Glass House: The 1% Economy and the Shattering of the All-American Town, Brian Alexander describes today’s America through the lens of his hometown of Lancaster, Ohio, which had been a leading glass-wares manufacturer. But the town started falling apart in the 1980s. A major glassware company was bought up with borrowed money by private equity firms, which then cut jobs and wages, allowed manufacturing facilities to fall into disrepair, stopped contributing to pensions, moved company headquarters out of state and demanded tax breaks to keep the glassware plant in Lancaster.
Capitalism as usual. Yet 59 percent of Lancaster’s county voted for Trump. Alexander explains that the people of Lancaster “remained captured by an ultraconservative, antitax philosophy that prevented them from raising funds to repair the crumbling streets.”
Delusions persist about the power of the market and the dangers of governing ourselves. The business media has conditioned us to fear the words ‘social’ and ‘public,’ as if they connote evil or ineptitude or anti-Americanism. But the public good depends on cooperation. Society fosters individual accomplishment, not the other way around.
The obscene transfer of wealth and income to the plutocrats won’t end until we demand a return to the Commons, where we work as a society rather than allow predatory plutocratic individuals to control us. There are 112 million households in America that are giving thousands of their hard-earned dollars to the 1 percent, and we have finally begun to fight back, together, as a massive force of Americans who refuse to let the theft continue.