Think Progress, January 2019
A sobering new report by the charity Oxfam has laid bare the stunning levels of global wealth inequality.
According to the report, published Monday, billionaires have never had it better. The combined riches of the world’s 26 most wealthy billionaires equals $1.4 trillion — this is equal to the total wealth of the bottom 3.8 billion of the world’s population.
Billionaires have increased their wealth by 12 percent this year, the report states, while at the same time the wealth of the poorest half of the world has fallen by 11 percent.
This consolidation is happening at a rapid rate even for the billionaire class, which according to the report has doubled in size since the 2008 financial crisis. In 2016, 61 billionaires controlled half of the world’s wealth, then in 2017 that number was 43, before becoming 26 in 2018.
The U.S. is hardly exempt from the report. Not only are most of the billionaires in question American — Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, Warren Buffet and Bill Gates are together worth nearly $400 billion — but wealth in America is increasingly concentrated at the top.
In July a report from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) revealed that in 2015 the top one percent of families took home an average of 26.3 times the amount the bottom 99 percent took.
The EPI report added that between 2009 and 2015, the income for the top one percent grew faster than everyone else’s in 43 states, as well as the District of Columbia. Despite President Donald Trump’s continued boasts of a soaring stock market, the EPI report revealed that median wages have grown only 0.2 percent in the last year.
Trump, for his part, has surrounded himself with these billionaires — both in the form of donors and advisors. In November 2017, for instance, leaked financial documents from the Bermuda-based law firm Appleby — dubbed the “Paradise Papers” — showed that Trump allies were using a network of tax havens to quietly stash their wealth offshore. They included the Koch Brothers, casino mogul Sheldon G. Adelson, New England Priots owner Robert Kraft, and Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross.
In fairness to Trump, however, conservative and Republicans weren’t the only ones to have been revealed to be stashing their billions away from the pesky taxman. One of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s chief fundraisers, for instance, was revealed to have managed a tax-avoidance scheme in the Cayman Islands. The private estate of the Queen of England, meanwhile, held $13 million worth of funds in an overseas territory where it paid zero corporation tax.
Given all of this, it’s easy to see why an idea like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s (D-NY) proposal for a 70 percent marginal tax rate on the super wealthy would generate some unexpected popularity. When she initially proposed the idea in an interview with Anderson Cooper in early January, many scoffed at the notion. Former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan said it was a “terrible idea” while the National Review ran a column warning “you can’t finance socialism” with it.
Among American voters, however, the idea proved remarkably popular. A poll earlier this week found that 59 percent of Americans supported the idea, including 71 percent of Democrats, 60 percent of Independents and 45 percent of Republicans.