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Common Dreams - June 16, 2021

"In a healthy democratic society with a functioning tax system, wealth disperses over decades as people have children, pay their taxes, and give to charity," Collins added. "But with a weak tax system on wealth—as confirmed by the recent leak showing low billionaire taxes—we are now seeing wealth accelerate over generations, leading to consolidated wealth and power..."

The growing concentration of wealth in fewer hands—including among corporate robber barons' descendants who continue, after multiple generations, to wield the "financial, political, and philanthropic clout" afforded by enormous inheritances to "advance their dynasty-building agenda"—intensifies working-class suffering in the U.S. and poses a threat to society and democracy.

That's according to Silver Spoon Oligarchs: How America's 50 Largest Inherited-Wealth Dynasties Accelerate Inequality, a new report out Wednesday from the Institute for Policy Studies.

Analyzing data from Forbes, IPS tracked the assets of the country's 50 wealthiest families—"including the Waltons, the Kochs, the Mars family, and many others, some well-known and others relatively unknown"—from 1983 to 2020.

"By 2020, the 50 families had amassed $1.2 trillion in assets," researchers found. "By comparison, the bottom half of all U.S. households—an estimated 65 million families—shared a combined total wealth of just twice that, at $2.5 trillion."

The "staggering" fortunes of dynastic families, whose "wealth is becoming increasingly persistent," increased at "10 times the rate of ordinary families," IPS pointed out.

"For the 27 families that were on both the Forbes 400 list in 1983 and the Forbes Billion-Dollar Dynasties list in 2020," wrote the report's authors, "their combined assets have grown by 1,007% over those 37 years. This is an increase from $80.2 billion to $903.2 billion in inflation-adjusted dollars. In contrast, between 1989 and 2019, the wealth of the typical family in the U.S. increased by just 93 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars."

Moreover, "those at the very top are blowing away even their closest competition," the report said. "The five wealthiest dynastic families in the U.S. have seen their wealth increase by a median 2,484% from 1983 to 2020." According to IPS:

  • In 1983, Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton and his children were worth just $2.15 billion (or $5.6 billion in 2020 dollars). By the end of 2020, Walton's descendants had a combined net worth of over $247 billion, an inflation-adjusted increase of 4,320%.
  • The Mars candy dynasty has seen its wealth increase 3,517% over the past 37 years, from $2.6 billion in 1983 (in 2020 dollars) to $94 billion by 2020. The family has also spent large sums on public policy advocacy to change tax laws.
  • Cosmetics magnate Estée Lauder and her descendants have seen their wealth grow from just $1.6 billion in 1983 (in 2020 dollars) to $40 billion in 2020. This is a growth rate of 2,465%.

The past 15 months, in particular, have been a boon for dynastic families, who have enjoyed substantial wealth gains amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

"Since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, the top 10 families on the Forbes dynasty list have had a median growth in their net worth of 25%," researchers found. IPS has consistently highlighted the skyrocketing amount of wealth held by the nation's 660 billionaires, who have seen their combined fortunes balloon by more than $1.1 trillion amid the Covid-19 pandemic. ...
Read full report at Common Dreams