Now Just Five Men Own Almost As Much Wealth As Half The World’s Population

It’s not a meritocracy. It’s an oligarchy. (Photo: Pixabay/CC0)

On June 12, 2017, Paul Buchheit writes on Common Dreams:

Last year it was 8 men [see http://www.foreconomicjustice.org/?p=16799]. then down to 6, and now almost 5.

While Americans fixate on Trump, the super-rich are absconding with our wealth, and the plague of inequality continues to grow. An analysis of 2016 data found that the poorest five deciles of the world population own about $410 billion in total wealth. As of 06/08/17, the world’s richest five men owned over $400 billion in wealth. Thus, on average, each man owns nearly as much as 750 million people.

Why Do We Let a Few People Shift Great Portions of the World’s Wealth to Themselves? 

Most of the super-super-rich are Americans. We the American people created the Internet, developed and funded Artificial Intelligence, and built a massive transportation infrastructure, yet we let just a few individuals take almost all the credit, along with hundreds of billions of dollars.

Defenders of the out-of-control wealth gap insist that all is OK, because, after all, America is a ‘meritocracy’ in which the super-wealthy have ‘earned’ all they have. They heed the words of Warren Buffett: “The genius of the American economy, our emphasis on a meritocracy and a market system and a rule of law has enabled generation after generation to live better than their parents did.”

But it’s not a meritocracy. Children are no longer living better than their parents did. In the eight years since the recession the Wilshire Total Market valuation has more than TRIPLED, rising from a little over $8 trillion to nearly $25 trillion. The great majority of it has gone to the very richest Americans. In 2016 alone, the richest 1% effectively shifted nearly $4 trillion in wealth away from the rest of the nation to themselves, with nearly half of the wealth transfer ($1.94 trillion) coming from the nation’s poorest 90%—the middle and lower classes. That’s over $17,000 in housing and savings per lower-to-middle-class household lost to the super-rich.

A meritocracy? Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Jeff Bezos have done little that wouldn’t have happened anyway. ALL modern U.S. technology started with—and to a great extent continues with—our tax dollars and our research institutes and our subsidies to corporations.

Why Do We Let Unqualified Rich People Tell Us How To Live? Especially Bill Gates! 

In 1975, at the age of 20, Bill Gates founded Microsoft with high school buddy Paul Allen. At the time Gary Kildall’s CP/M operating system was the industry standard. Even Gates’ company used it. But Kildall was an innovator, not a businessman, and when IBM came calling for an OS for the new IBM PC, his delays drove the big mainframe company to Gates. Even though the newly established Microsoft company couldn’t fill IBM’s needs, Gates and Allen saw an opportunity, and so they hurriedly bought the rights to another local company’s OS — which was based on Kildall’s CP/M system. Kildall wanted to sue, but intellectual property law for software had not yet been established. Kildall was a maker who got taken.

So Bill Gates took from others to become the richest man in the world. And now, because of his great wealth and the meritocracy myth, MANY PEOPLE LOOK TO HIM FOR SOLUTIONS IN VITAL AREAS OF HUMAN NEED, such as education and global food production.

—Gates on Education: He has promoted galvanic skin response monitors to measure the biological reactions of students, and the videotaping of teachers to evaluate their performances. About schools he said, “The best results have come in cities where the mayor is in charge of the school system. So you have one executive, and the school board isn’t as powerful.”

—Gates on Africa: With investments in or deals with MonsantoCargill, and Merck, Gates has demonstrated his preference for corporate control over poor countries deemed unable to help themselves. But no problem—according to Gates, “By 2035, there will be almost no poor countries left in the world.”

Warren Buffett: Demanding To Be Taxed at a Higher Rate (As Long As His Own Company Doesn’t Have To Pay) 

Warren Buffett has advocated for higher taxes on the rich and a reasonable estate tax. But his company Berkshire Hathaway has used “hypothetical amounts” to ‘pay’ its taxes while actually deferring $77 billion in real taxes.

Jeff Bezos: $50 Billion in Less Than Two Years, and Fighting Taxes All the Way 

Since the end of 2015 Jeff Bezos has accumulated enough wealth to cover the entire $50 billion U.S. housing budget, which serves five million Americans. Bezos, who has profited greatly from the Internet and the infrastructure built up over many years by many people with many of our tax dollars, has used tax havens and high-priced lobbyists to avoid the taxes owed by his company.

Mark Zuckerberg (6th Richest in World, 4th Richest in America) 

While Zuckerberg was developing his version of social networking at Harvard, Columbia University students Adam Goldberg and Wayne Ting built a system called Campus Network, which was much more sophisticated than the early versions of Facebook. But Zuckerberg had the Harvard name and better financial support. It was also alleged that Zuckerberg hacked into competitors’ computers to compromise user data.

Now with his billions he has created a ‘charitable’ foundation, which in reality is a tax-exempt limited liability company, leaving him free to make political donations or sell his holdings, all without paying taxes.

Everything has fallen into place for young Zuckerberg. Nothing left to do but run for president.

The False Promise of Philanthropy 

Many super-rich individuals have pledged the majority of their fortunes to philanthropic causes. That’s very generous, if they keep their promises. But that’s not really the point.

American billionaires all made their money because of the research and innovation and infrastructure that make up the foundation of our modern technologies. They have taken credit, along with their massive fortunes, for successes that derive from society rather than from a few individuals. It should not be any one person’s decision about the proper use of that wealth. Instead a significant portion of annual national wealth gains should be promised to education, housing, health research, and infrastructure. That is what Americans and their parents and grandparents have earned after a half-century of hard work and productivity.

https://www.commondreams.org/views/2017/06/12/now-just-five-men-own-almost-much-wealth-half-worlds-population

This is yet another article that should be an eye-opener to the reality of concentrated capital asset ownership among a tiny wealthy capital ownership class.

Paul Buchheit discredits the philosophy of “meritocracy” that has enabled people to become wealthy and stay wealthy — those holding power selected on the basis of their ability. Buchheit challenges the idea that “the super-wealthy have ‘earned’ all they have.”

I concur with the statement by Buchheit that “ALL modern U.S. technology started with — and to a great extent continues with — our tax dollars and our research institutes and our subsidies to corporations. I would describe the wealth (the non-human productive capital assets) concentration as a fault of the system. As I see it, the challenge requires us to reform the system in order to create a more human economy supports inclusive prosperity, inclusive opportunity and inclusive economic justice, while preserving personal rights in property; but one that does not result in 1 percent of the world’s population owning the same wealth as the other 99 percent moving forward as we build a future economy that can support general affluence for EVERY child, woman, and man.

While Buchheit challenges the belief that “the super-wealthy have ‘earned’ all they have,” (and I concur with Buchheit’s challenge), there is the matter of rights in property ownership, which must be upheld if we are to achieve economic democracy.

The system is the culprit. The system has been rigged by the wealthy and their political cronies to put up barriers that inhibit or prevent ordinary people from purchasing wealth-creating, income-producing capital that pays for itself out of its own future earnings. That is because the system requires “past savings” (denial of consumption) to finance capital formation projects. And ONLY those with substantial labor incomes are able to “save” or individuals have inherited “past savings” necessary to pledge as security collateral against risk of capital credit failure. Few actually “invent” or “innovate” without outside support.

The way to abate further concentrations of wealth, financial mechanisms need to be employed with the opportunity for EVERY child, woman, and man to use to build their own wealth overtime concurrently with the growth of the economy powered by new non-human inventions and innovations that eliminate the necessity for mass labor input.

In place of retained earnings and debt financing that only further concentrates capital asset ownership among those who already own and who have accumulated past savings, the government should require business corporations to issue and sell full-voting, full-dividend payout stock to more people to underwrite new productive capital formation, with the purpose of providing opportunity for new owners, both employees of corporations and non-employees, to participate in a growing economy by purchasing the newly issued stock using insured, interest-free  “pure credit” repayable out of the full earnings generated by the earnings produced by the actual future capital assets. Of course, there needs to be a financial mechanism put in place that will guarantee loan risks; otherwise banks and lending institutions will not make the loans, and the system will continue to limit access to capital acquisition to those who already own capital — the rich. This is because “poor” people have no security or collateral, or sufficient income resulting in savings to pledge against the loan as security, and/or are disqualified on the grounds of either unproven unreliability or proven unreliability.

Capital acquisition takes place on the logic of self-financing and asset-backed credit for productive uses. People invest in capital ownership on the basis that the investment will pay for itself. The fact is nobody who knows what he or she is doing buys a physical capital asset or an interest in one unless he or she is first assured, on the basis of the best advice one can get, that the asset in operation will pay for itself within a reasonable period of time––5 to 7 or, in a worst case scenario, 10 years (given the current depressive state of the economy). And after it pays for itself within a reasonable capital cost recovery period, it is expected to go on producing income indefinitely with proper maintenance and with restoration in the technical sense through research and development.

Still, there is at least a theoretical chance, and sometimes a very real chance, that the investment might not pay for itself, or it might not pay for itself in the projected time period (typically three to seven years). So, there is a business risk. This is why a form of capital credit insurance needs to be provide to secure the loans banks make to finance new capital formation project and create new capital owners. Otherwise, the lender has no reason to loan unless it has two sources of repayment. In addition to determining that the investment is viable and that the company is credit worthy and reliably expected to make loan repayments, there needs to be security against default. Thus, for the lender to make the loan security must be provided. This is the purpose of past savings meaning valuable assets can be seized should the investment not return sufficient earnings as projected.

But there is another way to provide loan security facilitated with private capital credit insurance or a government reinsurance agency (ala the Federal Housing Administration concept).

Accessible capital credit insurance, that replace the requirement for “past savings.” is essential to broadening capital ownership with the benefit that expanded capital ownership drives expanded consumer power to purchase products and services.

Capital formation investments are made by companies annually because they are based on projections a number of years out (at least 5 to 10 years) with the expectation that the investment will pay for itself as a result of sustainable growth and consumer demand. Thus, the concept embraces the idea that capital formation is self-financing. The question is who pledges the security and takes the risk of failure to return the expected yield from which to repay the loan.

Conventionally, most people do not have the right to acquire productive capital with the self-financing earnings of capital; they are left to acquire, as best as they can, with their earnings as labor workers and the pledge of past savings. This is fundamentally hard to do and limiting. Thus, the most important economic right Americans need and should demand is the effective right to acquire capital with the earnings of capital. Note, though, millions of Americans own diluted stock value through the “stock market exchanges,” purchased with their earnings as labor workers, their stock holdings are relatively minuscule, as are their dividend payments compared to the top 10 percent of capital owners. Pew Research found that 53 percent of Americans own no stock at all nor retirement accounts, and out of the 47 percent who do, the richest 5 percent own two-thirds of that stock. And only 10 percent of Americans have pensions, so stock market gains or losses don’t affect the incomes of most retirees.

What historically empowered America’s original capitalists was conventional savings-based finance and the pledging or mortgaging of assets, with access to further ownership of new productive capital available only to those who were already well capitalized. As has been the case, credit to purchase capital is made available by financial institutions ONLY to people who already own capital and other forms of equity, such as the equity in their home that can be pledged as loan security––those who meet the universal requirement for collateral. Lenders will only extend credit to people who already have assets. Thus, the rich are made ever richer through their continuous accumulation of capital asset ownership, while the poor (people without a viable capital estate) remain poor and dependent on their labor to produce income. Thus, the system is restrictive and capital ownership is clinically denied to those who need it.

Thus, as binary economist Louis Kelso asserted: “The problem with conventional financing techniques is that they address only the productive power of enterprise and the enhancement of the earning power of the rich minority. Sustaining or increasing the earning power of the majority of consumers who are dependent entirely upon the earnings of their labor, or upon welfare, is left to government or governmentally assisted redistribution of income and to chance.”

We need to reevaluate our tax and central banking institutions, as well as, labor and welfare laws. We need to innovate in such ways that we lower the barriers to equal economic opportunity and create a level playing field based on anti-monopoly and anti-greed fairness and balance between production and consumption. In so doing, every citizen can begin to accumulate a viable capital estate without having to take away from those who now own by using the tax system to redistribute the income of capital owners. What the “haves” do lose is the productive capital ownership monopoly they enjoy under the present unjust system. A key descriptor of such innovation is to find the ways in which “have nots” can become “haves” without taking from the “haves.” Thus, the reform of the “system,” as Kelso postulated, “must be structured so that eventually all citizens produce an expanding proportion of their income through their privately owned productive capital and simultaneously generate enough purchasing power to consume the economy’s output.”

It is the exponential disassociation of production and consumption that is the problem in the United States economy, and the reason that ordinary citizens must gain access to productive capital ownership to improve their economic well being.

To read more about how to universally distribute economic power amongst individual citizens and never allow capital ownership to concentrate see my article “Economic Democracy And Binary Economics: Solutions For A Troubled Nation and Economy” at http://www.foreconomicjustice.org/?p=11 and my article “How To Resolve The Destruction Of American Jobs Problem” published by The Huffington Post at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/593adb89e4b0b65670e569e9. This article calls for an actionable policy to resolve the elimination of jobs as a result of technological invention and innovation, as well a competitive globalization of production.

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