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The few, the proud, the very rich

Sylvia Allegretto, Economist, Co-Chair of the Center on Wage and Employment Dynamics | December 5, 2011

Much of the current political and popular discourse has focused on inequalities that exist in the U.S. In particular the Occupy movement has brought the huge disparities in wealth to the forefront. There are a few questions floating around about wealth. First, how skewed is the distribution? Second, it is true that the rich have gotten much richer over time? — a statement I often heard my Grandma make.

Well, there is a plethora of statistics (e.g. here, here, & here) out there but here are two. The share of wealth held by the top fifth is about 87.2 percent while the bottom four-fifths share the remaining 12.8 percent of wealth—so the Occupiers are correct in their assessment. And, the riches of those in the top 1 percent are about 225 times greater than that held by the typical family—it was 125 times in 1962—so, Grandma was correct too.

But, let’s look a bit further. The triennial Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF) is one of the best sources for data on wealth in the U.S. And, of course the Forbes 400 estimates the worth of the wealthiest amongst us—all 400 wouldn’t be captured in the SCF. If we look at both the SCF and the Forbes 400 we can glean some interesting insights.

In 2007 (the most recent SCF) the cumulative wealth of the Forbes 400 was $1.54 trillion or roughly the same amount of wealth held by the entire bottom fifty percent of American families. This is a stunning statistic to be sure.

Upon closer inspection, the Forbes list reveals that six Waltons — all children (one daughter-in-law) of Sam or James “Bud” Walton the founders of Wal-Mart — were on the list. The combined worth of the Walton six was $69.7 billion in 2007—which equated to the total wealth of the entire bottom thirty percent!

BTW the new 2011 Forbes 400 has the inherited worth of these six Waltons at $93 billion. The 2010 SCF data that is slated for release spring of 2012 will almost certainly show a further widening of the wealth gap given that corporate profits, stocks and CEO pay have all recovered while housing values & equity (the lion’s share of wealth for average American’s), wages and family incomes have yet to turn around.

These revelations renewed my interest in the inheritance and estate tax debates. Also, didn’t I just read somewhere that Wal-Mart is substantially rolling back health care coverage for part-time workers and significantly raising premiums for many full-time staff?

We’ve got to get serious about reversing the long term trend of the ever increasing concentration of income and wealth into the hands of a few at the expense of the many. At stake is nothing less than our economy and our democracy.

Comments to “The few, the proud, the very rich

  1. Making money for the sake of making money without creating or adding any value to the economy should be against the law. If it were against the law it would prevent the high tech genius that our regulators cant regulate from scamming the American people.

    Next, we need to change the way campaigns are financed. The government is taking money from the top one percent to squeeze every penny that the American people have. In ten years we won’t be voting, we will be revolting.

    Next, I don’t vote anymore, because I don’t feel that our elected officials are in charge. This makes politics useless to me and the psychological violence produced from it is dividing the country.

    I think every American should spend their time learning economics and business instead of watching these clowns on CNN, Fox, and MSNBC. Your vote doesn’t count and they are not the ones running the country.

  2. I’m not too smart or educated and almost 60.i met sam walton a couple of times when he was being a greeter at the store in brenham,texas.i was a shopper and i think he would roll over in his grave if he knew what his kids and the management company they hired to take his place.his policy and I’m sure mission seemed to be very different from what has taken place since the early could return or exchange anything he sold at any time,receipt or not,its true because i did it.things started to go the very greedy route shortly after his demise.
    i remember when berkly was called bezerkly because if any school was to call for a revolution to redistribute the wealth it would have started there.i would like to evoke the2ed amendment because the rich and the wanna be rich pols who only think of self and scream more more,our leaders are tyrants plain and simple and the laise fair capitalists do not give a fart for the suffering of anyone but themselves or the richer they are courting or the poor they are trying to make slaves of.The longer it goes on the more likely it will end in violence.
    i like term limits,lobbyists should be outlawed,the insurance industry needs to be regulated,and the tax loopholes for the rich should be closed as well as the fed. income tax should go up to 95% for those bringing home 100s of millions of dollars.scale it right up to that and leave the under 50,000.per out of it,stop sending billions overseas to be stolen by the greedy.stop being greedy . a lot can be done if the hearts doing it are pure,we can all be slick enough to make more cash at the expense of others usually those millions of poor folks,do you like fooling people,lying and scrimping on quality to line your pockets? cash as ego you are a big shot go celebrate yourself spend 30 grand on a night out,send your spoiled little offspring yo a 400, to atone for killing 4 while drunk I’m ashamed to be i won’t leave you blood sucking leaches,ill change it if it costs my life or YOURS! i live in the adirondack park as far away from nordstrom and saks as i could get.

  3. I remember a walmart documentary where the suppliers were actually asked to leave the United States to have better manufactures elsewhere. Guess the place that they pointed these people to? You guessed right, China.

    Thanks, Ivan

  4. life is not fair… life will never be fair… life is not perfect… life will never be perfect. liberals want to argue that society’s ills arrive from republicans, scheming multi-national corporations and greedy evil gnomes working on wall street. the president and his cronies like to say tax the rich, make the rich pay their fair share though they give no details on how much they are looking to collect. under my example (extreme example)i will show how paying their fair share is not going to solve the debt crisis in this country.
    DISCLAIMER: the below extreme plan is NOT what the president has offered, in fact, this plan goes even further… a collective liberal cheer!
    let’s strip the numbers naked – approx 300 million people live in the USA (actually, closer to 310 million) under this plan we would tax every single american (infant, child, adult and senior)$5,000 in 2013 which would raise 1.5 trillion dollars… okay, now were getting somewhere, right???
    according to bloomberg market the cumulative wealth of the top 200 wealthiest individuals in the world (sake of my point lets say their all americans) is 2.7 trillion, under my plan we take 100% of their wealth so combine that with my mandatory $5,000 tax on every american we now have collected 4.2 trillion – liberals cheer hip hip hooray hip hip hooray – forward! progress!
    my last tax is on the cumulative wealth of the most recent forbes 400 which is close to 2 trillion but lets say 2 trillion. of course, there is a crossover between bloomberg’s report but for the sake of this lesson lets say these are 400 additional wealthy people that we can take 100% of their wealth in 2013 – now that my master tax plan is in place tax revenues exceed 6.2 trillion dollars in 2013… peter b lewis commissions a statue of me at his progressive insurance headquarters in cleveland and george soros takes me on a tour of oil drilling off the coast of brazil, i am a liberal saviour but wait, I AM NOT FINISHED i am eliminating ALL defense spending which saves approx 500 billion – all said and done we have collected 6.2 trillion in tax revenues and eliminated an additional 500 billion in spending for a grand total 7.2 trillion now were talking, right??? NO, we are not talking we are in DEBT 16 trillion and will add an additional 5 trillion in debt during obama’s second term, not my number his number, so where is the balance coming from??? my extreme plan goes further then asking the top 1% pay their there fair share – so how do we make up the additional 10 + trillion dollars.
    asking the rich to pay their fair share sounds great to room full of liberals but the numbers fall short. politicians are not looking for a solution but they are looking for a way to fund programs that put them in office.

  5. What does it mean when someone is “worth” a billion dollars? Does that mean they have a billion dollars worth of, houses, cars, boats, etc that no one else can have? Or that that mean they “own” a company “worth” a billion dollars that builds houses, cars, boats, for everyone else?

  6. the wealthy, the 1%, the large corporations might want to give some thought to the idea that it is easier to deal with an organized labor force than with an organized, armed ad-hoc militia. happy, contented, honored, well-paid and secure citizens are truly an asset to any society. What right-thinking people wouldn’t want that?

  7. As a student, I already feel like I’ll never be part of “the few” in your post. High tuition. High textbook prices. Loans that will never end. And a far-from-promise job market.

    • To all of the people on this blog, including the labor economist who wrote this article, my advice to you is this. Stop complaining about Walmart and big corporations and go start a business and create the very jobs you are all talking about. This is America and that is still possible, especially if you spend less time on blogs and more time working your arse off to get ahead.

      • And just what would Walmart do when my business looks like it’s getting somewhere but make a copy with the workers in China and put me out.

      • We’re addressing social political and economic factors which shape and constrain individuals. Contrary to conservative rhetoric, hard work is not the only factor contributing to an individual’s success since we don’t live in a vacuum in which everybody has the same advantages and opportunities.

        I don’t see how a rational individual could believe that success depends only on intensity of and hours spent on working. What about entrance barriers? Some people are given massive advantages in life simply for sharing DNA with successful people. What about the concentration and centralization of capital over time?

        I’m not bashing hard work; I’m working my ass off to get into graduate school for chemistry right now, but I’m not going to sit here and disparage poor people for being “lazy” when I was fortunate enough to have my college paid for by the wealth I was born into, in addition to basic needs like food, clothing, housing and transportation.

        • Thank you, Bill Clay, for the note of compassion. It is so rare from those that are “more fortunate”.
          Why the “well off” need to kick those that are suffering is something I just can’t understand. I think our churches are failing in getting the message to their flock “there, by the grace of God, go I”.

          In other words, “down and out” can really happen to anybody, by any means. The “action of compassion” is the healer for all. Lack of compassion is the cause of societies break down!

          You, dear man, give me hope! Thank you.

  8. I found this while searching for information I had read elsewhere. The other article, which I cannot now seem to locate, also said that the average Walmart employee makes $8.82/hr and 30% of their employees receive public assistance. I’m certainly not against anyone making money, and a lot of it. But my goodness, maybe the 6 of them could split a billion and invest in their workers.

  9. Leo W. Gerard for president, migth be the guy to “blow up” the us china trade agreements and bring some manufacturing back into the good ole USA.

  10. Maybe these “job creators” should start thinking of their role as “wage creators” instead of asking labor for a handout by offering them far less in compensation than a living wage for full-time work. We don’t need more jobs, we have jobs; we have the three min. wage service jobs it takes to equal what one full-time manufacturing job paid (in terms of buying power) before Reagan invented free trade and outsourcing for the specific purpose of undercutting the power of labor/trade unions and we saw every position from labor to foreman to machine operator to shipping/packaging operator to human resources to quality control to maintenance/mechanic to technical support to engineer get exported to Mexico, China and India.

    Why not let the labor market “correct itself” without big government intervention? Why should merchants banding together into corporations be seen as productive but laborers banding together into unions be seen as disruptive? How is a corporation a fine example of Capitalism while a powerful and organized laborforce is decried as Socialism? Why the sudden “red scare” when it’s poor people who band together? Why aren’t corporations feared when they band together? What’s the difference?

    After laying off millions of American workers, our corporations were hiring nearly as many millions of new employees overseas during the recession. They used it as an excuse to increase outsourcing. We don’t just need jobs, we need domestic jobs here in America and we need jobs that pay enough to keep the lights on without degrading us to the years before labor reforms created the middle-class and the American Dream.

    Companies (international corporations with American names) that want to trade here in America for free (free trade) and without penalty should be required to abide by our fair wage and labor practices whether their facilities are located here or not. If they can’t pay our wages, abide by our safety regulations, abide by our environmental regulations, pay overtime, respect the forty hour work week, abstain from buying materials from companies hiring child labor, etc. then they should not be allowed to compete on a level playing field with our domestic companies.

    If you’re going to act like we’re trying to create markets overseas (rather than exploit virtual slave labor overseas) then pay foreign workers wages that elevate the economic conditions in those countries rather than paying then the min. wage in their own countries for full-time (or more) factory work or simply paying them a “living wage” in their own countries for highly technical work that would garner highly competitive wages here at home. You’re not creating new markets and you know it. Employees from our sweatshops can’t afford to buy the products they assemble in those factories. You are making excuses to bring us back to the only period of American history in which our nation was successful without protective policies: when slavery was legal. That’s what you’re talking about when you say you want America to go back… back to slavery.

    Some of us would rather move forward and make progress. We can’t elevate conditions in other countries while we’re failing here at home. Progress has to start here.

  11. Though well presented, this piece contains no new material,However, huge value is imparted to the reader via the amazing thought provoking conversation it stimulated in the Comments section.
    Very grateful to all contributers who took the time share their ideas and thoughts in these particularly insightful to responses. Thank you, all. Sharing this.

  12. Thank you Sylvia and all those who never shop at Wal Mart and wouldn’t. We should make the world we want. Cheap goods are not good value in any sense.

  13. I don’t think America can be saved because we are already so far gone into pre-fascist mode and only Obama’s signature is the required finishing touch. Once he signs the new security law we can all be sent to Guantanamo for committing a ” belligerent act ” . How vague is that ?
    Does freedom of speech fit the definition of a ” belligerent act “?
    Will all public political events require a permit from Homeland Security ?

  14. klevine: I never shop at Wal-Mart, and wouldn’t.

    guest: It is a myth — that is, false — that half of Americans pay no taxes. See the website of Citizens for Tax Justice and their recent report on corporate taxes. All facts, all true numbers, based on verifiable sources.

    All: For the Hanukkah/Xmas Season, I explore the issue of foreclosure, obscene wealth, and the Occupy movement, at

    Thanks, Sylvia, for a great short piece focusing on the essentials. I had heard most of it before but this is a nice presentation.

  15. Interesting to see the Walton family of Walmart on the list; Walmart just reduced healthcare benefits for full time employees and cut them entirely for part time empoyees! Meanwhile they enjoy thir billions!

  16. Every time I see the word “wealth” in articles like this, I ask myself, what are they talking about? Dollars, that artificial thing created by the FED? Or are they talking about food, shelter, energy (at its most basic level) values? Likely, they are talking money. So convert all this “wealth” to “food, shelter and energy values” and then you’re comparing apples to apples (after you remove “taxes and government fees” for both categories). Until you do this, you are just propagandizing, like it or not.

    And, at most basic levels, if one person has enough food, housing and energy value for a hundred thousand years, and the other person has food, housing and evergy value for not a single day, eventually (even if it takes a thousand years) the one with much will face the one with nothing and the battle will begin without intermediaries.

    Finally, inheritances were created precisely to give one’s progeny an advantage over others’ progeny, but history has proven that inheritances merely weaken the progeny and strenghtens the fraudulent class (yes, it exists directly below the inheritance group). Man still struggles with this and will struggle with it for a while longer, but because this planet is now limited in its expansionist capability regarding progeny, the struggle will no last too much longer.

    Technology is evenning the scales of economics–no one believes in the “magic” of knowledge any more, so the scales of slavery are falling as we speak. Yes, it still exists, but its strength as a socially acceptable form is falling apart around the globe. Hunger is omnipotent. Thirst is omnipotent. Shelter (and warmth) are omnipotent. Money is not.

  17. This article does a great disservice by equating “net worth” with “wealth”. It implies that someone with $10 in their pocket is “wealthy,” just “less wealthy” than others. This is exactly the same as saying “some men are just more equal than others.”

    Most people have a paycheck with some “assets” that allow them to survive (hopefully) until the next paycheck. This income is subject to payroll and other taxes and withholdings. The “assets” are usually the basics for survival, food, clothing and shelter, and really are cost centers, liabilities and family infrastructure in disguise; they cannot be easily or practically liquidated without distrupting the family that owns them. A natural disaster, traffic accident, medical condition or work place accident can wipe out these families. In fact, anything that disrupts the cycle of steady paychecks may bankrupt the family. This is not “wealth;” it’s just a low net worth.

    True wealth is having real assests that produce diversified income so you don’t have to work, or worry about your standard of living being compromised by individual incidents or local economic conditions. The Walton’s have wealth. They don’t eat or sleep in a Wal-Mart store–these provide their income. And if an individual store burns to the ground, is hit with a flood or tornado, or the city it’s in turns into a ghost town, it will hardly merit a footnote in the family’s financial statements. The family could sell half their stores and still maintain their standard of living.

    So don’t equate “the total wealth of the entire bottom thirty percent” of Americans with the “the combined worth of the Walton six.” This is worse than apples and oranges, its a figment versus an understated quantity.

    The real disparity is the inability of someone in the bottom thirty percent to transition into the “wealthy” catagory. This requires having or generating enough discretionary income to be able to convert some of their paychecks into investments. If you have to work two jobs just to make ends meet, you don’t have time, energy or money to invest in anything. If you’re out on the street looking for any kind of work you can find you can’t invest in the future.

    I would be more interested in seeing a comparison of disposable income between the bottom 70% versus the Waltons. That would be more meaningful.

  18. It’s a never ending snowball affect of wealth. People have the right to be upset in many aspects. Yes, the Waltons made the American dream come true and I respect them for it, but now is the time where greed takes over and will punish the much less fortunate. It’s going to be a big shakedown on the Euro Debt, and I can’t wait until it comes to fruition in this country. Nice Info graphic.

  19. Why does Nicholas Kristof misquote Dr. Allegretto? He has repeated the rumor that “The top 1 percent of Americans possess a greater net worth than the entire bottom 90 percent.” That quote is from his Nov. 19 column, with, no less, a link to her EPI paper that has the correct data. In other columns he has made the same erroneous statement.
    Would it be possible for Dr. Allegretto to bring this to his attention? This is too important an issue to simply blame poor staff support, or bad editors, or anything else. Mr. Kristof is an opinion leader. His mistakes do damage to all who believe, as I do, that income inequality is a significant issue. We need to address it with facts, not errors.

  20. When society becomes “disconnected”, bad things can happen and innocent people mostly children can perish, and once there gone it’s too late. Then guilt will bring you to your knees asking, why was I so blind(GREED). People will not lay down and die, not in America.

  21. Looks like you’re stirring up a hornet’s nest. Jeffrey Goldberg wrote a piece on Bloomberg that discusses Alice Walton’s Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Tim Walton at Forbes commented on Goldberg, stating that “[i]f you’ve no debts and have $10 in your pocket you have more wealth than 25% of Americans.” I’m not sure that makes any difference to your point, but perhaps it will provide some consolation to those who measure their happiness in terms of keeping up with the neighbors.

  22. Close to 25% of Americans have negative or no wealth. So the statement “anyone with ten bucks and no debt has more wealth than the bottom 25% of Americans, combined” is also right.

  23. “Most poor people in this country don’t work 12 hours a day. Many don’t work — period.”

    I work a 40-hour workweek and I am poor with a family to feed. The statement quoted above was made by someone named “guest” below. It seems sneering and dismissive to me…and very arrogant. There may be freeloaders out there but using that as a justification to be dismissive of the MILLIONS of people who could use and need the help is morally reprehensible. Quite frankly, the 1%ers who support your lovely university should be happy to pay MORE in taxes on top of what they do to support the school. They should want to do so as proud Americans who don’t want to see our standard of life go down.

    Vast wealth makes people disconnected from society at the lower levels. Working a soup kitchen ladle every once in a while or donating to some homeless project simply doesn’t make up for it. As you get richer and richer, those at the bottom fall further and further behind. Remember that we are pack animals and being citizens of the United States Of America is the only thing that binds ALL OF US together. If you’ve seen nature shows, you know how it happens from there. Those who fall the furthest behind are trampled and eaten by predators…and the predators are some of your fellow man. This is bound to happen on some level regardless of what anyone does to stop it. However, it can be mitigated somewhat by just a bit more sacrifice & vigilance of those at the head of the pack. A little swing through every once in a while to give encouragement and sustenance to the ones at the back will not cause you to lose all of your money and stature. You will have lost some small amount of blood or treasure to keep a fellow American in the game but you will still be rich as well. An average person who happens to make a billion dollars in a year would have lived just as well if he only made $750 million instead I am quite sure. I’m not saying that should be the amount of tax increase but it does illustrate my point. You would still be able to double, square, and cube your money…it just might take a little longer.

    I also acknowledge there is waste and fraud in government. However, it’s not like corporations are any better in that regard. Waste and fraud have existed since the beginning of man. They will continue to exist no matter how long humans live on earth and no matter how large or small organizations or institutions become. Waste and fraud will always be present along the fringes of any sizable accumulation of money & power. Therefore using the relatively few poor people who don’t work but are able to do so as a justification that rich people shouldn’t pay more in taxes is absurd. The problem is not that the level of government spending is too high because waste and fraud exist above the level that is legitimately spent on the poor. This is because some amount of waste and fraud will exist no matter where the spending level is set.

    People like you still think of the poor, in general, as they were depicted in the 1980’s…entire civilizations sitting around doing nothing. Things have changed since then, buddy. Remember welfare reform in the 1990’s? Money was taken away from the poor as a whole and one of the primary justifications was… You guessed it! Waste and fraud! I can tell you that, now, government assistance is difficult to get. I have 2 elderly parents who have nothing and depend on a meager social security check and medicaid. So, I know for a fact that there are long waiting lists on the order of months and years for things like subsidized housing. If I wasn’t helping them, they’d be out in the cold. I grew up in one of those rural backwaters in West Virginia through the late 1980s & 1990s. My family has always been poor and now I am working but I’m not making the money I need to make to take care of my aging parents. The social safety net is barely there for you if you make any money at all.

    Let’s do a thought experiment. The government puts out monetary estimates of waste and fraud for various government agencies, right? I say we calculate the percentage of estimated waste and fraud out of the total budget spent on the poor to see what level it’s at now. Then, compare it against the level it was at then. Would you expect the level to be higher back then? What factors influenced the result? You tell me, “guest”…you’re the smarty-pants at a prestigious university seemingly looking down your snooty nose at me.

    I’d love to come study at your fine university to find out for myself but I doubt I could ever afford to do so.

  24. Hi. I’m just as appalled by the stunning income gaps in the U.S. as any of you. But these numbers almost seem too extreme. The bottom 30% of Americans in 2011 is about 100 million people. That means that if they have the wealth of the Waltons, it would translate into $930 for each of these people. I guess that’s possible, assuming a lot of people in the bottom thirty percent have a negative net worth because of debts, but I have a hard time visualizing it. In our consumer society, you’d think even a person in the bottom quintile of wealth would have enough assets to get to a meager $930. Maybe this is only a measure of financial assets? In that case it is believable because I’m sure the bottom 30 percent don’t have much by way of savings or investments and live paycheck to paycheck if they’re lucky enough or healthy enough to work. I live in China, a country with a tenth of the per capita income of the U.S. with income disparities as measured by the Gini index that are just as bad as the U.S. Even here, it would be hard to imagine an older worker or peasant in the bottom 30 percent not having lifetime savings of at least $1000 salted away (there’s not much of a social safety net here so there’s a much bigger incentive to save). I don’t have the figures to back that up at my fingertips though. Anyway, I just wanted to throw out there that the implication of this finding is that almost a third of Americans have average wealth of $930 each. That may be right, but it SEEMS like it could understate wealth, even for the poorest Americans.

  25. Great graphic, showing rising wealth concentration as a threat to the flag. I’d like to see the graph drawn onto a map, showing the fraction of the country that comprises 30% of the nation’s wealth. It would probably include all the states except east coast.

  26. Walmart employs predatory practices to gain competitive edge over stores that served as the reigning champions. Because it caters to the lowest income strata, where every penny counts in a budget, it fosters class resentment against the owners of the company itself. Seems like a Mobius strip.

    The model of capitalism is fraying. This case seems so mercenary as to be unconscionable. Opportunity exists to reveal the sham, but with what alternative? They have provided supply at prices people can afford in an economy that follows these low prices down, in effect, causing the deteriorating economy themselves. They have insisted on policies that result in the shuttering of American manufacturers, also moving our economy towards the abyss. Yet nobody is able to act for a perceived lack of money and choice. It’s not just Walmart, of course, but they lead the pack and set the model.

    May you live in interesting times. Purely as a student of the economics of a country, it is a fascinating and terrible thing to watch unfold. Roads built to new horizons, draining the core, only to find that there isn’t enough money to maintain all those roads. Closing factories because the prices are higher, thereby losing the jobs and incomes for those that would buy the products that are now imported at lower prices, at stores that now have no competition because they have put them put of business as well…it isn’t a question of class warfare or Dems vs Reps. The model needs revision. It’s bigger than I can comprehend, but it’s clearly coming unglued, clearly showing signs of imploding.

    It is nervousing me.

  27. The problem is not about personalities, it is about practices that have never worked. Those practices always bring down nations, and even empires.

    It is about Kuru plutonomy.

  28. wal-mart should really just be called “china outlet” or even “great wall mart” as its rise to power coincided with the de-industrialization of america and the off-shoring of manufacturing. these high profit, chinese made goods, needed a place to be sold, and wal-mart, marketed as all-american, good ol’ fashioned values, was a pipeline for these goods back to america. the lower prices and the higher profits allowed wal-mart to put smaller retailers out of business and expand to all parts of the country while stagnating wages forced many people to resort to wal-mart as a survival strategy, both as consumer and worker

    most of the wealth made in this time was from the great profit taking caused by globalization. it doesn’t take a genius to make money by paying a worker pennies to make a product, and then charging 100 times that to the seller. but we are reaching the logical conclusion of this process as american consumers are no longer able to afford buying these products in larger quantities and profit margins are sinking due to competition.

    and… to the people who say that we should be thankful for the 1% because they pay for everything I ask, if half the country is dirt poor, just how are they going to pay for anything? saying that over half the country does not pay taxes is an indictment of the levels of american poverty and inequality more than any praise for the rich’s burden.

    soon they may just have to pay all the taxes. then we can exalt their burden of owning all the wealth in this country.

  29. i cannot believe anyone would put walmart down. Believe me i hate shopping there /no service /perhaps a terrible experience.
    the question is would you pay more for an indentical product at another store .For me i would spend more BUT can anyone else say that?

    • klevine, If you divide and conquer, Wal-Mart can be beat. You need not be a victim to the system.

      There is an awesome local grocery chain (3-4 stores?) their prices are quite high on most things, but their produce is very fresh and far less expensive than anywhere else we’ve found.

      ALDI stores have a limited selection but we’ve found their food prices low and quality quite high.

      Resale, either from thrift stores or person-to-person, can drastically cut expenses. Also, all of the toys that make it there have been “stress tested” and the cheap ones have long ago been thrown away. We have a much higher failure rate (and thus sad kids) with new than used toys.

      The elephant in the room is Target. At least their marketing makes them seem like a better corporate citizen (at the very least their bathrooms are much cleaner). At least around me, their prices are often lower.

      And don’t forget the old giants like JCPenney. Their overall prices are higher, but sale items can be very inexpensive.

      We never shop at WM and still manage to own a houseful of crap. It can be done.

  30. Help me out here.

    I have been a student of economics for several decades and I learned that wages are not a matter of choice by employers, they are set at the margin of production. The early 19th century economist David Ricardo articulated this truth and nothing has changed its validity since then despite the rise of capital and all the incredible technological advancements that have been made since then.

    I have learned this and I understand this is accepted by most economists but never do I see it mentioned or policy based upon it. The simple solution to wages has got to include adopting public policy that insures that the margin of production is high. Unions can be a temporary measure but the permanent solution that cannot be argued with is by conservatives is a high level of the margin of prosecution. Free trade without measures to raise the margin of production only results in making workers everywhere compete with the lowest of peasants on the margin of production in the least developed countries.

    The margin of production is the place, the land, upon which labor has been pushed. Since there is no more free good land the margin of production has been pushed out to land that only produces subsistence living. People will not agree to be pushed onto land that does not produce at least subsistence because below that is death. Since we have had free trade this means that all workers are competing with all other workers at the margin of production which is at the edge of survival. This is the reason in a market economy despite the increase of productivity that wages have fallen. it seems to be a mystery but it is not.

    Making all workers compete with workers at the global margin of production means that wages everywhere have to fall to subsistence and that has what has been happening slowly over several decades in the US and other developed countries. Unions can temporarily slow this process down but they are not the solution. The solution is bringing the margin of production up. The only way to do this is to make sure land is used as efficiently as possible so that no land that could be more productive is hoarded or used below its productive capacity. The only way to make sure this happens is to tax land values as near as possible to 100% to its rental value in order to provide the incentive that land is used as efficiently as possible with no hoarding or underused especially in cities where the most valuable land is located.

    With all due respect unions have forgotten this truth and therefore have left the most potent weapon they have unused on the table. Of course working together is powerful but it is what you are working together for that determines the outcome. Work together to apply the band aid of artificially high wages in a given situation or industry and all you get is a temporary solution. Work together for raising the margin of production and guard that with eternal vigilence and you have a solution that benefits workers and all people everywhere forever.

    • Mr Fitzgerald, I agree with you entirely. Would you agree that wealth should be taxed as near as 100% as possible in order for it to be used to the fullest extent? It seems as if we are playing a game of Monopoly: the wealthy keep hoarding the wealth and our government just keeps printing money to allow the wealthy to not have to use theirs.

      I realize this is a late reply but I am only now discovering your comments.

      Thank you!

  31. If you confiscated the entire wealth of the top 400, $1.54T, all of it, you would balance Obama’s budget for 1 year.


  32. It may be a nasty word these days, but the only answer is some type of redistribution of wealth, probably through taxes. The Waltons (and other super-wealthy) have clearly benefited greatly by the people and the government infrastructure of this country (public education of employees, roads, regulatory bodies, law enforcement, and even hidden costs such as the development of the aerospace and shipping industries using federal money), but haven’t been forces to pay their fair share of all these costs. The system is broken when six people have the same accumulated wealth of 100 million.

  33. From each according to his abilities, to each according to his need… Or, as my grandfather who narrowly escaped Bolshevist Russia used to say, “I’ve got nothing, you’ve got lots. Let’s divide it in equal pots.”

    Let’s put ourselves in the shoes of California’s wealthiest 1%. They pay the lion’s share of the taxes that support the education and research at this university. They are also responsible for the lion’s share of private donations that make up more than 80% of the university’s operating budget. It warms my heart to note that the Bolshevism that is so mainstream on this campus (and so frequently found on this blog) is so generously funded by the “1%” you revile so deeply. But, instead of simply saying “thanks” I suppose none of you will be happy until you have destroyed everything that the 1% have worked so hard to build in this country. In the meantime, I’m heading out to shop at Walmart in an effort to aid the Walton family’s quest to further exploit and capture excess value from the proletariat. And since the nearest Walmart is all the way in Oakland, I’ll be sure to burn lots of fossil fuel during my journey.

    • I suppose it is hard work to be born in to one of the wealthiest families in America. Don’t you worry about the Walton children, even if they have 70% of their wealth taxed away – they’ll still be able to do whatever they want for generations to come. Still just as free economically as the next billionaire. In the mean time, lets demand a little altruism from all Americans – not just the middle class downward. You don’t need to defend them; they have plenty of lobbyists and attorneys looking out for their interests. You can go back to looking out for yours. If you’re commenting on blog postings, odds are you’re not one of the wealthy few in the country.

      • Your “demand for altruism” sounds a lot like theft. The top 1% of earners make about 25% of the income in this county and pay 37% of the federal taxes as is. Nearly half of folks in this country don’t pay federal taxes at all. Seems to me as though it’s the middle class downwards (which, for now, includes me) that has been receiving a free ride. Like everyone, I’d love to have more but I’m not willing to steal it from my more fortunate neighbor and scold him for not giving it to me in the first place.

        The wealthy may have lobbyists but so do the 99% (hint: unions). That’s what people do when a large and powerful government has lots of power to dole out favors to special interests. It’s human nature and is the predictable result of large and powerful federal, state and local governments.

        • 1) The 1% also have over 40% of the wealth.

          2)You are talking only about income tax. Nearly everyone pays federal taxes because income tax isn’t the only tax – there’s also payroll tax and other taxes.

          Are you really angry that some people are too poor to pay income taxes?

          Also, our tax rates in this country are marginal – everyone pays the same rate within each bracket. Someone in the top 1% is paying the same rate on their first 20k of income as that tax bracket, and then the same rate as the people in the next bracket.

          Further, when you take into account all local and governmental taxes the average person in the 1% pays 30.8% of their income in taxes, the average person in the bottom 20% pays 16% of their income in taxes. The next 20% pays 20.5%. So yes, people in the bottom 50% do pay taxes.

          3) The “for now” shows that you are opposed to raising taxes on millionaires (even though the majority of millionaires support it) because you believe that you will one day be one. You seem really unfamiliar with how our country’s tax system works, it doesn’t seem like you’ve lived in the real world.

          4) Unions have such little power when compared to the corporate lobbying groups that it’s an almost irrelevant comparison.

    • nice original reply “guest”. impressive that you can copy and paste the standard boilerplate responses from ‘conservatives’.

      for the record, the majority of university funds come in the form of student tuition and fees.

      while youre burning excess fossil fuels just to prove a point, think about the asthma that more children are getting from the car exhaust you produce and what people like the royal family of saudi arabia are spending it on.

      • Student fees cover only a very small fraction of the cost of educating a student at this university. Hint: A year of education here costs a lot more than $13,000.

        Of the remainder, very little these days comes from the state (hint: the taxpayers). The mission of this university could not be carried out without the generosity of the “1%.”

    • “…..everything that the 1% have worked so hard to build in this country.” Really?

      How hard does one have to work to make investments? As hard as the two parents of 3 or 4 who work two or three jobs (if they can find them) to make ends meet? As hard as the grad student who goes to school full time and also works a 40 hour week to barely hang on? As hard as the minimum wage field hands who spend 12 hours a day harvesting crops?

      If you’re going to play the “hard work” card, you’re going to lose. Privilege begets privilege. It has very little to do with “hard work.”

      • Yes, that’s life. People have to work to make ends meet. Graduate students, on the other hand, receive a highly subsidized (free?) education at this university. It’s a pretty sweet deal really. Someone else pays for you to receive a world-class education. While you receive this education, you “barely hang on.” You “pay your dues” so to speak. Then, upon completing your education, you join the ranks of the upper middle class, if not immediately, then in a few years. Pretty sweet deal indeed.

        Agricultural workers indeed work very hard. It’s a work ethic worth admiring and respecting. And it’s a work ethic that few Americans have. In fact, many of these folks aren’t Americans at all. A majority are undocumented immigrants. Most poor people in this country don’t work 12 hours a day. Many don’t work — period.

        Of course, with regard to hard work, the key to financial success is not only hard work, but the willingness to take risks and the translation of one’s hard work into a viable business.

  34. Walmart is the largest private employer in the US. They have become so by entering into small communities with extensive advertising and the “talk” that they are the lowest priced seller of goods. In fact, WalM=mart has become the proverbial “Company Store” by forcing small hometown businesses out of business. When there is little to no competition, where is the capitalization? Walmart is a slash and burn company with little to no regard for the communities they occupy.
    Walmart has also cut pay and benefits of their employees, cutting hours worked to diminish the number of employees that qualify for benefits. This is done as the heirs mount greater and greater wealth. Greed is the creed for Walmart and the majority of other huge corporations. 1% wealth at the expense of the 99% health, whether it be financial or physical.

  35. Gram Allegretto was right on the ‘Money’… I don’t believe this situation can be reversed. The Plutocrats are here to stay, money goes
    to where money is… i’m going to continue to scratch out a living and
    their material goods and wealth will not impact my quality of life.

  36. The biggest issue leading to this inequality of wealth is the US reliance on a private Central Bank. The Federal Reserve bank makes our money decides how much to issue and then charges us for that money. Leading us to the great debt that we now have. It divides us into fighting over taxes v. spending and capitalism v. socialism when the real culprit in our economy is the control the FED and the Military industrial complex has over our money supply and therefore our supposed representative leaders.

    I recommend that you all consider ending the FED as being a part of your rallying cry when looking toward our future. I am not a Republican or Libertarian but based solely on the fact that Ron Paul talks about Ending the FED and reigning in our crazy defense budget and bringing soldiers home from unnecessary wars, has led me to decide to register republican to help get him on the ballot v. Obama.

    Check out my position paper on this and feel free to share it if you like it. Long live the USA, Land of the Free, home of the Brave, not Land of the bankers, home of the corporations.

  37. It’s more than “At stake is nothing less than our economy and our democracy.”

    Too many never learned that Democracy was originally created by the ancient Athenians because they had Wal-Mart type tyrants and aristocrats “increasing concentration of income and wealth into the hands of a few at the expense of the many.”

    And America’s Founding Fathers had the same problem, so they created American Democracy.

    Interestingly, Beijing is drowning in smog because of their manufacturing excesses enabled by Communist Chinese aristocrats that look a lot by too many in Congress who refuse to believe in global warming.

    So what is really at stake is the survival of the human race, especially since we also have far too many weapons of mass destruction around the world.

  38. A problem with attacking persons benefiting from entrepreneurial success is that the attack sometimes hits very wrong persons. The Waltons have had success by offereing the lowest prices available to persons with limited means (go into any WalMart and look around at the customers and check the prices). The Waltons have also had success as a result of hiring from the bottom of the economy, by training such workers in how to be good workers – to dress properly, to show up on time, etc.

    If WalMarts were unionized, WalMart would not have the flexibility to carry out such a program. Regarding insurance costs at WalMart – medical costs and insurance to cover the costs have risen way faster than general inflation and the coverage demands under Obamacare will be hugely greater (and much, much more expensive).

    Instead of attacking the Waltons who succeeded through hard work, the Occupiers were more on point – attack the Wall Streeters who have been pretty much protected by the current administration at the expense of the Occupiers and everone else out of a job or underemployed.

    • The Walton Six got ahead by being members of the Very, Very, Very, Very Lucky Sperm Club. Daddy Walton was a successful, innovative business-man. His progeny, not so much. They got their wealth the old fashioned way, they inherited it.

    • Woa, lots of baggage to unpack here. Just consider this: low prices mean someone got paid very little to make that product (watch the movie “China Blue”) and WalMart forces companies to lower wages. It is pure evil greed and not healthy or sustainable for the planet or the people. Peace

    • Yes, they…then they used this system to squeeze every dime out of their suppliers and workers…at times forces communities to open stores through litigation…not to mentions bribes to officials in Mexico. They are shrewed, taking advantage of the situation not just filling a niche. The Walton fortune was 100 BILLION, not counting the working company…If they can’t pay their workers a living wage and help them move up through the ranks and society….they are exploiters.

  39. United for a Fair Economy wrote a report with Public Citizen a few years back called Spending Millions to Save Billions that showed how the Waltons and other zillionare dynastic families are financing the effort to repeal the federal estate tax.

    I guess 50% of a $50 billion is simply not enough to pass on to one’s children.

  40. I wouldn’t hate on Walmart if they treated their employees fairly. If I ran a highly successful business and had several employees…I couldn’t feel right about making millions while my staff (the ones actually doing the work) were being paid minimum wage with no benefits. It isn’t good for business. Treat your employees well and they will run your business like it was their own. Treat them like slaves and you will have a staff that just doesn’t give a F()ck!

    • First of all Walmart products are absolutely terrible, ‘you get what you pay for’ their low prices = cheap worthless junk.

      When a Walmart moves into a small town, they destroy the community by underselling all the locally owned businesses which depletes tax base, and turns the downtown into a blighted ghost town. (Local businesses support local school bands, baseball teams and community projects cannot compete with walmarts low prices and go-out-of-business)

      Walmart pays subsistence wages to their employees and imports products that are manufactured under slave-labor conditions.

  41. “We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.”

    Louis D. Brandeis

  42. We, the workers (slaves) of Walmart are not happy. Mike Duke makes more in ONE hour than most of us in one year.

    • Dear Aubretia,

      I have taken the liberty to forward this to Wal-Mart’s HR department. Obviously, you should be smart enough to not work someplace you are unhappy. On behalf of the entire Wal-Mart executive team, we wish you well in your future endeavors.

      If you’re not happy, go work someplace else. If you cannot get a job someplace else, start asking yourself why. Maybe McDonalds is more your cup of tea. If you can’t find a job, make a job.

      Oh wait, that’s what Sam Walton did many years ago and amassed his rightly earned fortune that you so desperately want to rip apart and give away.

      • That is really not very nice to threaten her with job lose…Don’t take Abretia’s comments so personally. It was not directed towards you. No need to have her loose her job over the freedom of speech…

      • Ken, you obviously haven’t had to look for a job lately. Try one of your local stores, oh yeah, they aren’t there anymore. I guess you could go to China for a manufacturing job. I hear the air is nice there.

  43. thank you for sharing, i assumed that every success to need reversing the long term trend of the ever increasing concentration of income and good wealth.

  44. – – We all want to insure a good future for our offspring ! Sam has done well ! Some would be Kings and rule the world ! enough is enough ! No to kings and no to super inheritance ! What is fair ? I know people going without while others gorge isn’t fair ! Hard work both mental and physical deserve reward ! The labor in the field deserve more ! We use migrants shamefully ! Most dream of wealth and power, instead of what they can contribute ! Love = sharing – Peace –

  45. The UC Chancellor make millions of dollars each few years and all he does in order the police to beat up the poor on campus to suppress them from wanting a share of his robbery. ! Word to your family! 😉

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