A new report released this week titled Billionaire Bonanza points out the growing divide in the U.S. among the super wealthy and the rest of the country.
The most stark finding: The three wealthiest people in the United States — Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, and Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett — now own more wealth than the entire bottom half of the American population combined, roughly 160 million people.
Of course, two of those billionaires — Bezos and Gates — live in the Seattle area. And it is worth noting that Gates and Buffett are the creators of the Giving Pledge, an effort among the super rich to donate the majority of their wealth to philanthropic causes. Bezos remains one of the top five billionaires who has not yet signed the pledge, according to The New York Times.
The findings point to the growing disparity in wealth in the U.S., and the vanishing middle class. And they also come at a time when public sentiment appears to be turning against very large tech companies, and their growing power.
“The United States is becoming, as the French economist Thomas Piketty warns, a hereditary aristocracy of wealth and power,” the authors write in the report.
The elite ranks of our billionaire class continue to pull apart from the rest of us. We have not witnessed such extreme levels of concentrated wealth and power since the first Gilded Age a century ago. Such staggering levels of wealth inequality threaten our democracy, compound racial and class divisions, undermine social cohesion, and destabilize our economy.
And the growing wealth divide is a phenomenon that some in the one-percenter class are pointing out with more regularity. Seattle venture capitalist Nick Hanauer, one of the earliest investors in Amazon and the co-founder of aQuantive, has discussed the issue at length over the years.
“The real threat to our republic is an alarming breakdown in social cohesion, and the cause of this breakdown is obvious: radical, rising economic inequality, and the anger and anxiety it engenders,” Hanauer wrote in an essay titled, To My Fellow Plutocrats: You Can Cure Trumpism.
The authors of the Billionaire Bonanza report offer a few solutions to address these challenges, writing that there’s a need to “implement policies to reduce concentrated wealth,” largely through new tax programs.
Interestingly, one of the co-authors of the the Billionaire Bonanza report, Chuck Collins of the Institute for Policy Studies, is the co-author of a book Wealth and Our Commonwealth, which was written with Bill Gates Sr., the father of Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.
Bill Gates Sr. was one of the champions of Initiative 1098, a state income tax in Washington state on the wealthiest individuals that was proposed in 2010. The initiative was soundly defeated, with 64 percent of citizens voting against it.