By guest author, diogenes (bio below).
PART 1: THE DISTRIBUTION OF WEALTH IN AMERICA
The 1%, Their Betters, And Their Abettors [1.1]
The inequitable distribution of wealth has been a major feature of our country’s economy, and among its most prominent and enduring results, since the creation of the modern American corporate financial system over 120 years ago. But until it was brought to public attention by the Occupy movement’s catch phrase referring to “the 1%” of our population who own half of America’s wealth, this subject had been kept off the table of public economic and political discussion since the Great Depression of the 1930s. As Thorstein Veblen noted in 1917, the only way to preserve such a system is to insure the ignorance of the victims it preys on. Today, mainstream economists and journalists sometimes mention this topic, but even when their comments are accurate they tend to be misleading. Usually they give the impression of aiming to create confusion more than insight, misdirection rather than understanding. On the whole, they have been successful. Nearly all Americans remain fundamentally ignorant of the true proportions and character of the maldistribution of wealth in our country.
A recent paper from the Institute of Policy Studies reports that the “wealthiest 20 Americans own more than half the American population” combined. As a depiction of the inequitable distribution of wealth in America today this is accurate as far as it goes but it is stated in a way that presents a distorted view of the scale of wealth and poverty and of the discrepancy between them. True enough, the wealthiest 20 Americans do own more than the poorer 160 million of us put together, but this actually reveals less about the concentration of wealth at the top than about the dispossession of most of the population, which it glosses over. Half of us together own less than 1% of our country’s wealth; we hold on average less than one fiftieth of an equitable portion. Many are entirely dispossessed of everything of pecuniary worth besides personal property of no value outside a used car lot or a pawnshop. The way the Institute of Policy Studies phrases its findings collaborates in the concealment of a salient fact of primary significance — the permanent impoverishment of over 160 million Americans.
On the other hand this report’s “wealthiest 20 Americans” are mere bubbles floating on the froth atop the crème de la crème of America’s richest 1%, who together own enough to buy out the poorer half, all 160 million of us, not just once, but more than fifty times over. The Institute of Policy Studies paper goes on to say (but the media omits to report) that “the Forbes 400 own more wealth than the bottom 61% of the country combined — 194 million people,” a phrase which avoids disclosing that 61% of us put together possess under a 2% share in our country. The Forbes 400 can buy 200 million of us out more than twenty-five times over. But actually, even the combined riches of the entire Forbes 400 are just a drop in the bucket of the American plutocracy. These four hundred richest Americans represent just the top fortieth part of our richest one-in-ten-thousand, the 0.01%, the top 1% of the top 1%, the 16,000 families who together own over an eighth of everything in our country (14%), and they represent merely the top four-hundredth part of America’s wealthiest 160,000 families, the elite one-in-a-thousand (0.1%) who together possess over a quarter of all wealth (28%), more than the combined holdings of 310 million Americans — 95% of us.
This vast wealth in the possession of one person in one thousand consists almost entirely of financial paper. For the most part it is inherited. Every decade has its well-publicized Steve Jobs and Oprah, but no year introduces even just 100 new members from the 99% to the 16,000 families of America’s oligarchic elite 0.01% (entry level personal worth was $25 million in 2011). The turnover among them, generation by generation, is very low. And their holdings are not just any old money: generally they are concentrated (great-grandpa’s financial advisers concentrated them) predominantly in core controlling interests in central financial institutions, industrial, mercantile, resource extraction, utility, transportation and “service” corporations, commercial chains, media, cultural institutions, foundations etc. The leverage of these holdings far exceeds their sum. It exerts effective control over the more diversified, less consolidated and less centrally placed investments of the other nine-tenths of Occupy’s famous “1%,” who own nearly another quarter (23%), adding their weight to the leverage of their betters to make up between them a majority holding of the wealth of America. The financial paper that constitutes the bulk of this wealth is in essence legal fiction, purely the creation of the investment banking and corporate finance that contrived the legal arrangements enabling this system, constructed it (generally without scruple and often by illegal means), and continue to operate it and to extract and distribute its tolls.
In 1867 the distribution of wealth in our country reflected the American dream of an egalitarian society as something approaching an economic reality. The wealthiest 2% of the population held 5% of the wealth. Over the next generation the rise of the financial power centered on Wall Street, investment finance and corporate consolidation changed this situation utterly. “The less idealistic, less publicized aims of Northern policy during the [Civil] War and the period following… were reflected in new statutes regarding taxes, money, tariffs, banks, land, railroads, subsidies, all placed upon the books while the South was out of the Union” to effect the “more pragmatic aims of economic privilege” — “the elaborate structure of protective tariffs, national banks, railroad subsidies, and monetary arrangements upon which the new economic order was founded.” In the decade following the war, congressional “spokesmen of vested interests and big business” continued to “entrench this elaborate system in law … while the voters were diverted by oratory about Reconstruction, civil rights, and Southern atrocities.” Within a few years this began to arouse resistance “from both East and West” beginning with the Grangers and Greenbackers. By 1876 presidential candidate Rutherford B. Hayes was privately describing striking Ohio miners as people who “make war on property,” a view still current among the 1%. In 1886 the Supreme Court issued its decision creating “corporate personhood” by judicial fiat in an preposterous distortion of the letter and intentions of the Fifteenth Amendment (1868). In 1890, South Dakota’s first senator, Richard F. Pettigrew, a populist progressive, added to the bill funding the Census a clause instructing the Bureau to determine the distribution of wealth in the United States. Congress has made certain that this never happened again. Six years later University of Wisconsin economist Charles B. Spahr cited its findings that the poorest 44% of Americans owned, on average, 3% of the national wealth, while the richest 1% owned more than 50%. Between 1867 and 1890 the share of wealth consolidated at the top increased more than thirty times over. This was the reality of “Reconstruction”: America was reconstructed as a plutocracy.
This grossly inequitable distribution, which places half of America’s wealth with one person in a hundred and leaves 60 of us empty-handed or nearly, was from the beginning a principal feature of the reconstructed American national economy. In 1915 the Commission on Industrial Relations — chartered by our history’s most progressive Congress (1908-1916) with power of subpoena to investigate in detail the character and workings of the American economy — issued its Final Report summarizing three years of cross-country hearings and research; eleven thousand-page volumes of testimony and evidence appeared in 1916. Concerning the distribution of our country’s wealth it found that the poorer 65% of Americans together owned 8%, while the richest 2% owned 57%. It also observes that, equitably distributed, the national wealth more than suffices to provide a middle class standard of living for everyone.
Pursuant to an initiative of Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover, in 1926 the Federal Trade Commission issued a study which reports that 76% of Americans owned less than 7% of the national wealth, and the top 2% owned 68%. The rich were getting richer and the poor poorer and also more numerous, but the underlying contours of the modern American economy were firmly established: great wealth for the very few while the most are living small, month to month, hand to mouth, possessing paltry wealth or none. A permanent feature of the modern American economy places approximately the same sum in the hands of the richest 2% as the equitable share not possessed by 60%.
This 2% is comprised of two groups. Below the top 0.5%, the predominantly hereditary and financial wealth of the plutocratic 0.1% shades off into the most affluent members of the upper middle class, “physicians, attorneys, upper middle management, and small business people who have done well,” as an investment manager intimately acquainted with the finances of the 1% describes them, who “lack power and global flexibility and are essentially well-compensated work horses for the top 0.5% just like the bottom 99%…. Access to the true corridors of power and money … doesn’t become frequent until we reach the top 0.1%” (2011 entry level $5.5 million). Beneath the top 1% an “upper middle” or “professional class” — small businessmen and bosses, upper administrators and bureaucrats and successful experts in well-remunerated fields — includes about a twelfth of us and owns above a fifth. Since the 1890s America’s top 10% altogether have always owned at least three quarters of the wealth; frequently this three quarters has been the exclusive property of the top 5%, as it is today.
Below them on the American pecuniary totem-pole, but nearer the top than halfway, our famous so-called “middle” class turns out to consist, in good times, of the 30% of us between this affluent 10% and the 60% with sparse livelihood and scant means. Its “middling share” amounts at best to around 15% — half an equitable portion, unevenly divided among them. The extreme scale of this contrast, between 2% with majority ownership of America and 60% with pennies — and in between them fewer than 30% with a dime and a nickle, table scraps, debts and illusions — has persisted as the most salient feature of our country’s distribution of wealth for four generations now. Its outlines are clear and consistent.
Incidents and Consequences [1.2]
For America’s wealthy the Great Depression presented an epochal opportunity to consolidate and increase their dominion. Following the crash of 1929 the upper strata of the financial elite bought up at panic sale bargain prices the securities and assets of credit-bankrupted businesses, small investors, farmers and homeowners, widows and orphans. Since American corporations kept paying dividends at pre-crash levels through 1935 by distributing the unpaid wages of laid-off labor to stockholders instead, this was a real bonanza for the one-in-a-thousand. As the progressive Christian magazine The World Tomorrow observed in January 1933, when over 13 million were unemployed (25% of working people), “The total amount paid out in wages by manufacturing establishments in the United States in September, 1932, was only 38% as much as the average for 1926, whereas the total interest and dividend payments by American corporations was 55% higher in 1932 than in 1926. The unjust proportion of the national revenue which goes to owners and investors is a primary cause of the prevailing financial debacle.” In 2016 this sounds familiar.
A countertrend set in with the huge increase in federal military expenditure beginning in 1940 and the personal and corporate tax policies adopted to fund it through the Second World War and the rise of the security state and the permanent war economy. Over time this unquestionably had the effect of marginally narrowing the extremes of wealth and poverty in the post-war period, though not nearly enough to alter the underlying situation. As C. Wright Mills observed in 1956, “the idea of a really wide distribution of economic ownership is a cultivated illusion: at the very most 0.2% or 0.3% of the adult population own the bulk, the pay-off shares, of the corporate world.”
The Federal Trade Commission report of 1926 was the last time for sixty years that the federal government published comprehensive statistics bearing on the distribution of wealth. In 1962 the Federal Reserve (not to be confused with the federal government) published statistics which were used and critiqued by Gabriel Kolko (1962), Ferdinand Lundberg (1968), and Edward N. Wolff & Marcia Marley (1989). As Wolff (2010) notes, the Federal Reserve statistic commonly cited (for “net worth”) presents a skewed picture because it regards home ownership (equity in a primary residence) as equivalent to disposable assets such as bank deposits, bonds, securities, business equity, commercial, rental and speculative real estate, absentee ownership of farms and ranchland and of mines, timber, and so on. Or a jet or a yacht, for that matter. This deliberate confusion of a necessity (shelter) with a superabundance (wealth) artificially depresses the statistical proportions attributed to the wealthy and inflates the apparent share of the middle class — so that, for instance, when this cynical pretense is not adopted the holdings of the top 5%, reported by the Federal Reserve in 1962 as 54.6% (“net worth”), rise to 61.8% of “non-home worth” (Wolff 2012). Perhaps the Federal Reserve’s unstated assumption is that the natural human situation is tenancy or serfdom and owning your own home is a luxury. Either way, however much the Federal Reserve fudges numbers or blurs categories, a familiar picture emerges.
By the late 1980s a shift back toward the harsher extremes of the 1930s was unmistakably underway. Between 1983 and 2007, 86% of all gains went to the top 10%, which increased its holdings to 85% by 2007 (the top 5% had 72%). Then the process accelerated dramatically, with the top 1% gaining another 7.2% by 2009. Occupy was right: as measured by “non-home worth” the share of America that is the property of the 1% surpassed 50% in 2009 and kept on swelling. “2009-2011 saw gains of 28% to the top 7% and losses to the other 93%, with an enormous transfer of wealth upwards to the top 1% and, particularly, the top 0.1%.” This transfer upwards has continued unabated. Today (2016) the top 10% own an estimated 89% of non-home worth, the top 5% own 79%, and the bottom 60% own 1%. This impoverishment of two thirds and stripping out of the middle class, coupled with accelerated accumulation at the top following an investment credit bubble collapse, closely parallels events during the “Great Depression” of 1929-1941.
Suppressed investigation, statistical sleights-of-hand and deceptive reporting notwithstanding, every comprehensive study since 1890 makes it evident that, over the past 125 years, even in the least inequitable of times (1962), the top 1% owned above 40%, the top 10% owned 77% and the bottom 60% owned 4.4%. This already stark maldistribution has deteriorated dramatically over the last 50 years; today it is worse than it has been in over a century. This gross dispossession of the greatest number of people is the outstanding characteristic of the modern American economy’s distribution of wealth. It is every bit as striking as — and much less frequently mentioned than — the sprawling riches this system bestows in perpetuity on one in a thousand, predominantly by inheritance.
It is an absurd abuse of language to describe such an economy as “working” or as a success, or to claim that our society as a whole or at large or for the most part is well served by it. It does work, in some ways — and quite well, too — for the one-in-a-thousand who own the controlling interest and also, to a lesser extent, for the small-holders who add weight to their lever and, diminishingly, for their most valued servants, the bosses and enforcers, gatekeepers and experts for hire who operate the machine and keep it on the tracks.
But for America and Americans at large, the harmful consequences of our society’s systemic maldistribution of wealth are pervasive, immense and inescapable. In their study, The Spirit Level (2009), correlating and comparing epidemiological, social and economic statistics across 23 developed nations and all 50 states, Richard Wilkinson & Kate Pickett demonstrate that degrees of inequitable distribution of income closely and strongly, cross-culturally and pervasively align with worse rates of violence, social distrust, mental health problems and drug abuse, infant mortality, physical health and life expectancy, obesity, educational performance, teenage pregnancy, imprisonment and severity of policing and punishment, and social and economic mobility. The United States consistently resides at or near the bottom in every category: the most inequitable distribution of wealth and the worst social conditions.
These problems are not worse for the poorer members of a society alone, they are worse across the entire spectrum of the population (except for the very wealthy in a few categories — infant mortality, health and longevity, for instance). High average incomes do nothing to influence this effect. America’s average income is high compared to many of these 23 nations while our social conditions, along with our distribution of wealth, consistently rank at the bottom or near it. The much lower average income in Cuba, by comparison, is equitably distributed, and Cuba’s statistics of public and social health in all categories significantly surpass America’s. And conversely, across the board, the more nearly egalitarian a society’s distribution of income, the more its social conditions improve. These correlations also generally hold in comparisons between American states as well as between nations, but the American interstate norm is much lower.
Wilkinson and Pickett utterly demolish the diligently fostered myth of the international superiority of the standard of living enjoyed by the average American. At its deepest level of implication their study suggests that societies (and their national economies) behave in some respects like a single organism — what affects one part affects each and all — though well-insulated elites tend to think in different terms and behave accordingly. As billionaire Warren Buffet puts it, “There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”
Sources referenced more than once are abbreviated in CAPITALS with the abbreviation and full bibliography given at their first appearance.
PART 1: THE DISTRIBUTION OF WEALTH IN AMERICA
1.1: The 1%, Their Betters, And Their Abettors
Thorstein Veblen, An Inquiry into the Nature of Peace and the Terms of its Perpetuation (New York, Huebsch, 1917) p. 293.
Institute of Policy Studies, Chuck Collins & Josh Hoxie, “Billionaire Bonanza: The Forbes 400 and the Rest of Us,” ips.-dc.org/billionaire-bonanza/ December 1, 2015.
WOLFF 2012 = Edward N. Wolff, “The Asset Price Meltdown and the Wealth of the Middle Class,” National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper 18559, November 2012. Table 2, page 51, non-home worth 2010: bottom 40% holds -1.6%, the 41st to 60th percenitiles hold 0.7%.
Current holdings of top 1%:
INVESTMENT MANAGER 2011 = “An Investment Manager’s View on the Top 1%,” Who Rules America (July 2011), www2.ucsc.edu/whorulesamerica/.
INVESTMENT MANAGER 2014 = “An Investment Manager’s 2014 Update on the Top 1%,” Who Rules America (January 2014), www2.ucsc.edu/whorulesamerica/.
Richard Fry & Paul Taylor, Pew Research Center report, “An Uneven Recovery, 2009-2011: A Rise in Wealth for the Wealthy; Declines for the Lower 93%,” (April 23, 2013).
DEGRAW = David DeGraw, “Peak Inequality: The .01% And The Impoverishment Of Society,” Washingtonsblog, August 19, 2014.
From the figures for 2010 non-home worth in WOLFF 2012 I extrapolate in view of the above four sources a minimum 51% holding for the 1% in 2016 and then distribute this to subdivisions of the 1% in the proportions given in DEGRAW. Unquestionably this underestimates the proportionate holdings of both the 1% and the 0.1%.
On proportions of inherited wealth:
LUNDBERG 1968 = Ferdinand Lundberg, The Rich and the Super-Rich: A Study in the Power of Money Today (New York, Lyle Stuart, 1968) p. 132-203.
On the concentration of wealth over the long term:
MOODY = John Moody, The Masters of Capital: A Chronicle of Wall Street (Yale University Press, 1919) passim, esp. p. 4.
MILLS = C. Wright Mills, The Power Elite (New York, Oxford UP, 1956) esp. 121-122.
KOLKO 1962 = Gabriel Kolko, Wealth And Power In America: An Analysis of Social Class and Income Distribution (New York, Frederick A. Praeger, 1962, 8th printing 1968) passim, esp. p. x & 3.
LUNDBERG 1968 passim, esp. 16-23.
WOLFF & MARLEY 1989 = Edward N. Wolff & Marcia Marley, “Long-Term Trends in U.S. Wealth Inequality: Methodological Issues and Results,” pp. 765-844, in Robert E. Lipsey & Helen Stone Tice, The Measurement of Saving, Investment, and Wealth (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1989) Table 15.6, p. 786.
INVESTMENT MANAGER 2011: on entry level worth for 0.01% etc.
Top wealth concentrated in central finance:
G William Domhoff, “Wealth, Income, and Power,” Who Rules America (September 2005; updated February 2013), www2.ucsu.edu/whorulesamerica/power/wealth.html.
Robert Lenzner, “The Top 0.1% Of the Nation Earn Half of All Capital gains,” Forbes November 20, 2011.
WOLFF 2012 Table 9 page 58.
INVESTMENT MANAGER 2011 & INVESTMENT MANAGER 2014.
Who Rules America website: University of California Santa Cruz professor G. William Domhoff maintains a website useful to students of the distribution of wealth, Who Rules America: www2.ucsc.edu/whorulesamerica/.
On the financial character of big wealth and its accumulation:
G.P. Watkins, The Growth of Large Fortunes: A Study of Economic Causes Affecting the Acquisition and Distribution of Property (Publications of the American Economic Association, Third Series, vol. 8, no. 4, 1907).
Anna Youngman, The Economic Causes of Great Fortunes (New York, Bankers Publishing, 1909).
BRANDEIS = Louis Brandeis, Other People’s Money And How The Bankers Use It (New York, Stokes, 1914).
KING = Willford Isbell King, The Wealth and Income of the People Of The United States (New York, Macmilan, 1915) esp. p. 218.
MOODY passim, esp. 1-3 (quoted below).
On the character of financial wealth Veblen is key:
Thorstein Veblen, The Theory of Business Enterprise (New York, Scribners, 1904).
Thorstein Veblen, The Instinct of Workmanship and the State of the Industrial Arts (New York, Macmillan, 1914).
Thorstein Veblen, The Vested Interests and the State of the Industrial Arts (New York, Huebsch, 1919).
Thorstein Veblen, The Engineers and the Price System (New York, Huebsch, 1921).
Thorstein Veblen, Absentee Ownership and Business Enterprise in Recent Times (New York, Huebsch, 1923).
Often illegal means of primary accumulations:
Gustavus Myers, History of the Great American Fortunes (Chicago, Kerr, 1910) — the classic survey of this vast subject, on which hundreds of works could be cited.
Matthew Josephson, The Robber Barons: the Great American Capitalists, 1861-1901 (New York, Harcourt, Brace, 1934). Another classic survey.
Ida Tarbell, The History of the Standard Oil Company (New York, McClure, Philips, 1904, 2 vols; 2 vols in 1 pub. Peter Smith, New York 1950 & Gloucester 1963; NB: 1 vol. Norton ed. 1966 & 1969 is abridged) is another famous example.
C.B. Glasscock, Bandits and the Southern Pacific (New York, Frederick A. Stokes, 1929) is a third example.
Gerard Colby Zilg, Du Pont: Behind The Nylon Curtain (Englewood Cliffs, Prentice Hall, 1974) a more recent work.
John Perkins, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man (San Francisco, Berrett-Koehler, 2004) for a view of current overseas operations.
Distribution of wealth in 1867:
Charles A. Lindbergh, Why is Your Country at War and What Happens to You after the War and Related Subjects (Washington, D.C., National Capital Press, 1917) p. 148, Minnesota Representative Lindbergh (father of the aviator) citing University of Wisconsin professor Willford Isbell KING, lead researcher for the Commission on Industrial Relations study of this question (CIR see below).
First studies of wealth distribution in America:
PETTIGREW = Richard F. Pettigrew, Imperial Washington: The Story of American Public Life from 1870-1920 (Kerr, Chicago 1922; rpr. Arno 1970) p. 124-130 cited. An eyewitness account of great value. He summarizes (p. 367): “The few men who own nearly all the wealth have gained control of the machinery of public life. They have usurped the functions of government and established a plutocracy.”
Charles B. Spahr, An Essay on The Present Distribution of Wealth (NewYork, Crowell, 1896) p. 70.
CIR = Commission On Industrial Relations, Final Report (Washington, D.C., Government Printing Office, 1915) p. 28 (cited), equivalent to vol. 1, p. 33 of Final Report and Testimony (1916), 11 volumes.
Federal Trade Commission Report, National Wealth and Income (Washington, D.C., Government Printing Office, 1926) Table 10, p. 58.
Social composition of top 1% today:
INVESTMENT MANAGER 2011 quoted; top 0.1% entry level (cited).
1.2: Incidents and Consequences
American Depression of the 1930s:
The World Tomorrow (January 11, 1933) vol. 16 no. 2, p. 29 quoted, which refers to further statistics published in their December 1932 issue.
KENNEDY = E.D. Kennedy, Dividends To Pay (New York, Reynal & Hitchcock, 1939).
LUNDBERG 1937 = Ferdinand Lundberg, America’s 60 Families (New York, Vanguard, 1937).
Ferdinand Pecora, Wall Street Under Oath (New York, Simon & Schuster, 1939).
STOLBERG & VINTON = Benjamin Stolberg & Warren Jay Vinton, The Economic Consequences of the New Deal (New York, Harcourt, Brace, 1935).
Other studies before 1962:
MILLS p. 121-122 quoted.
C.L. Merwin, Jr., “American Studies of the Distribution of Wealth and Income By Size,” pp. 3-93 in Studies in Income and Wealth vol. 3, National Bureau of Economic Research (New York, 1939) surveys research to 1939.
Robert J. Lampman, The Share of Top Wealth-Holders in National Wealth, 1922-1956 (Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1962), a scholarly stop-gap in face of a lack of sufficient data, is based on sampling probate filings — with flawed results. Lampman surveys earlier studies (8-12). LUNDBERG 1968 p. 791 (chap. 1 n. 3) abstracts this bibliography.
Distribution in 1962 (Federal Reserve “net worth” statistics):
WOLFF & MARLEY 1989 p. 806 Table 15.13; cf. WOLFF 2012 p. 33 Table 2.A.
KOLKO 1962 esp. p. x & 3.
LUNDBERG 1968 esp. p. 17-23.
WOLFF 2010 = Edward N. Wolff, “Recent Trends in Household Wealth in the United States,” Levy Economics Institute of Bard College Working Paper No. 589. (March
2010). “Non-home worth” is Wolff’s term for this statistic.
WOLFF 2012 Table 2, page 51 (1962 non-home worth).
F. Thomas Justin & Kathleen A. Kuester, “Differences In The Measurement of Wealth,” Federal Reserve, Finance And Economics Discussion Series 116 (March 1990). Justin & Kuester discuss methods of measurement and show that all studies to date seriously underestimate holdings at the top and therefore also overestimate the proportions of holdings in lower brackets.
Gains of 1983 – 2111 for top 10% & top 1%
Edward N. Wolff, Top Heavy: The Increasing Inequality of Wealth in America and What Can Be Done About It (NY, New Press, 1996).
Edward N. Wolff, “Recent Trends in Household Wealth in the United States,” Levy Economics Institute of Bard College Working Paper No. 502 (June 2007).
INVESTMENT MANAGER 2014 quoted.
WOLFF 2010 p. 33 cited.
Richard Fry & Paul Taylor, “An Uneven Recovery, 2009-2011: A Rise in Wealth for the Wealthy; Declines for the Lower 93%,” Pew Research Center (April 23, 2013) p. 2 cited.
The Spirit Level & income distribution statistics:
Richard Wilkinson & Kate Pickett, The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger (New York, Bloomsbury Press, 2009). Wilkinson & Pickett use statistics for distribution of income as a proxy for distribution of wealth, since reliable comprehensive statistics for the latter are not available for many of the 23 nations in their survey or any of the 50 states individually. (Statistical data for wealth per se which are adequate as a basis for a study of its distribution are much more difficult to generate and to assess than for income, and comprehensive studies of wealth distribution are less frequently produced, but wealth distribution fluctuates less and changes more slowly than income.) Since assets per se are invisible to a survey of income, statistics for income distribution seriously under-represent the true proportions and concentration of wealth (one reason why they are far more frequently cited by mainstream sources). A closer approximation of statistical accuracy would strongly reinforce Wilkinson & Pickett’s point.
Diogenes is an over-educated American landless peasant. His great-grandfather, a co-operative orchardist, helped California progressives overturn Southern Pacific’s corporate political machine in 1910. He thinks this advance needs to be re-established and greatly extended, nationally, not reversed. He regards progressive successes in many states during this era as a recommendation for their non-partisan grassroots methods of public education and legislative action and for their targeting of the legal enablements of financial predation, and he considers it crucial to extract lessons for the present from their history of defeats and failures as well as of successes, and to understand the methods by which they were thwarted, the better to succeed in the future.