By guest author, diogenes (bio below).










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.


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,”  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),

INVESTMENT MANAGER 2014 = “An Investment Manager’s 2014 Update on the Top 1%,” Who Rules America (January 2014),

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),

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.


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:

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).


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.


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  • Don Robertson

    I completely reject the whole argument that wealth distribution is a problem. The rich do not make the poor poor.

    The greater the wealth disparity-curve, the greater the size of the economy overall. This is proven. If everyone had an equal amount of wealth, the economy would crumble, period. Look at the Cuban ecoonomy. In the U.S. a lot of people are employed cartering to the rich in this country.

    Now, if you want to address the real problems, then tax them.

    Execessive debt burden is a very real problem. Clearly, the country is buried in debt. It’s time to start taxing debt, both by taxing borrowers and taxing lenders based on the size of the loan, a percentage paid right up front and then annually every year until the debt is paid off, because it no longer is a viable paradigm to carry large amounts of debt.

    Derivatives are a problem. It’s time to start taxing derivatives, a percentage of the coverage paid right up front, and then annually every year until the derivatives are made to pay more than their way relative to the possible harm to the economy, and they are put out of the realm of viability.

    The problem is the size of the economy based on non-productive debt and finanicial insurance mechanisms that endanger the well-being of those who have a real stake in the economy. Borrowing money, and issuing derivatives based insurance, carries no real stake in the economy. Both are but a roll of the dice made in the hope of an profit artifice without an ounce of economic benefit to the economy.

    • Don Robertson

      I am sick of hearing about the poor debtor. Debtors are people who are not deserving of anyone’s sympathy.

      It is the debtor who comes into the marketplace with borrowed money and drives the price of everything up. Whether you are a student with student loan debt, an automobile driver with an auto loan, or a home owner with a mortgage, you are in the predicament you are in because you borrrowed money to compete in the marketplace AGAINST ALL OTHERS. Debtors take advantage of credit services to buy something they otherwise could not afford.

      The very same debter drove up the price for everyone by spending borrrowed money in the marketplace.

      Why should the cash money of those who earned their money have to compete with borrowed money of borrowers? And now these deadbeats want sympathy and loan forgiveness?

      Debtors come into the marketplace drive up prices by taking goods and services away from people who have worked hard and saved their money to purchase the very same goods and services.

      This conundrum represents a very significant moral hazard. Debtors are taking advantage of the system, for a very short-lived benefit, while affecting a long-lived inflation in the marketplace, by which they are destroying the value of both labor and savings.

      • diogenes

        I agree. The source of all the trouble is the 65% of Americans who have own 2% of the wealth and are driving up prices with huge loans from Wall Street. The solution is to TAX THE POOR, and if the poor don’t pay taxes, PUNISH THE POOR!!! Yessir. There’s the end of all our problems. Thank you so much, Don Robertson, for this enlightenment,. It’s great to see a true thinking, caring American mind in action.

        • Don Robertson

          It’s especially infuriating to have your face rubbed in the truth.

          I take it you’re voting for Bernie Santa Claus?

          You’d better watch out.
          You’d better not cry.
          Better not pout.
          I’m telling you why.
          Santa Claus is coming to town.

          It’s all you “caring” tools that are going to put the anti-Obama, Trump, in the White House. You just got too big for your britches when you started demanding dope be legal and free.

          When that college was taking all that student loan money from you, you should have been demanding a guarantee on the education you got, because you’ve clearly -come out- a simpleton on a par with the typical town idiot.

          The problem isn’t all the $500 tattoos. That’s just a symptom of the idiocy.

          Just roll another joint. You’ll get over it sooner or later.

          • diogenes

            Don, you’re off topic.

            Why, I wonder. Could it be to avoid discussing what you don’t want to discuss?

            I think so.

          • Don Robertson

            You dodge the assertions I have made about the limitations of your feeble arguments, far too obviously to fashion any credibility for yourself.

            I am sick of all the dopey potheads online. They’re all completely self-inflicted mentally ill, and hardly worth the effort.

            Your ignorant rebuttals are all far too obviously dope infused. Proclaiming your your wildly cuckoo dope-infused genius has its limitations on a public forum.

            I’m calling you what you are, and nothing less.

          • Carl_Herman

            Don, perhaps you should withhold judgement about the data regarding wealth distribution until you receive the arguments that follow in parts 2-4 that perhaps this system has lost the honesty you assume, and I agree has been promised us.

            Your colorful language and edgy attitude reminds me of locals I knew when we lived in Framingham, MA, about 13 miles west of Boston.

          • purrsun

            Carl –
            Your critically urgent info on economic realities is certainly substantiated by the copious “ardor” of certain commentors.

            Took early retirement from secondary ed due to plethora of de-humanizing policies. For example, some faculty members not arriving on time? Who/ When? Did it cause problematic situation?? All staff must now sign-in 15 minutes earlier. It is this policy of punishing Everyone because someone is, was . . . well, “might be” a laggard, tax cheat, complainer, violator of some obscure and useless mandate. Over-sized toothpaste tube in carry-on? In an effort to escape myriad personal penalties, this mindset has eaten away at our moral fiber and puked-up our reason. When we are mostly just trying to survive and would love to have more time to care for needs of neighbors, community and co-workers.

          • diogenes

            It’s reliably estimated that if we got the toll-takers of usury and Wall Street off our backs, a 20-hour work week would be MORE than sufficient to supply ALL of us with a “middle class” lifestyle. This is obvious when you consider that 1% of us keep half of everything to themselves. If we stop supporting these free-loaders, we only need to work half as much.

            It’s amazing to listen to people rant about the free-loading poor and their “gimme gimme” attitude. Who is free-loading? And whose attitude — and very successful too — is really about gimme? The numbers tell it all.

          • tom

            Don, your stumbling attempts to poison the well are futile and reveal your inability to find facts or logical arguments. Diogenes and Carl are not very good targets for well-poisoning, because they are obviously intelligent, benevolent, and well informed.

          • diogenes

            My essay doesn’t make any “arguments”. It states facts and documents them. Your “arguments” (such as they are) are entirely with your own vituperative hallucinations. And ad hominem (“dopey potheads,” “mentally ill,” “cuckoo”) is not argument, it’s attempted slander, and it disgraces the user — you.

      • cstahnke

        I suggest in your system there is no one deserving of sympathy other than the high moral elect which in your philosophical system that makes all value cash value. Also, you appear to have no understanding of system analysis and the idea that economies are not about a bunch of isolated actors and that, for example an unequal system tends to creat social, health and cultural problems that will weaken the system itself and you neglect to see that poverty itsel is expensive to society in obvious ways unless you put poor people gas chambers or let them starve in the street, where with nothing left to lose will cause all kinds of attacks on property. Sir, if you really mean what you say you are no different than the fascist of a former time that equated strength and the ability to dominate as the highest morality.

    • Carl_Herman

      Hi Don,
      From your comments going back to perhaps 2009, I’ve always appreciated your work ethic. I’m sure you’ve dedicated a lifetime to hard, honest work that produces economic value for all who interact with you. I share your value of a “cooperative competition” for economic value on a “fair playing field” whereby our best ideas and products are rewarded through fair markets allowing consumers transparent data for good-faith discovery of superior work.

      This said, and with respect that diogenes’ article in this first part begins with presenting data on wealth distribution without the analysis of how we got here, and with all respect to your interest and passion to read and comment, Don: you seem to miss the point that the system you defend has been captured by financial parasites.

      Some quick estimation of my own family is that we’ve transferred ~$1,000,000 of our earnings to these .01% banksters through interest, CAFRs, and taxes above and beyond the system we’ve been promised. Conversely, it’s easy to prove all Americans would benefit ~$1,000,000 if we had the best ideas of monetary and banking reform able to compete for those markets. That those numbers are about the same is coincidental and based on different sets of calculations, btw.

      So, Don, my valued sparring partner, we in alternative media are making the point that the capitalist system you defend and are promised has been stolen from us.

      We can’t make you see this, and have no interest to do so. I’m very interested in the power of your partnership when you confirm the enormity of the parasite we’ve all been feeding. To confirm the $1,000,000 in benefits that Americans would overwhelmingly accept given a fair and informed choice, and would demand arrests of current “leaders” for the fraud they’ve foisted upon honest and hard-working Americans such as yourself, try here:

      • You know who


        I’m all for arresting and trying those who have perpetrated the fraud over these past years, fraud that has stolen interest from savers, while greatly expanding the money supply, and the fraud that requires Americans to buy -anything- from private enterprise, from health insurance to automobile insurance, neither of which I believe are constitutional edicts. This is crony capitalism at its worst.

        In fact, I’m all for supporting anyone who wants to start shooting them to save society the bother of rounding them up. That’s freedom and a right I am wholly guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

        For those who have lost their ass in the stock markets, or due to poor real estate investments, I say, they threw their hat in the ring. Let them share their just rewards.

        But these turds who espouse wealth redistribution because they’re burdened with student loan debt, and cannot get their ass out of bed early enough in the morning to get and hold a job because they’re too busy exercising what they see as their right to stay stoned on dope all the time, I say, Whoa, Carl.

        And that’s what you’re dealing with here. This Diogenis character wouldn’t know Marbury from Madison or the phoniness of the idea that federal law somehow excludes more restrictive state laws, because it’s supposedly obvious that the federal authorities intended to exercise exclusive control, without passage of a Constitutional amendment to support the premise.

        The blog attracts some of the worst kind of socialists.

        The capitalist system has to be enforced, not subverted. If you want subverted capitalism, move to Canada. If that’s not ripe enough for you, move to Cuba.

        FYI, I am a capitalist. I have never had a loan or a credit card in my entire life. I have a modest six-figures -in two separate banks-, one a credit union. I live in a one-bedroom apartment two doors from the library and within very easy walking distance of the high school swimming pool where I swim for my health five days a week. For a song sung into my hat, I live what amounts to a country club life. I am living the American dream.

        I earn nothing like the market rate for deposit interest. I strongly disagree with the FED on this theft.

        But I also realize, this is a four dimensional universe. And I realize that reality is infinitely complex. If the world-stage players honestly believe that this sort of deviation from capitalism is necessary to maintain some equalibrium in worldly affairs, then I apologize for even complaining about a decision much wiser than I can fathom.

        This is the problem here. You are too sure of yourself. And you are in fact wholly wrong about screwing the pooch of capitalism.

        No one is starving. Illegal immigrants are flooding across our borders. What the fuck are you complaining about?

        • Carl_Herman

          Thank you for your comment, Don. The straw-man argument you present, with all respect, isn’t what I make. Diogenes’ argument will come in parts 2-4.

          I’ll let my work speak for itself, and you are, of course, welcome to interpret it as you will.

          And reality is being revealed so quickly that none of us are too sure of ourselves.

          • Don Robertson

            “And reality is being revealed so quickly that none of us are too sure of ourselves.”

            Yeah, well thanks for your contrition. LoL Even a blind socialist rat finds something to eat in a dirty kitchen.

            Hold on to your hat, because you ain’t seen nothing yet. Donald Trump is the guy they want in there after Obama. After all, he did get the negative endorsement of two of the most hated and least respected men in American politics, Larry Summers and Mitt Romney, Romney AFTER the Massachusetts primary had already fallen to the ongoing Trump blitzkrieg. Go figure! It’s impossible to make this stuff up. The Trump parade is a wholly planned and contrived populism.

            And I’m not so sure that they haven’t got a decent plan, despite all the headfakes and veiled, underhanded positioning of this laughable populist hero. I think this is 90% about China, and putting China back into its rightful place.

            Like my original comment said, I remain wholly unconvinced by the wealth redistribution argument. Why? Because the “poor” in this country are nothing of the sort. The poor drive newer cars and live much more extravagantly than I do. Go to a Walmart and watch the food being paid for with EBT cards, and the cars these scumbags drive away in.

            AND these fat-assed, lazy, PC, blathering, tattooed, bleary-eyed, dope-infested millennials haven’t shown an ounce of value-added talent or get-out-of-the-way common sense. They want wealth redistribution to make them millionaires so they never run out of dope or minutes on their iPhone.

            Fuck that. I want the death penalty for dope dealers. I want duels to be made legal again. I want people to have to think or pay the consequences before they take a selfie of their many disgusting asshole-selfs and post them online.

            Kaitlyn Jenner and the ubiquitous gay pride parades may make you proud to be an American, but I personally wouldn’t count on that sentiment lasting very long once things start to swing viciously in the other tolerance direction. The wind of change is blowing hard. Soon it will be a gale. And then it will become a hurricane.

            And food stamps are already being cut back with work requirements and drug testing. The eighteen-wheeler-semi of rabid intolerance is coming down the pike at 100 miles an hour. Let’s just hope when it gets through reshaping America, it’s still a nice place to live, even if it’s a much more introspective and contrite life we all live.

            I remember the queers bothering me when I was a kid. They belong in jail. I remember the communists in college teaching political science classes too. They belong hung by their thumbs. I also remember G.E. telling everyone about safe, clean nuclear power… And I am wholly for flailing those asshats before throwing their still live bodies on the burning faggots of a new scientific inquisition.

            I am also for prosecuting not only Hillary Clinton. I want Barack Obama prosecuted too. All the fake mass shootings are treasonous. The lies told by Obama, from gloabal warming to the phony assassination of Osama bin Laden need to come out. And 9-11 needs to be exposed.

            Yes, we are talking about a new world order. But be careful what you wish for. Wealth redistribution, like all tax reform initiatives, will transform itself into an excuse to tax everyone more, with absoltuely zero benefit except to those who are least deserving of it.

            Obamacare has benefited insurance companies, not the working poor. See?

            One has to look for the likely results before demanding change because change always takes on a life of its own. Of course, that’s something one can only realize by reading something other than the blogs. And that’s far too difficult for the asshats who are demanding wealth redistribution.

          • Carl_Herman

            You certainly are looking at many of the essential issues, Don, with criminal gaps between “official” policies and rhetoric versus objective facts and law.

            Regarding “wealth distribution”: this article starts with the data only, and without any policy proposal of “redistribution,” so I think you’re reacting against previous other “official” proposals of overt theft that were designed to trick people into accepting the covert theft of the .01%’s existing system.

            I encourage you to wait for policy proposal before attacking. Some socialism is constructive for almost all of us: sidewalks, storm drains, fire departments; so I respectfully suggest that each area of policy should be considered on its merits for being in the public or private domains.

            I deeply appreciate your awakening, Don and all Americans doing likewise, that our “leaders” are criminal liars in the most extreme sense. Your response seems consistent with this 12-minute video of “stages of awakening”:

            If you haven’t seen it, I recommend it.

            Enjoy another pre-Spring bracing New England day.

          • Don Robertson

            Are you professing some sort of mumbler’s numerology now with the five stages? The Fourth Turning? Even the ying and the yang are to simplistic to approach reality.

            What intellectual crap you topss at the wall. Not even the four seasons describe reality, Carl. Go back and read my previous post. There’s something truly remarkable for you there about who and what Donald Trump really is.

          • Carl_Herman

            I’ll allow readers to draw their own conclusions at this point, thank you.

          • civisisus

            Wow, Don. You’re making it quite plain now.

            You need professional psychiatric attention.

        • civisisus

          “FYI, I am a capitalist. I have never had a loan or a credit card in my entire life. ”

          Pro tip, dimwit: you are not “a capitalist”. You are a sucker. You’ve been suckered. But you get to swim for your health!


  • JAN 17, 2014 You Think The Deficit Is Bad? Federal Unfunded Liabilities Exceed $127 Trillion

    Although the battle over a two-year budget deal and the national debt limit in Washington, D.C. has received the lion’s share of media attention recently , the bigger, more ominous threat facing taxpayers are unfunded liabilities—the difference between the net present value of expected future government spending and the net present value of projected future tax revenue, particularly those associated with Social Security and Medicare.

  • March 4, 2016 New Hampshire Committee Approves Jury Nullification Bill

    PROVIDENCE, N.H. A New Hampshire House committee has approved a bill that would make jury nullification an official aspect of the state legal system. A coalition of nine representatives introduced House Bill 1270 (HB1270) in January. The legislation would allow a defendant or defense attorney to request that the court instruct the jury that it has a right to utilize jury nullification. The bill includes language the court must use in instructing the jury.

  • diogenes

    I have a question — simple and straightforward — for “Lincoln” and for Don Robertson and for other readers, which I wonder if they dare answer:

    Are you OK with it that our country is a nation where 60% of the people own less than 2% and are consigned to poverty for life, while 1% of us own over 50% and 0.1% of us (one in ten thousand) inherit a controlling share of all central economic institutions? Is this suitable and proper and just as far as you’re concerned? Do you really accept this and endorse it as what’s right for America?

    • Don Robertson

      To answer your question directly, I want you to fathom the notion that immigrants destined for this country have in their criminal minds when they march across the desert to get into this country illegally.

      It is the great wealth in this country they are coming for. The reason this country is so wealthy is because one can amass as large a fortune as they have apetite for, and the ability to achieve.

      So, yes, I have no problem at all with the converse idea that 40% of the people in this country own 98% of the wealth in this country. It is that 40% that make this country as rich and as powerful as it is, and as rich and as powerful as it will remain. It is that 40% that make the U.S. the envy of the world.

      And incidentally, I am 100% for protecting your birthright to achieve what you can too. I think illegal immigration should be a capital crime right along with dealing drugs, corruption in government and environmental fraud like nuclear energy and all the climate change liars.

      If you read a bit more than the typical tripe online, you might someday have enough education to understand what it is you are advocating, and how un-American that gimmie-gimmie-gimmie sentiment is. You want to destroy the country and incentivize scum sucking socialism.

      Get a life, loser. Step out of the socialist shadows and into the sunlight for once to see how it warms your body.

      • diogenes

        So, essentially, your advocacy of predators is to attack their prey as “losers” etc.

        And your defense of a hereditary plutocracy is to praise a country that allows them to predate as much as they please.

        And this is your idea of a praiseworthy America that is living up to its ideals? Or are these ideals yours? The latter, I think — and shameless, too.

        • Don Robertson

          You are turning green with envy. Try living to your potential instead. Do the world a favor and provide something value-added.

          Even the poorest Americans have a higher standard of living than 90% of the world population. What you fail to understand is that the diversity of wealth, that which equates to the great divide in wealth disparity, is what makes the American economy such a large, bountiful and resilient vessel, the largest, most bountiful, and most resilient national economic vessel, -by far-.

          The U.S. dollar is the world reserve currency for a reason!

          You fail to understand, as an immigrant, illegal or otherwise, the standard of living offered by the U.S. is greater than in any other country, in part because we already have a reasonably tolerant and stable multiculturalism. I defend all creeds! But I will not be overrun and forced to support illegal immigration. It would destroy our country.

          You also fail to understand, as much as I dislike the man’s propensity to think he can fool and thus better our infinitely complex reality with some sort of vile and dangerous scientific pragmatism, the life of Bill Gates is a huge burden that never ceases to end or provide a moment’s respite. You couldn’t keep up with him for a single day. Do you think he sits in his mansion all day long with his feet up on a pillow?

          If you do not call wealth redistribution by government, socialism, then what would you call it? I support the FED, even if I do not support some of the FED’s policies. The FED is the monetary system of the greatest economy on the planet.

          Get over the humanitarian ethic. Its welcome end has come. The world is soiled with cancerous ideas, not the least of which is humanitarianism. Take care of yourself first, before you start in with proclaiming universal humanitarian ideals as human rights. Given a chance the lazy scum of the world will lie down and put their feet up on a pillow and do drugs all day long.

          Canada right now under Justin Trudeau has just proclaimed it will provide a minimum income to everyone. Holy fuck! People will stop working. And the laziest illegal immigrants in the world will attack their borders thinking they can move to Canada and never have to work again.

          I live a mile from the Canadian border. The Canadians come here to shop already because they are taxed to death. Their economy is in trouble because all that is economically viable in Canada now is natural resource exploitation, and that less so every day. Canadians will be moving here in droves once the Justin Trudeau’s policies are put into place, fleeing the socialist idiocy that will bring their country to its knees.

          The dope problem in Canada is horrific. The public schools are decrepit. The family unit is coming apart at the seams. Gangs and organized crime proliferate. Drug addiction, crime and prostitution are common.

          Justn Trudeau is a flighty socialist nitwit who will drag Canada further down into these socialist crags.

          As far as my ideals go, ideals are always in transition. The current crop of conservative leaders are no where near conservative enough for the growing apetite of the nation. And thanks to Barack Obama and his similars, the country is headed in a direction that will bring into power and to the fore leaders even more conservative than exist today. PC is dead, and the illegal immigrant is endangered. Corruption in politics hidden by humanitarian appeal is going to end abruptly. The food stamp crowd is in for a shock.

          If you and your family want to thrive and prosper, (survival is a collective effort now) then get a fucking job and put your money in the bank. Make something of yourself more than the typical asshat American debtor with a degree in pot smoking from some public university manned by certified misfits.

          • diogenes

            Don, my essay is 100% about facts and the facts that it presents are 100% referenced and reliable. You don’t have a word to say about those facts. Apparently you are quite comfortable with America being the country described by them. Instead, you have posted hundreds of words attacking me personally (although you have no idea who I am personally) and attacking what you hallucinate to be my position and attitudes (“socialist” etc.) in the absence of one single word to that effect.

            And you expect anyone to respect you, or what you say, or even waste time reading it?

          • cstahnke

            If value is ONLY measured as cash value then having the most money is, in itself, virtuous. If I can add valu to a billionaires life by offering some kinky kind of sex they want at a few thousand a crack then I am, logically more valuable than a teacher or social worker. To put it another way, without morality we cannot have these discussions. And, in my view, without spirituality we cannot have morality, i.e., without the idea that we are all connected. So any discussion of this sort needs to start with spirituality and philosophy because at the heart of people like Robertson there is no real belief in any kind of spirituality–in fact, even if he is a Christian, he probably believes that religion only exists to “save” sinners from Hell and there is only justification by Faith which means asserting a bunch of dogmas are true and the you can rob, rape, and steal to you heart’s content–individual salvation is all that counts.

          • civisisus

            Don, you’re writing on, and on, and ON, at enervating length, and you finally- finally – wind down, and you’re still, at the end, a pathetic wretch. A sucker. A bootlicking apologist. You are pitiful. I pity you.

  • Carl_Herman

    This is an excellent article, diogenes; thank you for your research, reflection, and writing to contribute these essential data points to understand the extent financial parasites have captured our long-gone “fair playing field” cooperative capitalism.

  • Eric Pierce

    “Socialism for the rich, capitalism for the poor”

  • Eric Zuesse

    Diogenes, I am making reference to this article in a book I’m writing about microeconomic theory. I specifically mention the debate between you and Don Robertson in the reader-comments here. Thanks for your terrific articles, and your terrific responses in the reader-comments. The confrontation between you and the libertarian (or “neo-classical” or “neo-liberal”) Robertson was, I think, archetypal.