NY Mag: The one percent have gotten $21 trillion richer since 1989. The bottom 50% have gotten poorer.

NY Mag, June 16, 2019: The one percent have gotten $21 trillion richer since 1989. The bottom 50% have gotten poorer.

Whether it is truly extreme or moderate to demand sweeping changes to American capitalism depends on the degree to which the existing system aligns with common-sense views of what a just or rational economic system should look like.

Happily, the Federal Reserve just released some data that makes the state of this alignment easier to gauge. In its new Distributive Financial Accounts data series, the central bank offers a granular picture of how American capitalism has been distributing the gains of economic growth over the past three decades. Matt Bruenig of the People’s Policy Project took the Fed’s data and calculated how much the respective net worth of America’s top one percent and its bottom 50 percent has changed since 1989. He found that America’s super rich have grown about $21 trillion richer since Taylor Swift was born, while those in the bottom half of the wealth distribution have grown $900 billion poorer.

So, is an economic system that distributes its benefits in this manner consistent with Americans’ common-sense views of economic justice? If not, would incremental changes be sufficient to bring it into alignment with the median American’s values? Or would more sweeping measures be required?

 

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