The Atlantic: Cancel Billionaires

The Atlantic, Oct 8, 2019: Cancel Billionaires

Even with today’s promising wage trends, the gap between the rich and the poor is now the biggest it has been in half a century, and the 400 richest Americans have tripled their share of overall wealth in the past 40 years.

But there are far more urgent reasons than poverty to get rid of billionaires and reverse the trend of economic polarization. A growing body of economic and political-science research demonstrates that Gilded Age–type inequality does not just mean having too many with too little. It is warping the very social fabric of the country, stifling mobility, innovation, investment and growth, and putting the country at political risk.

Dramatic inequality in wealth means dramatic inequality in terms of political power means a political system unresponsive to what most people want. Wealth inequality, in other words, is an anti-democratic force. A remarkable study by Lee Drutman found that just 31,385 people—one ten-thousandth of the population—accounted for more than a quarter of all political donations in the 2012 campaign cycle, with politicians getting more money from fewer people than in any other year analyzed. No wonder low-income households’ policy preferences have little effect on political outcomes in the United States, whereas high-income households’ policy preferences do, as research by Martin Gilens of Princeton University and Benjamin Page of Northwestern forcefully shows. One of those political outcomes? Inequality itself: Unequal societies tend not to correct their own inequality, because of the political influence of the rich.

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