We hear so much about wealth inequality in our social and political dialogue today. In fact, it’s reached the point where we either don’t pay attention anymore, or we are simply numb to what it means. However, the recent annual Forbes list of the 400 wealthiest Americans provides some context to that inequality.

For starters, the 20 richest individuals in the United States today hold more wealth than the entire bottom half of the U.S. population combined. But having said that, does it matter? How did we get here, and is there a way out, short of revolution?

Chuck Collins, a senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies, who directs the Institute’s Program on Inequality and the Common Good, speaks with WhoWhatWhy’s Jeff Schechtman.


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Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from Bosses of the Senate (Puck / Library of Congress / Wikimedia) and income distribution chart (Alan De Smet / Wikimedia)

9 responses to “If You Are Not in the Forbes 400, Listen to This.”

  1. Lance Hawthorne says:

    The complaint from Socialists and Statists is always the same: “Isn’t inequality horrible?” As long as someone gets rich from producing a great product or service without getting funded by tax dollars, so what? Nobody is forcing you to buy the product or service. If it’s wrong for me to force my neighbor to donate to my favorite charity, it’s wrong for the Government. We can’t morally delegate it to the State. Just because it’s call taxation, doesn’t mean it’s not theft. If I use force to take a percentage of my neighbor’s income, it’s theft. It’s still theft even if the Government does it. If it’s wrong for a private individual to do it, it’s wrong for the Government.

  2. Westcoastdeplorable says:

    You need to fix the sub-hed, it’s “population” not “publication”.

  3. Lydia4154 says:

    LOL The great-grandson of Oscar Mayer is telling us government can fix it. Same old story with a slightly different plot continues on. “Hi, I’m the government and am here to help” is the biggest lie ever told to kill with kindness. Individuals make their lives however they want them if free and unfettered from government intrusion. If you aren’t happy with the status quo, be the change you wish to see, and have the fortitude to carry on because the only way to change things at the top is to change things with the individual. That includes how and where they choose to spend their money, which schools of higher education offer an education worth their tuition fees, and deciding that they are will to give up their pensions by withdrawing from a stock market is artificially controlled for the time being.
    By the way, there is no truth in this report except the biased opinions of the person interviewed, and the interviewer. The only way to the truth is to expose many different opinions on a topic such as this and this was not done.
    Blame or jealousy is not going to fix anything. What’s done is done. Now, let’s explores ways to change things, not through big government, but by self-regulation and responsibility.

    • missbike says:

      Self regulation doesn’t do squat. You really think these men care about the rest of us? Then you’re a fool! It’s governments job to regulate markets and collect taxes and a bunch of other things that act as brakes on this kind of unfettered greed. When a few people have vacuumed up a huge proportion of the economy, destroying the middle class along with that, then government isn’t working. This situation happened with the deregulation craze, the striking of Glass Steagall, the disappearance of anti- trust laws. These men could never do this when we had a properly run government. Each one piled up their lucre by way of Big Corporate – and corporations now own our government. So get a grip on reality.

    • Kevin says:

      MissBike – There’s so much to say regarding your comment but I have to keep my response short.

      While I completely understand the instinct to say “we need government as a referee”, there is a real case to be made that government interference is the reason we have so much trouble in this country. First off, remember that the US constitution was created to restrain the powers of the Federal Government. Over time, however, we’ve unfortunately grown the largest and most out-of-control government in world history.

      In the 1800’s, when we had a much smaller government, the US grew to be the richest country in the history of the world. Since the 1900s with the advent of the Federal Reserve, income tax and liberal policies (e.g. “the great society”, the “war on poverty”, the “war on drugs”, “war on terror”, government getting involved in healthcare, etc), things have completely gone down the tubes. Everything the government fights a war against, it loses. One example is healthcare. The US had the best and cheapest healthcare in the world until the government got involved. Now it’s extremely expensive. Contrast this to free-market healthcare, which we see in things like laser-eye surgery. The price of laser eye surgery goes down while the quality goes up. THAT Is what the free market does.

      I highly recommend you check out “The Peter Schiff Show” (which ended about a year or so ago but the archives are still online). It’s very educational. Peter still has a podcast but it’s more about the current state of the economy as opposed to an economics education. You should also check out Tom Woods’ podcast (which is current) to learn about the same sort of stuff.

    • News Nag says:

      All you have in your argument is character assassination and a feudal system mentality. Nothing you mention has the least bit of credibility in the real world. You’re all about a dog-eat-dog world and platitudes not only empty but stupidly so.

    • Random Coolzip says:

      Removing power from the govt only strengthens the remaining power centers which would be the sociopathic corporations. The only solution is a third way which is the cooperative movement where corporate power is democratically controlled. See Mondragon which is a quietly successful coop organization in Spain, now a multi-billion Euro organization.

  4. colleen says:

    Really, no Rockefellers? No DuPonts? Looks like robber baron era wealth is keeping a low profile.

  5. Kevin says:

    No mention of the fiat monetary system? The Fed has quadrupled the money supply since the financial crisis. An increase in the supply of money ultimately leads to an increase in prices. Those who get the newly-printed money first (e.g. big banks) can buy goods/services at the pre-money printing price, but If you’re the last one to spend that money, you’ll be buying goods/services after they’ve already been bid up, so there will be no benefit to you. Note that in QE (Quantitative Easing) the newly-printed money is not dispersed equally: primary dealer banks get the newly-printed money, with the average citizen left to deal with the resulting higher prices.

    No mention of the bailouts helping to cause the inequality? No mention of the “moral hazard” that this causes? If big banks know they’ll be bailed out, they know they’ll be rewarded for risk-taking behavior.

    No mention of monetary policy? Very low interest rates destroy savers. If you want interest on your money, you can’t get it in treasuries as interest rates are at all time lows. People are instead “herded” into the higher-yielding (though far less safe) options such as the stock market or “junk bonds”. Obviously this is a disaster for people on fixed incomes, who shouldn’t be taking such risks as they can’t afford the downside. Note that Quantitative Easing also is significant for retirees, as the US Dollar isn’t buying nearly as much as it used to.

    No mention of Government-guaranteed student loans?! Government guarantees allow schools to raise tuition fees to extreme levels with no drop-off in students. Also, there’s no concern about the “worthiness of the borrower”. In short, the “check” against runaway college prices has been removed. Keep in mind that before Government got involved in student loans, the price of college was much more affordable. Of course a lot fewer people went to college, but the majority of people with college degrees don’t really need them. Next time you go to a restaurant ask your server where he/she graduated from.

    Minimum wage mentioned in a positive light? If minimum wage is so good, why not raise it to $100 per hour? Most businesses couldn’t afford to employ every employee at $100 per hour because it couldn’t possibly stay profitable with such expenses. Some will say “well fine but $15 per hour isn’t asking too much”. To that I ask – when you go shopping , do you look to pay the lowest price or do you choose to pay higher prices because you want to make sure the workers are getting paid enough? Think of how many businesses will close because they can’t stay profitable with a higher minimum wage – look at the fast food industry already switching to robots instead of people – research the “tuna canning industry in American Samoa”. If fast food starts paying $15/hr, don’t you think it’s going to attract more job applicants? And don’t you think some of the people that are currently employed (I think current min wage is $8.75/hr) are going to lose their jobs? Are we really helping people on these low wages?

    Chuck Collins said something along the lines that people need to believe that Government can do great things. So the solution is to point to the same Government that we all know is (from, amongst other things, reading WhoWhatWhy) either corrupt and/or blackmailed?

    Collins is “a senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies”. According to Wiki, the funding for this institute “was secured from the Sears heir, Philip Stern, and banker, James Warburg. Most of the money came from a foundation of Samuel Rubin.” Plus the guest said he was a wealthy heir from Oscar Meyer. Let’s keep that in perspective when listening to what he has to say.

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