U.S. -Forget Border Wall – Knock down the wealth inequality wall instead – By Mohamed Hamaludin

— By  MOHAMED HAMALUDIN

President Donald Trump talks about building a wall but one already exists: the wall between the rich and the poor.

Fourteen Americans own nearly $1 trillion. Jeff Bezos of Amazon, $160 billion; Bill Gates, Microsoft, $97 billion; and Warren Buffet, Berkshire Hathaway, $88.3 billion, head the list. Others include Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook, $61 billion; Larry Ellison, Oracle, $58.4 billion; Larry Page, Alphabet, $53.8 billion.

Charles and David Koch of Koch Industries are worth $53.5 billion each; Sergey Brin, Google, $52.4 billion; three Walton family members of Walmart, $135 billion: Jim Walton, $45.2 billion, Rob Walton and Alice Walton, $44.9 billion each; and Steve Balmer, Microsoft, $42.3 billion.    

According to a Wikipedia post, the top 10 percent of American families held 76 percent of the nation’s wealth in 2013; the bottom half, one percent. The net worth of households – based on factors such as homes, cars, valuables, businesses, savings and investments — totaled $94.7 trillion in the first quarter of 2017, including assets of non-profits. That averages $760,000 per family but the bottom half of families or 62 million households has a net worth of $11,000. Huffington Post’s Laura Paddison reported that the 400 richest Americans own more wealth than all African American households combined.

This is what the nation should be focusing on – and it is happening.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, a “democratic socialist,” calls for a 70 percent tax on incomes of more than $10 million, affecting only about 16,000 taxpayers.

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., a 2020 presidential candidate, proposes a two percent fee on households worth more than $50 million and three percent above $1 billion. Her plan would raise nearly $3 trillion from just 75,000 families over 10 years, Daniel Marans of Huffington Post reported.

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, D-Vermont, during a 2016 presidential bid, urged a one percent tax on households with wealth above $21 million.

Such proposals may appear startling but, Emily Peck reported in Huffington Post, the top tax rate was at least 70 percent between 1936 and 1980, when President Ronald Reagan lowered it, followed, most recently, by Trump.

The inequality exists among states. Florida ranks 39th with a median income of $52,594, compared with the average national median of $60,336, despite having 21 million people, the third highest population, USA Today reported. The poverty rate at 14 percent is the 17th highest,13.6 percent of households rely on food stamps, 14 percent live in poverty and 6.9 percent earn less than $10,000, “both among the highest rates of all states.”

In wages, CEOs are paid more than 300 times the average worker. Steve Easterbrook, CEO of McDonald’s, was paid $21.7 million in 2017; his average worker, $7,017, or 3,101-to-one, the Guardian’s Dominic Rushe reported. Doug McMillon, CEO of Walmart, was paid $22.8 million; his average worker, $19,177, or 1,188-to-one.

The concentration of enormous wealth in the hands of a few impacts social services, including housing.  San Francisco has 7,500 homeless people; for the whole nation, 553,000 people are homeless, according to the Huffington Post. But Hedge fund billionaire Ken Griffin recently bought a New York apartment for $238 million, the highest price paid for a home.

The wealth inequality wall stretches across the globe.  In time for last week’s meeting in Davos, Switzerland, of the so-called World Economic Forum, Oxfam, the British-based global anti-poverty organization, reported that, globally, 26 billionaires are worth as much as the poorest 3.8 billion of the 7.33 billion people in the world. Bezos, Gates and Buffet head that list also.

Billionaires worldwide increased their wealth in 2018 by $900 billion, equal to $2.5 billion every day; for the poorest half, it dropped by 11 percent. Following the 2008 worldwide financial crisis, the number of billionaires doubled and wealthy individuals and corporations paid less taxes. For half of the world, income was less than $5.50 a day, with women hit hardest.

One aspect of the U.S. wealth inequality debate is whether the super-rich should be taxed more or the tax system overhauled. Both can happen but the hurdles are formidable, Kevin Baker, a Harper magazine contributing editor, has noted, especially how the Constitution structures government, including the Electoral College and choosing members of the Senate, the House and the Supreme Court.

Obviously referring to Republicans, Baker said “the operatives of one party have, in the past couple of decades, systematically overcome every single barrier erected by the Constitution against the tyranny of mob or tyrant or foreign potentate.” He suggests abolishing the Electoral College and electing the president directly, replacing lifetime tenure for Supreme Court justices with 18-year terms, and using a computerized system to draw voting boundaries.

It bears repeating that the resources of the Earth are finite and they belong to every single man, woman and child human being, as Alaska recognizes with its annual payout from oil revenues, and not those who manipulate the levers of power to dominate the economy.

As Ocasio-Cortez declared during a Martin Luther King Jr. gathering, “A system that allows billionaires to exist when there are parts of Alabama where people are getting ringworm because they don’t have access to public health is wrong,”

Wealth inequity – that’s a wall worth shutting down the government for.

—-

Mohamed Hamaludin is a Guyana-born journalist who  worked for several years at The Chronicle in the 1970s and on publications in the Cayman Islands and Turks and Caicos Islands before emigrating to the United States in 1984 where he worked at The Miami Times, the Miami Herald and the South Florida Times.  Though now retired, he writes a commentary every week or two for The South Florida Times (sfltimes.com) in which the above column first appeared. He may be reached at hamal1942@gmail.com.

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Comments

  • Rosaliene Bacchus  On January 31, 2019 at 1:28 pm

    Well said, Mr. Hamaludin.

  • walter  On January 31, 2019 at 7:08 pm

    if you think building the wall is a big deal, the chances of the 70% tax would be near to impossible, for may reasons, the main one being most of the politicians, both sides collected from the super rich, and they would like the flow to continue. Since Liberals/Democrats found out their supporters are willing to accept any empty platitude [70% tax on billionaires] they started keeping the money for them selves, thus all living in multi million dollar mansions. America was being raped, illegal immigrants pouring over the borders, and voting for the people allowing this situation to continue. Open borders today is the worst thing any country can do to it’s self, Trafficking is now a very large well organised operation, assisted by greedy, and dishonest politicians. We all saw and heard this “everything should be FREE”, reason that so many of us ended up out of our country. Everyone agrees that the rich should pay more tax, stop getting carried away with that socialism crap, it never ends well.

  • Trevor  On January 31, 2019 at 10:40 pm

    American companies are exacerbating wealth inequality here in Guyana. The average salary is GY$80,000 or US$400/month, but Exxon and other oil companies were reported to have paid US$4,000,000+ for a piece of land at East Bank or East Coast, dunno because the deal is secret.

    Will future generations have to pay US$4,000,000 for a house in Guyana while working for pennies?

    The PPP-rejects working for the AFC promised us that “we” will become Dubai billionaires next year, but teachers haven’t received their demands for pay raises as yet. They are working for GY$60,000 or US$300/month for entry level teacher, and US$500 equivalent for senior teachers.

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