There’s Plenty Of Wealth To Go Around — It Just Doesn’t

| Educate!

Above Photo: Shutterstock

We’ve “grown the pie” massively since the 1980s, but it hasn’t resulted in ordinary Americans getting a bigger slice.

Get ready to hear a lot about baking this campaign season.

When it comes to how wealth is distributed in this country, “pie” is a favorite pundit metaphor. Some politicians want to “re-divide the pie,” so everyone’s slice is more equal in size.

But that’s “socialism,” some pundits scold. Better to trust our billionaires and millionaires to “grow the pie” so big that every American has a generous slice.

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman indulged a bit of this recently. Michael Bloomberg, Friedman explained, is a grow-the-pie guy. Bernie Sanders, he warned, is a re-divide-the-pie guy.

Bloomberg has a net worth of about $50 billion. How big would he have to grow the pie so that every American household gets a slice as big as his? By my calculations, that would require about a 500,000 percent increase in the size of America’s total wealth — to over $600 quadrillion.

Let’s suspend reality for a minute and pretend it’s possible to grow the pie just 1 percent that large, to a mere $6 quadrillion — 60 times the pie’s current size. Would Bloomberg and his fellow billionaires seek to share the pie’s growth equally with the rest of us, or would they try to grow their own slices even larger?

Color me cynical, but I’ve no doubt that if America managed to grow its pie 60-fold, those billionaires would be turning themselves into trillionaires — we may even see our first quadrillionaire.

You see, we’ve lived through this experiment already.

In 1982, when Ronald Reagan’s massive tax cuts for the wealthy were taking effect, America’s aggregate wealth was around $10 trillion. Since then, it’s increased ten-fold — and we’ve experienced a concentration of wealth surpassing even the Gilded Age of the early 1900s.

America’s richest families — the Kochs, Mars, and Waltons — inflated their wealth by 6,000 percent, while the median American family treaded water. African-American households got clobbered, experiencing a 50 percent decrease in median household wealth.

And after all that growth, 40 percent of American adults don’t have the cash to handle a $400 emergency expense.

Funny thing, nobody from the grow-the-pie crowd ever explains why growing the pie in the future would help average Americans — not after enormous growth over the past several decades did bubkus for them.

The bottom line: Growing the pie, by itself, won’t cut it.

Does re-dividing the pie hold potential, or is Bernie Sanders just talking pie in the sky (pun intended)?

Actually, it does. Quite a bit. Dividing today’s $100 trillion American pie evenly among its 125 million households would give each household an $800,000 slice. Grow that pie by a realistically achievable 25 percent over the next decade, and we have a nation of millionaires.

Many would contend that giving each household an equal slice would be unfair or counterproductive. And that’s a fine debate to have. But to suggest the pie isn’t already big enough to provide for all Americans is a lie.

There’s plenty to go around. The problem is that a relative handful of families have slices so gigantic that they could never ever finish eating them, while millions of Americans are living on crumbs.

  • chetdude

    “Dividing today’s $100 trillion American pie evenly among its 125 million households would give each household an $800,000 slice” is a very important point to remember when the nay-sayers (like Obama recently) say “How are you going to pay for it?” to block any Progressive policies like Medicare for All, “free” college, living wage or Green New Deal!!!

    Another good number to remember is dividing the national annual ‘INCOME’ by the number of households would provide $256,000 income per year per household.

    There are plenty of resources available to support everyone at a decent standard of living while we power down and use global birth control to lower population to a sustainable level.

  • mwildfire

    But–not just population. We also need to reduce our consumption, our per capita impact. The one false note in this thing was the bit about it being “realistic” to grow US wealth by 25% after redistribution–despite everyone having $800,000! The planet cannot take this kind of relentless impact. It’s not just climate change–it’s the extermination of species. In a couple of generations we’ve gone to where of land vertebrates, a full third by weight is just one species–us. And nearly two thirds is our livestock, FOUR PERCENT is everything else. Insects, too, are disappearing. Ever increasing number of humans, all increasing the speed with which they requisition stuff to run the gamut from raw materials wrested from nature, through factories to stores and warehouses, briefly through their homes and on to landfills–this is a recipe for disaster, for collapse, for human extinction. There are people in this world who need to increase their consumption. Damn few of them live in the US.

  • rgaura

    Yes, years ago I read that one wealthy child in LA or NY uses 900 times the resources of a child in Indonesia. Pretty rude to tell others who are living sustainably to have small families!

  • mwildfire

    I disagree–I think we should tell everyone, regardless of how sustainably they live and regardless of how many kids they can afford, to have small families–and there should be free clinics in every village and urban neighborhood to dispense birth control information and equipment. We should also tell everyone, regardless of where they live, how much money they have, or how many kids, to live sustainably (not necessarily to reduce consumption–in many cases like your Indonesians their consumption is already below healthy levels).

  • chetdude

    “Discovering” and burning fossil-fuels may prove to have been a suicidal mistake.

  • rgaura

    We don’t need command and control on this issue. Studies show that if women are educated, families fall to 2 children. Just educate women!

  • mwildfire

    I’m certainly not against educating women. But even if your “families fall to two children” were reliable, I think we need to move to one-child families–our numbers are already too high. Within the past couple of generations, the numbers of nearly every species but humans and our livestock have plummeted. Another thirty years of this and so many species may be extinct that our own survival will be threatened, and certainly the beautiful diverse world we inherited will be gone. We might survive without reducing our numbers, even raising them as predicted, if we have draconian “command and control” with people mostly living in apartments in towns, everyone vegan, all consumption strictly regulated and rationed–I sure as hell don’t want to live that way. I can’t see that massive sacrifices are warranted in the interest of keeping human numbers as high as possible. But I acknowledge that virtually no one supports involuntary birth limits. The right to choose the number of children one births is sacred–the right to a world for those kids to grow up in is not.

  • rgaura

    Nature works that way. Some years we have huge blooms of butterflies, some years few. Unfortunately, you are operating out of a propaganda meme that we have been fed since the 70´s. It is not true that the earth cannot support billions of people. Recent studies have shown that India could feed and support twice her current population, if they used biodynamic systems. The problem really is the greedy and ignorant way of life the west displays. If other countries follow that development pattern, sure, they will outstrip the earth’s carrying capacity. So, I don’t accept your base assumption. Its part of a eugenics program that would devalue human lives in order to live in an ignorant way.

  • mwildfire

    Some years we have huge blooms of butterflies, other years the populations of every land vertebrate is in steep decline except humans, dogs, chickens, pigs, cattle, etc. Some years the insect populations are down to less than half normal numbers. Funny thing is, these things are EVERY year, an increasing trend. It is NOT “Nature.” It is humans eradicating everything else to grow crops, run livestock, clean all the fish out of the oceans, pollute one site after another, slash forests for lumber, paper and new crop areas, take over more land for housing and expanding cities, Sure some of this is unnecessary, people “living in an ignorant way.” But for us to have ten billion people even getting an adequate diet and housing requires regimented living to maximize yields to the ultimate–which will be less and less possible thanks to climate change. Or is that just a conspiracy and fear-mongering too?

  • rgaura

    Extinctions are also cyclic. Welcome to the world. One analogy I like to counter rabid fear mongering on the consumption/population issue is from evolutionary biology. The caterpillar eats 300 times its body weight, destroying its habitat. But it only does so for a time, in order to gather energy and enter the cocoon, in order to transform. So, from the point of view of the moment when caterpillars are eating everything in sight, creatures might freak out, say caterpillars are destroying the world! We must kill them all! Save the world. But, from a longer view, they are just being caterpillars, moving to butterfly hood, and participating beautifully in the cycle of life and death. It is important to do the inner transformation, and live accordingly, than to tell others what they should do.

  • Tommy Tolson

    The API was there in 1954 when Edward Teller, the atomic bomb guy (before PR from WWII failed), told fossil fuel princes about global warming.

    Global warming wasn’t deniable, so Frank Luntz and the PR firm that ran the tobacco denial campaign trotted out climate change, a phrase loaded with complexity, deception potential, and deniability, enough deniability to support a PR campaign, and here we are, with sub-semian turds in the White House and Senate taking us back to the Dark Ages of rich/poor, no middle.

    “The only world humans can have is the one we create together through the actions of our coexistence.”
    – Maturana and Varela

    Damn!

  • Tommy Tolson

    Would teaching people to monitor their carbon footprint work better?

  • Tommy Tolson

    Educate everyone as much as they will stand for.

  • Tommy Tolson

    Yes. 50% of the wildlife that was here when Reagan ascended to the White House is gone, and 50% of the CO2 in the atmosphere got there in that time.

  • Tommy Tolson

    The atmosphere sustains two billion humans, if the rest of the life system is properly provisioned.

  • Tommy Tolson

    Converting life into money.

  • Tommy Tolson

    Extinctions are situational. No cycle. I seem to recall that the commonality is too much carbon in the atmosphere. I’m fallible.

  • Tommy Tolson

    California educated its kids as far as they would go. The problem with that is that most PhDs have a well developed shit detector and that doesn’t work for the GOP, so now California spends the money it used to spend on a bright future on prisons.

  • mwildfire

    Work better than what–telling people to have fewer kids and assisting them in doing so? Why not both? And as mentioned, reducing consumption and waste is important in the rich world but inappropriate elsewhere. Certainly reducing consumption is no solution to the population problem. If you have four kids instead of two, it really doesn’t matter how sustainably you live, even if the six of you use less resources than many three-person (one-child) families–because when they grow up, each of the four will be entitled to make their own lifestyle choices and each will be entitled to their share of children, however many that is. So even is they each have the normal two–you have eight grandchildren instead of four. In the long run, your impact is greater than that of the one-child family that lived in a mansion and flew around in a jet.

  • Tommy Tolson

    Well, first off, I advocate for not “telling” autonomous beings much of anything, because “truth” changes over time, and because it’s a damaging event to human volitional potential – the choicemaker we all have in a “free” society and must develop to keep it free.

    The carbon footprint is a means of showing ourselves where we stand on the “offender” ladder. Western culture is an ecological offender. It needs to be transformed faster than neoliberal propaganda currently favors. I see no good in consuming the future so that more than 100 species went extinct per day – in 2001.

    One setting on the carbon footprint is “carbon negative,” which, if done by billions of people, cleans the atmosphere and potentially restores the dependable climate that enables the production of enough on a tiny fraction of the 70% of Earth’s land mass dominated by one species who recently became a geological phenomenon. Capitalism is anti-life.

    For humans to avoid the Sixth Mass Extinction humans cause, biodiversity has to return – humans have to not only give habitat back to all other species but to return functioning ecosystems that support biodiversity. It turns out that the loss of insects, now in freefall, is a primary determinant of survival of the human species, yet petrochemical pesticides continue to sell – even Roundup, a known carcinogen – and 80% of the songbirds are gone from eating poisoned insects off suburban lawns. I wouldn’t exchange all the lawn in human history for a single breeding pair of songbirds.

    Family size still matters, but doesn’t have to cause extinction if it is carbon negative and ecologically conscious – both large stretches in the “developed” North.

    The biggest advantage of the carbon footprint calculations, to me, is consciousness change arising from the practice. That consciousness eventually discovers the cause of the Sixth Mass Extinction looking them in the eye at mirrors, and development of an ecological ethics drives people into taking only their fair share in make their living.

    This is one of the principles of Permaculture that people seem to have such a hard time digesting, but they’ll go biodynamic, which releases carbon from the soil each time it’s turned, so it’s one more of the anthropomorphic practices no one analyzes. It’s an ideology, not an ecologically supported practice.

    A carbon footprint helped us, my partner and I, see how to live a goodly share of our lives within sight of ecological integrity. Our household has a smaller footprint than a conservative middle class individual (conserving what?), but we’re not carbon neutral yet as it’s not as easy as it sounds, but we’re closer than we’ve been. We know what’s got to change, and it is, just not fast. It’s a sometimes transformative process. It can be tough to grieve the loss of a thoughtless habit we’ve had all of our lower middle class lives. Grief skills are necessary to do energy descent. In one life, before ecological consciousness, I worked on oil drilling rigs and built fast trucks that may have got six mpg the way I drove them. Amends are hard.

    Telling people what to do harms them, and no one has a right to do that to any other life form. Pond scum is more ecologically productive than most US humans – 70 to 80% of the oxygen we breathe is produced by algae, since western culture’s ideologies (dead people’s ideas) have made deserts (agriculture, plowing, and industrialism, all still converting life into money, something like Monsanto’s PCBs, napalm, and Roundup) for at least ten thousand years and deserts produce little if any oxygen. The US billionaire is less useful than pond scum. Elon Musk may get them all on Mars, though. On Mars, enoughness may become apparent. Or not.

  • mwildfire

    Well, I have two arguments with this. You oppose “telling anyone what to do,” much less forcing, so I presume your plan is to wait until everyone’s consciousness rises to the point where they choose not to pollute, which should get us to carbon neutrality in a thousand years, maybe–and we have more like a decade.
    The other thing is the carbon footprint calculator. Perhaps there is more than one of these, but the one I used a couple of years ago surprised me by saying we’d need one and a half Earths if everyone lived as I do–though we have off-grid solar and use a tenth of the average US electricity, I grow half of our food, we do have a car but don’t drive much. Out of curiosity, I tried it again pretending we had no car, bought nothing, etc …still one and a half Earths. I presume this is because we live in the US so we are assessed a penalty for the US military and other wastes. I have managed to keep my income low enough not to pay federal taxes all my life in order not to contribute to the military, used to go to DC to protest wars till I saw how useless that is; I now devote a lot of time to fighting the buildout of gas infrastructure where I live over the Marcellus and Utica shale gas “plays.” But that doesn’t matter–I live in the US so I’m responsible. This is hardly motivating–I never recommend the footprint calculator to anyone.

  • Rapha

    Scarcity will trigger revolution. Armed forces rule. Eg, Red Army, China, USSR.

  • Rapha

    More small farmers. Abandon concrete, interstates, airports. Majority may starve. Sic, revolution, evolution.
    To have harmony, the waste is consumed.

  • Rapha

    Wealth reflects perspective. Nothing is priceless. Everything is worthless.

    Where are you now?

  • Rapha

    Dollar is constant?

    😃

  • sabelmouse

    i heartily disagree. you’re speculating on future behavior against actual [bad] behavior.

  • mwildfire

    I guess you mean I’m speculating about the consumption and reproductive behaviors of the four kids. Thing is, if they are no different than their peers, then their impact is twice that of a two-child family. And there is no reason to think that the frugal lifestyle of the parents will be adopted by the kids–I can testify to that with my own two now-adult kids. Every generation, the impact doubles, unless the four children are assumed not to have same reproductive rights as those who had only one, or no siblings. Extra kids are an ENORMOUS impact in the long run especially–where their own reproduction comes into play. If there IS no long run because we go extinct, then none of this matters.

  • sabelmouse

    there’s also no reason to assume that they won’t, or even do better.
    nor do we know how many children the children will have
    meanwhile the rich are wasteful, ostentatious, and use/waste more than average, kids or no, now.
    it’s like saying that 3rd worlders want the same life as the west, therefore they are responsible for what we’ve all ready done since the industrial revolution. .
    not that we’ve done things equally either.

  • Vee

    Someone once said that if you took all the wealth in the world and divided it equally between every person, in a few years you would find that some had become millionaires and some were destitute. You may agree or disagree, but equal shares for all is a very complex subject. Who creates all this wealth? and should they get a bigger share than those who do not create any ? Many folk have a large income because they have invested, and are basically getting paid for doing nothing. Many work hard all their lives but do not benefit from their contribution to the general weal. Under our present capitalist system, the only choice is to arrange taxes so that those with the most pay the most. The problem with the rich is that money is like seawater – the more you ‘drink’ the more want. They can never have “enough”

  • Tommy Tolson

    It didn’t, in the Great Depression, but that may have been due to FDR addressing the people’s needs and talking with the people in his Fireside Chats so people knew what he was doing in their behalf. That’s before I was born, but my parents, one born in 1929, one in 1932, had a lot of stories. South Texas white people, they hated FDR. I always thought that was pretty stupid.

  • Tommy Tolson

    We’re going to have a lot more small farmers. Within a couple of weeks, lettuce will be up enough to eat, and get you to the next edible thing, and if you survive that, you can always have food with nothing but food in it. The movement needs to happen before things get bad enough for that scenario, it seems to me. The large industrial “farmers,” mostly bankers, will be doing the revolution, and the people moving onto the ruined land will be the evolvers.
    That’s an ecological truism – one’s poop is someone else’s food.
    Revolution has never freed anyone. Evolution might work. Massa isn’t a part of that.
    Broken up concrete – urbanite – makes fine retaining walls around garden beds and lasts a long time.