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.