40 Percent Of America’s Wealth Owned By One Percent

By Donald A. Collins | 21 March 2013
Church and State

(Photo by Meik Schneider on Unsplash)

As the 3/14/13 Slate article entitled “How Rich Is The Catholic Church” by Matthew Yglesias tells us, the Church’s footprint in its most important country, the USA, is difficult to measure but powerful in its impact on many aspects of American life. Odious examples of the institution’s misbehavior (pedophile priests) do not obscure its power to obtain vast US and other support for its myriad of hospitals, schools and other entities. The Slate piece says, “Our best window into the overall financial picture of American Catholicism comes from a 2012 investigation by the Economist, which offered a rough-and-ready estimate of $170 billion in annual spending, of which almost $150 billion is associated with church-affiliated hospitals and institutions of higher education. The operating budget for ordinary parishes, at around $11 billion a year, is a relatively small share, and Catholic Charities is a smaller share still. Apple and General Motors, by way of comparison, each had revenue of about $150 billion worldwide in Fiscal Year 2012.” Big money means political power.


What is not difficult to measure is the distribution of personal wealth in the USA. And its impact offers us a story quickly and shockingly delineated by the prompt below. That such wealth, like the wealth of the American Catholic Church, has the power to affect our politics and policies which has huge implications for our future. Far too many of us are ignoring its implications.

As John Locke famously argued, the social contract rests (or fails) on the willingness of citizens to continue to believe that they are gaining more from remaining within a social contract (supporting and participating in the system) than otherwise.

Of course if one is so poor and uneducated it may be impossible for such an individual even to see how to leave his or her restrictive and almost untenable environment.

Thus one recourse for such disaffected persons would be to join dissident groups with similar objectives and begin protesting, usually in less than peaceful ways.

My point is that the attached presentation suggests that the wealth distribution has become so unbalanced in favor of the super rich that all Americans should have fear about the pending failure of our social contract.

One percent of Americans own 40% of its wealth! And the distribution down through the shrinking Middle Class to our poorest reflects steady lethal deterioration of wealth.

And one major party is stonewalling against any rise in taxes on the rich and the super rich. As I recall it was my one time SF neighbor, the late Milton Friedman, who feared raising taxes would only give the Democrats more money to spend.

However, when one sees the state of poverty of far too many in America, as reflected in this income distribution attachment, doubts about where the money is spent can be dispelled. We now spend more on so-called “defense” (see my op ed attached) than the next 9 nations on Earth. And the greed of our leaders seems as yet unslaked as suggested by Foster Gamble in his latest blog which I quote in my piece.

Putting the above very direct exposition about wealth distribution into a much more personal and more comprehensive fashion is a YouTube film made by a Johnson and Johnson heir.

As the site notes, “This 80-minute documentary focuses on the growing “wealth gap” in America, as seen through the eyes of filmmaker Jamie Johnson, a 27-year-old heir to the Johnson & Johnson pharmaceutical fortune. Johnson, who cut his film teeth at NYU and made the Emmy®-nominated 2003 HBO documentary Born Rich, here sets his sights on exploring the political, moral and emotional rationale that enables a tiny percentage of Americans – the one percent – to control nearly half the wealth of the entire United States. The film includes interviews with Nicole Buffett, Bill Gates Sr., Adnan Khashoggi, Milton Friedman, Robert Reich, Ralph Nader and other luminaries.”

If you are willing to endure this rather long but truly powerful expose of what is constantly being called “free enterprise”, you will likely come to agree with the assumption of the film maker that super rich money does freely buy the enterprise and buys the right to run what some of us thought naively was our republican form of government.

How to fix this grotesque imbalance? Many have suggested other brands such as socialism, mixed democracy liberalism, or dictatorships. I suggest that the main nostrum begins with Americans fully understanding where we are and then simply voting to arrest the present domination of the rich at our polling places by replacing the present cast with new players. Surely there must be people willing to serve who are honest and have the best interests of most people over those presently buying our birthrights. Otherwise the one percent will own it all!

Former US Navy officer, banker and venture capitalist, Donald A. Collins, a free lance writer living in Washington, DC., has spent over 40 years working for women’s reproductive health as a board member and/or officer of numerous family planning organizations including Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Guttmacher Institute, Family Health International and Ipas. Yale under graduate, NYU MBA. He is the author of From the Dissident Left: A Collection of Essays 2004-2013.

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