On Wednesday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) gave a powerful speech on the Senate floor, excoriating billionaires and CEOs for accumulating unfathomable amounts of wealth while millions of Americans struggle to get by.
Since the start of the pandemic, millions of Americans have struggled economically, gotten ill or died – but for billionaires, “this moment has never been better,” Sanders said. Because of their rapid accumulation of wealth, the country is moving toward becoming an oligarchy.
“In the 1950s, when I was growing up, CEOs did very, very well. They made 20 times more than their average worker. Well, if you are a CEO, the good news is those days are long gone, when you only made 20 times more than your average workers,” Sanders said. “Today, as I am sure the CEOs of this country know, they are now making 350 times more than what the average worker in America makes. Three hundred and fifty times more. Talk about greed.”
While grocers like Kroger and oil and gas companies like Shell, BP and Exxon Mobil have jacked up prices for consumers, they’re also making record profits and spending billions on stock buybacks, Sanders pointed out. And as the U.S. pays the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs, the CEOs of the top eight pharmaceutical companies were paid over $350 million in compensation in 2020, he went on.
Meanwhile, Wall Street has a huge influence over the economy of the country. Finance giants BlackRock, Vanguard and State Street manage over $21 trillion in assets – which is larger than the GDP of the U.S., the largest economy in the world.
CEOs and billionaires currently own a larger portion of the wealth in the U.S. than at any other point in history, Sanders pointed out.
“We hear a lot of talk about transfer of wealth – ‘oh my god, we can’t tax the rich and transfer wealth. Terrible, terrible,’” he said, mocking lawmakers who refuse to increase taxes on corporations and the wealthy. “But there has been, over the last many decades, a huge transfer of wealth. The only problem is, it’s gone in the wrong direction – from working families to the top 1 percent.”
The concentration of wealth in the United States is extreme. The top 1 percent of wealthiest Americans own more wealth than the bottom 92 percent of earners, Sanders said, while the two richest people in the U.S. – Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk – own more wealth than the bottom 42 percent of the population. Indeed, a report in January found that while millions of people have died due to COVID, the 20 richest men in the world have doubled their wealth during the pandemic.
The Vermont senator sarcastically suggested that the Senate should recognize billionaires in the same way that it recognizes football players like Tom Brady or Olympic athletes for their achievements. “Maybe the time is approaching when we should offer a unanimous resolution congratulating the billionaire class for their enormous success in moving this country into the oligarchic form of society that they have long desired,” he said.
The lawmaker concluded by saying that Congress should start voting on individual issues that are popular among the American people, like lower prescription drug prices, expanding Medicare to include dental, vision and hearing, or putting taxes on corporations and the wealthy so they pay their “fair share.”
“The time is long, long, long overdue for Congress to start addressing the needs of the American people,” he said. “Maybe, just maybe, we should do what the American people want, and not what wealthy campaign contributors want.”
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