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That Giant Sucking Sound…it’s the Oligarchs
A woman works on a Saturday night at a New York City dry cleaners. (Image: ~BostonBill~ / flickr)

That Giant Sucking Sound…it’s the Oligarchs

A woman works on a Saturday night at a New York City dry cleaners. (Image: ~BostonBill~ / flickr)

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The oligarchs are sucking dry America’s middle and working class, while the rest of us are being left to feed off of their crumbs.

Paul Buchheit, a professor of economic inequality at DePaul University, has written a brilliant piece, detailing just how large, and outrageous, the wealth gap between the oligarchs and the rest of America has become.

Let’s start off by looking at the Koch Brothers.

Each of the Koch brothers saw his investments grow by a staggering $6 billion last year, which, if you do the math, means that they each made about $3 million per hour last year, based on a 40-hour workweek.

Meanwhile, as Buchheit points out, the average restaurant server made just $2.13 per hour last year, less than one millionth of what the Koch brothers pulled in.

And while these numbers alone seem incredibly startling, they only begin to paint the picture of wealth inequality in America.

On any given day during the winter of 2012, there were around 633,000 homeless Americans on the streets, trying to survive another day.

According to Buchheit, based on an annual single room occupancy cost of $558 per month, any one of America’s ten richest citizens would have enough money from his 2012 income to pay for a room for EVERY homeless person in the U.S. for the ENTIRE YEAR. One rich person not even sacrificing a penny of their more-than-a-billion-dollars wealth, just setting aside one year’s income, could end all homelessness in America.

And if that’s not mind-boggling enough, the total combined wealth of these ten wealthiest Americans is more than the entire U.S. federal housing budget. Even if all ten were to give up a year’s income, their wealth is mind-boggling.

According to a survey by the U.S Conference of Mayors, nearly 20 percent of the homeless population in America is Hispanic, and the number is growing each day.

In fact, for every single dollar of assets that a single black or Hispanic woman has, a member of the Forbes 400 has over $40 million.

To put that wealth number in perspective, as Buchheit notes in his piece, for every one can of soup owned by a single Black or Hispanic woman one of our wealthiest Americans owns a $30 million mansion AND a $10 million yacht.

As of 2009, the poorest 47% of Americans owned an unbelievable zero percent of America’s wealth, because their debts exceeded their assets. Contrast that with the era before Reaganomics, when the poorest 47% of Americans owned 2.5% of America’s wealth.

The nation’s wealth is now instead in the hands of the wealthiest Americans – the oligarchs. Right now, the 400 wealthiest Americans own as much wealth as 62% of our nation, which is the driving force behind America having the fourth highest level of wealth inequality in the world.

But why is it that America’s oligarchs have managed to obtain so much wealth, while the rest of us have nearly nothing, and that one of America’s wealthiest businessmen can afford to buy a yacht and a mansion, when a Hispanic woman just trying to survive is barely able to pay for a can of soup?

It’s thanks in part to the high levels of financial secrecy in the U.S.

The Tax Justice Network’s Financial Secrecy Index highlights places around the world that provide the safest havens for tax refugees – otherwise known as millionaires and billionaires who want to escape having to pay their fair share to help their economies so that they can accumulate massive piles of wealth.

And, not surprisingly, the United States ranks 5th in the 2011 Financial Secrecy Index, behind the traditional tax havens of Switzerland, the Cayman Islands, Luxembourg, and Hong Kong.

In other words, as millions of Americans struggle to survive each and every day, the wealthiest Americans, the oligarchs, are accumulating vast sums of wealth, without anyone saying a word, or raising a finger.

Just look at Mitt Romney.

During the campaign of 2012, there was a huge battle over his disclosure, or lack thereof, of just how rich he is. And in the end, while Romney did disclose some information about his assets, including the fact that he was able to hide the vast sums of wealth in tax havens across the globe.

The bottom-line is that the outrageous levels of wealth inequality in America have been driven in large part by our society’s coddling of, and the media’s willful ignorance towards, our nation’s oligarchs.

For too long, the wealthiest Americans have been able to slip under the radar, while robbing us blind. The Reaganomics era has seen the largest transfer of wealth from working people to the very, very rich in the history of the world – trillions of dollars. As Elizabeth Warren pointed out a few weeks ago, if workers wages had kept up with productivity in the years since Reagan, like they did during the generations before Reagan, the minimum wage today would be over $22.

It’s time to start calling our oligarchs what they are – oligarchs. And tax cheats. And people who have corrupted both our politicians, our media, and our market-based economic system.

When enough Americans have figured out how badly we’ve been gamed and ripped off, things will start to change. Spread the word. And check out!

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