The wealthiest one out of 1,000 US families — the 0.1 percent — comprise about 115,000 households whose net worth starts at $20M, and goes up and up from there, accounting for at least as much wealth as the poorest 90 percent of US households.
Mere 1 percenters are often people who got lucky doing real work: movie stars, doctors, lawyers, engineers, accountants, etc. They own nice houses and have retirement savings, but they don't own islands, helicopters, or gilded survival shelters that they plan to hide in while the rest of us eat each other on the blighted, apocalyptic surface-world.
Because they tend to earn their money from work, it is taxed at something like a normal rate; in contrast, the 0.1 percent earn nearly everything from capital gains, which not only enjoy much lower tax rates (because US tax policy rewards owning things ahead of doing things) and is much easier to shift offshore.
The 0.1 percent has a few tech billionaires and a few more finance people (naturally) — but the fastest-growing cohort in that exalted tier is professional descendants, who inherited their wealth from their forebears, with names like "Walton" and "Koch."
One percenters are more likely to see their natural allies as everyone else, because they live in precarious circumstances (having a lot to lose makes you a fat target from 0.1 percenters who have skimmed all the krill out of the financial seas and want bigger game).
Mike N., a North Carolina physician and entrepreneur, is a member of the 1 percent, but not in the 0.1 percent stratosphere. "Growing inequality is bad for everyone," he wrote to me. "I do not believe that is sustainable." He identifies with people who have a tough time making ends meet because he did this for most of his life before his career took off. He is concerned with serving the community through charitable work and political engagement, and he believes that "all should have the opportunity for things like education and healthcare." Mike N. is the kind of person the 99 percent can work with.
Unless we act boldly—together—to reduce private concentrations of wealth, inequality will continue to grow and that 0.1 percent will continue to explode because the returns on their wealth exceed increases in salaries and income, as Thomas Piketty noted in his book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century. They can get wealthier and wealthier just by sitting there doing absolutely nothing. In fact, it would be better if they did just sit there and do nothing, because when they do something, it is often reckless speculation that destabilizes the economy. By seriously taxing our wealthiest households, we could raise significant revenues and invest these funds to expand wealth-building opportunities across the economy.
Is the One Percent Really the Problem?
[Lynn Stuart Parramore/Alternet]
(via Naked Capitalism)