Economic inequality is not impossible to solve

By Hamilton Nolan

Because economic inequality is such a persistent, pervasive, and growing problem in America, many people assume that any solution to it must be very complicated but that is simply not true!

The World Wealth Report 2017 from the consulting firm Capgemini Financial Services says that there are 4.8 million “high net worth individuals”—that is, people with at least a million bucks to invest, i.e. liquid millionaires—in the U.S. today.

Their total net worth as a group is $16.8 trillion.

They have no human need for such a large amount of assets. Our country is plagued by inequality. So here’s a simple thing to do:

Take away half of the assets of each of these millionaires. (They’d all still be rich! Don’t worry.) That gives you $8.4 trillion. Distribute that equally to all adults in America—you’d be splitting it roughly 240 million ways. That would give each American adult $35,000. This could come in the form of checks to everyone, like the Bush “stimulus.”

It could come in the form of government savings accounts for each citizen, invested in treasuries or other safe assets, which would grow over time. It could, in a more enlightened way, come in the form of a national sovereign wealth fund, like smarter countries have, which would invest that money and make annual payments to everyone and hold the balance on everyone’s behalf.

The point is, that wealth would be shared by all. Take it with a one time tax, and distribute it equally. The same for everyone.

Here is what we would have after doing this, roughly:

  • The millionaires would all still have an average of close to $2 million.
  • Every adult citizen in America would have $35,000, which by itself is more than the median wealth of black or Latino citizens. This single action would be history’s greatest blow against the racial wealth gap and against economic inequality in America.

Can anyone say that what we have now is better: $16.8 trillion in the hands of a tiny percentage of Americans and a country in which the bottom 80% of earners own just 10% wealth?

Is that better? Is that fairer? Is that more productive? Is that more just? Is that more economically stimulative?

No, no, no, no, and no. I am just making the trivial point that without destroying any wealth in America we could redistribute just half of the wealth of the rich and dramatically improve the single most knotty problem of our lifetimes… and the rich people would still be rich!

These figures don’t even include their homes! They literally would not miss the money.

No one is guillotined, no molotov cocktails are thrown, no revolution is waged, and everyone is more prosperous.

This is how simple the mathematical solution to inequality is.

The hard part is just dealing with human greed.


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