The Mega Rich Are Getting Mega Richer

By Steven Clifford, who served as CEO for King Broadcasting Company for five years and National Mobile Television for nine years. He has been a director of thirteen companies and has chaired the compensation committee for both public and private companies. Cross-posted from Alternet.

In the long term, the indirect effect of the Pay ­Machine—​the increase in income inequality—is economically more injurious than the erosion of company earnings or a stock market downturn.

Income inequality in America has risen sharply since 1976. Economists and pundits point to multiple causes—globalization and competition from low-wage​ countries; growing educational disparities that particularly affect men and minorities; technological changes that reward the highly skilled; decline of labor unions; changes in corporate culture that place stock price and earnings above employees; free market philosophy and the rise of winner-take-all economics; households with high-income couples; lower rates of marriage and of intact families; high incarceration levels; immigration of low­-skilled individuals; income tax and capital gains tax cuts and other conservative economic and tax policies; deregulation; and decreased welfare and antipoverty spending coupled with redistribution programs that disproportionately benefit the elderly.

All of the above may contribute to inequality. However, the proximate cause is quite simple. The jump in inequality is due to a small number of people, mostly business executives, who make huge amounts of money. They are the Mega Rich, the top .1 percent in income, who averaged $6.1 million in income in 2014. The Merely Rich are the rest of the 1 percent. It’s the Mega Rich, not the Merely Rich, who drive inequality. (I’m a member of the Merely Rich, so don’t blame me.)

As shown in the graph [that follows]… between 1980 and 2014 the average real income of the Mega Rich has nearly quadrupled, increasing by 381 percent. Over the same period, the Merely Rich doubled their income while the bottom 90 percent lost ground, suffering a 3 percent decline.

[Data from Facundo Alvaredo, Anthony B. Atkinson, Thomas Pikkety, Emmanuel Saez, and Gabriel Zucman, The World Wealth and Income Database, April 5, 2016]

The Mega Rich captured most of the national income gains during the last four decades as their share of income increased from 3.4 percent in 1980 to 10.3 percent in 2014. The share of the Merely Rich rose from 6.6 percent to 11.0 percent over the same period. Thus the Mega Rich snared over ­three-fifths of the income growth of the 1 percent and nearly 40 percent of all income growth. In the tepid recovery from 2010 to 2012, the 1 percent took virtually all of the income gains. The Mega Rich again got the lion’s share: their average income increased 49 percent in this three-year period.

The Mega Rich are getting mega richer. Their average household made 113 times as much as the typical American household in 2014. In 1980, this number was 47. In 2014, the 115,000 Mega Rich households had as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent. They now hold 22 percent of the nation’s wealth, nearly double their 1995 share

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