In November 2012, a YouTube user known as “politizane” created a viral video about wealth inequality in America. It has been viewed nearly 24 million times. The video animates research conducted by Dan Ariely and Michael L. Norton using a series of graphs produced by Mother Jones magazine.
Ariely and Norton found the reality of wealth inequality in America differs sharply from what most Americans think it is or believe it should be. At the time, the richest 1% of Americans controlled 40% of the nation’s assets, while the bottom 80% (4/5 of all Americans) possessed only 7% combined.
In the intervening years, this wealth gap has continued to widen — despite a robust economy between 2012 and 2020 — because the lion’s share of profits and benefits continue to flow upward to company shareholders and office holders at the top of the corporate ladder. The 2021 edition of the Forbes 400, ranking the 400 richest people in America, the richest of whom also are the richest in the world, captures the extent of this disparity.
The numbers are staggering. Inclusion on the Forbes 400 list now requires a minimum net worth of $2.9 billion, a record. For the first time, a man whose net worth exceeds $200 billion tops the list — Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, who holds the No. 1 spot for the fourth consecutive year. Together, these 400 individuals control a pool of assets worth $4.5 trillion, another record.
Wide gap — even at the top
Even here, however, on the slopes of capitalism’s Everest, the difference between base camp and the summit is exponential.
The 20 individuals who lead this year’s list possess a collective net worth of $1.8 trillion, or 40% of the Forbes 400’s net total. That’s a magnitude of financial capital greater than the annual GDP of Canada, a G7 nation with a population of 36 million people.
In 2020, only two of this exclusive group owned assets worth more than $100 billion; now eight do. The top three (Bezos, Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg) have more than $500 billion to themselves. By comparison, median U.S. household wealth clocks in at around $122,000. While the fortunes of the ultra-rich soared, median U.S. household income fell to $67,521 in 2020, which is $3,279 below where it stood in 2000.
Such vast wealth disparity — the most extreme among the G7 nations — has been building in America since the 1980s and is the direct result of economic policies that have …….