Defensive Elites: understanding the 0.1%

A really interesting overview of the changing composition of the 1%, including the over-stated but nonetheless interesting claim that we are seeing the beginning of a new age in which the 0.1% are coming out from “their behind-the-scenes positions and stepping right onto the political stage”:

All told, the 0.1 percent now owns about as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent of America combined. And that’s just the official numbers. Plenty of their wealth is parked overseas and in places where it’s hard to get an accurate count of what they’ve accumulated. To get into the club, which comprises around 115,000 households, you need to start with a nest egg of $20 million — and that’s at the very bottom of the super-rich group. George W. Bush just barely makes the cut. He’s very rich, but not among the highest fliers in today’s second Gilded Age.

As you move on up the 0.1 percent ladder, you get folks like Steve Cohen, the hedge fund billionaire who bought a 14-foot shark in formaldehyde for his office, as if to signal his shady business practices (his previous firm, SAC Capital, was shut down by the feds for insider trading). Cohen doesn’t have just one mansion, he has lots of them. His $23 million principal home is in Greenwich, Connecticut, featuring an indoor basketball court, a glass-enclosed pool, a 6,700-square-foot ice skating rink with a Zamboni machine that smoothes the ice, a golf course and a private art museum. He also has five other homes just in the New York area alone.

People like Cohen are a big part of the undue concentration of wealth at the expense of workers and communities — they create little of value for society and siphon off funds for our schools and infrastructure with tax loopholes allowed by bought politicians, like the notorious “carried interest” loophole. You also get bankers CEOs like Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase and corporate chieftains paid stratospheric salaries even while driving their companies into the ground, like erstwhile GOP presidential hopeful Carly Fiorina, formerly of Hewlett Packard.

It used to be that simply being a billionaire would get you into the Forbes 400 list — that was true up until 2006. No more. Our current herd of fatcats has blown past their Gilded Age counterparts to seize an even more gigantic share of the economic pie. According to the magazine, in 2014 you had to have $1.55 billion in the bank vault to make the list. That was $250 million more than in 2013. By 2015, you had to have even more: Carol Jenkins Barnett, whose wealth derives from Publix supermarkets, was too poor to make Forbes with her paltry $1.69 billion.

The hurdle continues to rise rapidly. By 2015, the wealthiest 20 people owned more wealth than half the American population. This group is where you’ll find Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Larry Page of Google, as well as the most successful financiers, like Warren Buffett and George Soros. But the ranks of the very top are no longer filled by mainly by entrepreneurs or even financiers who are self-made. Increasingly, they are populated by people who, thanks to several decades of regressive tax policy, have inherited their wealth; names like Walton and Koch have become common at the apex of wealth. This is the new hereditary aristocracy of means and power. – See more at: http://inequality.org/01-percent/#sthash.bcLCuvNb.dpuf

http://inequality.org/01-percent/