Eight people have as much money as the poorest half of the world

When I talked to Dave Rubin yesterday morning, he asked me, if Americans are so resistant to the facts of evolution, what could I do to get people to accept it as truth? I told him that we’d have to get rid of those forms of religion (read: most religions) that make people resistant to evolution, and to do that would require mitigating the conditions that promote religion: social dysfunction. I added this: “If I could wave my hands and make two social changes in the world (besides dispelling religion) that would promote the acceptance of evolution, it would be to reduce income inequality and install universal medical care.” Those, I think, would go a long way toward reducing the need for religion and therefore the resistance to evolution, but of course their salubrious effects would be far more important than just getting people to accept evolution. Creationism is a long shot from being the worst thing that religion does.

Rubin looked a bit startled when I talked about income inequality, and asked me if I meant that everyone should have the same income. (He’s a libertarian, and I doubt that libertarians would favor that.). I quickly added that, no, I don’t favor everybody making the same wage, but that something had to be done to raise up the poorest people in the world, and perhaps pare down the exorbitant amount of money that the hyper-rich make, perhaps by increasing taxes.

And, shortly thereafter, I read a story in USA Today taken from an Oxfam report (“An economy for the 99%”; see also the PuffHo report) which gives data on the dire nature of income inequality in the world and the devastation it wreaks on well-being. The Oxfam report, for examples, says these things (my emphasis)

  • Since 2015, the richest 1% has owned more wealth than the rest of the planet.
  • Eight men now own the same amount of wealth as the poorest half of the world.
  • Over the next 20 years, 500 people will hand over $2.1 trillion to their heirs – a sum larger than the GDP of India, a country of 1.3 billion people.
  • The incomes of the poorest 10% of people increased by less than $3 a year between 1988 and 2011, while the incomes of the richest 1% increased 182 times as much.
  • A FTSE-100 CEO earns as much in a year as 10,000 people in working in garment factories in Bangladesh.
  • In the US, new research by economist Thomas Piketty shows that over the last 30 years the growth in the incomes of the bottom 50% has been zero, whereas incomes of the top 1% have grown 300%
  • In Vietnam, the country‟s richest man earns more in a day than the poorest person earns in 10 years.

Left unchecked, growing inequality threatens to pull our societies apart. It increases crime and insecurity, and undermines the fight to end poverty. 10 It leaves more people living in fear and fewer in hope.

Frankly, I was startled to read this, particularly the bit in bold. Granted, people like Gates and now Zuckerberg give a lot of their money to good causes, but few of the rich (i.e., Trump) have Gates’s sense of obligation. I’m not sure yet where I come down on the issue of inheritance (the third point). There is inheritance tax, but some think that nobody should be allowed to give any of their wealth to their offspring. (After all, the human trait that shows the most “heritability”—fidelity of transmission from parent to offspring—is not height or IQ but wealth, which of course is not a genetic trait at all.) But many people work just so they can create a family legacy, and leave their children better off. Readers can weigh in below on all of this, but particularly on taxing the ultra-rich and on the laws of inheritance.

Here are the RICHEST EIGHT; how many can you name? (Answer below.)



The Ultra Rich in the pictures above (text from PuffHo):

Six of these billionaires, from Forbes’ list of the world’s richest people, are American entrepreneurs: Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, Berkshire Hathaway chairman and CEO Warren Buffett, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Rounding out the list are Carlos Slim, the Mexican tycoon, and Amancio Ortega, the Spanish founder of a retail conglomerate that includes clothing chain Zara. Together their net wealth ― assets minus debts ― amounts to $426 billion.

Their wealth (from USA Today): Bill Gates ($75 billion, source of wealth Microsoft); Amancio Ortega ($67 billion, Zara); Warren Buffett ($60.8 billion, Berkshire Hathaway); Carlos Slim Helu ($50 billion, Telecom); Jeff Bezos ($45.2 billion, Amazon);  Mark Zuckerberg($44.6 billion, Facebook); Larry Ellison ($43.6 billion, Oracle); and Michael Bloomberg($40 billion, Bloomberg LP).


h/t: Randy


  1. BJ
    Posted January 17, 2017 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    Regarding inheritance:

    I think people should be able to work their whole lives to leave their children better off, there just has to be a cut-off point. Want to leave your kids a few million? Fine. Want to leave them a few billion? Not fine. That’s basically the way it is now with the inheritance tax, but I think that tax after the first few million needs to be higher, and needs to get progressively greater as the numbers reach into the hundreds of millions and billions.

    When people say, “nobody should be allowed to leave anyone money,” they never think about parents who have children who are mentally ill or have other problems. I know a family that’s worked very hard to be able to leave their child enough money for him to live out his life when they are gone. It will likely be a few million dollars. He has been incapable of working nearly his entire adult life because of severe depression and other mental health issues. It’s important that parents and others be allowed to leave a significant amount of what they earned to whatever cause they wish, whether that cause is society or their own children, and it’s also a matter of fairness (the fruits of one’s labors shouldn’t simply disappear to the government upon their demise).

    • Posted January 17, 2017 at 11:00 am | Permalink

      Good comment.

    • daveyc
      Posted January 17, 2017 at 11:18 am | Permalink

      Sadly, the inheritance tax in the US will probably not last the year.

    • eric
      Posted January 17, 2017 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

      There’s also grandkids. Sure, I won’t be dead before my kid goes to college, but I might be before my grandkids go. With the way college tuitions are increasing, of course I want to leave something for my kid. Not necessarily so he can run around on a yacht not working, but because his kid’s college tuition bills are likely to run to $200,000/year or something crazy like that.

      And both your point and my point bring up the connection between inheritance and social safety nets and services: in the US, health care and higher education are both private, and those are probably two big reasons to want to leave money to your kids. So I would say that any drastic tax on inheritance probably needs to be accompanied with great increases in the federal support for health care and higher education. If I know my kid will always have tax-supported access to good health care and tax-supported access to a good university education (assuming he makes the grade), then my stress about whether I’m leaving him a sufficient nest egg to let him stay middle class goes way down.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted January 17, 2017 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

        Well said. We (NZ) still have adequate social services, even after a decade of right-wing government, so while it would be nice to leave our daughter/granddaughter a pile of money, it’s not imperative to do so.


      • Posted January 18, 2017 at 7:52 am | Permalink

        There’s already an easy way to do that (and the people who pay inheritance tax can certainly afford to): Pay into a 529 plan for your grandkids.

        I don’t imagine you will be liable to the inheritance tax (but maybe you are wealthy?). It only affects the top 2% wealthiest people in the US (those with estates greater than $5.45 million as of last year. And then only applies to amounts above that floor.

        This graphic is informative:

        When Bush II wanted to push it back, it was dubbed the “Paris Hilton Relief Act” — and rightfully so, in my opinion.

    • Rita
      Posted January 17, 2017 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

      I never actually heard anyone saying “nobody should be allowed to leave anyone money.”

    • Jay
      Posted January 18, 2017 at 8:27 am | Permalink

      Not sure what the justification for confiscating money is. Jealousy-‘no one should have that much’ ?

      The money amounts being discussed here are basically paper, not really fluid. But more importantly, this money is NOT out of circulation. It’s not cash stuffed in someone’s mattress. All this is back in the economy as investment. This is where the money for new jobs (factories). food (ag futures), housing comes from. This is a major part of the economy, no matter who ‘owns’ it.

  2. BobTerrace
    Posted January 17, 2017 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    Shucks, I missed being in the top 8 by only 40 billion!

    • Mark Reaume
      Posted January 17, 2017 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

      Almost the difference between 8th and 1st.

  3. Somite
    Posted January 17, 2017 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    I fail to see what is the societal benefit of allowing what are effectively utility monsters.


    Would their well-being be reduced significantly if their wealth would be capped at 500 million or even 1 billion? Is wealth of this magnitude the only incentive for creative people to express themselves and contribute to progress?

    There has to be a way to limit the suffering this income inequality causes.

    • Posted January 17, 2017 at 11:21 am | Permalink

      There has to be a way to limit the suffering this income inequality causes.

      Suppose someone invents a snazzy new computer chip or gizmo, and gets fabulously wealthy to Gates-like proportions.

      Why has that caused “suffering” to anyone?

      • Somite
        Posted January 17, 2017 at 11:27 am | Permalink

        The hoarding of money that could be used to alleviate suffering.

        These two issues need not be zero-sum. It is possible governments could eradicate poverty with something similar to universal basic income without affecting millionaires. They just seem unwilling to do so.

        • Posted January 17, 2017 at 11:39 am | Permalink

          Eradicating poverty (as in, absolute poverty, not relative wealth disparity) is exactly what the current system of letting people get rich seems to achieve (see plot linked to below).


          The hoarding of money that could be used to alleviate suffering.

          Suppose you take Facebook shares off Zuckerburg. In order to use the shares to alleviate poverty, you then need to sell them to someone.

          That puts into the “hoard” of Facebook share-capital the same sum of money that you then spend on alleviating suffering, so doesn’t change anything.

          • John
            Posted January 17, 2017 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

            An analogy would be a deposit in a bank. If the bank just sat on the money that would be equivalent to e.g. a Zuckerburg sitting on his wealth. A bank lends out that money (normally 90%) putting it to work. Further, shares in a company are an investment. Such investments are key parts of a structured economy where e.g. folk save for retirement. If shares such as Zuckerburg’s were distributed more fairly, that value would be sitting in such appropriate investments …. normally paid for by economic activity on the part of the savers. So, in the case of a Zuckerberg type wealth, we could easily see a route to getting that wealth better distributed. e.g. give it to charities, then those charities sell on the markets, to be bought by investment funds and the like (using their savers’ money), and the charities have new funds to work with.

            Such wealth in or individual IS a hoard. It is a money sink. Quantitive easing is a means that the central banks get commercial and investment banks to stop squatting on money. Individuals should be encouraged not to squat. (Perhaps like Musk who puts his wealth to work)

          • Somite
            Posted January 17, 2017 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

            That’s nice but how does the very poor have access to this money.

            • John
              Posted January 17, 2017 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

              One; the charities mentioned in my scenario have money, and they can do what they think best to get the poor out of poverty…e.g. dish it out, micro loans, public works, whatever.
              Two; released money, put to work as investments in new activity provides employment, resultant taxes which can be spent on education, health, infrastructure, international aid blah blah blah.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted January 17, 2017 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

        “Why has that caused “suffering” to anyone?”

        Through charging exorbitant amounts for Windows and engaging in dubious and monopolistic business practices to undermine the competition. There’s plenty of documentation of that.

        ‘You wanna buy a computer, you gotta pay the Microsoft tax’.

        A snazzy gizmo is presumably an optional purchase. For many people/small businesses a computer is an essential.


        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted January 17, 2017 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

          Oh yes, and Microsoft has used its wealth as a weapon to sue and intimidate smaller companies, to lobby for favourable treatment, to engage in a host of unethical practices. (They’re far from alone in this, of course.)

          Net result: Microsoft is fabulously wealthy, and millions of people are a bit poorer than they would otherwise have been.


        • Carl
          Posted January 17, 2017 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

          A snazzy gizmo is presumably an optional purchase. For many people/small businesses a computer is an essential.

          Good grief. Do you think personal/small business computers and all the wealth they brought with them into the world would even exist without Bill Gates and a few like him? And without the profit incentive?

          How accessible and powerful do you think computers were before the advent of the DOS PC?

    • eric
      Posted January 17, 2017 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

      AIUI, happiness generally doesn’t increase with more money after you get above about upper middle class.

      There has to be a way to limit the suffering this income inequality causes.

      Well sure – use a progressive income tax to push most of that money back into infrastructure, education, services, etc. You know, like most countries do. Like the US did before Reagan. This isn’t really rocket science; the ‘good old days’ that conservatives pine for, the days of Leave it to Beaver when the middle class was making great strides and people could expect that their kids would do better than they did, were also the days when the top income tax bracket had a 90% rate instead of the current 39% rate.

      • Rita
        Posted January 17, 2017 at 3:51 pm | Permalink


        And, the inheritance tax that the Republicans want to repeal ONLY applies to the amount over 5 million. The rates need to be progressive and get very,very steep after the first 100 million or so.

      • Diane G.
        Posted January 17, 2017 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

        Simple as that!

      • Posted January 18, 2017 at 7:59 am | Permalink

        This shows that there is no relationship between the top marginal income tax rate and US employment:

        This shows who has gotten the proceeds of the US economy in the last 40 years (the top 5% have):

        And this shows who reaped the benefits of the increase in productivity amongst US workers over the last few decades (hint: It’s not the workers.):

        And this shows how Obama handled the economy (contrary to the GOP’s lies about the economy, Obama righted the ship. — And now Drumpfenfuhrer is set to capsize it again.):

        (Not to mention that oil prices are very low and the stock market is doing very well indeed.)

  4. Posted January 17, 2017 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    You aren’t going to get the SJWs behind a campaign for a better share of the 50% owned by the 1% while they are arguing about the 7% (or whatever) that 50% may or may not be getting more than the other 50%.

  5. Chris G
    Posted January 17, 2017 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    Jerry – I’m surprised you link religiosity with poverty given the state of affairs in the US, one of the wealthiest countries.
    And that you think income-equality is the problem rather than percentage of folk below the poverty-line – what about the argument that we may only eradicate poverty if the income-gap increases?
    Chris G.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted January 17, 2017 at 11:15 am | Permalink

      In general, the wealthier a country, the less religiosity. The US is a significant outlier.

      • Posted January 17, 2017 at 11:18 am | Permalink

        Even in the US religiosity correlates with poverty.

      • Chris G
        Posted January 17, 2017 at 11:31 am | Permalink

        And doesn’t less religiosity correlate with higher income-gap?

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted January 17, 2017 at 11:57 am | Permalink

          In the poorest countries, income inequality is usually greater than in wealthier ones. I don’t know where the US sits on the continuum, but I suspect income inequality is greater there than most wealthy countries. Countries like NZ, Norway, Sweden, and Denmark, have low levels of religiosity and also low levels of income inequality by international standards. Many much poorer nations in Africa have significantly greater levels of income inequality, for example.

          • BJ
            Posted January 17, 2017 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

            The problem here is correlation versus causation, though. None of this suggests that wealth alleviates religiosity; rather, it may very well be that lack of religion brings wealth, or there may be other, entirely different forces at work in this scenario.

    • J. Quinton
      Posted January 17, 2017 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

      It’s income inequality, not poverty.

      The gap between rich and poor in a country is what’s correlated with religiosity, not poverty per se.


    • Rita
      Posted January 17, 2017 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

      A high percentage of people below the poverty line goes along with income inequality. The US is a very wealthy country, yes, but you need to look at how the wealth is distributed.

    • Posted January 18, 2017 at 8:02 am | Permalink

      “what about the argument that we may only eradicate poverty if the income-gap increases?”

      Well, I suppose the very poor may die; and that would tend to eradicate poverty — by eradicating the poor people.

  6. Posted January 17, 2017 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    Their wealth (from USA Today): Bill Gates ($75 billion, source of wealth Microsoft); Amancio Ortega ($67 billion, Zara); Warren Buffett ($60.8 billion, Berkshire Hathaway); Carlos Slim Helu ($50 billion, Telecom); Jeff Bezos ($45.2 billion, Amazon); Mark Zuckerberg($44.6 billion, Facebook); Larry Ellison ($43.6 billion, Oracle); and Michael Bloomberg($40 billion, Bloomberg LP).

    But are they happy..?


    • nicky
      Posted January 17, 2017 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

      Money does not make happy, but it helps.

      • Posted January 18, 2017 at 8:02 am | Permalink

        It helps up to about the level of middle income. Then it makes you no happier.

  7. mikeyc
    Posted January 17, 2017 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    “The incomes of the poorest 10% of people increased by less than $3 a year between 1988 and 2011, while the incomes of the richest 1% increased 182 times as much.”

    I don’t think I’m reading that right because by my calculations the richest 1% only saw their income increase by $546 over the last 23 years.


    • Heather Hastie
      Posted January 17, 2017 at 11:20 am | Permalink

      I suspect it’s in %age terms. $3 is a really big increase in %age terms for the poorest people. There has been a big decrease in poverty in the last 30 years, though from the pov of anyone in a wealthy country, things are obviously still pretty dire and a lot more needs to be done.

    • Simon Hayward
      Posted January 17, 2017 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

      I had exactly the same question. I don’t think the bullet makes sense as written. One can try linguistic gymnastics on it but I’m not sure they end up giving the “right” answer – whatever that might be.

  8. Jeremy Tarone
    Posted January 17, 2017 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    Warren Buffett pledged to give away the majority (99%) of his money to charity. In 2014 he gave 2.6 Billion, 2015 he gave 2.8 billion, last year 2.8 billion. Most has gone to the Gates Foundation, although his wife and children also run foundations and he supports those as well.

    Buffett has so far given away almost 29 billion dollars worth of stock.

    Gates has similarly pledged to give away the majority of his fortune, and by 2014 had given away 28 billion.

    Buffett had always said he wouldn’t give his children his fortune, although he eventually gave them a total of 600 million in stock on his 82nd birthday.

    I only knew four of the richest by photo, Gates, Buffett, Bloomberg and Zuckerberg.

    • Diane G.
      Posted January 17, 2017 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

      That’s half; I knew five (yours plus Bezos). Ellison slipped into place when his name jolted my memory. Would it have killed them to have the images in the same order as the caption?

  9. Posted January 17, 2017 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    Hmm, I’m not fully convinced.

    First, the “more wealth than the poorest half” analysis depends a lot on how the calculation is done, and many are mere propaganda.

    Such calculations usually make a lot of affluent people pretty “poor” by counting debt. E.g., if someone borrows to go to medical school, graduates and starts on $100k a year, and borrows more for a mortgage on a nice house — and thus has huge debts, but which they can readily service from a large income — is that person poor or rich?

    If you thus put many in the first world into negative wealth (anyone with a mortgage for example), you can then make about half the planet add up to zero.

    A much better calculation would be about *spend* per year. I’m betting that you’d get a very different calculation if you added up people’s “throughput” of money, which is arguably a lot more relevant.

    Second, I don’t see that people like Gates or Zuckerburg getting fabulously rich in any way harms or disadvantages anyone else. It’s not as if they suck the money out of other people — economics is not a zero-sum game — and their companies really have created the wealth they now have.

    Third, in terms of absolute poverty, the current system is working. The fraction of the world population that is in absolute poverty has plummeted hugely over the last century. India and China and others are rapidly developing a big middle-class with affluent lifestyles. The fact that they’re poor relative to Bill Gates is pretty irrelevant.

    We should have sensible rates of inheritance tax (say 20%, but no ways round it, as there usually are currently), but I wouldn’t argue for anything more than that.

    • darrelle
      Posted January 17, 2017 at 11:25 am | Permalink

      It depends entirely on what is done with the wealth. Is it being put to work in the economy? Or is it being hoarded? There are wealthy people that put a significant amount of their wealth to work, but there are many that simply hoard it and that is a bad thing.

      I don’t have any data at hand to offer but according to some experts the amount of wealth effectively taken out of circulation by the very wealthy is significant and a serious problem for the economy.

      • Posted January 17, 2017 at 11:32 am | Permalink

        But the amount of money locked up in the share price of Microsoft and Facebook would be pretty similar however the ownership of it were distributed.

        I don’t accept that those companies becoming very expensive has subtracted from the amount of money in the rest of the economy. Indeed, the provision of standardised products and software by such as Microsoft and Apple has likely greatly increased the size of the rest of the economy (which is exactly why Microsoft and Apple have then got rich).

        • darrelle
          Posted January 17, 2017 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

          I think we are talking about different things. For one, I’m talking about personal wealth and your talking about the value of corporations.

          If some of a persons wealth is owning interest in a corporation that is creating wealth by providing goods and or services in a competitive market then that portion of their wealth is doing work in the economy, the opposite of being taken out of circulation.

          • BJ
            Posted January 17, 2017 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

            But much of the wealth of these people comes from their stock in the corporations he is discussing.

            • darrelle
              Posted January 17, 2017 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

              I did briefly address that.

              • BJ
                Posted January 17, 2017 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

                Yes, but the entire point of this article is about the absolute wealthiest. Most of the wealth of the wealthiest people in the world comes in the form of money that is not being hoarded.

              • darrelle
                Posted January 18, 2017 at 7:24 am | Permalink

                No, the entire point of the article was not about the absolute wealthiest. The article was about income inequality. The absolute wealthiest 8 were used to illustrate the extreme high end of income inequality.

      • Simon Hayward
        Posted January 17, 2017 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

        What does “hoarded” mean in this context? You’d need a pretty tall bed to stick $1bn under the mattress. I’m not sure how else one would take it out of circulation – you could buy gold I guess, but then someone sold it to you and that frees up the same amount of money.

        Like you I don’t have data, and I’m not an economist, but would assume that the bulk of this money is invested wherever it can generate the most income for the owner – within whatever their investment philosophy dictates. So the bulk of this wealth is presumably working somewhere in the economy.

        • darrelle
          Posted January 17, 2017 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

          What I meant by that and similar terms is rent-seeking.

          • Simon Hayward
            Posted January 17, 2017 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

            OK, thanks

        • Diane G.
          Posted January 17, 2017 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

          Don’t forget offshore banks…

    • Posted January 17, 2017 at 11:34 am | Permalink

      Here’s a relevant plot on the fraction of the world population in absolute poverty. It does not indicate that the current system is broke.


      • GBJames
        Posted January 17, 2017 at 11:59 am | Permalink

        Depends rather a lot on the definition of “extreme poverty”. “Owns only one shirt”, perhaps? Shirts are easier to come buy than they were in 1800, for sure.

      • Diane G.
        Posted January 17, 2017 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

        But given the size of the earth’s population in 1820 (< 1 billion), there's still been a huge increase in actual numbers.

        • Posted January 17, 2017 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

          If you click on the “absolute” button on the plot you’ll see that actual numbers in poverty have also been declining.

        • Carl
          Posted January 17, 2017 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

          No, this is incorrect. The total number living in extreme poverty is actually less now, when the world population is over 7 billion, than in 1820, when the planet had only 1 billion people.

          • Diane G.
            Posted January 17, 2017 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

            Very cool, wish I’d seen that toggle option myself. Thanks Coel & Carl.

            • John Taylor
              Posted January 17, 2017 at 7:11 pm | Permalink

              I think we need to add some Steven Pinker to this conversation.

              • Diane G.
                Posted January 17, 2017 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

                I think they just did, even if not explicitly stating as much. 🙂

    • eric
      Posted January 17, 2017 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

      Most of the analyses I’ve seen related to global wealth uses annual income as a key indicator. And since something like a third of the world lives on dollars a day and the “wealthier than 90% of humans” mark is somewhere around $30k/year/person, its pretty easy to see how each billionaire could be considered equivalently wealthy as a hundreds of millions of people. That is, after all, pretty much just the annual expected income from interest on their holdings.

      • Posted January 17, 2017 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

        “Dollars a day” would imply about $1000 a year. Even the richest billionaires are going to get less than a billion extra in a year, so that equates to fewer than a million people.

        So let’s take, say, Mumbai. Average income (from Google) is about $6000 a year, and there are 12 million of them. That means that the combined population of Mumbai would have about 6 times the income of the world’s dozen richest billionaires.

        And it would take only a middling-sized US town to have more income than the richest dozen billionaires.

        But these numbers don’t sound nearly so impressive, which is why Oxfam prefer the “soundbite” — which really just means that a large fraction of the population have negative wealth (being in overall debt, such as student loans) even if they have quite a decent income and standard of living.

  10. darrelle
    Posted January 17, 2017 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    Disallowing giving any of your wealth to your children, or anyone, would be way out of line both pragmatically and ethically in my opinion.

    Regulating transfer of wealth certainly seems to be necessary in order to help achieve the fair, prosperous for as many as possible, society we all want. Figuring out how to do that is really complicated. Not the least because the system has been gamed by the wealthy from day one. There are all kinds of methods available for avoiding and limiting taxes associated with wealth changing hands and wealthy people hire expensive experts to take care of it for them.

    • Posted January 17, 2017 at 11:21 am | Permalink

      Disallowing giving any of your wealth to your children, or anyone, would be way out of line both pragmatically and ethically in my opinion.

      That’s not a ‘pragmatic’ way out for a species that cares about its children or the partners they leave behind.

      • darrelle
        Posted January 17, 2017 at 11:29 am | Permalink

        I’m not completely clear about what you mean by “That’s.” If you mean that not allowing people to pass wealth on to their children is not a pragmatic way out for a species that cares about its children or the partners they leave behind, I agree completely.

        • Posted January 17, 2017 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

          Sorry, I misread ‘way out of line’ for ‘a way out’ – which changes what you said 100%.

          • Posted January 17, 2017 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

            ‘As’, not ‘for’.

            I’m as bad at writing as reading today.

          • darrelle
            Posted January 17, 2017 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

            Thanks for clarifying, I wasn’t sure if I had misinterpreted you or you had misinterpreted me.

  11. Diana MacPherson
    Posted January 17, 2017 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    Inheritance doesn’t bother me. I do hate taxes imposed on people inheriting a small sum of money. I don’t like the massive disparity between rich and poor anywhere, especially when it is so disproportionate
    and hardly reflects the quality of work produced. CEOs making so much more than their workers is ridiculous and the richest countries being so far above the poorest is borderline obscene.

    Eliminating poverty goes a long way in improving a lot of things. People care more about things like the environment and social welfare – it’s hard to devote time to such things when you are living hand to mouth. It can only be good for education as well.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted January 17, 2017 at 11:44 am | Permalink

      Inheritance doesn’t bother me either. I think once people have paid their fair share of taxes etc throughout their life, they should be able to leave their money to whoever they want. (And I’ve never inherited anything and probably never will.)

      The ultra-wealthy do need to pay more taxes, but I understand why they would balk at doing so when the way their taxes are used in some countries is so unfair. When you see tax breaks for certain sectors for no other reason than because bribes have been paid to politicians, it’s not right. I can understand why so many wealthy USians have their own foundations so they can control where their charity goes, for example.

      A lot of people, especially Libertarians, think it doesn’t matter how much the wealthiest earn, as long as the average wage keeps rising. Economists have discovered in recent years that this is another myth, along with trickle-down economics (which the GOP still clings to). Reduced income inequality is important for the economic health of society.

      That’s not to advocate communism, which is also a stupid idea. But EVERYBODY, including the wealthy, really does do better when there is less income inequality.

      • eric
        Posted January 17, 2017 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

        I think once people have paid their fair share of taxes etc throughout their life, they should be able to leave their money to whoever they want.

        One thing people seem to forget about inheritance is that it’s perfectly normal for the government to tax transfers of money from one person to another. Your company makes money…and gets taxed on the profit they make. They transfer some of the remainder to you…and you get taxed on it. You transfer some of the remainder to your housekeeper (if you have one – just by way of example)…and they’ll get taxed on it. Your child really isn’t any different. It may feel unfair, like they’re taxing your income twice, but that’s not really an accurate description of what’s going on. When you bequeath it to some survivor, they are getting paid, just like your housekeeper gets paid. He or she is not getting out of paying tax on the paycheck you give them by claiming its your income getting taxed twice. And your inheritor is in exactly the same position.

        Now, to make the situation fairer, what the government *could* do is give a tax break on funds you ‘lock away’ for inheritance. Just as corporations don’t pay tax on the money used for payroll and you get a tax break for money spent home business expenses and so on. If the money is just “passing through” you and you aren’t using it, there’s a credible argument to be made that you shouldn’t have to pay the full tax rate on it. But the person you give it to should. For them, it’s pure profit (less any expenses they use to bury you :).

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted January 17, 2017 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

          I don’t disagree. Perhaps it’s because of what I’m used to. We don’t have death or estate taxes. We don’t tax money received from life insurance when someone dies (afaik you don’t either). We don’t tax lottery wins. I just think someone has died, and most people are already pretty upset in that circumstance and would rather have the person back than what they inherited from them. I can’t imagine it’s that much money either as a %age of the total tax take. There’ll be plenty of opportunity to collect taxes once they start using the inheritance.

  12. Tamethyst
    Posted January 17, 2017 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    Surely this is just a case of SH*T happens. It’s part of the natural order of human society. Monarchy goes back a long way to when whichever one of us had the biggest ancestors became the kings of society. Capitalism is where the power is at nowadays.
    I’m not a Social Darwinist but it fits the facts and best explains why we have this capitalist hypnotised society today.
    Religion & socialism were set up to try to combat the out and out ultra effects of the worst excesses that humans have to undergo in life to try to bring some relief. Religion by promulgating fairy tales of a life hereafter and to quell the masses. Socialism/communism were set up to bring some kind of equality and a safety net for the lowest on the food chain.
    Religion & Socialism have failed to cope with what money can provide.
    Until humanity stop being hypnotised by bits of metal or computer generated money pixels on a screen we are stuck with capitalism.

    The ultra rich only have money if we believe they have it. Maybe this is all too radical but I don’t see a way it’ll ever change until and if or when capitalism is over.
    So life on this planet has to cope with the old pyramid shaped oppression of One big master at the top of society and the masses at the bottom propping up the system. It always has been the way and will probably always be like that. Only one queen bee at a time is allowed though.

    • Posted January 17, 2017 at 11:26 am | Permalink

      It’s less a pyramid than a sharp spike hanging from skyhooks..

    • Rita
      Posted January 17, 2017 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

      You’re suggesting that the extreme, unmitigated capitalism we have in this country is the only possibility. But the system we live under now wasn’t in effect after the New Deal legislation took effect, until Reagan’s time, and social Democracy works very well in some other countries. Certainly, the extremely wealthy will always do what they can to accumulate as much as they can, that is why regulations to curtail that must be in place.

      • Carl
        Posted January 17, 2017 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

        Yes, by all means, let’s prevent the next Bill Gates from accumulating $65 billion. And along the way creating trillions of dollars in wealth that that enriches the rest of the world. How short sighted.

  13. GBJames
    Posted January 17, 2017 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    To those who are not bothered by extreme differences in wealth… I wonder if there is any degree of disparity that would bother you. If five people controlled 99.99% of the economy would that be OK?

    • Posted January 17, 2017 at 11:29 am | Permalink

      *Control* of the economy would bother me, wealth disparity itself would not.

      Gates and Zuckerburg have (or had) control over Microsoft and Facebook, to quite an extent, but not much control beyond that. And suppose the share price of Microsoft and Facebook plummeted. That would not really change the control that they had.

      • GBJames
        Posted January 17, 2017 at 11:56 am | Permalink

        Have your word choice.

        If five people controlled 99.99999% of the wealth would that be OK?

        • Posted January 17, 2017 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

          As I said, I care about control over the economy and society, not wealth disparity per se.

          So the answer is, if it caused a large degree of control over the economy and society, then yes.

          As it is, I’d say that someone like, for example, Angela Merkel, has more control over the world than the eight billionaires in the OP added together.

          • Posted January 17, 2017 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

            + 1

          • dallos
            Posted January 18, 2017 at 1:44 am | Permalink

            Even if it’s true, Angela Merkel was elected
            and the Germans could vote for someone else.
            When will be the next election for the billionaires?

    • BJ
      Posted January 17, 2017 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

      I don’t really care about the specific numbers, and I don’t think anyone else should be, either. I think the concern should be whether the lowest classes have enough to live comfortably. The people at the top can be as rich as they can become, so long as we manage to take care of everyone reasonably.

      • GBJames
        Posted January 17, 2017 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

        I don’t disagree with that. Except that these things are related to each other.

      • Filippo
        Posted January 17, 2017 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

        I assume that, so far, I’m not obligated to stand up and genuflect when these top people walk into a room, or celebrate them one whit more on account of their wealth (as opposed to what good they do for humankind with their wealth).

  14. Historian
    Posted January 17, 2017 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    Technically speaking, at the federal level there is no inheritance tax. There is an estate tax. With an inheritance tax the beneficiaries of an estate are taxed on what they get from the estate. With an estate tax the value of the decedent’s estate at death is taxed (not the beneficiaries).

    If my understanding is correct, for 2017 estates are taxed when the value of the estate (after deductions) is $5.49 million. This amount is adjusted every year for inflation. If at death the value of the decedent’s estate is less than $5.49 million the difference can be credited as an addition to a surviving spouse’s $5.49 million exemption. Only 2 out of 1,000 estates will pay any federal estate tax. Many of the rich, with the proper estate planning, can often pay little or no estate tax. If this is not accutate, please correct me.

    Clearly, the estate tax exemption is quite generous and effects only the wealthiest of estates. I have no trouble with the exemption amount for many of the reasons other commentators have suggested.

    In a comment I made earlier today on another post, I mentioned how the Republicans have continually repeated the same lies over and over again with great success. Regarding the estate tax, which they call the “death” tax, they have convinced many that the estate tax will deny the children of a decedent the pittance that Daddy left when he died. I doubt that many people know only the ultra-rich, as described above, will pay anything.

    • tomh
      Posted January 17, 2017 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

      True enough for federal tax, but wealthy people need to be careful which state they reside in when they die. Currently, some states have an estate tax, some have an inheritance tax, some have both, some have neither. Washington state, for example, has a 20% estate tax. Most states adhere to the federal exemption, but some are lower by quite a bit.

      • eric
        Posted January 17, 2017 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

        Its getting to be so annoying as to resemble rent-seeking by the government – or lawyers, I’m not sure which. It used to be a Will would take care of all this stuff. But I’ve been told by several friends and relatives lately, after one of theirs has died, that you really need to have a Trust in place to ensure the government doesn’t take the money or cause you to spend loads of time and resources defending your inheritance. Trusts, however, cost about an order of magnitude more than a Will ($thousands instead of $hundreds). It sure seems like a system designed to be an informal transfer tax.

        • Filippo
          Posted January 17, 2017 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

          “Trusts, however, cost about an order of magnitude more than a Will ($thousands instead of $hundreds).”

          Because they are significantly more difficult to draw up, or that attorneys are simply charging whatever the market for trusts will bear?

        • tomh
          Posted January 17, 2017 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

          You should look into it. My wife and I had a trust done and it cost nowhere near that. It’s not so much to avoid taxes, we’re nowhere near the exemption, as to make things easier on the kids, avoid probate and simplify the whole process.

          • Diane G.
            Posted January 17, 2017 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

            I did the same thing for the same reasons and agree it was relatively painless.

      • Historian
        Posted January 17, 2017 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

        This site lists the estate and inheritance taxes for the various states as of 2016. Most states do not have an estate or inheritance tax. I believe New Jersey is phasing out the estate tax, but keeping the inheritance tax.

        For people living in states with an estate and/or inheritance tax need to review in detail exactly how the tax works in the state of interest since each state has different requirements, exemptions, etc.


  15. Posted January 17, 2017 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    Several thoughts:

    1. Gates and Buffet are distributing portions of their money to various causes. Even, Betsy Devoe, the proposed new Secretary of Education donates to causes of her preference. I don’t agree with the causes Betsy promotes, but she’s doing her thing to try to help as are Gates and Buffet. Bezo

    • Posted January 17, 2017 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

      Sorry. I accidentally cut myself off. I started to say that Bezos and numerous other wealthy capitalists are putting their money into space programs, clean energy, electric cars, etc. That may eventually make them money, but more likely not.

      2. Where are the names on this list of the extraordinarily wealthy from Vietnam, China, India, Russia, etc.? We know they exist. One of the Russian wealthy just arranged for Elton John and another popular singer to perform at his granddaughter’s wedding for hefty fees. Our businesses and our property are being bought by foreign wealth. When Japan was wealthy, they did it. Now China is doing it (and others).

      3. Who will force the poor to stop buying things they supposedly can’t afford such as TVs, computers, cell phones, other electronics, soda, alcohol, cigarettes, junk food, etc.?

      On the other hand, who will force the wealthy to share their wealth with the poor?

      How are we to make income equitable without taking away choice and freedoms from all parties concerned?

      5. Because we urgently want there to be a solution, we have a tendency to oversimplify the problems and the potential resolutions.

      6. The “wealthy” that are not wealthy enough to be part of the 1% pay inheritance taxes. According to my attorney, In most states, it’s any amount over $5,000,000. In Oregon, it’s any amount over $1,000,000. It’s a hefty tax that siphons off money to the state instead of going to family or charities or wherever the person wants it to go. The super wealthy can afford attorneys to figure out ways around this.

      7. It used to be said that if all the money in the world were doled out equally to all people,
      that the formerly poor would become poor again and the formerly rich would become rich again.
      I don’t know if this is true, but I read at times about lottery winners who blow it all very rapidly.

      • Posted January 17, 2017 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

        Numbering wrong. Sorry. I took something out and didn’t get the numbering corrected.

      • Historian
        Posted January 17, 2017 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

        Regarding your point number 6, go to this site for what appears to be reliable information on the federal estate tax:


        It is my understanding that bequests to charity are deducted from the gross estate before the amount to be taxed to an estate is determined.
        Thus, bequesting to charity will reduce the amount the estate is taxed.

        As I noted in comment #14, the federal estate tax effect very few estates.

        Each state has different rules regarding state estate taxes. Many states have no state estate tax. If this is a concern for you, you should consider moving to a state that doesn’t have a state estate tax.

        • Posted January 18, 2017 at 9:14 am | Permalink

          Thanks for citation of a source of reliable information and for the suggestion that I move to a state with no estate tax. For any person concerned about ownership of property, inheritance laws, or any of the laws that affect all people living there, it would be wise to research the laws of the different states to determine which suits you and your situation best. However, I know of numerous people who did the research before retiring from high cost, high tax states to states with lower housing costs and lower taxes, only to lose their homes and the value of much (in some cases, all) of their wealth when the banks messed us over in 2008, etc. We can try, but we can’t know it all. And, it’s easy to be blindsided by some business, organization, law
          that we either don’t know or don’t comprehend fully.

  16. Posted January 17, 2017 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

    Total 427 Billion for these 8 Left-tilted men.
    If “distributed” to 7 billion world, $61
    If “distributed” to 327 million USA, $1,306
    If it is said, “No, we don’t want to ‘distribute’ ALL their wealth, just 33%,” then divide 61 and 1306 by 33% and see what’s left.

    Obviously, that is going to solve nothing.

    Here are my points:
    1) “Soak the rich and distribute the loot” is a Progressive knee-jerk reflex. It includes the idea that wealth is static and manipulating it is a zero-sum game;
    2) All this “distributing” is carried out by coercion, and that is anti-human;
    3) Much of obscene inequality in world economy has been constructed through the reification of Keynes, which is a Progressive biblical belief.
    4) These rich men are what used to be called “limousine liberals,” meaning disgustingly rich people espousing egalitarianism and social justice. They either give some away for tax breaks, or spend their time advocating for more collectivism of other people’s money. That is hypocrisy.

    • Jeremy Tarone
      Posted January 17, 2017 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

      “2) All this “distributing” is carried out by coercion, and that is anti-human;”

      I’ve heard that from many people, each one had a different idea of which government services were necessary, few of them agreed, none of them can offer rational reasons why their chosen government service is sacrosanct and others are not, and none of them have ever offered a serious method of funding even those minor services that don’t involve taxes. They tend come up with absurd plans like volunteerism, or taxes on imports which are just coercive taxes on other people, including the owners of the businesses and the consumers.
      Taxes on thee but not on me.

      Gates and Buffett have given away almost 60 billion dollars between them to charity. They don’t have a hope of ever recouping even a portion of that from tax breaks.
      People at their wealth level don’t need to use charities as a tax gimmick.

      • Posted January 17, 2017 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

        If the Federal Budget were, say, $1 trillion, it could be financed voluntarily, or by small fees charged to everyone for transactions. Many other created methods.

        The problem is, the difference between 3.6 Trillion and 1.0 Trillion is: the amount spent on Social Services. In other words, the Progressive Project to fund a safety net would have to be replaced by private methods.

        • Jeremy Tarone
          Posted January 17, 2017 at 7:11 pm | Permalink

          Fees on transactions is a tax, which according to you is coercion.

          As for volunteer taxes, that’s just another way of saying “taxes for thee, but not for me” and makes as much sense as a volunteer government. Some people demanding they pay no taxes on their labour but wanting others to labour for free. “I want to keep all my income, but others can pay if they want.”

          That’s never worked. If volunteer taxes worked they wouldn’t need, as you call it, coercion.

          Size of the government (or budget) is immaterial, whatever size it is it needs to be paid for, and some way of paying for it needs to spelled out.

          “Many other created methods” is rather vague, a hand wavy way of not having a plan to pay the budget.

          How do we determine which services are sacrosanct and which are needless when there is a wide variety of opinion on the matter? Libertarians who call taxes coercion can’t even agree and they have no method of arbitrating the problem except for the government they hate.

          • Posted January 17, 2017 at 10:00 pm | Permalink

            You continue to put the cart before the horse. Coercion is the problem. Payment for services voluntarily contracted is the solution.

            And the size does matter. Right now we have a Leviathan, that justifies your insistence that volunteer payment is impossible.

            But a small commons to pay for defense of the nation and national courts, easily under $1 trillion per year, could be financed without coercion. There’s no point in discussing various creative methods until the core concept is established: 1) small government; 2) no coercion.

            It’s rather sickening that people surrender their freedom for what appears to be security, the security of collective claim on each other’s wealth under law.

            And they surrender it not with shame and reluctance, but pride and belligerence.

    • Simon Hayward
      Posted January 17, 2017 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

      Apparently if you are that rich you don’t get a tax break for giving it away – came up when Buffet released his tax return as a shot at Trump during the primary. I was surprised, will endeavor to become rich enough to give things away and not benefit – still have some way to go 🙂

    • Diane G.
      Posted January 17, 2017 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

      “4) These rich men are what used to be called “limousine liberals,” meaning disgustingly rich people espousing egalitarianism and social justice. They either give some away for tax breaks, or spend their time advocating for more collectivism of other people’s money. That is hypocrisy.”

      Read through the Gates Foundation’s annual letters. Here’s the most recent:


      And penultimate one:


      And so on.

  17. rickflick
    Posted January 17, 2017 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

    I notice most of these wealthiest are from the US. What does that say about our system? It seems we are closer to Laissez-faire capitalism than most others. The conservatives here want to conserve that at any price.

    • BJ
      Posted January 17, 2017 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

      It could mean a lot of things, including that we’re a country that leads in innovation or research or geniuses or providing things people want or a ton of others. There’s no reason to think it’s one particular thing.

      • Posted January 17, 2017 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

        Also a country with enough openness. Does anyone know how much Putin owns? Or Erdogan?

        • Filippo
          Posted January 17, 2017 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

          Who forces any of these eight to tell anyone their financial status? I reasonably figure some billionaires are sufficiently status-conscious that they want to know where they stand in the capitalist pecking order.

          Who are the richest people in any of the Eastern European countries?

  18. Ken Kukec
    Posted January 17, 2017 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    I, for one, do not welcome our new plutocratic octagonal-overlords.

    I doubt the long arc of history will look kindly on such wealth inequality. I’m open to any reasonable solution, but a guaranteed minimum income in this country might be a place to start. Both liberals and libertarians have begun making that argument.

    • Posted January 17, 2017 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

      Finland has plans to do GMI in 2017. Let’s see how it works for them.

    • Carl
      Posted January 17, 2017 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

      Begun? Milton Friedman was making the argument more than 50 years ago. He was also arguing that this angst over the super rich is misplaced.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted January 17, 2017 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

        First time I heard it, I was a newly minted 18-year-old voter helping out on the McGovern campaign when George announced a plan to give every American man-jack and woman-jill $10k per annum. The next time I heard it, it was from libertarian-right writer Charles Murray (the co-author of the infamous The Bell Curve), who’s something of a Friedman acolyte.

        I should’ve probably said that the argument’s “begun to gain momentum.”

        • Carl
          Posted January 17, 2017 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

          Have you read The Bell Curve? I think the “infamy” was undeserved. At the time, Blank Slate ideology was yet to be widely disgraced, and the book was pummeled because it did not discount genetic inheritance completely.

          • Ken Kukec
            Posted January 17, 2017 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

            I read the lengthy excerpt of it that was in The New Republic at the time of its publication, as well as many of the scholarly responses TNR published in response thereto. I think TBC came in for some undeserved criticism from the public and lay press, but — from what I’ve read of the scholarly responses — it came in for some deserved criticism, too.

            • Carl
              Posted January 18, 2017 at 12:44 am | Permalink

              My main criticism was that they probably had data on religious beliefs and IQ, but didn’t present any data or comparative analysis.

      • Filippo
        Posted January 17, 2017 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

        I gather that he also held that the angst over harm done to U.S. flesh-and-blood human beings by U.S. corporations – in the absence of U.S. governmental regulation – was sufficiently remedied by U.S. tort law remedies. (The recent Wells Fargo fiasco, and arbitration as the only remedy available to those wronged, comes to mind.)

  19. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted January 17, 2017 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    Of course a too large Gini index and lacking social security is harmful, it is an old result as far as I know. But as for Oxfam’s report, this is the critique 2015:

    “However, the claims on global inequality in Oxfam’s report are misleading. Oxfam is using data from Credit Suisse’s Global Wealth Report 2015, which calculates wealth based on the present value of all assets minus debts. This methodology of calculating wealth produces some strange results, …” [ https://capx.co/oxfams-claims-on-inequality-are-misleading/ ].

    The short form is that you can be considered poor while not being in poverty, especially it is a sign that you may have good prospect and can loan a lot.

    I wouldn’t trust an organization with an open agenda and an openly misleading method for propagating said agenda.

    As far as I know from Gapminder – which both shows raw data and what they do with it – the trend for the poorest people is that they are a rapidly decreasing part of the world population, with a projected eradication 2030ish.

    The main economical problem the last 30 years is claimed to be “the elephant curve” precisely because of the redistribution of wealth from the rich half to the poor. The poorest people in US and EU are globally rich, and their income has increased relatively little. (But I read somewhere it isn’t zero.) That seems to be the feeding ground for disquiet and populism.

  20. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted January 17, 2017 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    couldnt money or wealth, though not genetic, be akin to an “extended phenotype” (a Dawkins idea, and book)?

  21. Posted January 17, 2017 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    Back in the mid 1980’s I had a teacher that looked forward and seen that more jobs would be lost due to automation and electronics. Add to that population growth and you have a situation where there is not enough jobs for everyone. He proposed several solutions. One people needed a base income to have their needs met regardless of their work. Then he felt people needed to be taught how to be productive in their off time. Things like writing or doing crafts even if no one see them. He claimed that in those times people with too much unproductive time became self destructive. lastly he felt people would work share jobs. Person A would work a couple days, person B would work a couple days. Some jobs would be split by hours not days. I thought the man was pretty smart. Hugs

  22. Posted January 17, 2017 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    Hmm. Half the total wealth of the pie goes to the eight? or half goes to the 1%? Isn’t there an inconsistency here or what am I missing?

    • Posted January 18, 2017 at 7:32 am | Permalink

      You’re missing that the richest eight plus the poorest half (Shouldn’t that be “poorer half?) don’t add up to the total wealth. There’s also the richer half that aren’t among the richest eight.

  23. Mike
    Posted January 17, 2017 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    Something that is close to this but I rarely see discussed is the lack of relationship between the intrinsic value of someone’s work, and their income.

    Does it directly harm people having some be insanely wealthy while others struggle? Well, consider the possible psychological effects of getting up every morning to grind away at a job which is indispensable to society, and still having to worry about the potential of a devastating illness, making mortgage payments, or taking care of you children. Meanwhile the inescapable truth of people who’s occupations are trivial in respect to your own not having to want for life’s basics are thrown at you non-stop by television and the internet. Libertarians are right to emphasize that we humans have a desire for freedom on our hard drives, but we also surely have a desire for some kind of fairness; our current setup is indifferent to the relationship between how one contributes to society, and how they are remunerated for it.

    People who throw out the old line “why should I be taxed more for working harder” are either being deliberately dishonest, or have not been paying attention to how the world works. As a farmer, I have to roll my eyes at an actor or athlete who complains about being taxed at a higher percentage than others. Yes, I like movies, but some jobs really are more important than others, and the fact is that you pretend for a living, and people like me feed you. You’ve spent so much time worrying about wealth re-distribution, that you’ve completely ignored wealth distribution.

    • Posted January 17, 2017 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

      One way to judge the value of someone’s work would be to think about what you’d do if they went on strike.

      Health workers, transport operators, shop keepers, emergency services and trash collectors would hurt.

      Actors, adverting execs, professors of the humanities… not so much.

  24. Posted January 17, 2017 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

    Oh sorry, I got it.

  25. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted January 17, 2017 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    Here is Gapminder’s ironic movie on why there is no income of the gaps to mind about … or something like that: http://www.gapminder.org/answers/how-many-are-rich-and-how-many-are-poor/ . I note that Rosling uses a log scale, but it is probably appropriate for the distribution.

  26. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted January 17, 2017 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    Four high-tech folk and not a single movie star among them. There was a day when some of the richest people in the world were folks like Cary Grant and Charlie Chaplin.

  27. peepuk
    Posted January 17, 2017 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    Pierre-Joseph Proudhon once claimed “All property is theft”.

    If this claim is true these people shown on these mugshots are probably the biggest criminals in the world and should be jailed immediately.

    • Posted January 17, 2017 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

      By ‘property’ Proudhon he meant capital. Factory owners, landlords, and such. Proudhon distinguished between private property and personal property. Personal property is one guarantee of independence from the State.

      Ursula LeGuin’s The Dispossessed features a society which takes lack of property (possessions) to the extreme: their language doesn’t even include possessives. They say ‘the mother’, not ‘my mother’, and children are raised communally.

      They even say ‘the hand’ not ‘my hand’.

      • peepuk
        Posted January 18, 2017 at 6:13 am | Permalink

        I’m not sure but I think I’ve have the “All property is Theft” from George Orwell’s Animal Farm; probably a quote from one of the pigs.

        I believe that Proudhon indeed didn’t use the word “all”.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted January 18, 2017 at 6:27 am | Permalink

          Are you sure? I don’t recall that in Animal Farm, though I could be worng.

          Sure you’re not riffing on 1984’s
          War is Peace
          Freedom is Slavery
          Ignorance is Strength ?

          My favourite quote from Animal Farm is

          All Animals are Equal
          But some are more equal than others

          It appeals to my cynical streak and I love the sly paradox of ‘more equal’ (a bit like ‘differently abled’ come to think of it)


          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted January 18, 2017 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

            “More equal”, like “true facts”.

  28. Posted January 17, 2017 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

    This is something that I think is misleading. It annoys when I see Americans complaining about income inequality because there isn’t much in America. It’s pretty much average for global inequality.

    What is different is that it has the super rich and the 1% and all that but I find that misleading. I don’t spend any time caring about what the 1% is doing. They are a tiny minority. It’s more important how income is spread through the majority of the population.

    If 80% of the country has income equality, there some poorer and some richer and then there’s a super rich 1%, who cares? As long as most have a good quality of life then it doesn’t matter if some are super rich or not. Getting rid of that 1% isn’t going to help anyone.

  29. Carl
    Posted January 17, 2017 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    A more important statistic is that since 1980 the percentage of the world’s population living in extreme poverty has dropped from 44 to under 10.

    The rich aren’t generally taking money from the poor. The rich are making most people better off (probable exceptions like Trump notwithstanding).

    I have personal experience with Bill Gates. I am better off by far since he came on the scene. My phone, my computer, the internet, all of which Gates had a hand in, enrich my life tremendously. Then there is the fact that working 10 years for his company made me moderately wealthy. I then spend this money helping enrich others in my community. His charitable contributions are the least of it.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted January 17, 2017 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

      No. Gates and Microsoft contributed nothing. They were very good at business strategy and controlling the market. They were never technical pioneers of any sort. You name any Microsoft ‘development’ and I can name an equivalent development by someone else.

      If Microsoft had never existed there would still be just as many phones, computers and the Internet (which developed mostly on Unix, nothing to do with MS) around. And arguably more competition and cheaper.


    • peepuk
      Posted January 18, 2017 at 6:55 am | Permalink

      Microsoft has never been innovative, unlike Apple and Alphabet. Microsoft mostly tried to block innovation; pretty common behavior for a monopolist.

  30. docbill1351
    Posted January 17, 2017 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    Is my math correct that the poorest 3.5 billion people have a wealth, on average, of about $121?

    I probably have that in coins lying around the house. That being the case, each of us represents a portion of that 3.5 billion. It’s a shocking thought, actually.

  31. David Duncan
    Posted January 17, 2017 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    If more poor people became wealthier what about the extra resources they could and would consume? Cars, petrol, food, clothing, etc. That stuff has to come from somewhere and so resource consumption, food consumption, global warming and so on would increase.

    • tomh
      Posted January 17, 2017 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

      Keep them poor to save the planet.

      • David Duncan
        Posted January 17, 2017 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

        This will be a problem whether you like it or not. If you have something sensible to say on the issue I’m all ears.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted January 17, 2017 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

      It seems odious that we, who already consume and have way more than most in the world, decide who can be rich like us because we don’t want to adapt or give up anything so others can live in similar comfort, doesn’t it?

      • Posted January 17, 2017 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

        I don’t see rich countries deciding who else can be rich. Rather, I see poor countries keeping themselves in poverty by wars, genocides, socialism, cleptocracy, oppression, open banditism, poor education, lack of roads and other basic services and, above all, failure to undergo the demographic transition.

        E.g. Haiti has less than a third of the territory of my country, yet has 1.5 times larger population, and is still far from the demographic transition. This means little natural resources per capita. Yet most Haitians seem to think that their poverty is other people’s fault.

        • Filippo
          Posted January 17, 2017 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

          ” . . . and, above all, failure to undergo the demographic transition.”

          I have donned sackcloth and ashes . . . . I confess, I do not know what “the demographic transition” means. Could I trouble you to enlighten me?

          • stephen
            Posted January 17, 2017 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

            The “demographic transition” occurs when the birth-rate declines and a population ceases to grow.

          • Posted January 18, 2017 at 1:37 am | Permalink

            The transition from many to few children per family. At a glance, the parameter showing it is the total fertility rate (TFR), showing the number of children per woman. In a population with low mortality, the replacement TFR is 2.1.
            Originally, the high birth rate of human populations was largely balanced by a high mortality rate (though in such societies all demographic data are estimates, because nobody keeps actual statistics). Then an unstable moment comes when the population already has a low mortality rate, but still keeps the high birth rate. For Western European countries, this was the era of colonialism. That is, they dumped their unsustainable population growth on other people against their will.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted January 17, 2017 at 9:20 pm | Permalink

          But my point was that we, the rich part of the globe, don’t get to decide to keep a place in poverty because it’s bad for the environment if everyone consumes like us. People often struggle with the problem of what to do if the poor nations become wealthy because resources can’t support it. The answer is not that those nations should be deprived of wealth but that we won’t be able to consume like we do, if we are going to be ethical about it.

          • Michael Fisher
            Posted January 17, 2017 at 9:42 pm | Permalink

            I’m absolutely in agreement Diana MacP.

            Further thoughts:

            ** It is the wealthy nations who need rare metals & other raw materials [plus cheap labour] who are making deals with the leaders [tyrants] of rogue states so that the leaders can enrich their foreign bank accounts & bypass sharing wealth with the people. No benefit to the citizens in the form of ‘proper’ jobs, welfare & infrastructure. Just about every first world nation is playing this post-colonial game with underdeveloped nations.

            The same game applies to arms exports with a high proportion of the sales being conducted via dealers. The proxy war thing.

            We in the rich nations [including India, China & Russia here] have to agree to stop all these state-sanctioned shenanigans

            For everyone in the world to be fed we need to share cheap & effective technology worldwide plus change the values system that rates owning the latest Jag as a worthy status symbol.

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted January 18, 2017 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

              The arms exports thing is shocking. I attended a talk by Samantha Nutt where the global north supplies the global south with arms that just perpetuate nasty wars and thus make profit from conflict.

              • Michael Fisher
                Posted January 18, 2017 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

                Good, [but horrific] talk thank you – I didn’t realise until now that she’s a Canuck. Cool person.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted January 18, 2017 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

                A Canuck & a graduate from my alma mater. 🙂

          • Posted January 18, 2017 at 1:39 am | Permalink

            Here I entirely agree with you.

      • David Duncan
        Posted January 18, 2017 at 4:42 am | Permalink

        We don’t make that decision. The elites and common folk in the Third World do. And we in the First World can cut our consumption in many ways that would make possible the enrichment of Third World lives. If Bill Gates forgoes, say, a $10,000 night at the opera that money would go a long way in Bangladesh. Most of us have cars, nice residences, numerous airline flights each year, and so on. Some retrenchment in that area would go a long way but I don’t expect many to make the sacrifice.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted January 18, 2017 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

          See Michael Fisher’s comments on arms trade, etc. Most Western governments trade arms and keep conflicts alive for profit. Simple consumer choices can influence arms trade, how people are paid, etc. We’d much rather others stayed poor so that we can be rich and the fact that we often wring our hands thinking about how someone else could get an equal slice of the resource pie, is in itself ethically questionable.

    • Posted January 17, 2017 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

      Global population number must decrease.

      • Posted January 18, 2017 at 4:44 am | Permalink

        Amen, and it is in many First World countries. But it needs to decrease in the Third World too, where people are frequently starving to death.

  32. Posted January 17, 2017 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    It is incredibly wasteful that the world’s finite resources (the ultimate source of all wealth) are concentrated in hands of so few. The unspoken assumption here is that the ‘top’ 1% are ‘qualified’ to decide how best to use this wealth to benefit society. History shows that the opposite is really the case. Couple this with rampant human overpopulation and you have an ecological time bomb.

    • Carl
      Posted January 17, 2017 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

      Sometimes I wish a country would organize itself with this mentality just to show everyone what a Utopia it would be.

      Oh, wait, we’ve already had that. But, of course, the Soviet Union and China didn’t do it right.

    • Filippo
      Posted January 17, 2017 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

      I’m reminded (if I correctly remember what I’ve read) that the post-republic Romans, in their decadence, conceptualized, built and employed vomitoria.

      • Posted January 17, 2017 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

        New Oxford American Dictionary:

        vomitorium |ˌvɑməˈtɔriəm|
        noun (plural vomitoria |-ˈtôrēə| )
        1 each of a series of entrance or exit passages in an ancient Roman amphitheater or theater.
        2 a place in which, according to popular misconception, the ancient Romans are supposed to have vomited during feasts to make room for more food.

        [my emphasis]


        • rickflick
          Posted January 17, 2017 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

          Misconception? Awww. You’re destroying my fondest fantasies.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted January 18, 2017 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

          I was going to mention that as well. Vomitoria spewed people out of buildings. However, today I used “deus ex machina” and was told not to.

          • Posted January 18, 2017 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

            Yeah, Gartner bought Machina last year, so you have to say, “deus ex hortulanus” now!


            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted January 18, 2017 at 6:36 pm | Permalink


    • John Taylor
      Posted January 17, 2017 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

      Is software a finite resource???

  33. Posted January 17, 2017 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

    It is incredibly wasteful that the world’s finite resources (the ultimate source of all wealth) are concentrated in the hands of so few. The unspoken assumption here is that the ‘top’ 1% are ‘qualified’ to decide how best to use this wealth to benefit society. History shows that the opposite is really the case. Couple this with rampant human overpopulation and you have an ecological time bomb.

  34. wendell read
    Posted January 17, 2017 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    The statement that there are 8 people whose combined net worth exceeds that of the bottom half of everyone in the world may very well be true, but it is badly misleading. The combined net worth of the bottom half of the world is actually negative according to some estimates. Much more accurate data are available for the USA. The bottom 40% of all Americans have a negative combined net worth. Thus, I personally have a net worth in excess of the combined net worth of the bottom 40% of all Americans.

    • BJ
      Posted January 17, 2017 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

      Yes, as other commenters like Torbjorn stated, these numbers are purposefully calculated in a manner that makes the issue look far worse than it actually is.

      • DiscoveredJoys
        Posted January 17, 2017 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

        I used to support Oxfam but no longer do because of their ‘politification’ of the charity. I consider cherry picking statistics to generate outrage to be unworthy of what used to be a good charity. In the UK other ‘big charities’ are becoming ‘big businesses’ too.

        I now support a local hospice, a local health charity, and a national charity that researches heart disease. Interestingly, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution is supported solely by donations and has refused government grants to avoid ‘government interference’.

        • Filippo
          Posted January 17, 2017 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

          To whom shall one go to get the “Truth” of the matter?

          • BJ
            Posted January 17, 2017 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

            I think one has to look at as many sources as possible, check their methodologies, and come to a final conclusion based on the available information. No one source is the arbiter of truth.

            Unfortunately, there is indeed a worrying trend that nearly every source seems to be becoming increasingly politicized for one side of an issue/ideology or another.

  35. rickflick
    Posted January 17, 2017 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    In the modern world, with billions of people, it is difficult to appreciate this income disparity, especially if you fall into the middle class. If you translate the wealth distribution to an ancient city-state what would that look like? Probably in a population of 20,000 people, this would correspond to 1 person owning more than half of every resource – land, cattle, concubines, buildings, etc. This does not seem to be an unlikely state of affairs. Maybe this imbalance is the norm over historic periods of time. As Mel Brooks once said, “It’s good to be the King”.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted January 17, 2017 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

      Pareto seemed to think it applied to his time.

  36. Posted January 17, 2017 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

    Felix Salmon does some math on that Oxfam post. Key point is 40% of the world’s population has 0 saved wealth. And so……

    Quote: “The result is that if you use Oxfam’s methodology, my niece, with 50 cents in pocket money, has more wealth than the bottom 40% of the world’s population combined. As do I, and as do you, most likely, assuming your net worth is positive. You don’t need to find eight super-wealthy billionaires to arrive at a shocking wealth statistic; you can take just about anybody.”


    • Dick Veldkamp
      Posted January 17, 2017 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

      That does not change Oxfam’s main point though, that the wealth distribution is insanely unequal.

      • Posted January 17, 2017 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

        Not sure you or others would agree, but my view is Oxfam hurt themselves and the fight against inequality by doing this. Misleading frames and misleading arguments fire up your side. Great! But they also come across as flawed, or worst case fake news, for those with whom you disagree. Bottom line is even though inequality is a huge problem, I think this kind of post merely makes everyone more partisan. Making it even harder to change people’s minds down the road. Of course changing minds is very hard. And most write to rile up their side. But if Oxfam’s goal was to change minds, not rile up the converted, I think they failed. Again, I suspect you may disagree. Just my two cents.

        • Dick Veldkamp
          Posted January 18, 2017 at 4:09 am | Permalink

          Frankly I do not understand why some people get so worked up about the 100% factual accuracy of the statement “8 richest have as much wealth as 50% of the world’s population”. Oxfam prepared a detailed report, and this is the headline. https://www.oxfam.org/en/research/economy-1

          Is that headline 100% true? Depends on how you look at it. Do we have enough information about people’s wealth for such a precise statement? Probably not. Should we take negative wealth (debts) into account? Maybe yes, maybe no. What about pensions?

          About Oxfam hurting itself: I doubt that. You can talk endlessly about nuance and details, but the people against wealth redistribution hate Oxfam anyway. (Can you imagine those people saying “Hey, I never realised that wealth is distributed so unequally. Now that I have seen that super-nuanced 100% factually accurate unassailable Oxfam report, I have totally changed my mind! Gonna make a donation today!”

          I compare Oxfam’s statement to statement like “Smoking causes cancer” and “Climate change is caused by CO2”: true in spirit but maybe not in letter.

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted January 18, 2017 at 5:46 am | Permalink

            I’m right with you, Dick. I have no doubt the hairsplitting nitpickers would find something to disagree with however Oxfam phrased it. It’s to their advantage to do so.

            Such as, ‘oh you can’t say those eight people have that much wealth, most of it is in investments and if they tried to sell it all at once the price would crash’. So what? With hairsplitting like that, no-one can make a meaningful statement about anything.

            The real point is that the wealth is extremely unevenly distributed. It might be more relevant to ask what it is the top 1% actually do that merits their getting paid a hundred times as much as a sewer worker. (This thought becomes more pointed when they walk away with a fat golden handshake having run the organisation into the ground and leave it for someone else to sort out the mess).


          • FH
            Posted January 18, 2017 at 5:59 am | Permalink

            The problem is not that it’s not 100% factually accurate, it might well be, but that it’s grossly misleading. When people read a story like this, they imagine masses of people in deep poverty in rural areas in Africa and Asia but that’s not at all what this is about. Wealth is defined as your assets minus your liabilities and if your liabilities are greater than your assets, your wealth is negative, i.e., everyone who has a positive balance, no matter their standards of living is “wealthier” than you. What’s more, the wealthier a society is, the higher personal debt tends to be so the people who are lowest on this list tend to be people who live comfortably in wealthy societies but have a lot of debt. There’s this possibly apocryphal story about Donald Trump from one of the times his businesses failed and he had to declare bankruptcy. He saw a homeless person huddling in front of Trump tower, pointed to him and said, this guy is worth billions more than I. It’s a ridiculous, perverse way to view these issues but it’s exactly right if you subscribe to the way of thinking that’s underlying this statistic.

            Now, I’m coming from the left of this issue. I think inequality is a serious issue. But when people argue that this just illustrates the larger issue and creates awareness, I’m shaking my head. It creates a false picture of reality and furthers the distrust in facts and data that creates so many problems.

    • craigp
      Posted January 17, 2017 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

      I found a similar article by the same author this morning when I did some digging around to find out how true Oxfam’s press release really is:


      which was referenced in a similar, but more strongly-worded article by Fraser Nelson:


      I became suspicious when I read that “China has no people in the poorest 10pc but America has lots … Because Americans take on a lot more debt. As Felix Salmon points out, Oxfam is asking us to believe that a Harvard law student is poorer – far, far poorer – than a penniless Chinese peasant.”

      It’s not the point that Jerry is making here in this post but still worthy of consideration.

      I fear Oxfam might be going the way of Amnesty International, sadly.

  37. Posted January 17, 2017 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

    I am troubled to see how widespread some opinions are, such as to presume that the problem of the poor can be ameliorated by an arbitrary assault on the property of the rich, to presume that the world will become a better place if the estate of a deceased person goes to bureaucrats instead to his family, and even to presume that technical progress decreases employment. (Last year, I was troubled to see a candidate nominee for US president calling himself a socialist; there was something crazy in these elections from beginning to end.)

    My country’s recent history proved that taking away the property of the rich just makes everyone hopelessly poor, though the people who have expropriated property by force still find ways to keep part of it for themselves.
    Also, without the freedom to become and remain rich, there cannot be working economy, nor freedom of any sort.
    We were not sure about the taxes. Most countries we emulate have a progressive income tax. Then, a socialist (!) government introduced a flat 10% income tax with no untaxed minimum. Once introduced, everyone liked it. Since then, socialists periodically propose “increase of the taxes on rich people”, but middle class voters take the calculators, find out that it is they who are actually counted as “rich”, and say “No thanks”.

    “In Vietnam, the country‟s richest man earns more in a day than the poorest person earns in 10 years.”
    This made my evening. The country which fought – and defeated – superpower USA in order to impose socialism! I wonder, how do they sell the Vietnam war to schoolkids now? A decades-long, bloody, devastating war for this?! Maybe they present it as a war for national unification.

    • BJ
      Posted January 17, 2017 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

      “I am troubled to see how widespread some opinions are, such as …to presume that the world will become a better place if the estate of a deceased person goes to bureaucrats instead to his family…”

      This is one of my other greatest concerns (aside from what you said regarding the freedom to work for and accumulate wealth, and the other rights and freedoms that follow by extension or exist in conjunction). Government institutions have not proven that they can efficiently redistribute wealth or provide many necessary services in a matter befitting the necessitation of such extreme measures to revoke wealth from individuals in the first place. To legitimate giving the government such enormous power over the permissibly earned wealth of individuals, the government must first be far more competent and trustworthy.

      • Filippo
        Posted January 18, 2017 at 2:31 am | Permalink

        “To legitimate giving the government such enormous power over the permissibly earned wealth of individuals, the government must first be far more competent and trustworthy.”

        If one believes the paeans sung to them in the business press (Fortune, Forbes), it would seem that Fortune 500 CEO scions are the most competent and trustworthy. (Re: the noble worthies Trump is bringing into his administration.)

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted January 18, 2017 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

      Canada is a socialist country as are many countries in Europe. We have free enterprise and property ownership but we also limits on things like environmental protections that stop companies from polluting for profit and we have social safety nets, public education, pensions and universal healthcare. Socialism isn’t the same as communism or totalitarianism.

      • Posted January 18, 2017 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

        I am not sure that all Canadians would agree with this. Sanders touted Denmark as a socialist country until he evoked a rebuke that no, she is not.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted January 18, 2017 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

          And those Canadians that do so probably have a different definition of socialism than I or Saunders do. Socialism for us is of the social democratic kind and in Canada we even have a socialist party – our most left party in parliament: The New Democratic Party (NDP). It was this party that got us universal health care under Tommy Douglas, considered a hero in Canada.

          • Posted January 20, 2017 at 6:09 am | Permalink

            Yes, the term “socialism” is used by different people in different meanings with little overlap. I find it curious that its (ab)use by the worst 20th century dictators didn’t lead to its replacement.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted January 18, 2017 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

        New Zealand is similar.

        And our universal health service (paid out of taxes) not only means that nobody poor is going to die because they can’t afford treatment, but it *also* means that health insurance premiums for those of us who can afford something ‘better’ stays affordable.

        (For example, when I needed a non-urgent heart valve operation some years back – cost $40,000 – I could have gone on the public waiting list for six months to have it done in public hospital. Because I had insurance, I chose – and it was my choice – to ‘go private’ which just meant I could choose the date to suit myself and I got a private room instead of having to share one.
        Of course my premiums go up with age and next time they increase I may stop paying and rely entirely on the public system.)

        I’m firmly on the side of ‘freedom’ by which I mean the ability to do what I want (so long as I don’t seriously infringe on other people) – but I’ve never regarded taxes as an infringement on my liberty. In fact my conception of ‘freedom’ excludes being financially tied to a job because one desperately needs the health benefits.


  38. Posted January 17, 2017 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

    My wife and I specifically work in lucrative but rather uninspiring careers precisely so our children will have an opportunity to do something creative and “out of the box”, without having to worry so much about money. So I would have a problem with disallowing all wealth transfer to offspring, but I would not be against more estate taxes for the ultra-rich.

  39. Rita
    Posted January 17, 2017 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

    I’ve always disliked the term “income inequality” because it implies that incomes should be equal for everyone, and no one wants that. The correct term would be “income inequitableness”, but it isn’t used because it’s too long and unwieldy.

  40. Filippo
    Posted January 17, 2017 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

    I’m reminded that, per a NY Times article in the last couple of days, Trump’s prospective labor secretary, Andrew Puzder, has griped about the prospect of the California minimum wage being raised to $15/hr. He complains about just how much skill does it take to scoop ice cream that it warrants $15/hr? (“It’s impossible to be a capitalist in California,” or words to the that effect, he says.)

    He ought to be as easily inclined to contemplate just exactly what he himself DOES, sitting in the executive suite, to earn his millions as compared to, say, the neurosurgeon earning a fraction and who has someone’s life in his/her hands; or a U.S. president who, with the burdens of the responsibility of the office and access to the nuclear codes, earning $400K/yr; or a U.S. Marine Corps lance corporal or Navy third class hospital corpsman who goes in harm’s way on behalf of whatever “values” Puzder holds dear.

    I bet he doesn’t miss a meal (as do his employees) on account of the customer traffic picking up at lunch time at the local Hardee’s or Carl Jr’s.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted January 18, 2017 at 6:06 am | Permalink

      Well the Prez’s salary is largely nominal (did I say that about $400K/year? Jeez I’d love a token salary like that! But it’s hard to put a market value on the Prez’s earnings).

      But I absolutely agree with you when you ask just what it is, exactly, that these top executives do that makes them ‘worth’ 100 times what some poor working schmuck gets. Do they work 100 times harder? Are they 100 times smarter? Or just more cunning at weaselling themselves into positions of power?


  41. Michael Fisher
    Posted January 17, 2017 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

    The list of the top eight is incorrect as it leaves off various shady characters such as Putin

    I believe a list of the most wealthy isn’t the top concern [although it IS a concern] when discussing measures to enable the financial mobility of the poorest people. For the poorest it is very difficult to climb the ladder & that is where efforts should be concentrated.

    I admire such schemes as microcredit unions operating purely by text on mobile phone. Half of Africa at least now have access to a mobile phone & most of them don’t have access to a physical bank nor can they open a ‘normal’ online bank account, but they can receive & send money by SMS text – a revolutionary thing IMO. [link at the bottom]

    I would like to see a greater commitment to closing corporate tax loopholes & vanquishing of the tax havens! Money wants to move & it shouldn’t be stuffed away in numbered accounts.

  42. FH
    Posted January 18, 2017 at 4:52 am | Permalink

    Probably someone has already pointed this out but this stat is so misleading it’s useless. According to the methodology this is based on, a Harvard graduate with student debt in excess of his assets, is in a much lower percentile, wealth wise, than an African subsistence farmer who owns a clay hut and a goat. The latter has at least positive wealth and is therefore “richer” than about 40% of the world population… richer than me who lives comfortably in a 1st world country!

    Felix Salmon explains the problems with this stat very well:


    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted January 18, 2017 at 6:40 am | Permalink

      The Harvard grad will certainly be in a lower percentile if he can’t subsequently get a job!

      But Salmon’s hairsplitting, and committing the same classification errors that he claims Oxfam has done. Viz: “At the top end, it tells you very little: there’s no appreciable difference in purchasing power between someone with $1 billion and someone with $10 billion.”

      Whaaaat? We know perfectly well that neither person can ever spend all that. But that doesn’t make it meaningless, B has got 10 times as much locked up as A. Distribute the respective amounts among 100,000 people and they’d certainly, each one, recognise the difference.


  43. Jay
    Posted January 18, 2017 at 8:36 am | Permalink

    Interesting that California, the bluest state in the US also has the highest income disparity

    • Posted January 18, 2017 at 11:47 am | Permalink

      California is (a) a *US* state, so in many ways it is plutocratic. And (b) they do elect republican governors and such because of the interior of the state (and because of Ahnie being who he is).

      • Posted January 18, 2017 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

        “Ahnie” is pretty progressive for a Republican — have you seen his (funny!) video on climate change?


        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted January 18, 2017 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

          Probably why he has enough ‘cross-over’ appeal to get elected.


      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted January 18, 2017 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

        Also, the income disparity statistics will be affected by the large number of high-paid movie people and Silicon Valley execs in the state, bulking up the ‘top end’.


  44. Posted January 18, 2017 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    Thought I would mention that I recently read an article that stated millennials make 20% less income than the previous generation did.

    Also, there are numerous people in their 30s+ who are still living at home with their parents.

    Look at the extreme debt incurred by young people taught that education was the way to get good-paying jobs and borrowed money from banks or the government to go to college. Many of these students are working at jobs they weren’t educated for, are underemployed, or unemployed. For parents and/or grandparents who cosigned the loans, if the student defaulted or died, many are being held responsible for the debt. Some are having the money taken out of their social security before it’s sent to them.

    (Some of the “well off” people who aren’t classed as being poor, are supporting middle-aged children (and maybe grandchildren) as well as elderly parents. Much of the care-giving and support of family is still being done by hard working individuals. The government is not giving handouts to us all.

    It boggles the mind. How I wish someone, anyone, all of us, could come up with workable solutions.

  45. Ugh
    Posted January 18, 2017 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    That this has even come to pass is an incredibly bad sign for society at large. The fact that there isn’t more outrage over this overinflated financial disparity and beyond bizarre ability to accumulate this kind of wealth shows how far down the rabbit hole most people’s general beliefs about what’s okay for individuals or small groups of individuals in our society to be allowed to do is even worse.
    Corporations etc. never should have been allowed to grow so large. Private property rights over necessary life materials and financial ownership encompassing worldwide rights of singular leverage instruments is a curse that will continue to drive financial disparities to even more abnormal levels. The way the publicity over these peoples’ fortunes skews normal peoples’ view of their own realistic and sustainable life goals is damaging beyond realization.

  46. Ken Kukec
    Posted January 18, 2017 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    If, as Balzac said, behind every great fortune is a great crime, then that could be an “8 Most Wanted” poster, I suppose.

  47. Evan
    Posted January 18, 2017 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

    “Eight men now own the same amount of wealth as the poorest half of the world.”

    Once this number gets down to something ridiculous like 4 or 5, we’re going to have to start having a serious conversation about wealth inequality in society.

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