Forbes 400 List Reveals Why the Greedy Rich Fully Deserve Your Contempt -- And Jesus’s
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Last week, as you were treated to Mitt Romney’s contempt for nearly half the country, Forbes Magazine published its annual list of the 400 wealthiest Americans.
The list reveals that Bill Gates is still the top dog, boasting a whopping $66 billion fortune. Warren Buffett, Michael Bloomberg, various members of the Walton family, and the Koch brothers are all in the top 10. Mark Zuckerberg hung on, despite the evaporation of a big chunk of his wealth. Spanx founder Sara Blakley, who brought women a whole new world of restrictive undergarments, is on the list.
Nothing extraordinary in all that. But this year’s Forbes list has a big lesson for us: It shows just how jaw-droppingly rich the top 400 have become compared to everybody else.
Forbes reports that in the last year alone, the total net worth of the 400 people at the top skyrocketed $200 billion. The average net worth of a 400-lister jumped from $3.8 billion to $4.2 billion, the highest figure ever recorded. Two-thirds of the individuals got richer in the past year. Forbes, not exactly a cheerleader for income equality, concluded: “The gap between the very rich and the merely rich is widening.”
And how did the rest of us do while the uber-rich were getting richer? Not so well, according to the Census Bureau. Adjusted for inflation, America suffered a 1.5 percent drop in median household income last year.
The redistribution of wealth toward the top is clearly getting worse. In fact, despite the financial crash, the Occupy movement, and the obvious failure of trickledown economics, the Census Bureau reports that the gulf between the rich and the rest of us is at an all-time high.
Maybe that’s why the rich and their apologists are getting a bit defensive lately. Like a drug addict turning every cushion upside-down in search of lost change, the 1 percenters are scrounging up every timeworn myth, lame justification and absurd rationalization they can think of to convince us that the rich are super-smart, hard-working job creators instead of greedy parasites refusing to pay their share in taxes and play by the same rulebook as everyone else.
This line gets harder to sell every minute. Mitt Romney’s candidacy has done wonders to expose not only the general contempt of his class toward ordinary people, but also just how many special privileges the rich enjoy. Romney has accumulated great wealth not only because of his job-destroying and predatory business activities, but also because he gets a special break that allows him to get away with paying the capital gains tax rate of 15 percent.
And that’s one big reason that the rich are getting richer. Romney and his ilk claim this is good for the economy – the old “trickledown” myth. But as New York Times columnist Joe Nocera points out, that canard is easily exposed: “In 1986, when Ronald Reagan was president, the differential between capital gains and ordinary income was eliminated — and the economy soared.” Interesting, isn’t it? Nocera adds that the capital gains rate was higher during the Clinton years than in the George W. Bush years, yet the economy miraculously did better under Bubba. Doesn’t sound like a low capital gains tax rate that lines the pockets of the rich is what the doctor ordered, does it?
Let’s take a closer list of who is on the Forbes list. Financiers make up a big chunk. Around 40 percent inherited their wealth. The vast majority, some 65 percent, came from circumstances ranging from very comfortable (Mark Zuckerberg went to the fanciest schools) to downright plush (Donald Trump inherited his dad’s company). A mere 35 percent came from backgrounds that could be described as middle- to lower-middle-class.