The top three wealthiest billionaires in the US, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett now have as much wealth as the bottom half of the US population combined. This is only possible because the bottom 20% of US households have zero or negative net worth. And the next 20% has so few assets they live in fear of economic ruin.
The three wealthiest US families are the Waltons of Walmart, the Mars candy family and the Koch brothers, heirs to the country’s second largest private company, the energy conglomerate Koch Industries. These are all enterprises built by the grandparents and parents of today’s wealthy heirs. These three families own a combined fortune of $348.7 billion, which is 4 million times the median wealth of a US family.
Since 1982, these families have seen their wealth increase almost 6,000%, factoring in inflation. Meanwhile, the median household wealth went down 3% over the same period. The dynastic wealth of the Walton family grew from $690 million in 1982 to $169.7 billion in 2018, a mind-numbing increase of more than 9,000%.
These families use their considerable clout and spend millions to make billions, to lobby Congress to tip the rules in favor of their wealth and public policies that will further enrich their enterprises. They aggressively hide their wealth, hiring armies of tax accountants, wealth managers and trust lawyers to create trusts, shell corporations and offshore accounts to move money around and dodge taxation and accountability.
If these dynamics are not reversed, we’re moving toward an entrenched situation where the heirs of today’s billionaires will dominate the economy, politics, philanthropy and culture for the foreseeable future.