Economy wealthgapchart

Published on April 12th, 2010 | by Rhonda Winter


Plutocracy Reborn: U.S. Wealth Inequality Gap Largest since 1928


The greater the disparity in wealth between the very rich and everyone else, the more unstable an economy becomes. Our nation has now created a larger gap in the distribution of wealth than the massive chasm that helped fuel the Great Depression.

In 1928, one year before the global economic collapse, the wealthiest .001% of the U.S. population owned 892 times more than 90% of the nation’s citizens. Today, the top .001% of the U.S. population owns 976 times more than the entire bottom 90%. This is not sustainable, and makes for a very volatile economy. It would appear that the American empire is about to crash.


See the full-size wealth inequality chart at the Nation.


Food Stamp Usage Soars

This dire economic situation just didn’t happen by accident either. The wealthiest 1% reaped 2/3 of the economic benefits from Bush’s tax cuts. Cheney’s war-profiteering stock options continue to skyrocket, while many of us are now unemployed, just struggling to eat and pay rent. States across the country are reporting staggering increases in food stamp usage. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, last year the national increase was 18%; California’s food stamp usage has risen 30% since 2007.

food stampsHalf of all kids will be dependent upon food stamps at some point during their childhood.

UC Berkeley Professor of Economics, Emanuel Saez, has been researching the growing disparity in income inequality in the United States for years. His work was published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics; it provides in-depth analysis and useful insight into just how extremely economically polarized and desperate our country has become.

wealth inequality

growing economic gap

America's income spread is nearly twice that the average of other nationsThe size of America’s income disparity is nearly twice  that of the average of other nations.

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About the Author

was raised by wolves, and subsequently has difficulty interacting with other humans; she can also be found on and Twitter.

  • I could not agree with this article more. America is in for a fight to gain any sort of stability.

  • Mekonen Haddis

    The role Of Neo-Liberalism, in widening the income gap between the rich and the poor.

    June 5, 2010 by

    The role of Neo-Liberalism, in widening the income gap between the rich and the poor.

    “One of the most pronounced effects of Neo liberalism is to create wealth inequality within national borders and between states. Within a decade of adopting free market policies, the class divide in the US and UK became significant.” Professor G. William Domhoff. UC @ Santa Cruz.
    It is just another indictment of Neo liberalism and its multi-faceted destructive policies encumbered upon people of the world. It is very fascinating to note, that the income gap between the poor and the rich has more pronouncedly been evident in the US and UK, the joint creators of Neo liberalism.
    This enormous income gap between the rich and the poor in the US has concentrated more power in the hands of the rich and has created a feeling of helplessness on the majority of American citizens who have been marginalized by Neo liberal policies.
    Consequently, sooner or later, the question will arise, whose country is it anyway? It is obvious that the widening of the income gap in the US is close to the breaking point. It is not if, but when it breaks, no one can forecast how it might end. It is just that the Corporations are blinded by greed, and our representatives are muzzled by big business.
    Writing on the subject of Neo liberalism’s impact on social cohesion, David Coburn, from the University of Toronto writes: “While it has been asserted that neo-liberalism produces a lowered sense of community it might also be argued that the rise of neo-liberalism is itself a signifier of the decline of more widespread feelings of social solidarity. The political rise of neo-liberalism is freighted with a more individualistic view of society and, perhaps, itself reflects a decline in the notion of we are all in the same boat. Not only do neo-liberal policies undermine the social infrastructure underlying social cohesion but neo-liberal movements themselves are partial causes of the decline of a sense of social cohesion.”
    It is absolutely frightening, what Neo liberalism is doing to societies. It is corroding the very fiber that societies are built upon. Neo liberalism is cancerous. It is undermining our Democratic system. When a government becomes a by stander when millions are practically becoming paupers, while the few are amassing billions, then, the people have no protector. Laws, Rules and Regulations are in the books only to protect the interest of the rich.
    In a wonderful article entitled, “Skewed Wealth Distribution and the Roots of the Economic Crisis”, David Barber, a Professor at the University of Tennessee, wrote:

    “And what is true in the United States of the unequal distribution of wealth, and of the consequences of that unequal distribution, is true again on a world scale. This super-poor mass of humanity, from whose soil is ripped vast amounts of mineral and agricultural wealth, and out of whose labor the world’s manufactured goods increasingly come, are almost wholly excluded from participating in the world’s market economy”. So, what is to be done?
    While a number of social scientists have forwarded divergent solutions for anarcho-capitalism to save itself, Professor Michael Rustin at the University of East London suggests the following points are “made necessary by the implosion of the neo-liberal system in the current financial crisis, and are needed to construct a new post-neo-liberal phase of democratic capitalism”.
    The five points he has put forward are the following:

    (1) A more active role for governments in regulating markets, and especially global financial markets

    (2) Constitutional reforms which enhance democratic processes and civil liberties, and create more representative and pluralist systems

    (3) Policies, which reduce inequalities, and give greater weight to social justice and social inclusion.

    (4) The enhancement of the capacities of international institutions, and especially the EU, to maintain economic stability and growth

    (5) Programmes to address the problems of climate change.

    Very sensible, are they not? But Wait!!! We have to see which governments have any backbones left in them to try and regulate the market, and do away with thirty years of destruction of the people that started with Reagan and Thatcher.

    As I am ready to post this article, I hear a news story that stated that “Hungary might default on its debt”. What is the world coming to. Wasn’t Hungary the darling of the West? Didn’t it do everything that it was asked to? It privatized everything. It reduced government employment. It cut welfare as it was told to do by “free Market Reform” advisors. Hungary did everything a good and obedient follower of Neo liberalism is supposed to do. Yet, it is threatening to “default” on its debt in spite of a $24 billion IMF and EU loan few months back. This is the fruit of Neo Liberalism.

    Do you wonder, which devoted and submissive follower of Neo liberalism will bite the dust, next?

    Professor Mekonen Haddis.

    • I agree with every point in this well written and reasoned article but I am totally at a loss by the pervasive, redundant use of “neo-liberal. “Classic Conservatives” is what we are seeing today, along with gutless purchased democrats.

      • I agree whole heartedly with you. I am confused by the nomenclature in the article, because he really seems to be precisely describing Conservatism and it’s role in the U.S. for the last 30 years. I also agree with you when you say democrats have been purchased. I would argue that this is only exacerbated by our unwillingness to reform the campaign finance system and supreme court rulings like Citizens United v Federal Elections Commission that makes it even more simple for corporations to buy politicians.

        • “She” seems to be precisely describing, not “he”.

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  • Re American inequality

    My hypothesis (as I am from New Zealand) is that America is following similar policies to that in NZ – a major difference though is that while NZ discriminates on the grounds of social status at birth (see UK social class discrimination) the US discriminates re socio-economic status but the latter has its origins not in the Corporations but rather the bureaucracy. NZ, the US and many other States are ‘going nowhere’ – ‘freedom and democracy’ is now going in reverse as more countries are becoming authoritarian. Who is going to take risks when countries are going nowhere and in fact there seems to be increasing internal conflict. There are a number in the establishment who know what the problem is but are too afraid to ‘speak out’about it. While I can only be specific re NZ I think many States have a similar problem. Essentially, NZ’s problem is that there are many human rights omissions in our human rights law (the source is the global elites at the UN who design these instruments) – so it is not just our fault – but it highly favors the countries ‘sacred cows’ and for obvious reasons people do not want to discuss it. Much can be found in my book, ‘Freedom from our social prisons: the rise of economic, social and cultural rights’, Lexington Books, which is on the UN portal website despite my harsh criticism of the UN. I think the US should look at what is happening to small/med business (see the American Small Business League website and how federal contracts are been diverted to big business on a massive scale). In NZ I am promoting a radical, ideas-driven bottom-up development which is part of the ethical approach I take to human rights, development and globalization but because it really shakes the status quo and people will only face the truth as a last possible resort they simply do not want to know – its far too unsafe. But this is very short sighted better to go through the suffering of facing the truth and making changes than having it forced on us very likely after enormous people damage. I am Chairperson of the Human Rights Council Inc (New Zealand) ph: (0064) (09) 940 9658

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  • great work

  • why cant any polition address the real problem is the big shots have sent our jobs over seas.

    • Why can’t politicians do anything? Simple. They’ve been bought out by the very same corporations who hold all this wealth.

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  • The majority of the people do not use the vehicle available to make changes. Next year Florida will have a governor elected by aprox. 17% of the adult population. Are there no “organizers” left.

    • Problem with voting is that most people are easily persuaded to vote against their own interests because they do not understand what is in their best interests.

  • And it’s only gotten worse since it was published. We’re on our way to a full-on plutonomy!

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  • ROY


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  • This country is increasingly trading its interest in being good (taking care of each other), for an interest in being great($, fame and power). This article and all those it sites hacks at the leaves of society’s problems not the root. This means you will draw the wrong conclusions about solutions. As long as we continue to focus on symptoms, i.e. income gap, we’re going to look for silver bullets and “quick solutions.” We have a values problem, not a socio-political structure problem. Isn’t this obvious!?!?!

    It is! But we the people are becoming less interested in solutions that require long spans of sustained personal discipline and individual responsibility. Instead we prefer to focus on the Joneses: blame them, envy them, despise them, judge them, and use them to justify our own bad choices. Therefore we don’t say the solution is “me” but that the solution is about reigning in and muzzling the behavior of others.

    How do we change this? Courage to do what is right each and every day: over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over, etc.

    • You are full of shit. When has anyone ever persuaded all the people to act in concert each and every one to do each and every thing the each and every “right way”

      • Joyce, I agree with you. Please re-read what I said.

        For example, did I say “all the people”? No. If only a majority wants to be good more than they want to be great we would have the solution to poverty and inequality. In some cases a minority is all that’s needed. For example a small minority can create a tipping point in reducing crime in a neighborhood where crime has been historically high. Sadly, a few bad people can tip the scales the other way. Isn’t this the danger of having so much wealth in the hands of so few? I’ll address this later.

        Also, I didn’t say: “each and every thing the each and every “right way.”” This implies perfection, which nobody would suggest. Instead, the ideal I described is quite common. In fact the courage to be good each and every day has been demonstrated by hundreds of millions of Americans, and is therefore not unreasonable to expect that more Americans could do the same.

        Joyce, if we met in person, I bet it would be cordial. This medium (the internet)for communication may have influenced your response, but I don’t think it made you respond in negative way. If you claimed it made you, or that I made you respond that way, then you make yourself an example of what I think is increasingly wrong with America. If you take personal responsibility for your response and don’t feel sorry, then you still represent what I think is increasingly wrong with America. But if you take responsibility AND feel sorry, then you become what you have inadvertently called BS. Which I don’t think is BS,but a good thing.

        Anyway, you don’t think I offered a realistic solution to recessions, poverty and inequality. You may be right. What I share may not be realistic. It certainly isn’t a short-term fix. It’s possible that America has already reached a “tipping point”and no amount of goodness could tip it back. Our only choice now is to increasingly use the force of law to restore economic equality and eliminate greed. With laws we could muzzle the ability of the ultra rich to enrich themselves. Haven’t they already caused too much misery and economic hardship? Not just in the 1930s and the current recession, but every day through lay-offs and disdain for the rest of us? Justice must be served!

        Well together I’m sure we could serve it! We could come up with several dozen laws that would effectively curb greed, and put the rich who have greed in their rightful place. But to what end? Would America become a better place? For example, if a law was passed that prohibited any American from personally taking home more than $1 million per year, would that be an improvement? And if he or she eventually accumulated $10 million then invested it into the stock market turning it into $100 million, should he or she be able to keep it? Maybe we need to also limit personal investment and wealth accumulation. Maybe we need a law to restrict one’s net-worth to a specific amount.

        I went to Uganda several years ago, and while the people I met there were some of the world’s poorest, I bet they smiled (with joy) ten times more than those I work with in corporate America.

        So, what would you say is the solution for improving life in Uganda? Is it American capitalism? Or is it a constitutional democratic government? Maybe they don’t need a “solution.” Considering Uganda’s poorest seemed happy, maybe we should just leave them alone.

        And what makes America so great? Or is it? Did the founders aspire more for goodness or greatness? And, if they were great, what was the source of this greatness? Maybe they were just lucky and were in fact no better than the founders of any other nation state.

        To create the constitution do you think the founders overlooked the possibility that inequality would result from the government they were setting up? They were wise men, but maybe they missed this detail. Considering some believe America is the worst thing that ever happened to this world, maybe the founders screwed up.

        So what is the goal? Is it prosperity or is it happiness, or is it neither or both? Or is it more specific – prosperity and happiness equally for all! Maybe prosperity = happiness or equality = happiness. And if we can just fix the prosperity and equality problem, THEN finally we can be happy.

        When I was in Uganda, I was there to do economic development work. When I realized how much damage I could potentially be doing by making them more prosperous, I began to question whether I should even continue my work. It then dawned on me…What I was offering could be used for good or bad. And if 9 people out of 10 use prosperity for bad rather than good, should I stop? I concluded, that I would still continue to work for the one who would use what I was teaching to enhance his happiness and do good. I couldn’t withhold that opportunity from him just because 9 others would abuse new found wealth. I wonder if Johannes Gutenberg had a similar thought when he invented the press, or Einstein when he decided to share the discovery of nuclear fission, or Thomas Edison when he created the first commercially viable movie projector. The same goes for a lot of “improvements.” They can be used for evil or good.

        Equality requires that every person have the chance to become wealthy even if 99 out of 100 who become wealthy, don’t use it for good. The alternative is to allow nobody to be wealthy, which is unjust to everybody.

        If you had to choose between convicting one innocent and nine guilty people for a crime or acquitting 1 innocent and 9 guilty people of a crime, which would you choose?

        And if you were the innocent person being convicted, would your answer change?

        Does American Capitalism work very well? Not really, but it’s the best this world has. Does American Democracy work that well? No, but it’s also the best this world has. How about America’s justice system? Once again, it’s the best this world has. So how did America do it?

        The answer lies in the solution I have already shared. The following is a more granular version of the solution:

        I have a couple people in my life who have changed me profoundly. They have had the courage to do what is right each and every day: over and over and over. The power that their thousands of choices have had over me has become immense!!!! Now I desire to be like them. ME, I, MYSELF of MY OWN free will and choice desire this. I have been humbled and want to be better.

        On the other hand, I have found that when others attempt to force me to be good, I feel anything but humility. In fact the opposite happens; I want to fight, and even rebel against their self-righteousness.

        People who care more about being good than being great represent the root solution to the root causes of all America’s problems. I believe this is goodness is why our founders succeeded in creating the greatest nation on earth, and I believe it is the reason that America has continued to be the great nation that it is. But I believe that this trend has gone in reverse, and if America were to ever cease to be good it would cease to be great.

        If you force the rich to be good to the poor, they will fight; not because they don’t want to help the poor, but because their being forced. And if you win this fight, you will have stripped the rich of the opportunity to choose good for themselves, of their own free will and choice. This includes stripping the opportunity from good people to enhance their happiness through prosperity. This is equivalent to “sending the innocent to prison” in an effort to ensure you got the guilty. Ironically who ever sets more laws, restricts themselves as well.

        The goal is to become our best selves and help others do the same. Consequently this also means allowing others the opportunity to become their worst selves. Being good is defined as ONLY worrying about how we treat others, not how they treat us. Here lies the greatest secret of life.

        Hopefully what I have shared is not too choppy. I haven’t had time to write anything but a foundation for a discussion. I would ideally like to talk about practical solutions, like persuading schools, sports programs, companies and other groups to integrate character development into everything they do.

        Let me know if you would like to discuss more ideas.



        • John,

          You wrote:

          If you force the rich to be good to the poor, they will fight; not because they don’t want to help the poor, but because their being forced. And if you win this fight, you will have stripped the rich of the opportunity to choose good for themselves, of their own free will and choice. This includes stripping the opportunity from good people to enhance their happiness through prosperity. This is equivalent to “sending the innocent to prison” in an effort to ensure you got the guilty. Ironically who ever sets more laws, restricts themselves as well.

          I just wanted to point out that I agree with Joyce. The part of your “article” that I copied and pasted told me alot about you. Your trying to convince people that if you took the choice of being rich away from rich people they wouldn’t like it. Um, that would be pretty obvious. However, we are talking about rich people who exploit the proleterians. We are not talkign about someone stealing money out of your wallet to throw in the can some guy is holding in a subway, this is what you are referring to. But I have a question for you. How about we have a true Democracy instead of a Representational Democracy. Everyone will have little voting machines at their homes. All questions of laws will be voted on by EVERYONE. This way the lower and middle classes can legally take back all the money that these A-holes and Corporate Whoares have taken from us. The biggest problem this country faces right now is that the poor and middle class people fear the rich and the government. In a TRUE DEMOCRACY we should not fear them. THEY SHOULD FEAR US. THIS IS WHERE THE PROBLEM IS!!!

          • john


            I realize it’s a little odd that I’m replying now, but I found this old exchange and thought why not.

            My issue is with forcing economic equality. In terms of the rich exploiting the lower and middle class, if they have committed a crime, then I would like to see justice served. There are non-profits who help the poor to this end. If they haven’t committed a crime, then I don’t know of any solution other than choice, education and/or entrepreneurship.

            I have felt mistreated and exploited by the whims of an entrepreneur I worked for. I have let this eat at me, which means I struggle to live up to what I believe myself. But when I have chosen to forgive him and move on, I feel better. Still from time to time I let the memories get under my skin, so I have to forgive again. Reality is, I chose to work for him, so I have nobody to blame but myself. Education allowed me to pull away and get another good job. Entrepreneurship will allow me to start a company of my own and be the business owner that I wish I had worked for. I don’t know what else to say.

            There isn’t a person on this planet who isn’t a victim of somebody else’s bad choice. The big difference between the way I think and the way many others think is I believe it is unjust to force economic equality, while they believe that economic inequality is an unjustice. I’m satisfied that in America, that I have enough liberties still to choose my way out of poverty. Psychological, mental and physical disabilities, socioeconomic disadvantages and my personality and set of natural talents and abilities all considered, I have been given a potential that I can achieve. Others may be able to achieve more or less based on their own set of circumstances. Now if you look at the list I created, science is constantly trying to eliminate the inequality created through disabilities. The inequality created by varying personalities and levels of talents and abilities will never go away, and I wouldn’t want it to because it makes the world a much more exciting and interesting place to live. So what are we left with Social and economic inequalities. Here lies the other major difference between the way I think and many others think. I believe that the answer lies in the inequalities in social behavior, whereas many other believe the answer lies in the inequalities in resources and money. I think economics take care of themselves when the correct social behaviors (stemming from correct beliefs) are exhibited. I’m not delusional enough to believe that a perfect society is achievable, but I do believe with no reservation that there is no better way. A decent analogy is the manufacturing sector which persistently attempts to achieve zero defects in spite of the fact that it will never happen.

            Your proposal for a true democracy vs. constitutional republic may be a good idea. I’m all for a situation where we the people are put in charge. It would be interesting to look back at history and crunch numbers, then conjecture what this country would have been had the popular vote been the deciding factor in a handful of key issues. Without knowing the data my personal preference would be to encourage true “Public Service” by disallowing congressional representatives to accept payment for anything from anyone during their time in congress. The exception would be a stipend from their state if necessary, otherwise representatives would be required to live on savings. This way you reduce one element of corruption in politics, and are left primarily with the corruption that comes from ego.

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  • We are in the midst of a hostile corporate takeover of US, complete with raiding of all the assets by right wing politicians and their corporate bosses.

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  • jeff.1089

    Unfortunately, rich, many of the people who argue loudly for personal responsibility are the same group of people trying to “save” the country despite not understanding economics well enough to realize that there salvation would actually be triggering Great Depression II. In the face of that, arguing for personal responsibility is likely to set off some people’s buttons.

    Looking at the example of a poker game in which a pro comes in and sucks up all the liquidity, it is hard to see where personal responsibility would make much difference either way.

    One of the most dangerous things that can happen to an economy is for efficiency increases to simply cause people to not be needed. This causes a consumption gap which can become a vicious cycle. Trying to fix this on the supply side, by building factories, will only fix things if the factories do things that are novel and new. Keeping as much capital in the hands of the rich as Boehner and Ryan are doing by keeping tax cuts off the table retains capital for investing, but does not solve the fundamental problem, which is that there is nothing good to invest *in*. Meanwhile major cuts are being made to infrastructure and education meaning that demand will further weaken and the next generation of new things to invest in will be more likely to be created in other countries.

    Charles Koch, Tim Boehner, Paul Ryan, Jim Sensenbrenner, et. al., by preventing even the minimal wealth redistribution of progressive taxes (which Adam Smith was actually a proponent of, by the way), are increasing the risk of a major stumble and the eventual size of the stumble when it happens. They are likely the ones who will go down in History books as causing US to go the way of Great Briton over 100 years ago.

    Given that the wealth redistribution actually goes to prevent the tragedy of the commons as opposed to merely lining the pockets of the lazy, as the far right suggests — Which company would invest in elementary schools? Which company would put in a new highway when traffic gets too bad in the inner city? Taxes run government, not personal responsibility on the part of the governed, and a progressive tax, rather than being unjust, actually taxes the most the individuals in society who benefit most from the system.

    Add to that a conservative radio tradition that preaches love in words and hate in actions and you can see why people might get annoyed by talk of personal responsibility. (Just as one example, can you imagine the hatred involved in someone telling someone else that they can’t get married to the love of their life because the first person might find it *offensive*??)

    • Thank you for your very astute analysis regarding our nation’s dire economic situation. You raise and contextualize several very important and critical issues.

  • jeff.1089

    @jeff.1089 Oops. I meant to say John, not Rich. Sorry about that.

    To summarize, the fundamental problem with John’s analysis is that the key problems here are not of individual behavior, but rather the tragedy of the commons, and really don’t have anything to do with “doing the right thing” and instead have everything to do with “analyzing and knowing the right thing to do in the first place”

    In the fifties we had one of the best boom times ever and had a maximum tax rate of 90%. Now we are stuck in a massive malaise despite the fact that Tech and Medicine are doing incredible things. Despite the fact that one of the causes of the current recession is a worldwide savings glut, Paul Ryan and Tim Boehner would have you believe that any increase whatsoever to the current top tax rate would have economic repercussions.

    This is the kind of thinking that will take us into another depression and basically constitutes either political malpractice.

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