It’d be simpler if we just gave all our money to the nearest billionaire

In attempting to comprehend the staggering fortunes possessed by the world’s multi-billionaires, consider this: There are only six countries in the world with a gross domestic product bigger than the wealth possessed by 400 richest people in the United States. Could it really be that these titans produce more than the entire country of Brazil? Or Italy? Or Canada?

At the same time, more than 47 million people in the United States rely on government food assistance, and despite the federal food-stamps program (known formally as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), there are 49 million United Statesians who go hungry at least some of the time.

These two sets of facts are not unrelated.

The corporate media breathlessly reported, once again, on Fortune magazine’s annual list of the 400 richest people in the U.S., just published. These 400, Fortune reports, have a collective net worth of $2.3 trillion — an increase of $270 billion from last year. While this top of pyramid saw their net worth rise 12% in just the past year, the net worth of the bottom 75 percent has declined by more than five percent since 2010.

SerfsThe top ten on the Fortune list are familiar. Bill Gates, thanks to leveraging the personal-computer operating-system monopoly his company was once handed, continues to rank first. The Koch brothers, David and Charles, are tied for fourth at $42 billion each and four members of the Walton family, recipients of the capital amassed by Wal-Mart Stores Inc., are each among the top ten and collectively worth $144 billion.

The best democracy you can buy

As you might imagine, those billions buy a lot of political power. The Walton and Gates families are two of the three families that are the biggest bankrollers of the effort to place education under corporate control through charter schools. The Waltons amassed their fortunes through ruthless exploitation of its workers and relentlessly pressuring its suppliers to move production to China and then Bangladesh in search of ever lower wages.

Wal-Mart also enjoys vast subsidies — the company has received more than $1 billion in government giveaways, and a study of the costs of those subsidies and the public-assistance programs that Wal-Mart employees must use due to their miserably low pay add up to nearly $1 million per store. The average pay of a Bangladeshi garment worker who makes Wal-Mart’s products is US$75 to $100 per month.

Like the Waltons, the Koch brothers inherited their company. Koch Industries is one of the country’s worst polluters of the air and water as well as a major source of greenhouse gases. They are spending hundreds of millions of dollars in an effort to buy Congress and state legislatures in this election cycle alone; are major funders of the extremist American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) that literally writes legislation for its corporate membership; and even attempted to take control of the Cato Institute, the far-right libertarian “think tank” that, despite agitating for the end of Social Security, was apparently not extreme enough for them.

The struggle for tens of millions to eat

At the other end of the spectrum, the charity organization Hunger in America estimates that 49 million people in the U.S. are “food insecure” and that 20 percent of the country’s households with children are food insecure. But those figures are based on U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics that are considered likely to be conservative. For example, the Food Research and Action Center, in its most recent study (for 2012) reported that 18.2 percent of those surveyed in a poll conducted by Gallup answered yes when asked if they did not have enough to eat at least once in the past 12 months. That translates to 57 million people.

The more than 47 million people who relied on food stamps in the U.S. in 2013 is an all-time high and, by way of comparison, the $80 billion cost of the program is less than the net worth of brothers Charles and David Koch. That net worth keeps rising despite the money they pour into their political pressure groups; the two have more than doubled their fortune in just the past four years. The cost of food stamps is also comparable to the $78.4 billion in profits that Wal-Mart has racked up in its five most recent fiscal years.

Let us remember that profit comes from a capitalist paying employees less than the value of what they produce. As Karl Marx demonstrated, the value of a product would be the same if the workers sold the commodity themselves, thereby retaining the full value of what they produced rather than having much of it taken by the capitalist. The portion taken by the capitalist therefore is the source of the capitalist’s profit and not the circulation of the product.

There is a reason that we are enduring a decades-long race to the bottom. Although the corporate press would like you to believe the propaganda that vast fortunes result from the magical acumen of captains of industry, the reality is ruthless exploitation. Inequality does not fall out of the sky.

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25 comments on “It’d be simpler if we just gave all our money to the nearest billionaire

  1. tubularsock says:

    Tubularsock sent his check to the Koch brothers as you suggested and now my life IS simple.

  2. “there are 49 million United Statesians who go hungry at least some of the time.”

    Now, the FLOTUS would tell you that that is simply NOT true because most Americans are obese! Well, I got news for her! When poor Americans have to make use of food stamps and make a run to charities that give out food, what they pick up is food that is not healthy and that packs on the pounds. People who are obese can still go hungry. And no, I am not advocating for eating unhealthy, I am just stating the facts. Many people cannot, due to their low wages, pay for foods that promote healthy eating.

    If I’m working a low wage job, what am I going to buy when I go to the grocery store? I am going to buy foods that will stretch my food supply for as long as possible and the staple items that people gravitate to are high in carbs. It makes no sense that our so-called representatives continue to cut funding to food stamp programs at a time when good paying, full-time jobs are impossible to find. People are having to work for temp agencies and without benefits. It’s tough out there and getting tougher and yet, the billionaires are making money hand over fist and the U.S. government is aiding and abetting them in doing this.

    Last year, Wal-Mart employees in Canton, Ohio held a food drive to donate food items so that their associates could have a Thanksgiving dinner. Seriously? When Wal-Mart sells turkeys and could well afford to give each employee, a complete turkey dinner and not be fazed by it one bit. Talk about corporate greed.

    And on the other hand, I recently read that China wants the U.S. government to help them with their pollution problem because the claim is that pollution is so bad there due to the outrageous demand for their products by the U.S. that producing goods headed to the U.S. alone is causing high pollution levels. In fact, the problem is so bad that pollution from China is making its way to the shores of America.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/21/world/asia/china-also-exports-pollution-to-western-us-study-finds.html?_r=0

    Yeah, we got problems. We’ve got the billionaires on one hand receiving subsidies that they don’t need. We’ve got taxpayers subsidizing billionaires. We’ve got hungry Americans relying on food stamps that are constantly getting cut and hoping that food pantries are available to supplement dwindling food supplies and we’ve got a pollution problem that goes back to your previous article because of the fact of the need of Americans to buy cheap goods made in China.

    All I can say is, “We’re up the creek without a paddle!”

    Thanks SD for another relevant post!

    • You’re spot on again, Shelby.

      Food stamps allotments are very low, so unless you are fortunate enough to be near a community-supported agriculture program that accepts food stamps, you’ll have to buy cheap foods to survive because organic and healthy food is always more expensive then unhealthy food. There are also limitations on what is allowed to be purchased with food stamps.

      One percent of the wealth held by these 400 richest would be $23 billion. Just think of what social programs could be funded with that amount.

  3. In a number of states, WalMart keeps the state tax they deduct from workers’ paychecks: http://thomascarlson.org/2014/04/15/walmart-pockets-73-million-of-the-sales-taxes-we-pay-annually/

  4. Joel says:

    My wife ( who is from South America ), received an extra $10 in change from one of the self-checkout lanes at Walmart the other day. She had a pang of guilt and was tempted to return the $10 to the store. When I pointed out that the Walmart Corp rakes in billions in profits yearly and wouldn’t care one whit whatever she did, she was still unsure. People ( at least some ) want to be honest, but really it avails you nothing, your fighting a tsunami of greed. What can you do?

    • It would seem that a company that had more than $16 billion in net income for its most recent fiscal year wouldn’t notice ten dollars more or less. What might give me pause, given the viciousness of Wal-Mart, is the possibility that it might actually take a missing $10 out of its employees’ paycheck. I don’t know if the company does that or not. (I have never set foot in one.)

      I will add, however, that I hope you and your wife will stop shopping there, and that everybody else will stop shopping there. Given the massive subsidies Wal-Mart receives, the miserably low pay it provides, and the destruction of local businesses (which keep money in the community) it causes, the idea that anybody is “saving” by shopping there is an illusion.

      • Joel says:

        Well I thought of that,but since it was from the self-checkout line, who would they ding for the ten bucks? As for shopping there, we do it as infrequently as possible, unfortunately in our small town the “destruction of local businesses” has already happened so for some items that we call needs, it’s Walmart or nothing. Now there is a Target as well, but from what I’ve read they’re no better than Walmart, ditto for Amazon. Like I said, what can you do?

        • The machine can’t count? In that case, I’d say you deserve the extra 10 bucks.

          To avoid Wal-Mart or other big-box retailers, maybe some folks in your town can pool their resources and organize a cooperative. I’ve seen food coops in some quite small towns, such as St. Johnsbury and Newport in Vermont, both of which have less than 10,000 people. A good way to get organic food, also — there are more organic farmers out there than before who use coops, community-supported agriculture programs and farmers’ markets to distribute their produce.

          • Joel says:

            Food isn’t really an issue, it’s everything else. You can’t grow clothing, toiletries, hardware, etc. We’re stuck with the status quo there.

  5. Jeff Nguyen says:

    Have we forgotten? Freedom isn’t free…we shouldn’t be surprised that poverty isn’t either. It’s the high cost of low living.

    I would prefer to send my greenbacks to Gates before Buffett catches up to him.

    • I know people who receive government assistance — they spend lots of time dealing with bureaucracies for small amounts of money. It’s time-consuming to be poor as well.

      OK, one vote for Gates and his crash-prone software that are bad knockoffs of somebody else’s better originals. How about a vote for Buffett — maybe from somebody who lost their house after getting a subprime mortgage rated AAA by Moody’s, of which the largest shareholder was Buffett.

    • Sonja says:

      You already have to. Hadn’t you noticed?

      I’m glad your preferences are in line with your exigencies. At least that way, you can feel good about yourself as a person while you get fleeced.

      (Also, Gates will never make crash-proof software because that is not how you become a billionaire. Having a new OS be mandatory every two or three years is. His genius was in making engineered obsolescence not only invisible, but inevitable — seemingly! Only the “uncool” and the “tech phobes” resist.)

      Keep in mind, though, that these people (and their empty sloganeering) always collapse sooner or later. If you don’t believe it, study some ancient history. You know, something that is well removed from the current squabbles.

      • Jeff Nguyen says:

        True this. Now Apple has taken up the mantle of creating gadgets that self-destruct every two years or so causing consumers to be on a constant upgrade cycle.

        In fact, if it’s not too late I’d like to rescind my vote for Gates. I tend to root for the underdogs so I’m now going to redirect my cheddar to Alan Auerbach who is #400 on the Forbes 400. May the wind be ever at his back.

  6. Sonja says:

    This is brilliant. I don’t recall the last time I saw such a succinct description of our current state — or a better headline.

    Also, you can be sure that this PR house of cards will fall. You don’t have to believe old Karl. A careful reading of a few Socratic dialogues will tell you — and all that was pre-capitalist, and pre-Christian. Pre- all the current drummed up passions and phony “debates.”

    Thank you!

    • Nothing of human creation lasts forever. Our problem is that humanity has never before been in a position to so thoroughly destroy the planet, so we face the problem that we have to put an end to capitalism before capitalism so depletes the world’s resources that a revival will be impossible.

  7. Pierre Menard says:

    Just happened to find this:

    “Like every company, Wal-Mart continues to face rising health care costs,” Sally Welborn, senior vice president of global benefits, wrote in the blogpost on the company’s website. “This year, the expenses were significant and led us to make some tough decisions as we begin our annual enrollment.”

    http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/10/07/us-walmart-healthcare-idUSKCN0HW1G220141007

    It’s just disgusting to see, how greedy people can be.

    And on the point that nothing human or other lasts forever:

    And so castles made of sand
    slips into the sea, Eventually

    -Jimi Hendrix

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