On the Democratic presidential debate stage in Las Vegas Wednesday night, Sen. Bernie Sanders cited a striking statistic to show just how "grotesque" billionaire businessman Michael Bloomberg's level of wealth is, particularly in a nation struggling to combat homelessness, the student debt crisis, and other major issues.
"Mike Bloomberg owns more wealth than the bottom 125 million Americans," said Sanders. "That's wrong. That's immoral. That should not be the case when we got half a million people sleeping out on the street. When we have kids who cannot afford to go to college. When we have 45 million people dealing with student debt."
"We cannot continue seeing a situation where in the last three years, billionaires in this country saw an $850 billion increase in their wealth—congratulations, Mr. Bloomberg—but the average American last year saw less than a 1% increase."
—Sen. Bernie Sanders
"We have enormous problems facing this country," Sanders continued. "And we cannot continue seeing a situation where in the last three years, billionaires in this country saw an $850 billion increase in their wealth—congratulations, Mr. Bloomberg—but the average American last year saw less than a 1% increase in his or her income. That's wrong."
Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City and eighth-richest person in America with a net worth of $64.2 billion, responded that he got "very lucky" but said he should have made that much money because he "worked very hard for it."
"And I'm giving it away," said Bloomberg, who has spent more than $400 million on advertising in the Democratic presidential primary race.
Watch the exchange:
.@BernieSanders: "Mike Bloomberg owns more wealth than the bottom 125 million Americans. That's wrong. That's immoral. That should not be the case when we got half a million people sleeping out on the street." pic.twitter.com/Q8g9GwK63c
— Mother Jones (@MotherJones) February 20, 2020
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Sanders later told Bloomberg—the co-founder and CEO of Bloomberg L.P.—that it "wasn't you who made all that money, maybe your workers played some role in that as well."
"It is important that those workers are able to share the benefits," said Sanders. "I want workers to be able to sit on corporate boards, as well, so they can have some say over what happens to their lives."
"You know what Mr. Bloomberg, wasn't you who made all that money, maybe your workers made some role in that as well, and it is important that those workers share the benefits"@BernieSanders REPRESENTING THE WORKERS!#DemDebate pic.twitter.com/iKcUIcRvhL
— People for Bernie (@People4Bernie) February 20, 2020
As Matt Bruenig of the People's Policy Project wrote in a blog post late Wednesday, Sanders' remarks on the debate stage likely understated Bloomberg's level of wealth relative to that of much of the U.S. population.
In the Federal Reserve's latest Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF) data, Bruenig noted, "the bottom 38 percent of American households have a collective net worth of $11.4 billion, meaning that Michael Bloomberg owns nearly 6 times as much wealth as they do."
"The definition of wealth used in the official SCF publications includes cars as wealth," wrote Bruenig. "But academics that study wealth inequality, like Edward Wolff, often do not count cars as wealth because they are rapidly-depreciating consumer durables that most people can't really sell for the practical reason that they need a car to get around and live. When you exclude cars from the definition of wealth, what you find is that the bottom 48 percent of households have less combined wealth than Michael Bloomberg does. This is 60.4 million households or 158.9 million people."
"Regardless of which measure you use," Bruenig concluded, "the upshot is clear: the United States is simultaneously home to some of the wealthiest people on Earth and to a large propertyless underclass that have scarcely a penny to their names."