For Immediate Release

Organization Profile: 
Contact: 

Jessicah Pierre (617) 401-1470 jessicah@ips-dc.org, Chuck Collins (617) 308-4433 chuck@ips-dc.org, Josh Hoxie (508) 280-5005 josh@ips-dc.org

New Report Exposes Extreme Concentration of Wealth

Three dynastic wealth families—the Waltons, the Kochs, and the Mars—own more wealth than four million median wealth families

WASHINGTON - The new report “Billionaire Bonanza 2018: The Role of Dynastic Wealth,” by Chuck Collins and Josh Hoxie of the Institute for Policy Studies, examines the growing concentration of wealth in the United States by taking a special look at 15 dynastically wealthy families on the Forbes 400 list combined with data from the Federal Reserve Survey of Consumer Finance.

Private grand fortunes are amassing at a pace few Americans perceive. According to this study, Three dynastic wealth families—the Waltons, the Kochs, and the Mars—have seen their wealth increase 5,868 percent since 1982. Meanwhile, median household wealth over the same period went down by 3 percent.
 
These three wealth dynasties own a combined fortune of $348.7 billion. That’s more wealth than four million families with the U.S. median wealth. The dynastic wealth of the Walton family grew from $690 million in 1982 (or $1.81 billion in 2018 dollars) to $169.7 billion in 2018, a mind-numbing increase of 9,257 percent.

This report reveals a deeply unbalanced economy. While the median family in the United States owns just over $80,000 in household wealth, this report found that the 15 wealthiest families with multiple members on the Forbes 400 list own a combined $618 billion. All of the companies from which their wealth is derived were founded by their parents or earlier relatives.

“These families have used their wealth and power to lobby and rig the rules to expand their wealth and power,” said Chuck Collins, co-author of the report. “Wealth dynasties are not inevitable. They happen when families dodge taxes, give little to charity, and use dynasty protection services to hide wealth.”

A follow up from last year’s report Billionaire Bonanza 2017 that found that the three wealthiest people in the United States — Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and Warren Buffett — own more wealth than the entire bottom half of the American population combined. A fact that still remains true, but this report also highlights that Jeff Bezos’ fortune jumped by $78.5 billion in the last year, to $160 billion. Even at Amazon’s recently increased wage of $15/hour, a full-time worker at the company would need to toil for 2.5 million years to generate as much money as Bezos gained in one.
 
“Today’s extreme wealth inequality is perhaps greater than any time in American history,” said Josh Hoxie, report co-author. “This is largely the result of rapidly growing wealth dynasties and a rigged economy that enables the ultra-wealthy to grow their wealth to never-before-seen highs.”

Addressing the problems our gross wealth inequality creates will require reforms at many different levels. This research outlines two bold and innovative solutions as ideas to directly target this problem.

  • Wealth tax: A direct tax on wealth targeting the wealthiest one tenth of one percent, those with wealth over $20 million. This could generate an estimated $1.899 trillion in revenue over the next decade to be reinvested in creating and restoring opportunities for low wealth households to prosper.
  • Inheritance tax: With the weakening of the federal estate tax, an innovative approach to breaking up destructive wealth dynasties is a direct tax on inherited wealth.
The concentration of wealth has grown exponentially over time and will take additional time to dismantle but public support for addressing this problem through the tax code remains high.

The final report is available at: inequality.org/billionairebonanza2018
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