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If life was a game... the rules are rigged.

Super Bowl for the Rich: Upper-Class 91, Middle-Class 9

Paul Buchheit

Just 10% of Americans own 91 percent of the nation's stocks and mutual funds, according to economist Edward Wolff (Table 7). Most of the remainder is held by a "middle class" that is steadily losing ground. The bottom 60% is almost entirely shut out (Table 2). 

Stock owners, some of whom made billions of dollars last year, can defer their income taxes indefinitely, pay a reduced capital gains tax when they decide to cash in, or pass on the capital gains tax-free to their heirs. 

Making money is all a game to the super-rich—redistribution toward the top, trickle-down delusions, tax avoidance, and even, for some of them, dabbling in criminal activities. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) once said, "It's really American to avoid paying taxes, legally...It's a game we play...I see nothing wrong with playing the game because we set it up to be a game." Here's part of their game plan: 

Blitz 

$2 of every $5 owned today was created in the last five years, most of it from the financial markets, and almost all of it going to the richest 10%. 

Unfathomably, the richest 1% took anywhere from 95 percent to 116 percent of the new income gains after the recession. Yes, 116 percent, because almost everyone else went backwards. Median wealth dropped about 40 percent from 2007 to 2013. 

Taunting 

JP Morgan CEO Jaime Dimon said, "I am not embarrassed to be a banker." On the contrary, he and his banking buddies can sit back and gloat, knowing that not a single Wall Street banker has been prosecuted for the financial collapse, and that the little fines they pay for their misconduct simply amount to the cost of doing business. 

Their crimes include faulty mortgages, lying to the U.S. Senate, and conspiring to hide billions of dollars of trading losses from regulators. The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission used variations of the word 'fraud' over 150 times in describing the buildup to the crisis. 

Piling On 

The superrich team tries to convince us that all is well. From the Wall Street Journal: The U.S. economy is on a tear. From a Moody's analyst: Our economy is firing on most cylinders. And from President Obama himself: Tonight, we turn the page.

People with stocks are happy, but the news is a lot different for middle America, which has seen its pay drop a stunning 23 percent since 2009, and its median wealth plummet by about 40 percent

Holding 

Even though corporate profits are at their highest level in 85 years, corporations aren't pumping it back into the economy. Instead they're holding it. S&P companies last year spent an incredible 95% of their profits on stock buybacks to enrich executives and shareholders. 

Meanwhile, as the rest of us dutifully pay our taxes, we get blind-sided by wealthy individuals and corporations who defer their taxes, stash income in tax havens, enjoy a special capital gains tax rate, invest their money in tax-free foundations, or simply don't pay. Boeing, Ford, Chevron, Citigroup, Verizon, JP Morgan, and General Motors, with a combined income last year of $74 billion, paid no taxes, and instead received a combined refund of nearly $2 billion. 

And the Middle Class Keeps Losing 

This is the middle class of a nation in which over half of public school students are poor enough to qualify for lunch subsidies. 

It is a middle class so poor that almost two-thirds of polled Americans said they didn't have enough money to cover a $500 repair bill or a $1,000 emergency room visit. 

The only hope of the middle class may be for someone like Elizabeth Warren to lead it against the team of Wall Street bankers who keep winning year after year.


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Paul Buchheit

Paul Buchheit

Paul Buchheit is an advocate for social and economic justice, and the author of numerous papers on economic inequality and cognitive science. He was recently named one of 300 Living Peace and Justice Leaders and Models. He is the author of "American Wars: Illusions and Realities" (2008) and "Disposable Americans: Extreme Capitalism and the Case for a Guaranteed Income" (2017). Contact email: paul (at) youdeservefacts.org.

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