Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

sinema_1

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and a handful of right-wing Democrats pose a potentially existential threat to the $3.5 trillion Build Back Better Act, a sweeping budget reconciliation package that, if passed, would fund robust climate action. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Behold and Beware! The Age of Trillionaires Is Coming

Have we just about decided that the further accumulation of billionaire fortunes makes for good public policy?

Bob Lord

 by Inequality.org

Barely a year ago, my colleagues Chuck Collins and Omar Ocampo noted the passing of "a disturbing milestone in the U.S. history of concentrated wealth and power." On August 13, 2020, just twelve obscenely wealthy Americans held a combined $1.015 trillion. They called those twelve the "Oligarchic Dozen."

Or we've accepted the notion that the use of revenue derived from taxing billionaires in a meaningful way to alleviate human pain and suffering would be bad policy.

Oh, how quaint, how yesteryear.

On October 29, 2021, just half that group—just six extraordinarily rich people—held wealth totaling $1.003 trillion.

Meet our "Oligarchic Half-Dozen": Elon Musk ($292.6 billion), Jeff Bezos ($195.9), Bill Gates ($137.4), Larry Ellison ($130.0), Larry Page ($126.2), and Sergey Brin ($121.6). That number for Elon Musk, definitely not a typo: America now has its first "quarter-trillionaire."

Chuck and Omar had it right: The arrival of the Oligarchic Dozen last year should have disturbed us all. The appearance of the Oligarchic Half-Dozen just one year later should be absolutely alarming.

But apparently not alarming enough to Congress and the Biden administration. In the face of recent blockbuster reporting—by ProPublica on the paltry rate that gigantic wealth increases translate into taxable income and by both ProPublica and Bloomberg on the routine use of obscene estate tax loopholes—the Biden administration's Build Back Better framework released last week threw every proposal directed at billionaire wealth concentration overboard.

At the behest of Joe Manchin and a few other lawmakers, the so-called "Billionaire Income Tax" proposal developed by Senator Ron Wyden suddenly disappeared off the bargaining table. Wyden's modest proposal would have required billionaires to recognize their wealth gains as income and pay tax as those gains accrued.

The new framework also includes no measure to close the stepped-up basis loophole, the neat trick that lets billionaires avoid income tax on a lifetime of investment gains through the unavoidable act of dying. This loophole survives thanks to a massive and shamelessly dishonest lobbying campaign purportedly waged on behalf of farm families, all of whom would have been protected from any adverse impacts.

For no known reason at all, but possibly at the insistence of Senator Kyrsten Sinema, measures in the recent House Ways and Means proposal that would have narrowed several gaping estate tax loopholes now don't appear in the framework either.

Who should get blamed for all this? We have plenty of suspects who've contributed to the stupefying result now before us. Implicitly, we've decided that the further accumulation of billionaire fortunes—and the imminent arrival of our first trillionaires—make for good public policy. Or we've accepted the notion that the use of revenue derived from taxing billionaires in a meaningful way to alleviate human pain and suffering would be bad policy. Or both.

This can't get much crazier.


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.
Bob Lord

Bob Lord

Bob Lord is Senior Advisor, Tax Policy at Patriotic Millionaires and an Institute for Policy Studies associate fellow.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Massive Demonstration of Support for Lopez Obrador in Mexico City

AMLO was elected in 2018 and heralded as the Bernie Sanders of Mexico

Common Dreams staff ·


Scientists Revive ‘Zombie’ Virus After 50,000 Years Trapped in Siberian Permafrost

Researchers documented 13 never-before-seen viruses that have been lying dormant, frozen in thick ice, over tens of thousands of years.

Common Dreams staff ·


'Cleaner Air Is Coming' as London Expands Vehicle Pollution Fee to Entire Metro Area

"Around 4,000 Londoners die prematurely each year because of long-term exposure to air pollution, with the greatest number of deaths in outer London boroughs," noted Mayor Sadiq Khan in announcing the expansion.

Brett Wilkins ·


'Amazing News': Historic Shark Protections Approved at Global Wildlife Convention

Up to 90% of sharks targeted by the lucrative fin trade will now be protected, said one advocate.

Julia Conley ·


'The Nightmare Materializes': Far-Right Extremist Itamar Ben-Gvir to Be Israel's National Security Minister

The Foreign Affairs Ministry of the Palestinian Authority said Ben-Gvir's elevation to national security minister could have a "catastrophic impact on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."

Jake Johnson ·

Common Dreams Logo