The Walton family is being excoriated by socialist Senator Bernie Sanders in a popular Facebook poster because the Walton family apparently has more wealth (about $140 billion) than the bottom 40% of Americans combined. My initial reaction to this charge is there are “lies, damn lies, and statistics” (i.e., a phrase describing the persuasive power of numbers, particularly the use of statistics to bolster weak arguments). After all, most political/economist types know that they individually probably have more wealth than the bottom 20% of Americans combined because those “no-accounts” don’t “have a pot to piss in.”
It was not easy to confirm my suspicion because most studies on the distribution of wealth focus on the top 10%. For example, according to the Credit Suisse Global Wealth Databook (2013), the top 10% of Americans have more of our nation’s wealth (75%) than any of the other 19 leading developed nations, with the others ranging from 44.9% in Finland to 72.2 in Denmark.
After a lengthy search, however, I found a chart on Wikipedia that shows the bottom 25% of American families have a negative net worth of about $2,000.
The conservative in me thinks that, instead of looking enviously at the wealth of the top 10%, America should be thinking about how to inculcate personal responsibility in the bottom 25% who save nothing despite living in our land of plenty. But the me who have been reading Piketty’s book on Capital thinks that these matters are interrelated. So I had the following exchange with my friend who posted the Bernie Sanders poster:
- Friend – You are under the misunderstanding that these people, the bottom 20%, have some disposable income other than debts. These are people that live below the poverty line. Forty-five million Americans live below the poverty line which is a disgrace for the richest country in the world. And of course we also have the largest income inequality in the world, thanks to companies like Wal-Mart and fast food restaurants including social programs as part of their costs mitigation strategy.
- Me – And the bottom 25% of American families have a negative net worth. I agree that something has to be done to keep all wealth from going to the top 10% (an annual wealth tax to supplement or replace the estate tax), but the bottom 25% need to be more personally responsible.
I will blog in a few days about the epiphany that Thomas Piketty’s Capital is triggering in me.