Americans don’t resent people getting rich. In fact, we are fascinated by wealth. Remember the TV show Lifestyles Of the Rich and Famous? The show was a big hit, with Robin Leach as host. The first episode aired in 1984; episodes continued until 1995.
“Champagne wishes and caviar dreams.” That’s how Leach signed off at the end of each show.
If we don’t resent the rich and indeed harbor a secret hope that one day we’ll be one of them, we also have to believe that ordinary people have a realistic chance to move up. That’s a core part of the American dream.
It’s less and less true. Wealth is increasingly concentrated at the top, and there’s not much left over for the rest of us.
“The three wealthiest US families are the Waltons of Walmart, the Mars candy family and the Koch brothers, heirs to the country’s second largest private company, the energy conglomerate Koch Industries. These are all enterprises built by the grandparents and parents of today’s wealthy heirs and heiresses.
These three families own a combined fortune of $348.7bn, which is 4m times the median wealth of a US family.
Since 1982, these three families have seen their wealth increase nearly 6,000%, factoring in inflation. Meanwhile, the median household wealth went down 3% over the same period.
The dynastic wealth of the Walton family grew from $690m in 1982 (or $1.81bn in 2018 dollars) to $169.7bn in 2018, a mind-numbing increase of more than 9,000%.”
These wealthy families use their fortunes to hold sway over Republican Congressmen, and to demand legislation that protects their wealth in current time and their ability to pass on their wealth free of estate taxes.
Most Americans don’t even know what the word “plutocracy” actually means, but that’s what we’re becoming.
There are a few notable exceptions, like Warren Buffet. But mostly, rich families are intensely focused on getting richer, and isolating their wealth from the clutches of the tax man.
It wasn’t how democracy is supposed to work.