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Viral Video of the Moment: “Wealth Inequality in America”

Here’s a video that’s getting a lot of attention on Facebook as well as Reddit: Wealth Inequality in America. The figures cited in the video are nothing new; you’d be surprised how valuable the act of “merely” gathering information into a single place can be.

Here’s a still of the video showing what people see as an ideal distribution of wealth would look like. By definition, it’s a bit pie-in-the-sky, with nobody below the poverty line:

ideal wealth distribution

Here’s what people think the wealth distribution in the U.S. is. As the video says, while it’s not ideal, it ‘s still not too bad:

perceived wealth distribution

And now, the actual distribution of wealth:

actual wealth distribution

It’s so skewed that the top 5 percent’s wealth is off the chart. Even the incomes are in the 90th percentile are dwarfed by those in the 95th, and the 99th — that is, the top 1 percent — make so much that representing their wealth on the same-scale chart requires giving them a lot of extra columns.

top 1 percent wealth

When people with money talk about the redistribution of wealth, they’re trying to sell you the story of “makers” and “takers”, and that it’s the lazy poor who’ve been sucking up your wealth. The numbers say otherwise, but luckily for them, lots of people tend to go with their gut rather than do the math, so you end up getting a situation like this:

we run this shit

The fat cats say that the economy is bad, and it is: just not for corporations. The Dow is close to a record high, and corporate profits as a share of the U.S. national income are at the same level as the post-World War II boom:

income shift to business

Techie investor and entrepreneur James Altucher pointed this out in his article, 10 Reasons Why 2013 Will Be The Year You Quit Your Job:

A few weeks ago I visited a friend of mine who manages a trillion dollars. No joke. A trillion. If I told you the name of the family he worked for you would say, “they have a trillion? Really?” But that’s what happens when $10 million compounds at 2 percent over 200 years.

He said, “look out the windows.” We looked out at all the office buildings around us. “What do you see?” he said. “I don’t know.” “They’re empty! All the cubicles are empty. The middle class is being hollowed out.” And I took a closer look. Entire floors were dark. Or there were floors with one or two cubicles but the rest empty. “It’s all outsourced, or technology has taken over for the paper shufflers,” he said.

“Not all the news is bad,” he said. “More people entered the upper class than ever last year.” But, he said, more people are temp staffers than ever.

If you took an accounting class and were paying attention, you might have realized that as far as your business’ books are concerned, employees are liabilities and furniture are assets. Hiring people is a last-resort measure; it’s the thing you do when there’s no other way to meet your customers’ demands. Investor and entrepreneur Nick Hanauer points this out in his TED talk on wealth inequality:

In that same talk, he also shows how well the super-rich have done over the past three decades:

superrich gains

The gains made by the super-rich are also pointed out in the Wealth Inequality in America video. Like the narrator, I’m sure that a lot of the super-rich have worked pretty hard for their money, but I’m also sure that they haven’t worked 400 times as hard. And there’s no shortage of cases to cite in which they’ve worked hard to make sure the money stays in their pockets at your expense in ways both small and large (and in some cases, Monty Burns-esque, such as the billionaire who wanted to stop a cross-border bridge that would’ve cost taxpayers nothing because it competed with his).

“We certainly don’t have to go all the way to socialism to find something that is fair for hard-working Americans,” says the video’s narrator, and I agree. “We don’t even have to achieve what most of us consider might be ideal. All we need to do is wake up and realize that the reality in this country is not at all what we think it is.”

We might have to do a little more than that, but it would be a start.

To end this article on a lighter note and grant equal time to an opposing view, here’s College Humor‘s We are the One Percent:

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