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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The "1-Percenters"

According to the Center on Budget Policy Priorities:

Average pre-tax incomes in 2006 jumped by about $60,000 (5.8 percent) for the top 1 percent of households, but just $430 (1.4 percent) for the bottom 90 percent, after adjusting for inflation, according to a new update in the groundbreaking series on income inequality by economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez. Their analysis of newly released IRS data shows that in 2006, the shares of the nation’s income flowing to the top 1 percent and top 0.1 percent of households were higher than in any year since 1928.
Note that the latest data available is from 2006.



Notice the point (in the above chart) at which the top 1% began to earn a greater share of the total pie for the first time after the Great Depression... the early 1980's. Know what else occurred in the early 1980's? Financial professionals began to earn a SIZABLE relative share of national income while all other wages were stagnant.



Thus began a 25+ year run in which financial professionals and the powerful elite both had a huge incentive to keep the financial bubble going. The financial professionals earned their commission, while the elite had outsized gains on their capital. As the NY Times states:
The gains for the richest took place amid a booming economy, in which hedge funds and private equity firms blossomed and the subprime lending machine went into high gear.
In hindsight, it is not surprising to me that this level of income concentration was last seen right before the Great Depression (I assume financial professionals had an outsized share of income then as well). And even though much of this wealth was just saved by the trillions of taxpayer dollars used to keep the financial machine going, the 1-percenters are protecting this wealth at all costs. Truthdig details:
But what really makes the ultrawealthy so fortunate, what truly separates this moment from a run-of-the-mill Gilded Age, is the unprecedented protection the 1-percenters have bought for themselves on the most pressing issues.

With 22,000 Americans dying each year because they lack health insurance, Congress is considering universal health care legislation financed by a surcharge on income above $280,000—that is, a levy almost exclusively on 1-percenters. This surtax would graze just 5 percent of small businesses and would recoup only part of the $700 billion the 1-percenters received from the Bush tax cuts. In fact, it is so minuscule, those making $1 million annually would pay just $9,000 more in taxes every year—or nine-tenths of 1 percent of their 12-month haul.

Nonetheless, the 1-percenters have deployed an army to destroy the initiative before it makes progress.
While a lot of progress is needed, the bigger question is whether national healthcare is just another form of redistribution of wealth or do wealthy individuals owe it to society for all they have extracted from the system? Obama seems to think the latter (back to Truthdig):
For his part, Obama has responded with characteristic coolness—and a powerful counterstrike. “No, it’s not punishing the rich,” he said. “If I can afford to do a little bit more so that a whole bunch of families out there have a little more security, when I already have security, that’s part of being a community.”

If any volley can thwart this latest attack of the 1-percenters, it is that simple idea.
I agree...

Data Source: Emmanuel Saez, BLS