by Michael Riccards
March 23, 2011
THE RE-EMERGENCE OF OBAMA
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Forbes magazine recently put out its "Rich List" for 2011. Several numbers stood out.
There are now 1,210 billionaires in the world, 200 more than last year.
There are now 413 billionaires in the United States, the most of any country in the world.
The total wealth of all the billionaires on Forbes' list is $4.5 trillion.
David and Charles Koch are on the list, and the billionaire brothers who have bankrolled nearly every anti-worker, anti-global warming and anti-democracy initiative that's come down the pike have a combined total wealth of $44 billion.
In fact, the Koch brothers had a splendid 2010, amassing $9 billion more in wealth.
Meanwhile, courtesy of Michael Moore, I'll throw out this statistic that Forbes neglected to mention: The bottom 60 percent of American households own less than 2.5 percent of the total wealth in this country. If you figure that the total net worth of every American household is around $53 trillion, this means the bottom 60 percent possess about $1.25 trillion of that amount. The other 40 percent have the rest.
Forbes also neglected to mention that since 1980, the wealthiest 5 percent of Americans have seen their share of total after-tax income increase by 32 percent, while the bottom 40 percent of households have seen virtually no income growth in three decades.
How badly out of whack is our economy?
In the mid-1960s, the average CEO earned about 50 times the minimum wage. Today, the average CEO earns about 821 times the minimum wage. And that CEO is paying much less in taxes. Over the past 50 years, tax rates for the bottom 80 percent of wage earners have stayed mostly unchanged, while the richest Americans saw their tax rates go from 91 percent in 1960 to 35 percent today.
That's why, of the 33 most advanced economies in the world, the United States ranks 31st in income equality. The gap between rich and poor is greater here than it is in places such as Guyana, Nicaragua and Venezuela.
This is also why Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders introduced the Emergency Deficit Reduction Act last week. It would impose a 5.4 percent surcharge on Americans who annual incomes exceed $1 mllion. It would also eliminate tax breaks for oil and gas companies.
Together, these two actions would raise close to the $61 billion that House Republicans (and a few conservative Democrats) want to chop from programs such as education, nutrition, heating oil subsidies for the poor, environmental regulation and reproductive health.
Sanders' bill barely scratches the surface of what needs to be done. Unfortunately, too many politicians of both parties in Washington are either unwilling or too afraid to make the rich pay their share of the cost of recovery from the economic collapse they helped to create.
This is how bad it is in Washington right now. A modest attempt at doing something for the common good has absolutely zero chance of passage.
We're approaching the three-year mark since the housing bubble burst and $11 trillion of household wealth - most of it the home values and retirement savings of the middle class - vanished. There are still about 26 million Americans who are either jobless, can't find full-time work or have given up looking for work.
Yet these are the people, along with the rapidly thinning ranks of the middle class, that are being asked to pay the cost of cleaning up the economic mess.
Consider that, as of last of last spring, non-financial corporations in the U.S. have $26.2 trillion in assets, or nearly double the national debt of $14.1 trillion. Or that few corporations in America pay the theoretical top tax rate of 35 percent.
According to a study from the non-partisan Government Accountability Office, 83 of the top 100 publicly traded corporations that operate in the United States exploit corporate tax havens. Some of the most profitable companies, including ExxonMobil, General Electric, Bank of America and Citigroup, paid a grand total of $0 in federal income taxes in 2009.
It's estimated more that $1 trillion in revenue is lost each year to loopholes and tax breaks to corporations. But the politicians won't act on closing tax loopholes and making the wealthy and corporations pay their fair share until we, the people, force them to act.
There is a new movement emerging called US Uncut (http://www.usuncut.org). It is inspired by UK Uncut, the anti-austerity movement that is fighting Britain's Conservative-led government and its attempts to impose the most extreme cuts to public spending that the country has seen since the 1920s while at the same time extending huge tax breaks to major corporations.
In Britain, there have been peaceful occupations of stores and banks by people who are fed up with the fat cats getting tax breaks while the public sector is decimated. Social media, such as Twitter, is used to organize the events. This style of open-source protesting had no leaders, and no predictable tactics.
The message of UK Uncut, which has been adopted here by their American counterparts, is a simple one: If individuals pay their fair share of taxes, why not corporations? If corporations paid their fair share of taxes, just as ordinary people do, we wouldn't have to fire teachers, firefighters and other public servants.
Bank of America has been US Uncut's first target. Other corporate tax-dodgers are still to come. And, on March 26, a global day of action is planned as Uncut groups from Australia, Canada Uncut, Mexico, France, the Netherlands and Sudan join their British and American counterparts in a coordinated protest.
How effective has US Uncut been? They recently achieved the ultimate accolade: a lengthy attack by Glenn Beck during his tv program last week. The timing of Beck's assault was significant. It came just a couple of days after organizers from US Uncut crashed a Bank of America investor conference and got a chance to put their message before 300 hedge-fund managers, institutional investors and asset managers.
Direct action is what it will take to turn the tide. It will not be easy. It will take a long time. And there will be setbacks. But what we're seeing is the start of a new movement to take back our economy from the oligarchs and plutocrats.
As Michael Moore told a rally in Madison on March 5, "We aren't broke, Wisconsin is not broke. The country is awash in wealth and cash. It's just that it's not in your hands. It has been transferred, in the greatest heist in history, from the workers and consumers to the banks and the portfolios of the uber-rich."
It's time to take our economy, and our government back.
Chief of AR Correspondents Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at email@example.com.