Institute for Policy Studies – Informed Comment Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Wed, 27 Oct 2021 05:33:55 +0000 en-US hourly 1 U.S. Billionaire Wealth Surged by 70 Percent, or $2.1 Trillion, During Pandemic Wed, 27 Oct 2021 04:06:36 +0000 By Chuck Collins | –

(Institute for Policy Studies) – Sen. Wyden’s billionaires income tax tapping those huge returns could raise big revenue to fund President Biden’s Build Back Better investment plan.

America’s billionaires have grown $2.1 trillion richer during the pandemic, their collective fortune skyrocketing by 70 percent—from just short of $3 trillion at the start of the COVID crisis on March 18, 2020, to over $5 trillion on October 15 of this year, according to Forbes data analyzed by Americans for Tax Fairness (ATF) and the Institute for Policy Studies Program on Inequality (IPS). [A table of the top 15 billionaires is below.]

Not only did the wealth of U.S. billionaires grow, but so did their numbers: in March of last year, there were 614 with 10-figure bank accounts; this October, there are 745.

The $5 trillion in wealth now held by 745 billionaires is two-thirds more than the $3 trillion in wealth held by the bottom 50 percent of U.S. households estimated by the Federal Reserve Board.

The great good fortune of these billionaires over the past 19 months is all the more stark when contrasted with the devastating impact of coronavirus on working people. Almost 89 million Americans have lost jobs, over 44.9 million have been sickened by the virus, and over 724,000 have died from it.

To put this extraordinary wealth growth in perspective, the $2.1 trillion gain over 19 months by U.S. billionaires is equal to:

  • 60 percent of the $3.5 trillion ten-year cost of President Biden’s Build Back Better plan.
  • The entire $2.1 trillion in new revenues over ten years approved by the House Ways and Means Committee to help pay for President Biden’s Build Back Better (BBB) investment plan.

Sixty-seven national organizations have sent a letter to Congress expressing concern that neither the Ways and Means committee plan nor President Biden’s plan will adequately tax billionaires. They recommend Billionaires Income Tax (BIT) legislation under development by Sen. Ron Wyden, chairman of the Finance Committee, be included in final BBB legislation. It is also supported by President Biden.

Most of these huge billionaires’ gains will go untaxed under current rules and will disappear entirely for tax purposes when they’re passed onto the next generation. Under Wyden’s BIT, billionaires will start paying taxes on their increased wealth each year just like workers pay taxes on their paychecks each year.

The tax will apply only to taxpayers whose wealth exceeds $1 billion: about 700 households. It will be assessed annually on tradable assets, such as stocks, where the value of the asset is known at the beginning and end of the year. For non-tradable assets, such as ownership in a business or real estate holdings, taxes will be deferred until the asset is sold.

Public support for the Billionaire Income Tax is very strong. When proposed as a way to pay for President Biden’s $3.5 trillion investment package it increases support 20 to 40 points among voters in battleground districts and states.

Name Net Worth

Mar. 18, 2020

($ Billions)

Net Worth

Oct. 15, 2021

($ Billions)

19 Month

Wealth Growth

($ Billions)

19 Month

Percent Wealth


Elon Musk $24.6 $209.4 $184.8 751.0% Tesla, SpaceX
Jeff Bezos $113.0 $192.2 $79.2 70.1% Amazon
Bill Gates $98.0 $132.4 $34.4 35.1% Microsoft
Larry Ellison $59.0 $124.5 $65.5 111.1% software
Larry Page $50.9 $120.7 $69.8 137.2% Google
Mark Zuckerberg $54.7 $117.6 $62.9 114.9% Facebook
Sergey Brin $49.1 $116.3 $67.2 136.9% Google
Warren Buffett $67.5 $102.2 $34.7 51.4% Berkshire Hathaway
Steve Ballmer $52.7 $96.9 $44.2 83.9% Microsoft
Jim Walton $54.6 $65.4 $10.8 19.8% Walmart
Alice Walton $54.4 $64.5 $10.1 18.5% Walmart
Rob Walton $54.1 $64.2 $10.1 18.6% Walmart
Michael Bloomberg $48.0 $59.0 $11.0 22.9% Bloomberg LP
Phil Knight $29.5 $57.9 $28.4 96.4% Nike
MacKenzie Scott $36.0 $55.5 $19.5 54.1% Amazon
SUBTOTAL $846.1 $1,578.7 $732.6 86.6%
ALL OTHERS $2,101.4 $3,440.7 $1,339.3 63.7%
U.S. TOTAL $2,947.5 $5,019.4 $2,071.9 70.3%

Sources: March 18, 2020 data: Forbes, “Forbes Publishes 34th Annual List Of Global Billionaires” March 18, 2020. October 15, 2021 data: Forbes, “The World’s Real-Time Billionaires, Today’s Winners and Losers,” accessed October 15, 2021.

Among the individual stories behind the big numbers:

  • Elon Musk of Tesla and SpaceX fame is not only beating Jeff Bezos in space, he has rocketed past him in the billionaires club. Nineteen months ago, Bezos was nearly five times richer than Musk. Now, after a meteoric eight-fold increase in his wealth, Musk is worth $209 billion and Bezos $192 billion. Bezos’s wealth still grew by a very large 70 percent over the period.
  • Google founders Sergei Brin and Larry Page are now worth $237 billion combined, a 137 percent increase from their combined wealth of $100 billion at the beginning of the pandemic.
  • Nike head Phil Knight has nearly doubled his fortune from $29.5 billion to almost $58 billion. Maybe that’s in part because Nike didn’t pay a dime of federal income taxes in 2020 on its $2.9 billion in profits; and between 2018 and 2020 the corporation paid just a 3.3 percent tax rate on $9 billion in profits.
  • MacKenzie Scott, former wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, saw her wealth increase $19.5 billion, or 54 percent, since the pandemic began even after giving away $8.6 billion of her wealth to charity


America’s billionaire bonanza demonstrates the structural flaws in our current economic and tax systems President Biden and Democrats in Congress are trying to remedy by advancing a $3.5 trillion package of investments in working families and communities, paid for with fairer taxes on the rich and corporations.

On average, billionaires pay an effective federal income tax rate of about 8 percent when the increased value of their stock is counted, according to the White House. This is a lower rate than many middle-income taxpayers pay like teachers, nurses and firefighters.

Billionaires pay such low tax rates because:

  • Most of their income comes from the increased value of their investments such as stocks, a business or real estate, rather than a paycheck like most people, and they don’t have to pay taxes on that increased wealth unless they sell the assets. But the ultra-rich don’t need to sell assets. Instead, because of the size of their fortunes, they can borrow money at low rates from banks and live lavishly tax free.
  • When they sell their assets they pay a top capital gains tax rate of 20 percent (plus a 3.8 percent net investment income tax, NIIT) far below the current 37 percent (40.8 percent) top rate they would pay on an equivalent salary. This is why many ultra-rich pay a lower tax rate than people in the middle class.

According to ProPublica’s analysis of IRS data:

  • Billionaires have paid no federal income taxes in some recent years, including Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Michael Bloomberg and George Soros.
  • The country’s 25 top billionaires paid a tax rate of just 3.4 percent on a $400 billion increase in their collective fortune between 2014-18.

Poll after poll shows that Americans of all political persuasions and by large majorities believe that the wealthy and big corporations need to start paying their fair share of taxes. A June poll by ALG Research and Hart Research shows 62 percent of voters support Biden’s proposed $4 trillion (at the time) investments in healthcare, childcare, education, clean energy and more—paid for by higher taxes on the rich and corporations.

A Note on Data: We draw on data from Forbes research on billionaire wealth. Thanks to Kerry Dolan and her team. Why March 18? March 18, 2020 is used as the unofficial beginning of the coronavirus crisis because by then most federal and state economic restrictions responding to the virus were in place. March 18 was also the date that Forbes picked to measure billionaire wealth for the 2020 edition of its annual global billionaires’ report, which provided a baseline that ATF and HCAN compare periodically with real-time data from the Forbes website. PolitiFact has favorably reviewed this methodology.

Chuck Collins is the Director of the Program on Inequality and the Common Good at the Institute for Policy Studies, where he co-edits He is author of the popular book, Born on Third Base: A One Percenter Makes the Case for Tackling Inequality, Bringing Wealth Home, and Committing to the Common Good (Chelsea Green). His most recent book is The Wealth Hoarders: How Billionaires Spend Millions to Hide Trillions (Polity Books). He is an expert on U.S. inequality and the racial wealth divide and author of several other books, including with Bill Gates Sr. of Wealth and Our Commonwealth, (Beacon Press, 2003), a case for taxing inherited fortunes. He is co-author with Mary Wright of The Moral Measure of the Economy, a book about Christian ethics and economic life. He was featured in this interview in Sun Magazine and with Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air.

Via Institute for Policy Studies

Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

America’s 400 Wealthiest Billionaires Are Worth $4.5 Trillion In 2021 | Forbes

Biden’s Return to the Paris Agreement Is Just the Beginning Sun, 28 Feb 2021 05:01:28 +0000

The U.S. is officially back in the Paris Climate Agreement. But Biden must do much, much more than restore the status quo under Obama.

February 24, 2021

By Lorah Steichen | –

(Originally in National Priorities Project)

(Institute for Policy Studies ) – On his first day in office, President Joe Biden made good on his campaign promise to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement on day one. On Feb. 19, the reentry formally went into effect.

Amid a climate emergency that is wreaking havoc on communities at home and abroad, the United States’ reentry in the global agreement is welcome news. But the move to rejoin the Paris Agreement alone is far from sufficient. If we hope to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, the United States can’t go back to the Obama-era status quo.

In the decades before Trump pulled out of the Paris Agreement, the United States’ repeatedly undermined progress in global climate negotiations, weakening emissions reductions commitments and refusing to take responsibility for its role in causing the crisis.

The United States is the biggest carbon polluter in history — responsible for a staggering one quarter of cumu­la­tive emis­sions since the start of the Industrial Revolution. Today, the United States remains the world’s second highest emitter. Notably, China, the highest emitter, has four times the population.

For the United States to do its fair share of the global effort to keep temperature rise to 1.5°C, rapidly reducing its own emissions on a scale that matches its outsized contributions to the crisis is a good start. But we can’t stop there. The path to a livable future requires new internationalism rooted in global cooperation, resource sharing, and solidarity.

The first step on that path is accepting and then addressing our role in the climate crisis.

According to an analysis from the U.S. Climate Action Network, the U.S. fair share of the global action needed to limit global warming to 1.5°C is the equivalent of reducing U.S. domestic emissions 195 percent by 2030. Bernie Sanders’ Green New Deal Proposal asserted that reducing emissions by about 160 percent by 2030 would be the U.S. fair share.

How does a country reduce its emissions by more than 100 percent? By pairing ambitious domestic targets with significantly ramped up contributions to international climate funds that support poor countries’ efforts to decarbonize.

One way to support those efforts is through the UN’s Green Climate Fund (GCF), which was created to support developing countries in adapting to climate impacts and building green infrastructure. President Obama committed $3 billion to the GCF, before President Trump took office and rescinded the $2 billion that had not yet been disbursed.

Now President Biden has the opportunity to restore the Obama-era commitment and then some. Climate advocates are calling on the new administration to raise contributions to the GCF to $8 billion, catching the U.S. up to other donor countries that doubled their contributions during the fund’s first replenishment in 2019.

That’s a good start but far from sufficient. Bernie Sanders, by contrast, campaigned on a $200 billion contribution to the GCF. Another plan for a Global Green New Deal proposes that the U.S. ought to contribute $680 billion a year to shoulder it’s fair share of global climate finance. That’s still less than the annual U.S. military budget, which reached $740 billion this year, and well below the $6.4 trillion the U.S. has spent on war since 2001.

Inaction on climate could cost up to 15.7 percent of GDP per year. That’s equal to wiping out $3.3 trillion from the U.S. economy. If nations fail to rein in emissions sufficiently, the global economy stands to lose at least $150 trillion to as much as $720 trillion by the end of the century.

Regardless of the exact figures, it’s clear that we can’t afford not to change our budget priorities.

Lorah Steichen is the Outreach Coordinator for the National Priorities Project at the Institute for Policy Studies, a project dedicated to fighting for a U.S. Federal budget that prioritizes peace, economic security, and shared prosperity. In this role, Lorah helps facilitate collaborations with climate-change focused organizations on shifting our war economy to address the climate crisis.

Via Institute for Policy Studies


Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

TRT World Now: “US formally rejoins 2015 climate agreement”

Republican Voter Suppression and Election Theft outdoes anything Putin could Dream of Sun, 10 Nov 2019 05:02:28 +0000 By Robert P. Alvarez | –

(OtherWords.or) – When turnout climbs, Republicans lose. No wonder they’re closing polling places and purging voters all over the country.

It’s true: Four of the five states with the highest voter turnout voted blue in the last presidential and midterm elections. All are crucial swing states.

In 2016, the one that didn’t — Wisconsin — instituted a strict voter ID law that suppressed around 200,000 voters. Trump won the state by only 22,000 ballots.

Even Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell agrees. He called the notion of making Election Day a federal holiday, which would make it easier for working people to vote, a “power grab” by Democrats.

Unfortunately for Trump, McConnell, and the Republican Party, 2020 voter turnout is expected to reach record levels.

This leaves the party with two options. They can broaden their message to appeal to an increasingly diverse electorate… or suppress the voters that don’t share their values.

Sadly, their attacks on voting rights across the country make it clear which path they chose. Republican-led state legislatures have been rolling back voting rights in virtually every state they control in recent years.

The flood gates opened a few years ago, when the Supreme Court gutted the “pre-clearance rule” of the Voting Rights Act, a capstone achievement of the civil rights movement. That rule required states with histories of racist voter suppression to seek federal approval prior to altering their electoral rules.

The results have been ghastly.

Texas ended temporary voting locations, reducing access for rural voters and college students. Arizona restricted the use of emergency voting centers and passed a more rigid voter ID law targeting Native Americans.

Less than two years ago, Georgia removed over half a million voters from its rolls. Right now it’s in the process of purging an additional 330,000 voters, mostly in Democratic-leaning districts.

In recent years, nine Republican-controlled states have closed 1,688 polling places. All nine were previously beholden to the pre-clearance rule, and all nine have significant minority populations.

Plainly, these rollbacks and closures disproportionately harm voters of color.

And it may get worse. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals will soon determine whether districts that dilute minority votes through racial gerrymandering can be compelled to redraw their maps to ensure that minorities have an equal opportunity to choose their representatives.

The issue at hand is a section of the Voting Rights Act called the “results test,” which forbids any law that has the purpose or effect of curtailing the minority vote. It’s just a matter of time before the results test makes its way to the GOP-controlled Supreme Court, which could well strike it down.

Ever since the 2016 elections, politicians have agonized over foreign interference in our elections. But the truth is, it’s vote-suppressing Republicans, not Russians, who are the greatest threat to American democracy.

But hope is not lost.

Communities are taking things into their own hands, advocating for and winning automatic voter registration and same-day registration, upending proposed voter roll purges, and requesting absentee ballots.

Then there’s the For the People Act, which promises to restore the Voting Rights Act to full strength. It easily passed the House and is now sitting on McConnell’s desk itching for a chance to be taken up for a vote in the Senate.

It should get one. I’m not asking for much — just for my right, and the rights of other people of color, to have our votes counted. Political parties aside, our fundamental right to vote must be respected.

Robert P. Alvarez is a communications assistant at the Institute for Policy Studies.

Originally in OtherWords


Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

The Ring of Fire “Georgia Prepares To Purge Another 300,000 Voters Before 2020 Election”

Is Bernie Sanders Right that 3 Billionaires Have more Wealth than Half of America? Sun, 30 Jun 2019 04:11:57 +0000 By Chuck Collins | –

And in addition to the 3 billionaires Bernie mentioned, we should also be worried about the expanding fortunes of multi-generational wealth dynasties.

The wealthiest 3 billionaires in the U.S. –Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett — now have as much wealth as the bottom half of the U.S. population combined.

Those were the first words spoken at last night’s 2020 Democratic Debate, citing a wealth inequality study by the Institute for Policy Studies.

In fact, Sen. Bernie Sanders mentioned the study, Billionaire Bonanza, several times during the debate.

Fact checkers at The New York Times, the Washington Post and CNN verified Sen. Sanders’ claims.

These extreme levels of wealth inequality are possible, in part, because the bottom fifth of U.S. households are underwater, with zero or negative net worth. And the next fifth has so few assets to fall back on that they live in fear of destitution.

“We’re developing into a plutocracy,” said former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker.

Another powerful IPS statistic: One troubling indicator that we are drifting toward a society governed by the wealthy is the expanding fortunes of multi-generational wealth dynasties.

The three wealthiest U.S. families are the Walton’s 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 $348.7 billion, which is four million times the median wealth of a U.S. family.

Since 1982, these three families have seen their wealth increase nearly 6,000 percent, factoring in inflation. Meanwhile, the median household wealth went down 3 percent over the same period.

The dynastic wealth of the Walton family grew from $690 million in 1982 (or $1.81 billion in 2018 dollars) to $169.7 billion in 2018, a mind-numbing increase of 9,257 percent.

Via Institute for Policy Studies

Chuck Collins is the Director the Program on Inequality and the Common Good at the Institute for Policy Studies where he co-edits He is author of the popular book, Born on Third Base: A One Percenter Makes the Case for Tackling Inequality, Bringing Wealth Home, and Committing to the Common Good (Chelsea Green). His new book, Is Inequality in America Irreversible? is published by the Oxford, UK-based Polity Press.