Based on his letter published May 14, Keith Berg would have us believe that the huge and growing wealth inequality in the U.S. can be blamed on the “poor spending habits” of middle-class families. While American consumerism is certainly open to criticism, it has very little to do with the fact that the richest .01% of Americans now own more wealth than the bottom 90% combined. Soaring economic inequality results from how people obtain their wealth much more than from how they spend it.
Most of us work for a living, and, after paying some of that in taxes, we buy things we need or want and try to save some. The things we buy, our houses and our cars, represent a large part of our wealth. The very rich, on the other hand, even if they own a fleet of expensive cars and several mansions, have most of their wealth invested. The reason for growing economic inequality stems from the way our economic system is rigged in favor of people whose wealth and income derives mainly from these paper assets rather than from work.
A couple of examples will have to suffice. Approximately 60% of the nation’s wealth is inherited. For example, the inherited wealth of the Walton family (heirs to the Walmart fortune) is greater than that of the bottom 42% of Americans combined. One reason for this huge intergenerational transfer of wealth to people who have done nothing to earn it is that the estate tax has been so drastically reduced in recent years.
Second, the income obtained in that way is taxed as capital gains, which is a very different rate than the income tax working people pay. If you make a very large income from investments, the capital gains tax you would pay is only slightly more half the income tax you would pay on the same amount if you had brought that money home in a paycheck.
Does it really matter? Money is power, and the extreme concentration of wealth in this country gives the super-rich an inordinate influence over political decisions that serve to make them even wealthier.