Now, four decades later, we are all living with the sobering result. Our United States has become what Innes calls a “late materialist utopia,” a haven for business leaders who run our economy and corrupt our politics, a deeply unequal hell for millions of households struggling to get – or maintain – something close. to middle class status.
In our advanced materialistic utopia, the rich and the companies they run have not shrunk government. They captured him. And with this capture, political parties themselves risk becoming, notes Innes, “targets for those who choose politics for primarily private gain.” If these interested souls rise to the political top, then political parties become little more than “business brokers who oversee the continued distribution of public revenues and rents in private hands.”
A populist and authoritarian policy, observes Innes, becomes the effective means of monopolizing this market.
We find ourselves in front of a utopia for the rich. An increasingly corrupt public sector, an increasingly greedy private sector, crushing low and modest incomes at every opportunity and “reinvesting” the resulting profits in ever larger payments to shareholders and managers.
Can we escape this “late materialist utopia”? We certainly can, but only if we focus our political energies on leveling down the spectacularly intense concentration of wealth and power that underlies our contemporary political paralysis, economic precariousness and hateful intercultural confrontations.
Spectacularly intense? How else can we describe the concentration of wealth that we have experienced over the past four decades. Ten deep American pockets, the Bloomberg Billionaires Index informs us, ended 2021 with personal fortunes worth on $ 100 billion. In 1982, the year Forbes inaugurated its annual list of America’s 400 richest people, the richest individual in the country had just a net worth of $ 2 billion, a fortune worth only $ 5.8 billion in dollars today.
This first Forbes 400 in 1982 listed just 13 American billionaires, most of them tied to Big Oil, an industry busy taking advantage of America’s most lucrative tax breaks. The combined total fortune of these 13 billionaires of 1982: about $ 55 billion, in today’s dollars. As of last fall, the United States had 745 billionaires, with a combined net worth of over $ 5 trillion.
Can mere mortals ever seriously challenge such an enormous concentration of wealth? Sure. We Americans of modest means have taken on this challenge before – and have had significant success.
In America’s original golden age, the decades surrounding the end of the 19th century, our super rich held fortunes which, in relative terms, dominated the nation just as fiercely as great fortune does today. hui. But decades of egalitarian struggle would reduce those great fortunes of the Golden Age to a fraction of their maximum value, and, by the 1950s, the United States would give birth to a wonder never before seen in the world: a center of mass to classify.
Maybe one day we will see 2021 as the modern peak of great private wealth in the United States. Perhaps future historians – if we do our part in the year ahead – will point to 2022 as the year this peak started to pass.
Sam Pizzigati co-publishes Inequality.org. His latest books include The arguments in favor of a maximum salary and The rich don’t always win: the forgotten triumph over the plutocracy that created the American middle class, 1900-1970. Follow him on @Too_Much_Online.