Chuck Collins and Omar Ocampo report on a milestone in the U.S. history of concentrated wealth and power.
By Chuck Collins and Omar Ocampo
For the first time in U.S. history, the top 12 U.S. billionaires surpassed a combined wealth of $1 trillion. On Aug. 3, these 12 held a combined $1.015 trillion.
This is a disturbing milestone in the U.S. history of concentrated wealth and power. This is simply too much economic and political power in the hands of twelve people. From the point of view of a democratic self-governing society, this represents an Oligarchic Twelve or a Despotic Dozen.
The Oligarchic Dozen are Jeff Bezos ($189.4b), Bill Gates ($114b), Mark Zuckerberg ($95.5b), Warren Buffett ($80b), Elon Musk ($73b), Steve Ballmer ($71b), Larry Ellison ($70.9b), Larry Page ($67.4b), Sergey Brin ($65.6b), Alice Walton ($62.5b), Jim Walton ($62.3b), and Rob Walton ($62b).
Since March 18, the beginning of the pandemic, this Oligarchic Dozen have seen their combined wealth increase $283 billion, an increase of almost 40 percent.
Elon Musk has been the biggest pandemic profiteer, seeing his wealth triple from $24.6 billion on March 18th to $73 billion on Aug. 13, an increase of $48.5 billion or 197 percent.
Amazon co-founder Jeff Bezos was worth $189.4 billion on Aug. 13, up $76 billion or 68 percent since March 18.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was worth $95.5 billion on Aug. 13, up $40.8 billion or 75 percent since March 18.
During the first stage of the pandemic, between Jan. 1 and March 18, the collective wealth of the Oligarchic Dozen declined by $96 billion. But their wealth quickly rebounded and surpassed their March 2019 “Forbes Global Billionaire” wealth level. The only exception is Warren Buffett, who is still $2 billion below his March 2019 wealth, but is currently worth $80 billion.
March 18, 2020, marked the beginning of the Covid-19 lockdown and historic filings for unemployment — and also the intervention of the Federal Reserve with monetary actions to stabilize markets.
Philanthropy is not the answer but is becoming another extension of private power and interests. A number of the Oligarchic Dozen are members of the Giving Pledge, a group of billionaires who promised to give away at least half their wealth before their death. But as “Giving Pledge at 10,” a briefing by the Institute for Policy Studies reveals, 10 years after beginning the pledge, their combined wealth has doubled. Among the Oligarchic Dozen, five of the top seven billionaires — Gates, Buffett, Zuckerberg, Ellison and Musk — have taken the giving pledge.
See our research summary here.
Chuck Collins directs the Program on Inequality and the Common Good at the Institute for Policy Studies, where he also co-edits Inequality.org.
Omar Ocampo is a researcher for the Program on Inequality and the Common Good at the Institute for Policy Studies.