That wealth largely remains in the hands of the already wealthy is nothing new. Income inequality in the US has only increased since the 1980s, far exceeding that of the UK and other G7 nations; upper-income families have increased their share of the country’s aggregate income in that same timeframe while middle-income households have lost theirs in proportion; and three of the richest men own as much as the poorest 50% of us.
But something about the new report by the non-profit investigative journalism organization ProPublica, which exposes just how little the 25 wealthiest people in the US – including the Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos, the Berkshire Hathaway chairman, Warren Buffett, and the Tesla CEO, Elon Musk – are paying in taxes while simultaneously building their already unfathomable personal wealth, is breathtaking.
Perhaps it’s the fact that we’re actually seeing hard numbers attached to names and faces, rather than some “shadowy wealthy elite not paying taxes” in the abstract. Either way, it feels shocking anew.
I read through the report to tease out the most egregious details about what we’ve learned from the 25 wealthiest Americans:
Zoom out a bit more, and you’ll find that these 25 individuals earned a combined $1.1tn in income in 2018 – the same amount as 14.3 million “ordinary Americans” put together, ProPublica observes. The organization also notes that the first group, the wealthy 25, paid $1.9bn in federal income tax that year. The latter group, the 14.3 million ordinary wage earners, paid $143bn.
Since ProPublica’s report, Senator Elizabeth Warren has resumed calls for instituting policy that would tax rich Americans’ wealth rather than just their annual earned income.