Even as the US careens into its greatest economic calamity since the Great Depression, the financial aristocracy whose parasitism and criminality has brought on the crisis has held its own—and then some.
The recently released Forbes 400 list of the richest Americans shows that the combined wealth of the aristocracy has increased 2 percent, even amidst the financial breakdown and recession of the economy. “In this, the 27th edition of the list,” Forbes glumly notes, “the assembled net worth of America’s wealthiest rose by $30 billion—only 2%—to $1.57 trillion.”
Readers will be forgiven for tripping over the word “only” in relationship to a $30 billion increase in wealth for 400 spectacularly wealthy individuals. This “modest” figure—the increase in wealth for the oligarchy in a bad year—is only slightly less than the federal government has budgeted for unemployment insurance for all of 2008.
The overall wealth of the 400 richest Americans is staggering. There are no multimillionaires on the list; a minimum of $1.3 billion being required to gain admittance, while the average net worth is $3.9 billion.
The combined wealth of the richest 400 individuals is $400 billion more than the entire discretionary spending budget for the federal government. It is more than $300 billion larger than the combined 2008 outlay for Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. It is more than 15 times the combined appropriations for education and highways and mass transit.
The personal wealth of the top 400 Americans is more than twice the combined annual GDP of all of sub-Saharan Africa, home to nearly 800 million people, the vast majority of whom live in dire conditions. It is also several hundred billion dollars larger than the GDP of the world’s eighth biggest economy, that of Spain.
The club’s richest member is Microsoft magnate Bill Gates, whose net worth, $57 billion, is greater than the annual GDP of about 120 of the world’s 180 nations.