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Kudos

Kudos to Bob Lord. He’s a local guy who ran for Congress as a Democrat in 2008 and is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, so you know where he stands on the political spectrum.

The Republic picked up a piece he wrote titled “Absurd Inequity Is Threatening U.S.”

He drew a powerful picture of just how concentrated wealth has become at the top of the economic ladder.

Imagine the entire population lined up in order of wealth, measured by net worth. Bill Gates, the wealthiest American, would stand at the front of the line, and the poorest American at the back.

Now, imagine a gate at the front of the line. Finally, imagine that Americans walk through the gate, one by one, starting with Microsoft’s billionaire founder, until the collective wealth of those who have passed through totals $1 trillion.

How many people belong to this trillion-dollar club?

Right now, according to the latest Forbes magazine calculations, just 51 Americans.

Ralph Lauren, the clothing designer with a net worth of $7.7 billion, would be 54th in line. He’d be locked out.

Now, flip that picture around, and put the poorest American at the head of the line. How many would have to pass through the gate until their collective wealth reaches a trillion dollars? 190 million.

Lord also points out that the top-of-the-ladder concentration of wealth is accelerating. In 1982, the 1,100 wealthiest Americans would have gone through the gate before their aggregate wealth hit a trillion dollars. If that 31 year trend holds 31 years into the future, just 12 people will be needed to hit the trillion dollar mark.

Lord concludes with an admonition that we “stop adopting economic and tax policies that are making the rich richer and the poor poorer.”

I don’t entirely disagree, but we also have to take technology into account. Every successful technological leap forward, from the horse drawn plow to the robotic welder in a modern car factory, increases efficiency and disrupts the economy, in good ways and bad. (“Increasing efficiency” is another way of saying “fewer person hours to do the same job.”)

How do we handle these disruptions? Not very well, so far. All I know for sure is that we’re pretty good at solving technical problems, but we really stink at solving social problems.