The Walmart Heirs Now Have As Much Wealth As The Bottom 40 Percent Of Americans

Welcome to our sharecropper economy. A couple of years ago, eyebrows were raised by the news that the Walton family’s wealth was equal to that of the bottom 30 percent of U.S. families. In little time that figure has ballooned to 40 percent, the Economic Policy Institute notes:

We have argued previously that Walmart is a useful archetype for trends in the larger American economy over the past three decades. Its enormous size and bargaining power has led to fabulous wealth for its owners, while the compensation it pays its employees is generally low, even by retail standards; and the ubiquity of Walmart stores means that it is effectively the marginal employer in many U.S. counties.

In 2007, it was reported that the Walton family wealth was as large as the bottom 35 million families in the wealth distribution combined, or 30.5 percent of all American families. And in 2010, as the Walton’s wealth has risen and most other Americans’ wealth declined, it is now the case that the Walton family wealth is as large as the bottom 48.8 million families in the wealth distribution (constituting 41.5 percent of all American families) combined.

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  • Anarchy Pony

    FREEDOM! PROSPERITY! MARKET! BUZZWORD!

    • The Baffler

      SPOOOOOOOOOOON!

      • Haystack

        BUZZWORD!

  • Liam_McGonagle

    ” . . .  wealth was equal to that of the bottom 30 percent of U.S. families. In little time that figure has ballooned to 40 percent . . .”

    Well, to be fair, I’m sure that at least half of the change is due to a reduction in the absolute wealth of the bottom 40 percent of Americans.

    I’m a glass half-full kinda guy.

    • http://www.ContraControl.com/ Zenc

      You know, that makes me wonder if “Wal-Mart” can be viewed as a type of Giffen Good.

      • Liam_McGonagle

        I think so, when you consider the downward macro pressure they put on wages through screwing their suppliers and employees, and their ability to effectively nuke any competition.

    • rtb61

       How about, and they still want more, MORE, MORE, MORE. Sick huh.

  • Andrew

    How much of that wealth is real and how much of it is bytes in computers?

    • Liam_McGonagle

      We’ll find out as soon as we enact a property tax on large securities holdings.  When they have to sell off chunks to pay the tax, we’ll see how much of their market value they retain.

      More and more I see this as a looming inevitability, as even the stupidest Eurozone neoliberal politician realizes that the tax base can’t be bled dry to sustain a dysfunctional capital market any longer.

      • http://www.ContraControl.com/ Zenc

        They may end up with a tax on transactions or some new twist on taxing “income” but I’m fairly well convinced that we’ll see no recurring (quarterly, annual, etc) tax on accumulated/stored financial wealth.

        The wealthy will simply not let that happen.

        • Liam_McGonagle

          Well, it wouldn’t happen overnight, anyhow.

          You’re right, the transaction tax is the one that gets all the press.  From some pretty big names, too.  But my intuition tells me that’s not quite the optimal direction.

          If the problem is that capital flow to the productive sectors of the real economy is drying up, I don’t see a transaction tax being particularly helpful.  Yeah, I get it that it’ll discourage some of the high frequency B*S* that’s driving the current fantasy roulette, but believe me, there’ll be another scam to replace that one.  So why hang our hats on a strategy that has also negatively impacts the volume of transactions in sectors we want to encourage?

          True, attacking the excess accumulated wealth does present an existential threat to people whose sole measure of self worth is how much deprivation they can inflict on others.  But one way or the other that point is going to be reached, because the current model of capitalism is simply unsustainable.

          And remember, WWII saw top marginal rates income tax rates of 90+% on the wealthiest Americans.  So there IS a clear precedent for this sort of radically progressive tax.

          I think bigger problems in implementing a more progressive tax regime will be:

          1.  Getting Americans to accept reality, namely that some form of taxation is inevitable, be it by transparent, socially responsive government or private, unaccountable oligopolies.

          2.  Establishing the principle that no functional government is even theoretically possible unless it guarantees a minimum economic standard of living that allows its citizens to participate.  And I’m not talking about some lame-*ss “Get Out The Vote” bullsh*t–I’m talking about making it a realistic, viable option for ordinary Joes to get an education and the leisure to run for office.  History shows us time and time again that left to professionals, politics becomes nothing more than a commitment to preserve the system, regardless of its dysfunctionality.

          • http://www.ContraControl.com/ Zenc

            I’m curious if you’re familiar with a gentleman named Lev Lafayette. I was introduced to him and one of his websites (http://Isocracy.org) by a friend of mine a few years back.

            The guy is pretty awesome and I think you might have a lot in common with him.

          • Liam_McGonagle

            This is the first I’ve heard of him.  Thanks for the tip.

          • Liam_McGonagle

            Just started reading.  I’ll have to read a lot more.

            I was a bit surprised by the references to libertarianism, but admittedly that term seems a bit overused and abused here in America–maybe not necessarily the same sort of thing–or at least flavor–as over in Australia.

            That last para of my post above, #2 about the corrosive effect of professionalism in politics does mark a clear evolution in my thinking, and is consistent with at least some interpretations of libertarianism.  So it is a fair comparison, to that extent at least.

            I’m still pretty wary of that term, though.  Some of the most godawful stoopid eejits I’ve ever met call themselves libertarians.  Then again, Obama and Romney probably think of themselves as “statesmen”, so caveat emptor.

          • http://www.ContraControl.com/ Zenc

            Yeah, don’t worry too much about his use of the word Libertarian.

            Lev is definitely one of the good guys.

  • not your business

    Dah! Of course theyre fuckin rich!  small businesses cannot compete with them because you all go shopping there for everything!

    • JohnFrancisBittrich

      I’ve never set foot in a Wal-Mart in my entire life and never will. I’m not the only one. They’re not really that hard to avoid, actually.

      • Andrew

        I’ve never been in one either.  Not even to play a prank.

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