Saturday, February 15, 2020

A brief discussion of wealth and wealth inequality

The left uses the politics of envy and hate to drive a wedge between Americans.

The Number One hammer for driving that wedge are the statistics regarding "massive, obscene wealth inequality". A frequently quoted statistic is that the 400 wealthiest people own more than the bottom 50%,

According to the ever-helpful Wikipedia "The combined net worth of the 2019 class of the 400 richest Americans was $2.9 trillion"

What is wealth and how is a value established for it?
Wealth is different from income. Wealth are assets that you bought or money you put in the bank.

Ultimately, assets are what the market will pay for them, but a common way of valuing assets, short of selling them, is to perform a Net Present Value analysis. That is, estimate the future cash flow from the asset and then discount it using the prevailing interest rate.

Basically, how many millions, billions or trillions of dollars of bonds would you have to buy to spin off that kind of cash flow.

Define ownership
I "own" something if I have a contract or a law that says I own something. It might not be on my property. It might not be in my bank account...yet.

Here is the part you can quibble about
I submit that the "entitlements" portion of the annual, United States budget is "owned" by the bottom 50%, wealth wise, of the United States population.

That stream of moneys, assets and services funnels through that bottom 50%.

In round numbers, that is $0.9 Trillion in current Social Security spending, $0.9 Trillion in Medicaid/care spending and $0.2 Trillion in Food Stamps and other transfers.

Suppose the average Social Security recipient gets benefits for 20 years, the average Medicaid/care recipient gets benefits for 30 years (the average inflated by the inclusion of younger people in the Medicaid program) and Food Stamp recipients get benefits for fifty years.

Also suppose that Social Security costs rise by 6% a year, Medicaid/care by 10% a year and Food Stamps by 6% a year.

Finally, assume a 3% discount rate. That is the "rate" on the bond you will buy to mimic that cash flow. That bond is the "wealth" the bottom 50% has title to (hence the term Entitlements to describe this part of the budget).

Throwing them into an Excel spreadsheet and using =NPV(discount rate, array of values)

Note that I am giving enough details so readers can replicate the calculations or substitute their own numbers rather than depending on my guesses.

And the answer is $1.6e+14 or $158 Trillion dollars.

That is 55 times larger than the $2.9 Trillion in net assets owned by the 400 wealthiest people in the United States.

And that is JUST the Federal entitlements and does not include wealth hidden in insurance policies and pension programs. For instance, the Illinois State Pension programs has liabilities north of $200 Billion. That "liability" on Illinois' books is an "asset" on the books of the workers who will receive those pensions.

The irony of the Sanders/Warren/Buttigieg plans is that they will tank financial assets and the struggling pension plans will implode, absolutely destroying the wealth that contract represents.

That tips the "massive, obscene wealth inequality" argument more than a little bit.


  1. Above all Leftism is a doctrine of covetousness. Covetousness is a blatant violation of the Ten Commandments. It also violates in spirit everything that Jesus taught.

    1. What I try to do, in this kind of writing, is to use reasoning somebody on-the-fence will listen to.

      I 100% agree with your comment, and there are some people whose minds will turn off as soon as you mention the Bible.

      My hope is that they can hear other arguments.

    2. Agreed. And there are many, many Catholics and others who identify as Christian who vote Democrat because they have boight into some or all of the false narratives of liberation theology and cultural Marxism. They have never had anyone explain to them the ugly truth that they as Christians have unwittingly fallen for a doctrine of covetousness. I believe they can be reached this way, if done right.


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