In 2007, according to the labor economistSylvia Allegretto, the sixWalton familymembers on theForbes400 had anet worthequal to the bottom 30 percent of all Americans.
And given that he quotes us here atForbeson the point, he's almost certainly right.
The question is, what are we to make of this point? I think we all know what Mr.Goldbergwants us to make of it, it's a telling indictment of Americanwealth inequality, the world's going to the dogs and something must be done about rising inequality.
The Waltonsare now collectively worth about $93 billion, according to Forbes.
Well, yes, but.TotalUS household wealth is in the $50 trillion (yes, trillion) to $70 trillion range. The range is depending on whether you want to take before the housing crash or in the middle of it. So the statement is that these Waltons have, between the family, 0.13% of US wealth. Which, for the people who inherited the world's largest (well, certainly the country's) and most successful retailer doesn't sound like a particularly terrible concentration of wealth. It's certainly less thanJohn D Rockefellerhad all by his lonesome when he was in his pomp.
But I think it's possible that the comment is more revealing about Mr. Goldberg really, for asFelix Salmonpoints out, Mr. Goldberg himself has more wealth than the bottom 25% ofAmericans.
This sounds outrageous, until you stop for a second and take note of the fact thatJeffrey Goldberg, individually, has anet worthgreater than the bottom 25% of all Americans.
In fact, given that I have equity in my home and no other debt than mortgage, I have, as is highly likely do all readers of these pages, more wealth than the bottom 25% of Americans added together. For as Felix pointsus to:
In 2009, roughly 1 in 4 (24.8%) of American households had zero or negative net worth, up from 18.6% in 2007, and 37.1% of households had net worth of less than $12,000, up from 30.0% in 2007.
Wealth is always more unequally distributed than income. By the way, it isn't even true that all of those households with zero or negative wealth are what we would call poor either. It's entirely possible to have no net assets while having a good income, even a high income. All you need to have is debts higher than your assets: something that will almost certainly be true of anyone with student debt and fresh out of college for example. Fresh out of grad school you might well have $100,000, $200,000 of debt, hey, possibly even from medical school you might be carrying $500,000. None of us are actually going to weep all that hard for you though, not you with that associates job at aWall Streetlaw firm on $100,000 or more, not a newly qualified doctor on hundreds of thousands a year.
I certainly don't mean that all those with negative net household value are in that situation: there are an awful lot of people who are "properly" poor in the way that we all usually understand it.
But this comparison of wealth desn't show us quite what Mr. Goldberg thinks it does. If you've no debts and have $10 in your pocket you have more wealth than 25% of Americans. More than that 25% of Americans have collectively that is.
That a family who have inherited the majority of one of the leading global retailers have more wealth than the bottom 30% of Americans, when compared with how high up the tree a single ten dollar bill gets you, is pretty much worthy of a heartfelt "Meh".