A study conducted by Edward N. Wolff for the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College in March 2010 made the following findings:
The richest 1 percent received over one-third of the total gain in marketable wealth over the period from 1983 to 2007. The next 4 percent also received about a third of the total gain and the next 15 percent about a fifth, so that the top quintile collectively accounted for 89 percent of the total growth in wealth, while the bottom 80 percent accounted for 11 percent.
Debt was the most evenly distributed component of household wealth, with the bottom 90 percent of households responsible for 73 percent of total indebtedness.
Wealth concentration in too few hands while the general populace is saddled with too much debt to buy the goods and services produced by the corporations, is a replay of the conditions leading to the crash of 1929 and the ensuing Great Depression.
Writing in his book, “The Worldly Philosophers,” Robert Heilbroner explained the situation leading up to the depression of the 1930s:
“The national flood of income was indubitably imposing in its bulk, but when one followed its course into its millions of terminal rivulets, it was apparent that the nation as a whole benefited very unevenly from its flow. Some 24,000 families at the apex of the social pyramid received a stream of income three times as large as 6 million families squashed at the bottom — the average income of the fortunate families was 630 times the average income of the families at the base…And then there was the fact that the average American had used his prosperity in a suicidal way; he had mortgaged himself up to his neck, had extended his resources dangerously under the temptation of installment buying, and then had ensured his fate by eagerly buying fantastic quantities of stock – some 300 million shares, it is estimated – not outright, but on margin, that is, on borrowed money.”
In both eras, Wall Street ceased being an allocator of capital to worthy enterprises and became an institutionalized system of rigged wealth transfer. The primary artifices this time around included issuing knowingly false stock research; lining up large institutional clients to buy at predetermined prices (laddering) on the first day of a new issue of stock – this made the price appear to soar and thus sucked in the small investor; threatening to take the stock broker’s commission away (penalty bid) if the broker let the small investor take profits in the newly issued stock – the practice was known as flipping and was reserved for the big boys. When the tech mania went bust and the rigged game was revealed, the small investor left in droves. Wall Street, with the Fed’s able assistance, fueled the next bubble – housing – and crafted complex derivatives to turn this market into a cash cow for Wall Street and foreclosures for Main Street; even interest rates were rigged against the little guy – the Libor Scandal.
The January 21, 2010 Supreme Court decision to allow corporations to have staggering financial influence in our elections (Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission) should send a bone chilling message: help is not on the way. The end game of this massive wealth concentration is long-term deflation, economic misery and multiple generations who will look back on us as the hapless society who couldn’t tame the Wall Street greed machine for want of a plan.
Below I offer ten ideas to get started on the first course of taming the Wall Street beast. And, just to be clear to those perched on the edge of their seats preparing to scream “Socialist!,” I’m not suggesting “redistributing” wealth; I’m suggesting putting the wealth back into the hands from which it was taken in a rigged wealth transfer scheme.
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