Legalized theft

Eight Charts

By Michael Tomasky, Tuesday 22 February 2011 22.25 GMT

I implore you to take a look at this, from Mother Jones’ web site, eight charts that explain everything that’s wrong with America.

I think that sort of oversells it, and there are other things wrong with America not explained by this chart, like Ryan Seacrest for example. That said, it’s worth thinking about these things as we cast our gaze toward Madison.

Just study the second chart, what I guess you’d call 2A and 2B since there are two of them, which really should be a billboard in every American town. 2A shows the pre-tax average household income in America since 1979. The top 1% has nearly quadrupled, from about $500,000 to roughly $1.8 million. The top 20% has about doubled, to maybe (it’s hard to tell because it’s not marked well) about $180,000. The third, fourth and bottom 20%’s, where all those teachers and custodians marching in Madison are: flat. That’s flat for 30 years, people.

And yet the top 1% nearly quadrupled. And I would reckon, based on other economic research I’ve seen, that the doubling in the top 20% really happened mostly because of vast growth in the top 5% or so.

Then, 2B shows after-tax change in share of total income. The top 1% gained here by 130%. The top 20% gained by about 25%. The bottom three groups lost share of total income, with the lowest 20% – those custodians who sweep the floors at the University of Wisconsin – having lost the most.

This is just obscene. There is no other word for it. This is not democracy and it’s not civil society. It’s a sick joke. I have my issues with public-employee unions. But really, what these charts demonstrate is legalized theft from the middle class and the poor. or or

It’s the Inequality, Stupid

By Dave Gilson and Carolyn Perot
Mother Jones, March/April 2011 Issue

Illustrated by Jason Schneider

How rich are the superrich?

A huge share of the nation’s economic growth over the past 30 years has gone to the top one-hundredth of one percent, who now make an average of $27 million per household. The average income for the bottom 90 percent of us? $31,244.

Note: The 2007 data (the most current) doesn’t reflect the impact of the housing market crash. In 2007, the bottom 60% of Americans had 65% of their net worth tied up in their homes. The top 1%, in contrast, had just 10%. The housing crisis has no doubt further swelled the share of total net worth held by the superrich.

Winners take all

The superrich have grabbed the bulk of the past three decades’ gains.

Out of balance

A Harvard business prof and a behavioral economist recently asked more than 5,000 Americans how they thought wealth is distributed in the United States. Most thought that it’s more balanced than it actually is. Asked to choose their ideal distribution of wealth, 92% picked one that was even more equitable.

Capitol gain

Why Washington is closer to Wall Street than Main Street.

member max. est. net worth
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) $451.1 million
Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) $435.4 million
Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) $366.2 million
Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) $294.9 million
Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) $285.1 million
Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) $283.1 million
Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wisc.) $231.2 million
Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) $201.5 million
Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) $136.2 million
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) $108.1 million
combined net worth: $2.8 billion


Congressional data from 2009. Family net worth data from 2007. Sources: Center for Responsive Politics; US Census; Edward Wolff, Bard College.

Who’s winning?

For a healthy few, it’s getting better all the time.


Income distribution: Emmanuel Saez (PDF)

Net worth: Edward Wolff (PDF) 

Household income/income share: Congressional Budget Office 

Real vs. desired distribution of wealth: Michael I. Norton and Dan Ariely (PDF) 

Net worth of Americans vs. Congress: Federal Reserve (average); Center for Responsive Politics (Congress)

Your chances of being a millionaire: Calculation based on data from Wolff (PDF); US Census (household and population data)  

Member of Congress’ chances: Center for Responsive Politics

Wealthiest members of Congress: Center for Responsive Politics 

Tax cut votes: New York Times (Senate; House)Wall street profits, 2007-2009: New York State Comptroller (PDF) 

Unemployment rate, 2007-2009: Bureau of Labor Statistics Home equity, 2007-2009: Federal Reserve, Flow of Funds data, 1995-2004 and 2005-2009 (PDFs)CEO vs. worker pay: Economic Policy Institute 

Historic tax rates: Calculations based on data from The Tax Foundation Federal tax revenue: Joint Committee on Taxation (PDF)Read also: Kevin Drum on the decline of Big Labor, the rise of Big Business, and why the Obama era fizzled so soon.

Dave Gilson is a senior editor at Mother Jones. For more of his stories, click here. Get Dave Gilson’s RSS feed. or or

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