A new congressional report commissioned by Bernie Sanders finds that the 1 percent now own one-third of all wealth, while the bottom half of Americans hold only 2 percent. It’s another sign of the slide into oligarchy that Sanders has warned about for years.

by Luke Savage, Jacobin

Last summer, Bernie Sanders’s YouTube channel released a short clip entitled simply “Oligarchy or democracy?” Featuring compiled footage spanning Sanders’s career in both the House and Senate, the clip opens with the simple declaration, “Those who have the money have the power.” It’s a simple, and in many ways obvious truth. But it’s also one that sometimes gets ignored or marginalized in mainstream discourse about democracy. Threats to democracy, of course, don’t always directly involve questions of money or wealth. From attacks on voting rights to political institutions designed to protect minority rule, racism is a major factor as well. But, between dark money and unrestrained campaign donations, the noxious imprint of concentrated wealth is rarely far from sight.

Senator Bernie Sanders drew a crowd of over 13,000 people to his rally at the Boston Common on leap day.

That reality is difficult to ignore when you examine the obscene way that America’s collective wealth has come to be distributed. This maldistribution was incidentally the subject of a recent report requested by Sanders from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), which found that wealth has continued to flow upward to an increasingly tiny number of well-off Americans.

Between 1989 to 2019, the CBO reports, the total real wealth (adjusted for inflation) held by all families in the United States tripled from $38 trillion in 2019 dollars to $115 trillion — or about five times the national GDP. The fruits of that growth, however, have accrued heavily to those at the top. As of 2019, the richest 10 percent of families held an astonishing 72 percent of this wealth, while those in the top 1 percent held more than one-third. The appalling asymmetry of these developments is underscored even more strongly by the CBO’s findings vis-à-vis the bottom half of all American families — who now hold a mere 2 percent of the country’s total wealth. There is a strong racial bias as well, with the median wealth of white families considerably higher than that of black or hispanic ones.

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