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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 7/18/12

The No Billionaires Campaign

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editor's note: also see De-billionairize the Planet, and Traitors in America by Rob Kall

I believe it's time we reconsider the role billionaires play in our economy and our society. In fact, I say it's time we outlaw billionaires by placing a 100% tax on any wealth over $999,999,999. Trust me, we'll all be much better off in a nation free of billionaires.

Look around, the whole planet is in crisis. Europe is on the brink of collapse, the United States economy is sputtering out, freak climate-change induced weather is becoming more and more common, our streets are becoming the breeding grounds for social instability, and all the while there is a small cadre of very, very wealthy individuals -- billionaires -- who are sucking up more and more of the wealth that used to belong to working people.

Just consider these numbers: Post World War II, all income levels in America grew together, and the lowest income level -- the 20% poorest Americans -- actually grew at a faster rate that the top 20% wealthiest Americans. During this time, billionaires were few and far between in America as wealth was more evenly distributed.

But since Reagan , and since a new mentality was instilled in our culture that greed is good, and that the super-rich shouldn't be questioned or asked to sacrifice anymore for their nation, then income for the top has increased rapidly -- while actually falling for the bottom.

Since 1980, the top 1% has sucked up 80% of all the new wealth created. And, in 2010, the richest one percent of Americans received 93% of all of the new income earned that year.

And now there are over 400 billionaires in America.

In fact, today, the richest 400 Americans -- all of whom are billionaires -- own more wealth than the bottom 150 million Americans COMBINED. The richest six members of the Sam Walton family -- heirs to the Wal-Mart fortune and, again, all billionaires -- own more wealth than the bottom 30 percent of Americans COMBINED.

According to a recent study from the Federal Reserve, median net worth for middle class families dropped by nearly 40 percent from 2007-2010. That's the equivalent of wiping out 18 years of savings for the average middle class family. And that money went to the richest 400 Americans -- all billionaires -- who collectively own $1.3 trillion worth of wealth.

The issue is not punishing the wealthy. The issue is acknowledging that billionaires have sucked up so much wealth out of our economy that the rest of us are drowning.

What's worse is the rest of us are working harder than ever. Productivity has steadily increased post-World War 2, and it used to be that income gains increased right alongside it. But around the time of Reagan, productivity and wages began to diverge. While productivity increased, wages stagnated. That's because all the extra profits made by increased productivity weren't given back to the workers, but instead pocketed by CEOs and executives.

In other words, we're all working harder, but unfortunately by no will of our own have been forced to give up these fruits of our labor to the elites -- to the billionaires whose wealth has exploded and continues to increase year after year.

And what have we working people been given out of this deal with the billionaires?

We've been given political corruption as billionaires like Sheldon Adelson and the Koch Brothers can now buy politicians and legislation to benefit their own selfish interests like tax cuts for wealthy people, deregulation for polluting oil corporations, and free trade for job outsourcers.

We've been given gigantic transnational corporations -- steered by billionaires -- that can crush the competition of small business and kill the American entrepreneurial spirit.

According to a newly released study by the New American Foundation, the number of entrepreneurs per capita in America has dropped by 53% since 1977. And since 1991, the number of Americans who are self-employed has dropped by more than 20%. Americans who use to be able to start their own businesses are increasingly being forced to join the ranks of the working poor -- crowded out of the market by the billionaires' corporate domination.

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Thom Hartmann is a Project Censored Award-winning New York Times best-selling author, and host of a nationally syndicated daily progressive talk program on the Air America Radio Network, live noon-3 PM ET. His most recent books are "The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight," "Unequal Protection: The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights," "We The People," "What Would Jefferson Do?," "Screwed: The Undeclared War Against the Middle (more...)

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