Billionaires and Inequality

There are now 788 billionaires in the US, or at least there was in 2019 according to a study by Wealth-X which issues a comprehensive report yearly, that is 12% more than the year before. Collectively they control $ 3.4 trillion which is 14% more than they did in 2018. The US actually has more billionaires than any other country, more than the next 5 countries combined. China is second with less than half the US number. In 2016 the 620 billionaires in the US controlled $2.6 trillion. The growth among the mega rich which is partly due to the tech boom is now the subject of much discussion. It is becoming more and more inescapable that the US has economic policies which favor billionaires and end up placing workers at a disadvantage. Are the rich too rich, many are now beginning to ask?  Given it is an election year it is assumed the question will be a continued topic. When considering how difficult it is for many workers to be paid a living wage, how many jobs are being lost to automation, how many are unemployed with no assurance they will be able to get their job back due to Covid-19, when several studies show the US trending towards being a plutocracy, how rich is too rich is not only an important topic it is a must.

Talk of Changes

Prompted by the protest, ideas for needed changes are being talked about, written about and thought about. Here are three examples.

The NYT has been running a series called The America We Need. In that vein, a recent editorial by David Leonhardt addressed new research documenting the wage gap between blacks and whites since the gap is as large now as it was in the 50’s during segregation. Several ideas are being put forth by economists and others: Raising the pay for all working families, asking the wealthy to let go of legacy college admissions and favorable tax treatment, which among other things increase inequality, or even adopt profit sharing plans.

The Chamber of Commerce which has become a powerful conservative lobbying group, has published a report on the opportunities gap that hinders black Americans. It highlights that for blacks unemployment is twice that of whites. Blacks represent 12% of US workers but only 9% of business owners and have a much harder time obtaining financing. The Chamber has held events trying to find solutions.

Meanwhile the BBC carried a piece by Tara Westover where she calls attention to the changes needed to build a world where we can be one people, she talks about how Covid-19 has affected minorities disproportionately and asks us to rethink changes in education, so that we can end up in a world where class, education and profession do not divide us.

It’s hard to know what the results will be but it’s encouraging that talk of changes is coming from many different sources.

Fiscal Quagmire in the Cards?

 A newsletter I receive had a small notice about an article in Fortune magazine which really caught my attention as I hope it will yours. The article which headline included that “America is moving towards a tax increase for the middle class”, was making a case for VAT, and in doing so shared some valuable if scary statistics—because a value added tax it claimed would  raise more money than any other means. According to the CBO, Congressional Budget Office, federal spending will jump from $4.45 billion in 2019 to $7,375 billion in 2029. Although revenues are projected to grow, expenses are projected to outgrow the revenues collected from taxes. This means that the federal deficit which was $984 billion last year will grow to $2.156 trillion in 2029.  The US would be borrowing 25 cents for every dollar it spends. The federal debt would rise to $29.6 trillion or 104% of national income when last year it was 79%. The gap between revenues and expenditures would be so wide that taxing the rich alone would not suffice. In this article the author claims only a VAT might help, a tax which would begin at the manufacturing level, make prices rise and be hard on most wage earners. It’s a tax some in Washington may be led to consider but it need not be the only solution.

The CBO’s numbers are sobering, distressing and frightening, at a time when no presidential candidate is addressing the issues they speak to and when another round of tax cut is possible.  Yet we need not be experts to realize this looming fiscal quagmire (the author’s words) needs to be at the very least acknowledged. Policy makers’ silence and ignorance need not be ours.

Top Technology Policy Issues

Two authors well versed in the state of the world and the state of technology give a yearly list of how they see the top ten technology policy issues facing us. The list is meant to refer to challenges before us as well as challenges technology could address. Given a new decade, this year’s list applies to the 20’s as a decade.

  • Sustainability
  • Defending Democracy
  • Journalism
  • Privacy in an AI Era
  • Data and National Sovereignty
  • Digital Safety
  • Internet Inequality
  • A Tech Cold War
  • Ethics for Artificial Intelligence
  • Jobs and Income Inequality in an AI Economy

One may disagree with the placement of some of these challenges, such as jobs and income inequality but it is difficult not to agree with the items on the list being important. While many of these challenges are self-explanatory, I needed to review their explanation of the journalism item. If I may paraphrase, it is a profession crucial to the survival of democracy whose lower profits over time have caused a decline. The authors hope that technology can foster a revival that will help not only to protect journalists who have been under attack (particularly overseas where journalists can too easily be jailed) but for the whole field.

Because technology has now infiltrated every aspect of our lives, directly or indirectly, the list as a whole has great relevance in in determining our future and shaping needed answers. What is a concern, though, is how little these issues are being acknowledged and addressed by decision makers.