Categories
Wealth

Visualizing the Billionaire Class

I believe people deserve to get rich if they work hard.

But there comes a point at which wealth is so obscenely huge that you have to wonder if it is really deserved. Can a single human really earn $150 billion without it coming at the expense of other humans?

While history has shown that humanity’s wealth pie can be expanded over the long run through productive innovation, over the short term it’s likely that hyper competitive behaviour is a zero sum game.

Today, Amazon is rapidly growing at the expense of small independent retailers. This has never been more clear than during the Covid-19 crisis, as lockdowns shut almost all of Amazon’s brick-and-mortar competition. While Amazon is probably creating long term wealth for society, right now it is succeeding at the expense of others.

The chief beneficiary is Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO and founder, who is now worth over $150 billion. Amazon has added a ton of efficiency to our lives and Jeff Bezos deserves to be rich, but $150 billion is obscene.

At what point does genuine wealth creation transition into exploitation and hoarding? It’s not an easy question to answer, but that’s not the point. If wealth anomalies like Bezos don’t pass society’s smell test, action must be taken.

Society makes judgment on the scale of wealth differences between ordinary people and the 1%, deserved or not.

Ordinary people earn in the tens of thousands and can barely save for retirement. To most, millionaires are considered rich. Once you start talking about $ billions the sheer scale of wealth is baffling.

I recently saw an article that highlights how ridiculously wealthy billionaires really are. Below is a graphic visually comparing the difference between various wealth levels. Remember, Bezos is worth 150x the largest box below.

While ordinary people struggle to pay back their college debts, billionaires have to work hard to spend their money:

  • Elon Musk can spend a MILLION dollars EVERY DAY for 65 years
  • The Koch brothers can spend a MILLION dollars EVERY DAY for 242 years.
  • Bill Gates can spend a MILLION dollars EVERY DAY for 247 years.
  • Jeff Bezos can spend a MILLION dollars EVERY DAY for 306 years.

Anyone arguing that billionaires are created because they help generate societal wealth, should look at the following chart. While worker productivity has risen, average wages have stagnated. Meanwhile, income going to the top 1% (aka the billionaire class) has skyrocketed. In other words, billionaires are built off the backs of the average worker.

The top 1% has captured a growing share of societal wealth partly because the tax system has changed to favour the rich. The two charts below compare tax rates by income level in 1950 and 2018. In 1950 the top tax rate was 70%. In 2018 it was just over 20%.

While Amazon shares hit new highs and Jeff Bezos gets richer, 40% of US renters face the risk of eviction. Those are families and children and hardworking people, many of whom will soon be homeless.

For many the American dream has become the American tragedy. Gone are the days of collecting a paycheque and a comfortable retirement pension. Loyalty is irrelevant. You are on your own to build wealth for you and your family. For some this means building a bulletproof portfolio. For others it means constructing multiple sources of income.

Build wealth in a age of turmoil. Subscribe today:

The Covid-19 economic crisis is gripping the world. After 20 years in the asset management business, it looks like we are fighting through unprecedented territory.

This is war. I created a 17 step, 47 page guide to help DumbWealth subscribers get through this.

I originally planned on printing the guide and selling copies for $20+. Instead I’m giving this away free because I think we all need to help each other during these difficult times.

Categories
Life Wealth

How Abundance Might Lead to Revolution or War

Why you should watch this interview with tech entrepreneur turned author (“The Price of Tomorrow: Why Deflation is the Key to an Abundant Future”), Jeff Booth:

  • Technology is driving costs lower and productivity up, creating a potential world of abundance. (Think about how many screens you have in your house compared to your parents’ house.) However, it is also creating immense deflationary pressure, which is intensifying.
  • The side effect of improving technology is that many jobs are being automated and made redundant. Your job and your children’s jobs are at risk, while the few at the top reap the benefit.
  • For decades, central banks have attempted to compensate for deflationary pressures by growing money supply by vast amounts. Most of this new money has flowed into financial assets, resulting in asset price inflation. Owners of financial assets gain, but these owners are disproportionately the wealthy. Yes, many people have 401ks, RRSPs and pensions, but their proportion of financial asset ownership is small. However, asset price inflation has not improved the lives of the median household.
  • What we’re left with is a divergent economic experience: “the many” lose because they’re made redundant and don’t own assets to a large extent while “the few” accumulate the gains generated by technology and asset price inflation. This has increased wealth inequality over time and will continue to do so.
  • Society increasingly becomes polarized and susceptible to charismatic leaders who promise solutions without actually addressing the fundamental problem. Often these leaders stoke the smoldering fires, causing people to turn on each other. Then they may turn on ‘outsiders’, however defined. The end result: revolution and war.
Categories
Investing Wealth Work

Markets Hit Highs: So Why Are You Broke?

Mainstream media reports:

The stock markets are breaking through new highs.

The economy is ‘booming’.

Unemployment is at a record low.

Jobs numbers are ‘blockbuster’.

So why does it feel like you’ve fallen behind in life? Because you have.

According to one economist, the United States (and much of the Western world, for that matter) has been going through a ‘silent depression’ since 2007.

The following charts illustrate this perfectly.

1. The chart below compares employment growth across time. Instead of simply looking at the number of new hires, this chart illustrates new hires as a percent of the workforce. (1000 new hires means a lot less when the workforce includes 1,000,000 people than 10,000 people.) According to the chart, workforce growth significantly declined after the early 2000s recession and has remained historically low since.

Chart depicting US Employees on Nonfarm Payrolls

2. The chart below compares per capita GDP growth since 2007 against the last two economic depressions. It turns out that the silent depression has been worse than the previous two depressions. (Source: The Silent Depression, by Emil Kalinowski.)

Chart Depicting US GDP Per Capita

3. The next chart shows real median income (‘real’ accounts for the effects of inflation) in the US. Since January 1, 2007 real median incomes have only grown by 3.6% (total, not annualized!). So where did all the economic ‘gains’ reported by the media go?

4. The chart below tells the same story as the previous chart, except using average hourly wages going back 40 years. Again, real incomes have not budged.

Americans' paychecks are bigger than 40 years ago, but their purchasing power has hardly budged

5. Here’s where the gains have gone! The chart below breaks out real income growth by categories of earners. The top 10% of earners have experienced substantial growth while everyone else has remained flat. The gains have all gone to the rich.

Wage increases in the U.S. rise to the top earners

6. The following chart shows the same information as the previous chart, except in a longer timeline. Again, the top earners (especially those in the top 1%) have hoarded all the gains.

There you have it. The economy has grown. But on an individual level overall growth has not been as strong as the headlines imply. And unless you are in the upper echelon of society, none of those limited gains went to you.

Subscribe (free) for more updates from DumbWealth:

* indicates required