It took a little while for me to do the research, but I have it now. Ultra-Rich Americans are those who have at least $30 million in assets. There were 230,000 ultra high-net-worth individuals (UHNWI) in North America in 2021; that includes Mexico and Canada as well as the U.S.
The number in the U.S. was 180,060. But note that all these UHNWIs have a minimum of $30 million. As a group, in 2019 they had collectively almost 12.5 trillion dollars. Over the last two years, however, wealth of the ultra-rich globally increased over 15%.
If we take the 12.5 trillion dollars and divide it by 180,060, each UHNWI would have $69.2 million on an average. If the $12.5 trillion actually increased by 15%, it would be $14.375 trillion, or $79.8 million each.
Let’s suppose we said to each of the 180,060, “I’m sorry, but you don’t need more than $10 million in assets to have more than a decent life. You should give the rest back to the society.” Then each would give up an average of $69.8 million, or a grand total of $12.57 trillion would go back to the government and the society.
You might want to bear in mind that the federal government spent $6.8 trillion in 2021. In other words, the 180,060 UHNWIs could easily support the government’s budget for two years and have $10 million each left. And no one else would have to spend a dime for taxes, although I’m sure that we could put the $12.57 trillion to some other good uses.
(I’m not forgetting that many of the ultra-rich had investments in things that produce more wealth. But far too many of them put money offshore and don’t pay their fair share of taxes).
So when the Republicans in Congress tell you that a particular government program is “too expensive,” think about it twice. For example, Democrats wanted to allow $300 billion to expand home-based care for seniors and the disabled in the $3.5 trillion spending bill dubbed the American Families Plan. Republicans said this would be too expensive. But the entire bill would only take 25% of the $12.57 trillion noted above. So we could have that bill and probably four others for the amount paid by 180,060 people.
Are we really depriving the UHNWI of anything by limiting their wealth to $10 million? Yes, of course; they couldn’t buy superyachts (price: around $70 million each). They might need to be satisfied with a home costing $4.6 million. But there needs to be some limit, somewhere. Doesn’t there? After all, if the $70 million dollars weren’t spent to buy a yacht, we could build 140 homes costing $500,000 each. Or 233 homes at $300,000 apiece. You choose which is the more moral expenditure.
Unfortunately, many UHNWIs are greedy rich. True, some are philanthropic, but few if any are like Andrew Carnegie. He started from a desperately poor Scottish family and ultimately became the world’s most wealthy man. But he decided to give away almost all of his money before he died, and he did so by building thousands of libraries and giving millions to universities.
Carnegie understood that his success was due at least in part to good luck, and that making the society a better place was a great goal for the wealthy.
Yes, the ultra-wealthy should be able to leave some of their wealth to family and friends. But giving the major part of their wealth away is important. If you look at the figures above, you can see right away that a person with $79.8 million should find it easy enough (and very rewarding) to give away at least half to the society that allowed him to earn such wealth.
You might look at Jainism, an ancient Indian philosophy. “One of the tenets of this philosophy is compassion, and Jainism teaches that compassion brings happiness, and therefore the Jainists make charity an important part of their lives. They are wealthy people because of their creativity and hard work. But they don’t hang onto their wealth in excess. They give to charity and also as a small group in India they pay 25% of all the taxes collected. They don’t fight to hang onto every rupee.”
We are all aware by now that income and wealth inequality are markers of American society. These traits make America an unhappy place to live for far too many people. This is especially true because we have far too many unphilanthropic ultra-rich.
Philanthropy should become the norm for our utra-rich. Yet if they won’t do that themselves, then we should pass laws to make them like Carnegie and the Jainists.
It can be done. In the past, we had significant estate taxes which affected the very wealthy when they died. Those have all been erased. And since the 1970’s, taxes on the wealthy have become ever lower compared to the taxes on the less wealthy. There is no “trickle down” from the wealthy to the rest of us. So the system must return to fairness, which it hasn’t been for over 50 years.