The majority of Americans may still be suffering from declining wages, unemployment, speedups, downsizing, foreclosures and a drop in personal wealth, but the richest Americans had another banner year in 2012, with their net worth rising 13%. The richest 400 had an average net worth of $4.2 billion, according to Reuters. Together they had a cumulative net worth of $1.7 trillion. In stark contrast, the median net worth of the average American household dropped 40% between 2007 and 2010, according to the WSWS, while the net worth of those on the Forbes 400 list has grown 15-fold since 1982.
However, it was not all peaches and cream for the nation’s oligarchy. Poor Mark Zuckerberg saw his net worth cut in half, from $17 billion in 2011 to $9.4 billion in 2012, as a result of his company’s lackluster IPO. Other social media moguls also saw their net worth decline from really obscene to obscene levels. Groupon chair Eric Lefkofsky and Zynga’s chair Mark Pinkus fell off the Forbe’s 400 list entirely (though they won’t be joining the Occupy movement any time soon).
Together, the net worth of the 400 wealthiest Americans is equal to one-eighth of the entire U.S. economy—though their 13% increase in wealth last year far outpaced the growth of the U.S. economy, which rose an anemic 1.7%.
Bill Gates topped the list for the 19th year in a row. His net worth is now $66 billion, up $7 billion from last year. His total net wealth, the WSWS reports, is just a little less than half the entire U.S. budget for the Department of Education and 100 times more than the estimated $700 million deficit facing the Chicago Public Schools, where his foundation has been pushing for the expansion of charter schools.
Warren Buffett, chairman and chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway, came in second at $46 billion, followed by Larry Ellison, head of Oracle Corp, with $41 billion. Ellison, California’s wealthiest resident, now has a total net wealth that is nearly equal to the amount budgeted by the state of California for health and human services for 2012-2013, according to WSWS, and more than its entire education budget.
The Koch brothers were tied for fourth with $31 billion each. New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg rose to the number 10 slot, with a personal wealth of $25 billion, a fortune equal to the entire annual budget of New York City’s public schools. There were also 45 women who made the list, up from 42 last year. California topped the list again, with 87 billionaires, up from 80 last year, while New York had the most billionaires of any city with 53. (The entire list can be seen here).
While Mitt Romney and other Republicans have tried in vain to paint Obama as a socialist who wants to redistribute the wealth of the country, it is actually the richest of the rich who have been succeeding at it by paying their employees less and by demanding greater tax breaks and government subsidies that help them earn greater profits or that bail them out of their failed gambles. 60% of their income comes from capital gains, which is taxed at the extremely low rate of 15% (comparable to the income tax rate on some of the lowest-wage workers). This is income that does not come from hard work (or any work, for that matter), but from being fortunate enough to possess the preexisting wealth necessary to speculate on stocks and real estate.