Thesis: Wealth in America

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Wealth in America

The subject to wealth in America is one that immediately brings to mind a number to view and opinions. America is the most affluent and advanced country in the world today. However, what is also central to this subject is that wealth in the United States is not evenly distributed. The United States is a country where there is a huge disparity between rich and poor and between the owners of property and wealth and those who 'just get by'. While it is an affluent country in terms of capital and resources there are thousands of people who are homeless and others who cannot afford necessities such as health care.

On the one hand America is known as the land of opportunity but it is also a land where large sections of population are poor and needy. This is one of the ambiguities that will be explored in this paper. The following discussion will also focus in the implications that this wealth division or disparity has on aspects such as power and social perceptions, among others.

2. Wealth distribution

One of the central factors in terms of the distribution of wealth in the United States is that it is concentrated in the hands of relativity few individuals. In other words, there is a sharp disparity with regard to wealth distribution in the country. It should be remembered that in a capitalist and democratic country like the United States those who are wealthy have the finances to promote and determine the power structures of the country.

The wealth statistics and figures for 2004 show that the "…, the top 1% of households (the upper class) owned 34.3% of all privately held wealth, and the next 19% (the managerial, professional, and small business stratum) had 50.3%..." ( Domhoff, 2009).

In effect this means that about twenty percent of the people in America own more than eighty percent of the wealth. The following table provides a more graphic illustration of the unequal distribution of wealth in the country.

Figure 1. Financial wealth distribution.

(Source: http://sociology.ucsc.edu/whorulesamerica/power/wealth.html)

Research from the Wall Street Journal also indicates that "The richest four hundred American taxpayers have amassed immense wealth, and that amount is steadily increasing…"

This is an obvious indication of the extent of the extreme disparity in wealth and ownership of property and resources in the country.

It should also be noted that this inequality of wealth has historical antecedents in the country. As one study notes, this difference in the access and ownership of wealth occurred throughout American history with"… the top 1% already owning 40-50% in large port cities like Boston, New York, and Charleston in the 19th century."

This disparity tended to level out to a certain extent after the advent of the New Deal and World II.

However, as can be seen fro the above charts, the present situation is still one of extremes.

3. Social and political implications

3.1. The Relationship between wealth and power

Power is defined as "…the ability (or call it capacity) to realize wishes, or reach goals…"

It therefore stands to reason that wealth can be considered as a resource that is very important in the exercise and implementation of power in a country. In this regard, we could refer to aspects such as donations to political parties and paying off lobbyists as well as use of wealth in paying for "…grants to experts who are employed to think up new policies beneficial to the wealthy."

There are also many other ways that wealth can be involved in enhancing certain political groups and individuals - such as being used to hire public relations firms to improve a political image and in donations to many cultural and charitable institutions that would then probably support certain political groupings.

Another area that is noted in the literature is the use of wealth in stock ownership, which can be used to as a means of influence in large corporate bodies; which can have a far reaching impact on the society and its functioning. Domhoff (2009) refers to statistics that show how the top one percent's share of stock equity increased while the bottom 80%'s share decreased between 2001 and 2004.

Figure 2: Concentration of stock ownership in the United States, 2001-2004

Percent of all stock owned:

Wealth class

2001

2004

Top 1%

33.5%

36.7%

Next 19%

55.8%

53.9%

Bottom 80%

10.7%

9.4%

(Source: http://sociology.ucsc.edu/whorulesamerica/power/wealth.html)

Once again, this suggests that the inequality of wealth can be translated into an inequality of power and control of the assets and corporations in the society. Of course the inequality of power and wealth can also lead to corruption and the use of political authority to cater for the wealthy at the expense of those who are relatively poor.

3.2. Social factors and implications

There is little doubt that inequality in the distribution of wealth leads to concomitant inequality in the real and perceived distribution of power. As suggested in the previous section, this also means an inequality in the way that the society is controlled and shaped by those in power. This situation has the potential not only to disenfranchise many Americans in terms of healthcare and other aspects and assets, but can lead to social dissatisfaction and even social unrest. The dissatisfaction of the people of America at the perceived role of the corporate leaders and extremely wealthy in the recent economic crisis is evidence of the way that inequality of wealth can affect social perceptions.

As one study reiterates, the distribution of wealth and resources in the United States is more unequal that in any other developed and industrial country in the world.

In America today wealth is distributed more unequally than in any industrial country. The top 1% of our population owns half the country's wealth. As for income, the bottom 20% take home a decreasing share and the top 20% take home an ever increasing portion of the total. The other side of the coin of the relentless fall in real wages is the end of the eight-hour-day.

One of the central factors that have been blamed for this inequality is the corporate sector. This perception is succinctly summarised as follows:

The expanding power of multinational corporations, the largest of which now have more economic clout than most nations -- are fundamentally authoritarian, anti-union, pro-fascist and anti-democratic. Thus, they pose a growing threat to the ability of nations to protect their people and resources from uncontrolled exploitation.

Critics of the American corporate culture also point out that wealthy corporations not only have a negative impact on inequality and the control of power in the United States, but that this extends to other regions of the world as well. American corporations have influence and exert power in many other areas of the world and one view is that, "Corporations benefit disproportionately from economic globalization, often at the expense of individuals and communities."

Another way is which the inequality of wealth represented by large corporations affects the society can be seen in the control that they have on job creation and termination. For example, studies assert that "… the Fortune 500 companies cut their payrolls by eliminating millions of jobs and helping to drag down middle-class incomes."

The issue of wealth disparity in America also has a racial and ethnic component. Many minority groups feel that they are not represented in the 'American Dream' and that the inequalities in wealth are linked to various types of discrimination. For example, an MSNBC report (2005) states that, "…black households still have barely one-tenth the net worth of white households, according to a new National Urban League report."

Numerous studies also note the various ways in which economic and wealth disparities are connected to racial and ethnic inequality. As one expert states, "…the black middle class' tenuous hold on prosperity reflects racial discrimination in housing and other wealth-building arenas -- both historically and now -- and suggests that today's civil rights battles are largely economic."

Furthermore, research indicates that more than sixty percent of black households have no financial assets.

4. Conclusion

The above discussion illustrates a number of cardinal points relating to the subject of wealth in America. The first is that that wealth is a central factor in the social and political life of the country. The central aspect that stands out in any analysis of the subject is that wealth is dispersed unequally in the society, with a very few controlling most of the wealthy and resources.

This leads to the issue of power and politics and the part that wealth plays in this process. There is no doubt that wealth constitutes a valuable means of promoting political power, although it would be wrong to assume that it is the only requirement for political success. However, the political process is structured in such a way as to place an emphasis on wealth, which also means that power resides in the hands of a few elite and with the corporations. This also… [END OF PREVIEW]

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