The Rich and the Rest of Us

Forty of America’s richest families or individuals – almost all billionaires – have pledged to donate at least half their fortunes to charity. The total is a whopping $125 billion. Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates reached out to some 80 members of the Forbes billionaires list, seeking their pledges.

I think it’s admirable that Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett give so much to charity and have corralled other billionaires to do the same.

But I’m also appalled at what this reveals about how much money is now concentrated in so few hands. It’s more evidence we’re back in the late nineteenth century when robber barons lorded over the economy and almost everyone else lost ground. The Vanderbilts, Carnegies, Rockefellers made so much money they too could give away large chunks to charity and still maintain their outsized fortunes and their power and influence.

Most telling is how much wealthier the richest have become over the past year. Forbes Magazine’s list of the world’s billionaires (almost all Americans), show them with an average net worth of $3.5 billion – and an average increase of $500 million in the last 12 months.

America’s median hourly wage, meanwhile, dropped last year, and it continues to drop. That’s not even counting the 15 million Americans still out of work.

Most Americans don’t need charity. They need good jobs.

About Robert Reich 545 Articles

Robert Reich is the nation's 22nd Secretary of Labor and a professor at the University of California at Berkeley.

He has served as labor secretary in the Clinton administration, as an assistant to the solicitor general in the Ford administration and as head of the Federal Trade Commission's policy planning staff during the Carter administration.

He has written eleven books, including The Work of Nations, which has been translated into 22 languages; the best-sellers The Future of Success and Locked in the Cabinet, and his most recent book, Supercapitalism. His articles have appeared in the New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal. Mr. Reich is co-founding editor of The American Prospect magazine. His weekly commentaries on public radio’s "Marketplace" are heard by nearly five million people.

In 2003, Mr. Reich was awarded the prestigious Vaclev Havel Foundation Prize, by the former Czech president, for his pioneering work in economic and social thought. In 2005, his play, Public Exposure, broke box office records at its world premiere on Cape Cod.

Mr. Reich has been a member of the faculties of Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and of Brandeis University. He received his B.A. from Dartmouth College, his M.A. from Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes Scholar, and his J.D. from Yale Law School.

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