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September 24, 2013 / needhamgrassroots

Born on Home Plate

from Common Dreams — In glorifying and idolizing the superrich, what Forbes and much of our popular culture fails to acknowledge is the role that inherited wealth, race, gender, and public policy have played in shaping who is and who is not on the list. But last year, United for a Fair Economy (UFE) took a closer, more critical look at the list with the release of our Born on Third Base” report, which analyzed the 2011 Forbes 400 list. Here’s what we learned:

  • At least 40% of those on the 2011 Forbes 400 list inherited a medium-sized business or substantial wealth from a spouse or family member.
  • Over 20% – including many Walton family members – inherited enough to place them on the Forbes 400 list with their inheritance alone. It’s like they were born on home plate.
  • Only a small number can be said to truly come from modest means, and even they had help.

America’s long history of race and gender bias also shape who is and is not on the list. Women and people of color make up only a tiny sliver of the overwhelmingly white, male Forbes 400. Even in 2013, the Forbes list includes only one African-America: Oprah Winfrey.

In UFE’s 2006 book, The Color of Wealth, we examine the history of these disparities, including the way that women and people of color have been systematically excluded from the wealth-building public programs that helped create the white middle class. These wealth disparities have been passed on to each successive generation through the power of inheritance.

It’s not just the birthright, there are public policies that give an unnecessary “leg up” to those at the top. One of the more egregious tax breaks we give to the wealthiest Americans is the reduced tax rate on investment income. We tax investment income from capital gains and appreciated stock at nearly half the top rate at which we tax income from wages earned throughactual work.

Who does that special tax break benefit? No great mystery here. 60% of the income made by the Forbes 400 billionaires comes from capital gains, i.e. investment income. Together with the rest of their compatriots in the top 0.1%, they capture half of all capital gains income in the country. At the very least, we need to “tax wealth like work” and end this special tax break that disproportionately benefits those at the top.

Read More at Common Dreams

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