The Wealthiest Nation on Earth? It’s Time to Dispel That Myth

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We often hear it said that America is the wealthiest nation in the world. Well, let’s put it this way; America is a country in which a select, relatively small minority of individuals possesses the lion’s share of its wealth. But to say that it is the wealthiest nation is simply not the case and here’s why:

Take the word “nation.” A common definition is, “A large body of people united by common descent, history, culture, or language, inhabiting a particular state or territory.” So we can conclude that America, the nation, is made up of its people, all 320 million of them.

We will discuss the words “nation” and “country”, not as some kind of exercise in semantics but, rather, to introduce the main premise of this article, i.e., to illustrate one of America’s greatest problems, the massive inequality of wealth and income that exists between those Americans at the top of the income spectrum, commonly known as the 1%, and the vast majority of the rest of Americans.

So, let’s discuss this subject of wealth, how it is measured, and the degree to which it is shared by all the people in a given country. First, there is GDP per capita, or the average wealth per person. What does this method of measurement tell us about America and how its wealth is distributed among all its people?

This article from a CIA website identifies Qatar as the wealthiest country in the world, followed by Luxembourg, and some 16 other countries, including Australia, Norway and Australia. America comes in at #19. Other similar studies show the U.S. at #11 or #14. That’s an indication that this country may possess the greatest total wealth but it is certainly not the wealthiest nation.

There is another way to measure wealth, one that perfectly illustrates the great inequality of wealth that exists in this country. America’s total wealth of $88 trillion represents about 45% of the world’s total. However, as brought out in this fortune.com article, it is so unevenly distributed that the U.S. has the largest wealth inequality gap among the entire 55 countries studied.

Here’s the point; if this were the wealthiest nation all Americans would be sharing that wealth to a much greater extent than is currently the case; it would not be so concentrated among the privileged few. This is not to say that everyone should share this wealth equally, not at all, but the degree to which this inequality exists is simply intolerable; it must be addressed and corrected to strengthen and stabilize this nation.

Just how wide is this gap? Well, the 400 wealthiest Americans, have more wealth than half of all the rest of their fellow Americans. Incidentally, our country now has 10.4 million millionaires (actually households) and 540 billionaires within that select group of 1%.

There is no way that any politician in this Congress should ever brag about America being the wealthiest nation when there are 47 million of its citizens enrolled in the food stamp program, with an equal number living below the poverty line; and certainly not when our government can’t seem to find the funds to repair and rebuild our deteriorating roads and expressways, our bridges, and waterways, and our woefully old and inadequate electric grid.

How in the world can such a wealthy country have an education system which, year after year, ranks no better than the 24th or 25th best in science and math among the 32 developed nations? It’s largely because the highest priority for our government is not education or the health of all Americans, or the development of new sources of energy, but, rather, the proliferation of wars.

How can it have a shameful student loan debt of $1.3 trillion, an albatross around the neck of 42 million current and former students? Or a monstrous national debt rapidly approaching $20 trillion? Check out this article that reports on recent studies by the Federal Reserve Board that indicate that 47% of Americans would not be able to come up with $400 to cover an emergency situation without borrowing or selling something they own.

The wealth of this country is not being shared by the large majority of Americans whose personal debt, including credit cards, continues to soar to staggering heights, largely because personal income is not growing but remains stagnant or even declining; we have millions of Americans who once had good paying jobs in vibrant industries but lost them and are forced to work for far less. To them, it must be like trying to swim upstream against a very strong current.

How can such a wealthy country have as many as 3.5 million people that are homeless, of which some 1.6 million are children and at least 60,000 are veterans?

Let’s talk about the substantial damage that this large inequality is doing to this country and concentrate on the economy which continues to remain largely stagnant and lifeless, with little growth.

95% of income gains since 2009 have gone to the top 1% and this has had a very detrimental effect on our economy. If a reasonable share of those gains in income had gone to the American people they would have used them to buy daily essentials, more food, more clothing, autos, electronics and other consumer products and pay down debt. When it continues to go to the very wealthy who have everything they need and more the effect on the economy is minuscule.

Those wealthiest Americans are still living the American dream while, but for many millions of their fellows Americans, that dream ended some time ago.

Members of the U.S. Congress are very aware of this huge inequality problem. They know that the great loss of manufacturing jobs over the last several decades has exacerbated an already dire situation. Have they made any real efforts to make the creation of millions of new jobs for Americans one of their highest priorities, if not the highest? Absolutely not! The majority of them won’t because they have fallen under the control of Corporate America and are not concerned with the plight of so many of their fellow Americans.

But here’s the good news. While America is clearly not the wealthiest nation in the world for the many reasons stated above, it could easily become just that. However, in order to do so this government must do several very important things:

First, those in responsible leadership roles must develop the ways to alleviate this massive disparity of wealth and income by initiating positive, constructive changes to our government’s policies and laws.

That’s easier said than done but the best way to start the process would be for this government to finally realize that it must make job creation a top priority. It must find the ways to create many millions of new jobs by restoring our manufacturing sector and our workforce. That would also reinvigorate America’s middle class, the heart of the nation.

Raise the minimum pay to the suggested $15 per hour and many American workers can reduce their credit card debt; they can buy more products that are currently out of their reach. We could see a significant reduction in the number of people on food stamps and other forms of government welfare; poverty levels would be reduced. The resulting increase in consumer purchasing power would breathe new life into our economy.

It’s time to make it crystal clear to the massive, profit-crazed corporations that they must be accountable and work with the government to create these jobs; and if they refuse they would be subject to massive, ongoing fines until they complied. The message to them should be that if they want to continue to sell products in this country then they have the obligation to employ a certain percentage of American workers.

These are just some of the ways by which this massive inequality can be alleviated. It can be done, it must be done, but it will take intense, relentless pressure by the American people on their government to make it happen. Bernie Sanders tapped into the unrest and frustration of the people by sending out a strong message calling for a political revolution; and many millions of them responded. Trump did much the same thing, albeit in a very crude, uncivil manner.

The fires of this political movement to force this government to bring an end to this inequality have been ignited. We’ll see if those flames can be fanned and this movement sustained. Now this question remains: “Are the American people up to this extremely difficult task?

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Michael Payne
Michael Payne is an independent progressive activist. His writings deal with social, economic, political and foreign policy issues; and especially with the great dangers involved with the proliferation of perpetual war, the associated defense industry, and the massive control that Corporate America holds over this government and our election process; all which are leading this nation down the road to eventual financial ruin if the conditions are not reversed. He is a graduate of Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois and a U.S. Army veteran.

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