Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Please Support CounterPunch’s Annual Fund Drive
We don’t run corporate ads. We don’t shake our readers down for money every month or every quarter like some other sites out there. We only ask you once a year, but when we ask we mean it. So, please, help as much as you can. We provide our site for free to all, but the bandwidth we pay to do so doesn’t come cheap. All contributions are tax-deductible.

America 2018: More Gilded Than America 1918

It took 100 years, but America has returned to its unequal past. With a vengeance.

The year many consider the height of the Gilded Age, when John D. Rockefeller’s wealth was at its peak, was exactly a century ago, in 1918. By that time, Rockefeller had amassed about $1.2 billion — the equivalent of $340 billion today. America’s economy and aggregate wealth were much smaller in those days, which made Rockefeller a truly towering figure.

Just over a decade after Rockefeller’s fortune peaked, the Great Depression put an end to America’s first Gilded Age.

America eventually recovered from the ruins of the Great Depression and made huge strides toward economic equality.

Between 1945 and the early 1970s, circumstances for all Americans, rich and poor alike, improved. The pace of improvement for average Americans, though, was greater than for those at the top. The once yawning gap between the rich and the rest of us narrowed dramatically during that period.

Eventually, though, America’s economic and tax policies changed, triggering a long, painful process that’s increasingly concentrated wealth and income at the top.

Those egalitarian days of the mid-20th century now are a distant memory. Jeff Bezos’ net worth now fluctuates around $160 billion. Bill Gates’ net worth sits within a whisker of $100 billion, and would be well over that had he not contributed tens of billions to charity. Warren Buffett, whose wealth now equals $90 billion, is also closing in on a 12-figure net worth.

Can we compare the concentration of wealth today to the height of the Gilded Age, when robber barons sat on massive piles of wealth while the masses struggled?

In a word: Yes. And actually, it’s worse.

Consider the ultimate topmost slice of America: the top .000004 percent. That’s an incredibly elite group; only one of every 25 million households can claim membership. In 1918, when America had just 25 million households, that exclusive club had only one member: the John D. Rockefeller household.

Today, America has over 125 million households. So, America’s top .000004 percent today is comprised of its five wealthiest households: the Bezos, Gates, Buffett, Mark Zuckerberg, and Larry Page households.

Those five wealthiest American households are sitting on a total of $470 billion — nearly 40 percent more than Rockefeller’s 2018 wealth equivalent of $340 billion.

But even that comparison understates how much more gilded the America of 2018 is.

Rockefeller, you see, was far more of an outlier in terms of wealth than his 2018 counterparts. So, once you get past Rockefeller, the comparison of 1918 to 2018 is far more pronounced.

According to Forbes, the second .000004 percent of 1918 households — that of Henry Frick — were worth $225 million, the modern-day equivalent of $63.7 billion. That was less than 20 percent of Rockefeller’s holdings.

Today, according to the Bloomberg billionaires list, America’s second .000004 percent — the group consisting of Sergey Brin, Larry Ellison, Charles Koch, David Koch, and Jim Walton — have combined wealth of about $250 billion, four times the modern-day equivalent of Henry Frick’s wealth.

Indeed, no matter which of 1918’s titans of wealth you consider, the corresponding slice of America’s 2018 elite controls a greater portion of the country’s wealth.

The bottom line: America has not just returned to Gilded Age levels of wealth concentration: It has very clearly surpassed them. We now live in a country more gilded than it’s ever been.

Popular movements are rising to share the wealth. Hopefully it won’t take another crash for them to succeed.

More articles by:

Bob Lord is a veteran tax lawyer who practices and blogs in Phoenix, Arizona. He’s an associate fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies. 

October 18, 2018
Erik Molvar
The Ten Big Lies of Traditional Western Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
Lockheed and Loaded: How the Maker of Junk Fighters Like the F-22 and F-35 Came to Have Full-Spectrum Dominance Over the Defense Industry
Lawrence Davidson
Israel’s “Psychological Obstacles to Peace”
Brian Platt – Brynn Roth
Black-Eyed Kids and Other Nightmares From the Suburbs
John W. Whitehead
You Want to Make America Great Again? Start by Making America Free Again
Zhivko Illeieff
Why Can’t the Democrats Reach the Millennials?
Steve Kelly
Quiet, Please! The Latest Threat to the Big Wild
Manuel García, Jr.
The Inner Dimensions of Socialist Revolution
Dave Lindorff
US ‘Outrage’ Over Slaying of US Residents Depends on the Nation Responsible
Adam Parsons
A Global People’s Bailout for the Coming Crash
Binoy Kampmark
The Tyranny of Fashion: Shredding Banksy
Dean Baker
How Big is Big? Trump, the NYT and Foreign Aid
Vern Loomis
The Boofing of America
October 17, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
When Saudi Arabia’s Credibility is Damaged, So is America’s
John Steppling
Before the Law
Frank Stricker
Wages Rising? 
James McEnteer
Larry Summers Trips Out
Muhammad Othman
What You Can Do About the Saudi Atrocities in Yemen
Binoy Kampmark
Agents of Chaos: Trump, the Federal Reserve and Andrew Jackson
David N. Smith
George Orwell’s Message in a Bottle
Karen J. Greenberg
Justice Derailed: From Gitmo to Kavanaugh
John Feffer
Why is the Radical Right Still Winning?
Dan Corjescu
Green Tsunami in Bavaria?
Rohullah Naderi
Why Afghan Girls Are Out of School?
George Ochenski
You Have to Give Respect to Get Any, Mr. Trump
Cesar Chelala
Is China Winning the War for Africa?
Mel Gurtov
Getting Away with Murder
W. T. Whitney
Colombian Lawyer Diego Martinez Needs Solidarity Now
Dean Baker
Nothing to Brag About: Scott Walker’s Economic Record in Wisconsin:
October 16, 2018
Gregory Elich
Diplomatic Deadlock: Can U.S.-North Korea Diplomacy Survive Maximum Pressure?
Rob Seimetz
Talking About Death While In Decadence
Kent Paterson
Fifty Years of Mexican October
Robert Fantina
Trump, Iran and Sanctions
Greg Macdougall
Indigenous Suicide in Canada
Kenneth Surin
On Reading the Diaries of Tony Benn, Britain’s Greatest Labour Politician
Andrew Bacevich
Unsolicited Advice for an Undeclared Presidential Candidate: a Letter to Elizabeth Warren
Thomas Knapp
Facebook Meddles in the 2018 Midterm Elections
Muhammad Othman
Khashoggi and Demetracopoulos
Gerry Brown
Lies, Damn Lies & Statistics: How the US Weaponizes Them to Accuse  China of Debt Trap Diplomacy
Christian Ingo Lenz Dunker – Peter Lehman
The Brazilian Presidential Elections and “The Rules of The Game”
Robert Fisk
What a Forgotten Shipwreck in the Irish Sea Can Tell Us About Brexit
Martin Billheimer
Here Cochise Everywhere
David Swanson
Humanitarian Bombs
Dean Baker
The Federal Reserve is Not a Church
October 15, 2018
Rob Urie
Climate Crisis is Upon Us