The latest Federal Reserve Board figures on the distribution of wealth in the United States show that since the survey started in the third quarter of 1989, as of the fourth quarter of 2021, the size of the holdings of the wealthiest .1% reached their highest point, $18.42 trillion. Nine months later, as of the third quarter of 2022, the value of their holdings had declined over 8% (not factoring in the further erosion in the value of their wealth from inflation) to $16.93 trillion.
For the “poorest” .9% of the 1%, the value of their holdings as of the third quarter of 2022 was $24.45 trillion, down over 10.3% from its peak in the fourth quarter of 2021 when it was $27.28 trillion. Below is a table for the entire 1%.
Despite this recent decline, using Fed figures, as of the third quarter of 2022, the 1%’s share of the nation’s wealth remains ahead of where it stood since the start of the survey in 1989 with four exceptions. It reached the same 30.6% during Obama’s presidency in the first and second quarters of 2015, and in the fourth quarter of 2017 of the Trump regime. It peaked during Trump’s last quarter in 2020 at $38.86 trillion representing 31.3% of the nation’s total wealth, to be exceeded during the first five quarters of Biden’s presidency.
The key asset in the holdings of the 1% that markedly declined in 2022 was stock values. According to the Fed, the wealthiest 1% own over 50% of corporate equities and mutual fund shares. In the first nine months of 2022, the value of the 1%’s holdings in corporate equities and mutual funds, alone, went from $22.9 trillion falling to $16.76 trillion, a decline of $6.14 trillion (26.8%), an amount greater than the total decline in their wealth of $4.32 trillion. The decline in the value of their total wealth, of almost 9.5%, was much less than the fall in three major stock indexes during this period in 2022.
Note: As of the end of 2022, compared to the end of September, the Dow Jones Index had risen to $33,147 for a drop of 8.8% for the year, the S & P 500 was at $3,840 for a drop in 2022 of 19.4% while the NASDAQ was down to $10,466, 33.1% for the year.
A partial explanation for the total decline in their wealth during the first nine months of 2022 being less than the decline in their holdings of equities and mutual funds is that during the same period, the value of some other assets increased. Their private businesses, according to the Fed, rose in value by $1.28 trillion and the value of what is labelled “other assets” went up by $.56 trillion.
Losses of some of the Wealthiest
During 2022, some of the world’s wealthiest individuals experienced tremendous declines in the value of their wealth—probably breaking records for a single year. One might wonder if instead of racing to see who had the most wealth, they, instead, were competing over who could lose the most.
Below is a table using figures from the Bloomberg Billionaires index showing declines in wealth in 2022 of those enduring the biggest losses who started the year above $100 billion.
The reason for their declines is because their wealth is heavily tied to particular companies in the tech sector. Here is what happened to the price of stocks that are associated with these big losers, Musk (Tesla), Bezos (Amazon), Zuckerberg (Meta), and Page and Brin (Alphabet).
Not surprising, the person who purchased Twitter, Musk, was the leader of the pack of losers. He had an unfair advantage since he started at a much higher level than his closest competitors. He “overcame” Zuckerberg’s lead at the end of the third quarter of 2022 when Zuckerberg’s losses at that time amounted to $74.6 billion compared to Musk’s total of $32.2 billion. Musk “stepped up,” ending the year down more than an additional $100 billion for total losses for the year of $133 billion, more than three times the amount he paid for Twitter.
If, instead of rankings based on the loss of wealth, one uses the percent of the drop in one’s wealth in 2022 (see previous table), then Zuckerberg is #1, Musk is #2 with Bezos coming in at #3.
If, instead, one compares where each is at now with the value of their holdings at the beginning of 2020, just before the pandemic, then one comes up with a different ranking.
With 2020 as a starting point, the wealth of Musk is almost five times greater at the end of 2022 than at the beginning of 2020 making him, despite his 2022 loses, a winner. Page and Brin are also ahead. Bezos is down less than 7%. The biggest loser is Zuckerberg, more than 42% “poorer” in nominal dollars than he was in 2020. Does this make him, among these four, the #1 loser? There is no definitive answer!!
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Recall how Bezos’ losses in 2022 are coming not long after the appearance of speculative media stories about him becoming the world’s first trillionaire. After 2022, to reach that plateau, he will have to do a lot of exploitation, successful speculation, acquisition of government subsidies, organizing of numerous overpriced space flights, and hope that the stock price of his holdings in companies such as Amazon go up, something that may be happening in the early days of 2023.
Musk started 2023 with his losses accelerating. On January 3 of the new year, according to the Bloomberg list, he lost over $9 billion in just one day. By contrast, on that same day, Bezos was up $1.81 billion and Zuckerberg $1.54 billion.
As this is written, January 18, Musk’s loses in 2023 have been reduced to $1.3 billion while Bezos so far in 2023 is up $11.7 billion, and Zuckerberg is up $4.52 billion.
Hence, this downward trend of 2022 may not last. Declines have occurred in the recent past such as during the great recession. They have later been followed by even greater concentrations of wealth held by the 1%.
Some of the Super-Rich Had Gains in their Wealth in 2022
In 2022, most of the wealthiest 100 on the Bloomberg’s list experienced declines in their wealth. However, there were some who saw their wealth go up. They included Gautaman Adani, described as an industrialist from India who experienced a wealth increase in 2022 of $44 billion, two Kochs each saw their wealth go up by $5.84 billion, and two members of the Mars family each had increases of $3.59 billion. The biggest gainer among U.S. citizens was financier Jeff Yass whose wealth was up $29 billion.
Perhaps the actual biggest loser in 2022 is not some ridiculously wealthy individuals, but our capitalist society with a political system that continues to allow and tolerate individuals accumulating tens of billions in personal wealth while simultaneously showing itself to be incapable of meeting the basic needs of millions of people for housing, food, medical care, peace, a clean environment, and being freed from discrimination, to name just a few of our pressing problems.
1. Obviously, he has limited control over the price of the stock of a company such as Tesla. ↑
2. Left off the list because her wealth was not over $100 billion at the start of 2022, is Bezos’ ex, MacKenzie Scott. Her wealth at the start of 2022 was $56.3 billion. It declined $37.4 billion, by over 66%, a higher percent than Zuckerberg experienced.
If one starts before 2022 when the wealth of Musk was reported to have reached $340 billion, then the size of the decline in his wealth, as of the end of 2022, compared to the highest level of his wealth comes to $203 billion or 59.7%. ↑
3. Two examples at https://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2020/05/14/jeff-bezos-worlds-first-trillionaire-sparks-heated-debate/5189161002/ and https://www.businessinsider.com/jeff-bezos-on-track-to-become-trillionaire-by-2026-2020-5