Sunday, April 20, 2014

Two Types of the Top Hundredth of a Percent

America has two top one-hundredths of a percent.

The Top 0.01% Annual Earners

An interesting analysis of the 1% was recently reported in the Atlantic.

The top one percent of American earners are barely growing in their share of wealth.  Even the top tenth of a percent are only increasing their share slowly and erratically.

But the top hundredth of a percent have increased their share by a huge amount.

These groups are demographically worlds apart.

The top one percent are mostly small business owners.  The "lower half" of the top one percent of earners have annual incomes between $350,000 and $500,000 per year, and usually about half that after taxes and retirement contributions.

The top hundredth of a percent are those brokers and bankers (and to a lesser extent CEOs) who got very lucky in the stock market last year.  Their annual income was over $5 million!  Few of the top hundredth of a percent stay at that level for long, because the stock market is a harsh mistress.

I recommend Nassim Nicholas Taleb's book The Black Swan for an easy to read glimpse at the crazy and horrific world in which the  top hundredth of a percent temporarily can live.

The small business earners are increasingly encumbered by Federal legislation, and are not feeling like they enjoy much political influence.

The very top earners can be politically influential for a few years.  But most are too busy buying and enjoying cars and yachts and homes to enjoy before their luck in the stock market changes and they go bankrupt.

The Top 0.01% Wealth Holders

The top hundredth of a percent of wealth holders in America are very different people than the top hundredth of a percent of wealth earners.

Families can pass along wealth and political influence without ever earning as much during a single year as the brokers and bankers who get luckiest in the stock market.

But only 8% of these top wealth holders were born wealthy or inherited wealth.  Joshua Kennon has written two interesting reports about the country's top wealth holders.  Most are self-made success stories that hide their wealth from family and friends.

Measuring a family's net worth is difficult for many reasons (Joshua writes well about these).  But as a rough estimates these "new elite" own at least $5 million in investments.

(An entire 8% of American households have a net worth of $1 million or more.  But that can be paying off a mortgage without having any substantial liquid investments.)

The urban top wealth holders are politically influential.  In the 2010 election cycle, a few more than 25,000 Americans together contributed $744 million.  That was one-quarter of what all individuals contributed, and more than 80% of party committee money.

These donors lived primarily in New York, Washington, Chicago, and Los Angeles.  They are the top urban wealth holders.  These are the people who influence politics with money.

Tangentially, much of "politics influenced by money" is from groups, not individuals.

Consider the Affordable Care Act, which at its core is a compromise between the hospitals and health insurers.  Those two groups have opposed interests and "battle" using enormous wealth and political influence.  Their people are nearly all members of the 99% of earners and holders, "normal folks" who would claim to be just looking out for their jobs.

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