A new Gilded Age? Wealth is more concentrated than ever before

Billionaires around the globe have amassed a combined wealth of $6 trillion — don't expect things to change

Published October 27, 2017 11:25AM (EDT)


The world may soon witness a new Gilded Age.

The combined global wealth amongst billionaires increased by nearly a fifth last year alone, bringing the total to a combined worth of $6 trillion, The Guardian reported, citing a new study by UBS, a Swiss financial services company.  Wealth around the globe is now as concentrated as it was during the turn of the 20th century.

"We’re at an inflection point," the study's lead author, Josef Stadler, said. "Wealth concentration is as high as in 1905, this is something billionaires are concerned about. The problem is the power of interest on interest – that makes big money bigger and, the question is to what extent is that sustainable and at what point will society intervene and strike back?"

Stadler said billionaires are concerned there could be a "strike back" as a result of such concentrated wealth.

He added, "We are now two years into the peak of the second Gilded Age."

During America's Gilded Age, President Theodore Roosevelt made efforts to bust up massive monopolies and increasing taxes on the wealthy.

"Will there be similarities in the way society reacts to this gilded age?," Stadler asked. "Will the second age end or will it proceed?"

Well, under President Donald Trump, no one should expect the power dynamics to budge in the slightest. In fact, it's pretty much inevitable wealth becomes even more concentrated under the Trump administration.

Trump's tax cuts are a gift to many of the same billionaires who have already increased their wealth over the years.

But Stadler believes that "the perception that billionaires make money for themselves at the expense of the wider population," is not true.

"The billionaire population is concerned about [inequality] and that may be why we are seeing this acceleration of publicly displaying art collections or partnering with public institutions so more of the public can enjoy what they have," John Matthews, UBS head of private wealth management, told The Guardian.

"I think it’s a big part of investment in sports franchises – it’s a way for them to say 'I made all this money and I did it in Cleveland, Ohio, I’ve got to give back to my community and one way I’m going to do that is to make sure the stadium is great,'" he added.

Yet it still seems to miss the mark, because billionaires — at least in America thanks to Citizens United — use their wealth and power as influence over Washington's politicians in order to push more policies that directly benefit their wealth. The U.S. would have to radically change their campaign finance system, as well as increase taxes on the one percent substantially, in order to embrace redistributive economic initiatives, that doesn't appear to be the case with Trump.

Take the recent example of the private prison executives and wardens who held their annual leadership conference at a Trump-owned resort in Miami. GEO Group, and its subsidiaries, poured money into Trump's campaign and even hired a former Trump fundraiser, and two former aides to Attorney General Jeff Sessions as lobbyists.

In return, Sessions rolled back the Obama-era initiative that would have phased out privately run federal prisons. This is merely a minute sample of how wealth dominates politics in America, and under Trump, it's not going to get any better.

By Charlie May

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America First Billionaires Global Wealth President Donald Trump The One Percent Wealth Inequality