Extreme inequality in the distribution of wealth, income and opportunity undermines and distorts all that we care about – democracy and civic life, economic health and vitality, ecological balance, and physical health and culture. Moving toward greater equality is critical to building healthy, democratic, and economically sustainable communities. The solution is not simply raising the floor and alleviating poverty, but directly addressing the overconcentration of wealth. Our team promotes a broad analysis of the impact of extreme inequalities and advocates for far-reaching policy interventions that broaden prosperity and redistribute dangerous concentrations of wealth. [See Key Proposals for Sharing Prosperity]
The Gilded Age
The U.S. was born of a rejection of monarchy and the hereditary concentration of wealth and power. Yet during the first Gilded Age, from 1890 to 1915, the industrial revolution and the rise of monopoly enterprise brought extreme inequality in the distribution of income and wealth. This in turn sparked a lively debate about the danger that wealth concentration presented to democracy and general well-being. The broader public organized and pressed for fundamental changes to reduce the impact of concentrated wealth on our economy, democracy and culture.
This led to a period after World War II of relatively shared prosperity and middle class expansion. It was also a period of empire, unsustainable resource extraction, and racial oppression. Inequality, however, was significantly reduced and prosperity was broadly shared.
Over the last thirty years, corporate interests mobilized to advance policy changes that supported a rapid upward redistribution of wealth into the hands of a very few. The rules of the economy—tax policy, public spending, deregulation, trade policy—were rewritten to favor large asset owners and corporations to the detriment of wage earners and small enterprises. Today, the wealthiest one percent of households hold a third of all private assets, more than the bottom 95 percent of households combined. [Recent inequality trend data]