Wealth concentration

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Wealth concentration is a process by which newly created wealth, under some conditions, can become concentrated in the possession of wealthy individuals or entities. Those who hold wealth have the means to invest in newly created sources and structures of wealth, or to otherwise leverage the accumulation of wealth, and are thus the beneficiaries of even greater wealth.

Economic conditions

The first necessary condition for the phenomenon of wealth concentration to occur is an unequal initial distribution of wealth. The distribution of wealth throughout the population is often closely approximated by a Pareto distribution, with tails which decay as a power-law in wealth. (See also: Distribution of wealth and Economic inequality). According to PolitiFact and others, the 400 wealthiest Americans had "more wealth than half of all Americans combined."[1][2][3][4] Inherited wealth may help explain why many Americans who have become rich may have had a "substantial head start".[5][6] In September 2012, according to the Institute for Policy Studies, "over 60 percent" of the Forbes richest 400 Americans "grew up in substantial privilege".[7]

The second condition is that a small initial inequality must, over time, widen into a larger inequality. This is an example of positive feedback in an economic system. A team from Jagiellonian University produced statistical model economies showing that wealth condensation can occur whether or not total wealth is growing (if it is not, this implies that the poor could become poorer).[8]

Correlation between being rich and earning more

Given an initial condition in which wealth is unevenly distributed (i.e., a "wealth gap"[9]), several non-exclusive economic mechanisms for wealth condensation have been proposed:

  • A correlation between being rich and being given high paid employment (oligarchy).
  • A marginal propensity to consume low enough that high incomes are correlated with people who have already made themselves rich (meritocracy).
  • The ability of the rich to influence government disproportionately to their favor thereby increasing their wealth (plutocracy).[10]

In the first case, being wealthy gives one the opportunity to earn more through high paid employment (e.g., by going to elite schools). In the second case, having high paid employment gives one the opportunity to become rich (by saving your money). In the case of plutocracy, the wealthy exert power over the legislative process, which enables them to increase the wealth disparity.[11] An example of this is the high cost of political campaigning in some countries, in particular in the US (more generally, see also plutocratic finance).

Because these mechanisms are non-exclusive, it is possible for all three explanations to work together for a compounding effect, increasing wealth concentration even further.

Counterbalances to wealth concentration include certain forms of taxation, in particular wealth tax, inheritance tax and progressive taxation of income.

See also


  1. Kertscher, Tom; Borowski, Greg (March 10, 2011). "The Truth-O-Meter Says: True - Michael Moore says 400 Americans have more wealth than half of all Americans combined". PolitiFact. Retrieved August 11, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Moore, Michael (March 6, 2011). "America Is Not Broke". Huffington Post. Retrieved August 11, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Moore, Michael (March 7, 2011). "The Forbes 400 vs. Everybody Else". michaelmoore.com. Archived from the original on 2011-03-09. Retrieved August 11, 2013. Unknown parameter |deadurl= ignored (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Pepitone, Julianne (September 22, 2010). "Forbes 400: The super-rich get richer". CNN. Retrieved August 11, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Bruenig, Matt (March 24, 2014). "You call this a meritocracy? How rich inheritance is poisoning the American economy". Salon. Retrieved August 24, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Staff (March 18, 2014). "Inequality - Inherited wealth". The Economist. Retrieved August 24, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Pizzigati, Sam (September 24, 2012). "The 'Self-Made' Hallucination of America's Rich". Institute for Policy Studies. Retrieved August 24, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Burdaa, Z.; et al. (January 22, 2001). "Wealth Condensation in Pareto Macro-Economies" (PDF). Physical Review E. 65. arXiv:cond-mat/0101068. Bibcode:2002PhRvE..65b6102B. doi:10.1103/PhysRevE.65.026102. Retrieved September 11, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Rugaber, Christopher S.; Boak, Josh (January 27, 2014). "Wealth gap: A guide to what it is, why it matters". AP News. Retrieved January 27, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Ravi Batra. The New Golden Age: The Coming Revolution against Political Corruption and Economic Chaos. Palgrave Macmillan, 2007, ISBN 1-4039-7579-5.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Harold Hudson Channer (25 July 2011). "TV interview with Dr. Ravi Batra". Retrieved 21 October 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

(Zdzislaw Burda and others at Jagiellonian University), 2002 "Wealth condensation in Pareto macroeconomies" model appears in Physical Review E, vol 65

External links