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Even the fortunes of very rich people are dwarfed by the incomprehensible wealth of the 0.0001%.
These people may see themselves as fabulously rich, and often oppose policies aimed at reducing inequality.
But many have not fully grasped the enormous gulf between themselves and the super rich.
We can have a world in which wealthy people exist, without handing nearly all money to the super rich.
No single human needs or deserves this much wealth.
A trillion dollars is such a large figure, that you might as well say "eleventy gajillion zillion dollars." So in this section, we will try to understand the scale of this figure by looking at what could be accomplished with various chunks of this wealth.
As we proceed, try to keep in mind: all of this wealth is controlled by a group so small, that they could fit on a single 747 airplane—with 260 seats left over.
As of this writing, testing in the United States falls far short of what is needed to re-open the economy. By some estimates, sufficiently ramping up testing to around 30 million tests per week would cost around $100 billion total, or about 2.8% of the wealth currently controlled by the 400 richest Americans.
Malaria is one of the worst infectious diseases ever visited on mankind, possibly killing more people than any other infectious disease in history. In the 20th century alone, malaria killed more people than the Black Death.
Coronavirus has shown us all the horrors of living with a deadly disease. Sadly, for much of the world, this horror was a constant feature of daily life even before coronavirus.
All of these deaths are preventable. Treating and preventing malaria is a well understood science, universally practiced in the developed world.
It is estimated that malaria could be globally eradicated by 2030 for a cost around $1.84 per at-risk person per year, or around $100 billion total. This would be around 2.8% of the wealth currently possessed by the 400 richest Americans.
Around 800 children will die of malaria today. A small group of super rich people could stop it for a sum of money so small that they would likely never even notice its absence. But they choose not to.
The recent coronavirus stimulus was the largest ever passed by Congress. It was financed entirely through deficit spending, which will be repaid by taxpayers for generations. The burden of repaying this debt could be erased in an instant with a tax on the super rich so small that they would not even feel it.
The wealth of 400 Americans could have financed the entire CARES act, including the corporate bailouts, expanded unemployment, and expanded testing—with a trillion and a half left over.
Instead, the American tax payer will be stuck with the bill.
Every single person in America could be lifted above the poverty line with a one-time cash subsidy of around $10,000 per impoverished family (and about $7,000 for impoverished individuals). The total cost would be $170 billion, a little under 5% of the wealth currently controlled by 400 individuals.
It may seem counter intuitive that a one-time subsidy could have any lasting impact on chronic poverty. But one of the surprising truths about poverty is that it's fluid. Americans move in and out of poverty many times throughout their lives, and one good year can have a massive and long lasting effect.
A wealth of data now supports the idea that one-time cash transfers can permanently transform a local economy. Given a sudden windfall, people invest in their future. They go back to school, obtain transportation, pay for childcare, pay down debilitating debts, and do any number of things to improve their career prospects and financial future.
In the US, for all of the people that escape poverty in any given year, about half stay out of poverty for at least five years afterwards. About a third are still out of poverty ten years later.
This would not be a permanent fix for all Americans. Surely, some would quickly return to poverty, and others face debts so large that the subsidy would make little difference. But for tens of millions of Americans, this would be a life changing event. It would be a generation defining social program that reshapes our economy for decades to come.
In 2018, the combined federal tax revenue among all US households earning under $80,000 per year was around $200 billion. This money—taken entirely from poor and middle class Americans—could be returned for a tiny fraction of the wealth controlled by the .0001%.
Around 844 million people have no access to clean water of any kind. About the same number have no access to a toilet or latrine of any kind, and therefore defecate in the open.
Contaminated water is a major source of disease, including cholera, dysentery, and typhoid. It is estimated that contaminated water kills about 829,000 people every year, making it one of the world's biggest killers. The cost to provide clean water and waste disposal for everyone on earth would be about $240 billion, or 6.8% of the wealth controlled by the 400 richest Americans.
As Americans debate how and when to open the economy after coronavirus, we are frequently presented with a seemingly impossible choice between risking millions of lives and sliding into a great depression through a continued lockdown. This is a repugnant lie.
The money to weather this storm while maintaining quarantine exists, it's just a matter of finding the political will to take it.