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The Hyper-Wealthy Own Us (Literally)

Seattle

The Walton Family have $154.8 billion. They could buy all of Seattle, value $111.5 billion.

When people talk about income inequality in the U.S., it often involves big, big numbers.

For example, last year eight Americans — the four Waltons of Walmart fame, the two Koch brothers, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffett — made more money than 3.6 million American minimum wage workers combined. The median CEO pay in America for large corporations is $10 million per year. A chief executive now makes about 257 times the average worker’s salary, up sharply from 181 times in 2009. Overall, a tiny one percent of Americans own over a third of America’s wealth.

Math is Hard

Still, the numbers are hard to grasp, to understand at a ground-truth level. When folks want to talk about how big a place is, the often-used measure is football fields; the crash site covered an area the size of two football fields. That makes it easier to understand.

So, here’s our America measured in sort of the same way, courtesy of the real estate site Redfin. They figured out the value of all the homes in some of America’s better known cities, then compared that number to the known wealth of some of America’s better known one percenters. It turns out people like Bill Gates, the Waltons and the Koch Brothers literally own us. They have enough money to buy whole cities. Here’s a partial list:

Walton Family, owners of Walmart, have $154.8 billion. They could buy all of Seattle, value $111.5 billion.

Koch Brothers, holding $86.0 billion, could buy all of Atlanta, valued at $78.1 billion.

Bill Gates, with his $77.5 billion, could buy Boston, for $76.6 billion.

Warren Buffett, packing $63.5 billion, is able to purchase Charlotte, NC, for $56.1 billion.

Also rans:

Michael Bloomberg, only worth $31.8 billion, could still pick up Anaheim for $31.4 billion.

Larry Page of Google, $30.8 billion, is able to buy Boca Raton for $29.5 billion.

Jeff Bezos, Amazon.com, has $30.5 billion and could own Napa for $29.5 billion.

Mark Zuckerberg, your best Facebook friend, saved up $27.7 billion and could buy Saint Paul, MN, at $26.8 billion.

Phil Knight, who started Nike, has only $18.3 billion, but could still be the owner of Washington DC suburb Falls Church for only $18.0 billion.

Equal Time

Balance is important in these sorts of things, so it is only fair to add that some five million homes were lost to foreclosure between 2008 and 2013. 8.2 million foreclosure starts took place in that same time period. Moody’s Analytics chief economist Mark Zandi estimates foreclosures will strike another three million homes in the next three or four years.

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Peter Van Buren writes about current events at blog. His book,Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99Percent, is available now from from Amazon.

Photo by Bala Sivakumar under Creative Commons license

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Peter Van Buren

Peter Van Buren

Peter Van Buren has served with the Foreign Service for over 23 years. He received a Meritorious Honor Award for assistance to Americans following the Hanshin earthquake in Kobe, a Superior Honor Award for helping an American rape victim in Japan, and another award for work in the tsunami relief efforts in Thailand. Previous assignments include Taiwan, Japan, Korea, the UK and Hong Kong. He volunteered for Iraq service and was assigned to ePRT duty 2009-10. His tour extended past the withdrawal of the last combat troops.

Van Buren worked extensively with the military while overseeing evacuation planning in Japan and Korea. This experience included multiple field exercises, plus civil-military work in Seoul, Tokyo, Hawaii, and Sydney with allies from the UK, Australia, and elsewhere. The Marine Corps selected Van Buren to travel to Camp Lejeune in 2006 to participate in a field exercise that included simulated Iraqi conditions. Van Buren spent a year on the Hill in the Department of State’s Congressional Liaison Office.

Van Buren speaks Japanese, Chinese Mandarin, and some Korean (the book’s all in English, don’t worry). Born in New York City, he lives in Virginia with his spouse, two daughters, and a docile Rottweiler.

Though this is his first book, Peter’s commentary has been featured on TomDispatch, Salon, Huffington Post, The Nation, American Conservative Magazine, Mother Jones, Michael Moore.com, Le Monde, Daily Kos, Middle East Online, Guernica and others.

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