Our New Gilded Statistical Golden Age

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

he people who lived — and suffered — through America’s original Gilded Age had plenty of problems. One just happened to be statistical. Back then, in the 19th century’s closing decades, everyone knew that the United States had become significantly more unequal. But no one had a firm take on just howunequal.

Good, reliable statistics on income and wealth distribution simply didn’t exist. The nation had no taxes on income and wealth — and no particular bureaucratic reason to collect data on either.

One Gilded Age U.S. senator, Richard Pettigrew from South Dakota, did do his best to prime the data pump. Pettigrew secured an amendment to the 1890 census bill that required enumerators “to ascertain the distribution of wealth through an inquiry into farms, homes, and mortgages.” A few years later, Pettigrew would use data from that enumeration to charge that 4,000 families, just 0.03 percent of the U.S. population, held 20 percent of the nation’s aggregate wealth.

Bur Pettigrew knew the nation needed much more in the way of raw data. He tried to get the next census, in 1900, to include a deeper dive into who owned what.

“The question as to what becomes of what the toilers of the land produce, whether it goes to them or is taken from them by special privileges and accumulated in the hands of a very few people,” Pettigrew told his Senate colleagues, “reaches ultimately the question of the preservation of free institutions.”

This past week has seen the latest entry into 2018’s global wealth report sweepstakes, the newly published World Ultra Wealth Report from Wealth-X, a New York- and London-based company focusing on intelligence and research on the top-end market.

The prime takeaway from the sixth edition of the Wealth-X World Ultra Wealth Report? Our world’s wealthiest had a banner year in 2017, even by their own lofty standards. The “ultra high net worth individual” crowd — those 255,810 swells with personal fortunes of at least $30 million — last year saw their combined wealth soar by 16.3 percent.

The United States sports the single-largest share of these ultras, 31 percent of the total, 79,595 individuals in all. No other nation comes close. In fact, the United States hosts more ultras than the world’s next five ultra-packed nations — Japan, China, Germany, Canada, and France — combined.

The Wealth-X researchers make no moral value judgment about the staggering concentrations of wealth their numbers describe. Nor do any of the other consulting outfits busy producing annual world wealth reports. They’re all just pointing financial and luxury firms to business opportunities.

Moral judgments about our inequality — and action steps against it — will have to come from the rest of us. In the meantime, we do appreciate the statistics. Keep ’em coming.


Reposted from Inequality.org

Sam Pizzigati edits Too Much, the online weekly on excess and inequality. He is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C. Last year, he played an active role on the team that generated The Nation magazine special issue on extreme inequality. That issue recently won the 2009 Hillman Prize for magazine journalism. Pizzigati’s latest book, Greed and Good: Understanding and Overcoming the Inequality that Limits Our Lives (Apex Press, 2004), won an “outstanding title” of the year ranking from the American Library Association’s Choice book review journal.

Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

Get to Know AFL-CIO's Affiliates: National Association of Letter Carriers

From the AFL-CIO

Next up in our series that takes a deeper look at each of our affiliates is the National Association of Letter Carriers.

Name of Union: National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC)

Mission: To unite fraternally all city letter carriers employed by the U.S. Postal Service for their mutual benefit; to obtain and secure rights as employees of the USPS and to strive at all times to promote the safety and the welfare of every member; to strive for the constant improvement of the Postal Service; and for other purposes. NALC is a single-craft union and is the sole collective-bargaining agent for city letter carriers.

Current Leadership of Union: Fredric V. Rolando serves as president of NALC, after being sworn in as the union's 18th president in 2009. Rolando began his career as a letter carrier in 1978 in South Miami before moving to Sarasota in 1984. He was elected president of Branch 2148 in 1988 and served in that role until 1999. In the ensuing years, he worked in various roles for NALC before winning his election as a national officer in 2002, when he was elected director of city delivery. In 2006, he won election as executive vice president. Rolando was re-elected as NALC president in 2010, 2014 and 2018.

Brian Renfroe serves as executive vice president, Lew Drass as vice president, Nicole Rhine as secretary-treasurer, Paul Barner as assistant secretary-treasurer, Christopher Jackson as director of city delivery, Manuel L. Peralta Jr. as director of safety and health, Dan Toth as director of retired members, Stephanie Stewart as director of the Health Benefit Plan and James W. “Jim” Yates as director of life insurance.

Number of Members: 291,000 active and retired letter carriers.

Members Work As: City letter carriers.

Industries Represented: The United States Postal Service.

History: In 1794, the first letter carriers were appointed by Congress as the implementation of the new U.S. Constitution was being put into effect. By the time of the Civil War, free delivery of city mail was established and letter carriers successfully concluded a campaign for the eight-hour workday in 1888. The next year, letter carriers came together in Milwaukee and the National Association of Letter Carriers was formed.

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