Waffles, Beer, and the Penalty We Pay for Tolerating Inequality

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

Forget those Belgian waffles and all those wonderful ambers and lagers from Belgium, too. What those of us in the rest of the world — especially Americans — really need from this small European nation has nothing to do with beer or breakfast treats. We need Belgium’s much more egalitarian distribution of wealth.

Four centuries ago, the famed English scientist Francis Bacon compared wealth to manure. Both only do good, Bacon quipped, if you spread them around.

Belgium is spreading about as well as any nation on Earth, according to data the Swiss bank Credit Suisse details in its new Global Wealth Report 2018. No other major society currently sports a distribution of wealth much more equitable than Belgium’s.

How do we know? The new Credit Suisse report serves up all the key numbers for computing who gets what in over 200 nations worldwide. But we do have to exercise our imaginations a bit to get the most out of the Credit Suisse data.

We have to imagine, as a first step, a world with every nation divvying up its wealth on a totally equal basis. That, of course, isn’t happening anywhere. No nation shares its wealth completely. We can, on the other hand, visualize that sharing by simply dividing each nation’s wealth by each nation’s adult population. That gives us an average national wealth per adult. The Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report conveniently makes all these calculations.

Belgium does well by this metric, showing an average per-adult wealth of over $313,000. But other nations have higher wealth averages. In the United States, for instance, the average American holds a personal fortune worth nearly $404,000.

These averages suggest that Americans are doing significantly better economically than Belgians. That does not happen to be the case. America’s average wealth per adult looks so good only because America’s rich are doing so fabulously well. Their enormous fortunes misleadingly pump up America’s average adult wealth.

How enormous have the fortunes of America’s rich become? The United States, Credit Suisse researchers note, currently boasts 1,144 individuals worth over $500 million.

How many individuals worth at least half a billion does Belgium now boast? Sixteen.

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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