It was 1924 when young F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote the short story “The Rich Boy”: “Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me.” The Roaring 20s were swinging, booze flowed, wealthy free spirits danced the night away, and Scott and wife Zelda were the poster kids.

But the wild times ended, as they always do. The Gilded Age expired with the stock market crash on Oct. 29, 1929 — Black Tuesday, they called it. Zelda burned to death in Highland Hospital, a mental institution in Asheville. Scott is interred in St. Mary’s graveyard in Rockville, Md.

By 1928, wealth disparity was so out of whack that 0.1 percent of America’s upper class owned one-fourth of the wealth in the entire country. Black Tuesday balanced the scales — for 90 years. Today that 0.1 percent owns one-fifth of America’s wealth, and that percentage gap is growing with frightening speed.

Some say it’s just the way of things, foreordained, the old “Matthew Effect” at play: “For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.” (Matthew 13:12, New King James)

Many economists explain wealth inequality with the “1 Percent Rule”: Rewards accrue to the advantaged, no matter the legitimacy of their advantaged status, then the rewards compound, and then the 1 percent ensure that they stay advantaged and that others, even those superior in smarts and skills, do not become members of the club.

Whatever, it can no longer be ignored, not even by some upper-crust. This past January, billionaire George Soros, speaking for 18 of America’s ultra-rich, said, “The top one-tenth of 1 percent of households now have almost as much wealth as all Americans in the bottom 90 percent,” and he called for more tax on wealth. Soros also called the current economic imbalance morally indefensible.

Billionaire Ray Dalio warns that capitalism, the very foundation of our economic system, is no longer working for Americans, adding that the expanding wealth gap is creating “a volatile environment with disturbing parallels to the social upheaval of the 1930s.”

The effects of wealth inequality resonate

like concentric circles in placid water. Women are paid two-thirds what men are paid. The poor rot in jails because they cannot afford bail, while embezzlers and corporate, white-collar and celebrity criminals make the lady holding the scales of justice blush from embarrassment.

The American Civil Liberties Union says “justice” inequality extends even to the death sentence. And Clinton Duffy, former warden at San Quentin prison, says “capital punishment means those without the capital get the punishment.”

When Soros called for greater tax on “wealth,” he knew that taxing “income” of the super-wealthy is a fool’s game. Billionaires, with battalions of accountants and tax attorneys easily game the tax system.

One would think the IRS would focus almost exclusively on the wealthy; that’s where the money is. And that’s where the cheating is. The top 0.5 percent in income account for one-fifth of all underreported income. Adjusted for inflation, that’s more than $50 billion each year in unpaid taxes.

But high-rollers don’t have visible income. Instead, they have trusts, foundations, limited liability companies, complex partnerships and overseas operations, woven together. The IRS has neither the funds nor expertise to disentangle such enigma.

Wealth disparity of the present scale eats at the underbelly of America’s ideals. According to Forbes.com, “Seventy-three percent of all Americans believe that ‘our economic system is rigged in favor of the wealthiest Americans.’”

It is. And our growing plutocracy, the very class-ruling system so anathematic to incipient America, keeps it that way.

Two-thirds of U.S. senators and two-fifths of U.S. House members are millionaires or billionaires, with annual incomes 12 times the average American family’s. Bernie, Elizabeth, Uncle Joe and, of course, the Donald — all are super-rich.

In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court ended limits on political campaign contributions, freeing the super-rich to contribute $436 million to Super PACs. Six years later, the cost of running for a U.S. Senate seat was $10.4 million; a House seat, $1.3 million. Contributors expect returns on their investments.

The undisputed largest payback is what journalist Michael Kinsley calls the “angel

of death” loophole. In tax-speak it’s the “step-up-in-basis” tax welfare for rich folk. It allows stupefying amounts of compounded interest and unrealized stock dividends to be willed as gifts tax-free.

For perspective, heirs of recently deceased David Koch can receive his $50 billion estate with zero tax on accumulated gains. The same is true for the Walton family (Walmart), who Forbes says accumulates $100 million — every day.

Tax welfare keeps the super-rich super- rich.

Ninety-five years ago, F. Scott Fitzgerald said the rich “are different from you and me.” Now you know how different — and why.

Michael Smith is a Southern Pines resident.

(12) comments

Richard Wright

The envy and greed of the left is amazing. What you have gained through work and investment is mine - the state - not yours. What a sad refrain but oh so typical.

Sally Larson

Hahaha, I find it hysterical the way one side accuses the other side of being.

Stephen Woodward

Capitalism is not "rigged". It rewards risk and those who believe in it. Bill Gates. Warren Buffet. Steve Jobs. Sam Walton. They put it out there. They risked everything.

Sally Larson

Whoever thought lowering taxes for the rich and cutting taxes overall was goin to be a good idea for our country. Oh, yea, that was Trump.

Peyton Cook

The President was responsible for lowering taxes for all. This was a campaign promise. The economy has boomed. Working Americans have benefited with rising incomes. Unemployment numbers for all groups are at all time lows or near lows. Have you suffered life changes? Finally, what did his predecessor do that helped all citizens?

Mark Hayes

" I find capitalism repugnant. It is filthy, it is gross, it is alienating because it causes war, hypocrisy and competition. " Fidel Castro. Must be the reason there are no Walmart, Target, Walgreen's, McDonald's, KFC, etc.. Castro and Che Guevara partnered up to level the playing field for the poor, their solution to disparity, kick out the prosperous businesses, and all will become equal. By removing and punishing capitalist investment opportunities, there are no jobs for Cuban citizens, and little hope, Cubans could teach our own what being poor is all about.

ken leary

Leading up to the 2008 reckoning, the financial terrorists who own and operate the economy of the USA, and the world for that matter, made enormous bets. They lost. Instead of bailing out citizens, they instructed their bought and paid for politicians to recapitalize their ponzi scheme. Thus, reinvigorated for a second attempt at fleecing their subjects, they accumulated all the newly liberated possessions lost by the precariat. Think Blackstone. (As Andrew Mellon said, "In a crisis, assets return to their rightful owners'") There is little sense in criticising our supposedly "free market" capitalist economy, unless you recognize it is broken, and needs a paradigm shift.

Kent Misegades

Communism is clearly not entirely dead in the minds of some people, despite it having cost the world over 100m deaths in the 20th century. Looking to George Soros for advice is like asking the Devil to control your thermostat - you know how that will end. A recent study found that the average so-called poor person in America has a higher quality of living than the average person in Europe - not the average poor European. Tax the rich - aka the successful person - and you remove the incentive to hard work. Who ever had an employer who was a poor person? Best would be to switch all taxation to the Fair Tax - everyone including illegal aliens pays the same single tax rate on all new goods and services. All other forms of taxation are eliminated. No need for an IRS or saving receipts or filing returns or the need for tax advisers, no loopholes, etc.

Jim Tomashoff

"A recent study..." writes Kent. Per usual, he fails to tell us where we can find such study.

Conrad Meyer

That's a pathetic retort Jim, you can do better. Seems to all of us that read the comments that Kent lives rent free in your head.

Barbara Misiaszek

In 2003 an national sales tax was proposed to replace the income tax. The rate then proposed- 23%. It didn't pass then,my guess,it won't pass now.

John Misisazek

Jim Tomashoff

Kent doesn't live in my head for free. As he's told us, over and over and over again, nothing in life is free. The rent I charge is a trade secret of course. But that fee is but a mere supplement to my principle task, warning people that his political and religious views are quite extreme and that if he is a gun owner, and is there any doubt that he is, we have a "red flag" type individual among us. Indeed, when Trump loses the election or is forced out of office prior to it, expect a reaction, possibly violent, from Mr. Misgades.

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