THE CLUB — Welcome back, old shoe. Sorry we had to temporarily revoke your membership in Club One, a fellowship obviously made up of the wealthiest Americans who live in the top 1 percent. But you did take a tumble when you had to pay that billion dollar fine to the SEC. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Member after member and untold corporations have been writing checks to the feds to stay out of the slammer. Notice almost none of them are serving time for stealing billions. Silly Madoff and Stanford should have been jailed for simply not hiring the right lawyers.
Waiter, we’re a little dry here. Now where was I? Oh, yes, you were asking who and how many qualify for membership. Forbes‘s list of the world’s billionaires has added more than 200 names since 2012 and is now at 1,426. The United States once again leads the list with 442 billionaires. That’s us.
On the other hand, the IRS figures to make the top 1 percent only requires an income of $369,691. Not bad, but it’s less than the minimum annual wage for a decent halfback. If that’s all it takes to climb to the 1 percent bracket, there must be a whole lot of poor people down there, although we don’t have much to do with them, of course. Still, that figure is more than five times the $69,126 you need to enter the top 25 percent and more than 10 times the $34,338 in income to make the top 50 percent.
Now about us. We’re doing pretty well despite the Great Recession. According to an analysis of IRS figures dating back to 1913 by economists at the University of California, Berkeley, the Paris School of Economics and Oxford University, the very wealthiest Americans earned almost 20 percent of the country’s household income last year. That’s our biggest share since 1928, the year before the stock market crash. Meanwhile, incomes of the very richest, the 0.01 percent, shot up more than 32 percent last year. Indeed, the gap between the richest 1 percent and the rest of America is the widest it’s been since the Roaring ’20s. As for the bottom 99 percent, the income of that group went nowhere between 2009 and 2011. That’s why we call ourselves “job creators.” I had to hire another food taster. Win one for the gapper. Which reminds me, where are our drinks?
How did we do so well? The rising stock market, mostly, which is ours. The Dow Jones industrial average more than doubled in value since it bottomed out early in 2009. About half of households hold stock, directly or through pension plans and such. But the richest 10 percent of households own about 90 percent of the stock. Actually, it is we who occupy Wall Street, a fact we don’t like to broadcast.
Another way we have practically commandeered the American economy is through corporations. Corporate profits hit a record this year as a share of U.S. economic output. And we chief enchiladas did wonderfully well. In 2012, according to the Economic Policy Institute, chief executives of the nation’s largest companies earned 273 times as much as the average American worker. Back in 1965, the typical CEO earned only about 18-20 times what the average worker took home. What are the unions going to do about it? They’re dying. Union membership has dropped from 23.3 percent in 1983 to 11.3 percent this year, according to the Labor Department. Obama shouldn’t try to drag down the top cats, but rather lift up the great unwashed. Remember, a rising tide raises all yachts.
We’ve all heard, time and again, “Half of Americans don’t pay income taxes.” Keep saying it long enough and people will believe it. Actually, the figure is 43 percent who don’t pay federal income taxes. They pay lots of taxes directly or indirectly: fees and fines, property taxes, school taxes, sales taxes, taxes on gasoline, pitchforks and torches. Individual income taxes only contribute 45 percent to the fed’s budget. Everybody pays the remaining 55 percent. Just remember, in Texas no one pays a state income tax, but Austin still wrings billions out of us.
Most members of Congress qualify for our club. There are currently 245 millionaires — 66 in the Senate and 179 in the House. Obama is in the top 1 percent, but don’t expect us to invite him in the club. Rick Perry’s net worth is estimated at just over $1 million, which is not bad for a poor boy who has been a Texas state employee most of his adult life. Well, let’s not get bogged down in numbers, as I was telling the IRS auditor. Besides, we pay our taxes. According to the IRS the top 1 percent of earners received $1.5 trillion in 2010. We paid $355 billion in federal income taxes, for an average tax rate of 23.4 percent. Or as Leona Helmsley told her housekeeper, “We don’t pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes.” Helmsley later went to prison for federal tax evasion, which is why we bounced her from the club. I mean, getting caught, really.
That brings up two former members, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. They had to go. Wanting to increase taxes on us, giving away their fortunes to feed starving children.
As a member of Club One, there are a few secrets, sayings and such you should know. Stand before the mirror and work on, “Do you have any Grey Poupon?” Use “summer” as a verb. As in: “This year I’ll summer in the Hamptons.” Change your children’s nicknames to Muffy and Skip. Be sure you know the secret code for your bank account in the Cayman Islands, not to mention Zurich. It is virtually required that you don’t have a front license plate on your Lamborghini. They so mess up the grill, don’t you think? Ah, here come our drinks. Thank you, Mitt.
Ashby is taxed at email@example.com