FROM WHERE I STAND: Notes from the desk of peace activist Polly Mann (b. Nov.19,1919)

Good News
The New York Times headline of Dec. 14 read, “The Pentagon Is Not a Sacred Cow.” Of course it isn’t, and our readers know it and so do we, but for the Times to acknowledge that is like finding a shoveled path to navigate after a winter snow storm.

We’ll start with a few basics. The military budget is now $643 billion. In May our capricious president proposed $677 billion for 2018, but the U.S. Congress increased that to around $700 billion, some $85 billion above the legal cap. Thankfully there are legalities that have to be dealt with before the new budget can be put into place—Congress must remove the 2011 cap and appropriate the money.

Waste is evidently a problem that is not being addressed. A 2015 study estimated that the Pentagon wastes about $125 billion annually, about one-fifth of its annual budget, that is, about 1 out of every 5 dollars it’s allotted. So back to the Sacred Cow concept. The military must tighten up its policies and programs. An awareness of this need is indeed Good News.

The trouble with wealth inequality
If the wealthy continue to grow wealthier that means the rest of us grow poorer and poorer. One wonders when all this will come to a halt. Not to worry. History shows that societies with drastic wealth inequality are much more unstable and more likely to experience drastic economic failure or outright societal collapse. A 2014 study conducted by the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center noted that over-consumption and wealth inequality have occurred in the collapse of every civilization over the past 5,000 years. Do you suppose that this prediction might cause the super-rich to give away large portions of their wealth?

I suspect most Americans would guess that Americans top the list of the richest people in the world. Six of the world’s wealthiest people live here in the USA: Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, is No. 1 at $99.6 billion and Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft, is No. 2 at $91.3 billion. Warren Buffett; Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook); Larry Ellison (Oracle); Michael Bloomberg (former mayor of New York City); and seven members of the Walton family (Walmart and Sam’s Club) follow. The top tenth of the upper 1% of the nation’s people has nearly as much wealth as the nation’s bottom 90%.

China is also climbing the wealth ladder with 38 billionaires worth a combined $177 billion—a 65% jump that was the largest for any of the 49 countries represented in the 2017 Bloomberg Billionaire Index. Ma Huateng, co-founder of the Chinese company Tencent Holdings, saw his fortune double to $41 billion, making him the second richest person in Asia. Russia’s 27 richest residents didn’t do too badly; they added $29 billion to their incomes to grow to $275 billion total. A recent article in the Washington Post ended with this statement: “These findings are yet another indication that massive accumulation of wealth at the top of the economic ladder is leading to spiraling inequality.” You betcha!

Chief executives of America’s 350 largest companies in 2016 made an average of $15.6 million, or 271 times more than what the typical worker made that year, according to the Economic Policy Institute’s annual report on executive compensation. The report from the left-leaning think tank said that number was slightly lower than 2015, when average pay was $16.3 million and the ratio was 286-to-1.

According to research on wealth by the Boston Counseling Group, by 2021 only 1% of American millionaires and billionaires will control 70% of the nation’s wealth. Currently more billionaires and millionaires live in the U.S. than anywhere else in the world, with two out of five millionaires calling it home. The situation in the world at large is equally lop-sided. Eighteen million households have at least $l million in assets. The estimated 70 million people who make up these households control 45% of the world’s $166.5 trillion in wealth.

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