Huey P. Long supported the presidential campaign of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932. However, he was highly critical of some aspects of the New Deal. He disliked the Emergency Banking Act because it did little to help small, local banks. Long bitterly attacked the National Recovery Act for the system of wage and price codes it established. He correctly forecasted that the codes would be written by the leaders of the industries involved and would result in price-fixing. Long told the Senate: "Every fault of socialism is found is this bill, without one of its virtues."
Long claimed that Roosevelt had done little to redistribute wealth. When Roosevelt refused to introduce legislation to place ceilings on personal incomes, private fortunes and inheritances, Long launched his Share Our Wealth Society. In February 1934 Long announced a scheme to rectify the existing maldistribution of wealth in the United States. He told the Senate: "Unless we provide for redistribution of wealth in this country, the country is doomed." He added the nation faced a choice, it could limit large fortunes and provide a decent standard of life for its citizens, or it could wait for the inevitable revolution.
Long quoted research that suggested "2% of the people owned 60% of the wealth". In one radio broadcast he told the listeners: "God called: 'Come to my feast.' But what had happened? Rockefeller, Morgan, and their crowd stepped up and took enough for 120,000,000 people and left only enough for 5,000,000 for all the other 125,000,000 to eat. And so many millions must go hungry."
Long's plan involved taxing all incomes over a million dollars. On the second million the capital levy tax would be one per cent. On the third, two per cent, on the fourth, four per cent; and so on. Once a personal fortune exceeded $8 million, the tax would become 100 per cent. Under his plan, the government would confiscate all inheritances of more than one million dollars.
This large fund would then enable the government to guarantee subsistence for everyone in America. Each family would receive a basic household estate of $5,000. There would also be a minimum annual income of $2,000 per year. Other aspects of his Share Our Wealth Plan involved government support for education, old-age pensions, benefits for war veterans and public-works projects.
Long employed Gerald L. K. Smith, a Louisiana preacher, to travel throughout the South to recruit members for the Share our Wealth Clubs. The campaign was a great success and by 1935 there was 27,000 clubs with a membership of 4,684,000 and a mailing list of over 7,500,000.
Some critics pointed out that all wealth was not in the form of money. Most of America's richest people had their wealth in land, buildings, stocks and bonds. It would be very difficult to evaluate and liquidate this wealth. When this was put to Long he replied: "I am going to have to call in some great minds to help me."
Leaders of the Communist Party and Socialist Party also attacked Long's plan. Alex Bittelman, a communist in New York wrote: "Long says he wants to do away with concentration of wealth without doing away with capitalism. This is humbug. This is fascist demagogy." Norman Thomas claimed that Long's Share Our Wealth scheme was an insufficient and dangerous delusion. He added that it was the "sort of talk that Hitler fed the Germans and in my opinion it is positively dangerous because it fools the people."
Huey P. Long admitted that certain aspects of his scheme was socialistic. He said to a reporter from The Nation: Will you please tell me what sense there is running on a socialist ticket in America today? What's the use of being right only to be defeated? On another occasion he argued: "We haven't a Communist or Socialist in Louisiana. Huey P. Long is the greatest enemy that the Communists and Socialists have to deal with."
Some economists claimed that if the Share Our Wealth plan was implemented it would bring and end to the Great Depression. They pointed out that one of the major causes of the economic downturn was the insufficient distribution of purchasing power among the population. If poor families had their incomes increased they would spend this extra money on goods being produced by American industry and agriculture and would therefore stimulate the economy and create more jobs.
In May 1935 Long began having talks with Charles Coughlin, Francis Townsend, Gerald L. Smith, Milo Reno and Floyd B. Olson about a joint campaign to take on President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1936 presidential elections. Two months later Long announced that his police had discovered a plot to kill him. He now surrounded himself with six armed bodyguards.
On the 8th September, 1935, Carl Weiss, a physician and the son-in-law of Benjamin Pavy, shot Huey P. Long while he was in the state senate. Long's bodyguards immediately killed Weiss. At first it was thought that Long was not seriously wounded and an operation was carried out to repair the wound. However, the surgeons had failed to detect a bullet had hit his kidney. By the time this was discovered Long was to weak to endure another operation. Huey Long died on 10th September, 1935. According to his sister, Lucille Long, his last words were: "Don't let me die, I have got so much to do."
For 20 years I have been in the battle to provide that, so long as America has, or can produce, an abundance of the things which make life comfortable and happy, that none should own so much of the things which he does not need and cannot use as to deprive the balance of the people of a reasonable proportion of the necessities and conveniences of life. The whole line of my political thought has always been that America must face the time when the whole country would shoulder the obligation which it owes to every child born on earth - that is, a fair chance to life, liberty, and happiness.
Here is what I ask the officers and members and well-wishers of all the Share Our Wealth Societies to do:
First. If you have a Share Our Wealth Society in your neighborhood or, if you have not one, organize one - meet regularly, and let all members, men and women, go to work as quickly and as hard as they can to get every person in the neighborhood to become a member and to go out with them to get more members for the society. If members do not want to go into the society already organized in their community, let them organize another society. We must have them as members in the movement, so that, by having their cooperation, on short notice we can all act as one person for the one object and purpose of providing that in the land of plenty there shall be comfort for all. The organized 600 families who control the wealth of America have been able to keep the 125,000,000 people in bondage because they have never once known how to effectually strike for their fair demands.
Second. Get a number of members of the Share Our Wealth Society to immediately go into all other neighborhoods of your county and into the neighborhoods of the adjoining counties, so as to get the people in the other communities and in the other counties to organize more Share Our Wealth Societies there; that will mean we can soon get about the work of perfecting a complete, unified organization that will not only hear promises but will compel the fulfillment of pledges made to the people.
It is impossible for the United States to preserve itself as a republic or as a democracy when 600 families own more of this Nation's wealth - in fact, twice as much - as all the balance of the people put together. Ninety-six percent of our people live below the poverty line, while 4 percent own 87 percent of the wealth. America can have enough for all to live in comfort and still permit millionaires to own more than they can ever spend and to have more than they can ever use; but America cannot allow the multimillionaires and the billionaires, a mere handful of them, to own everything unless we are willing to inflict starvation upon 125,000,000 people.
Here is the whole sum and substance of the share-our-wealth movement:
1. Every family to be furnished by the Government a homestead allowance, free of debt, of not less than one-third the average family wealth of the country, which means, at the lowest, that every family shall have the reasonable comforts of life up to a value of from $5,000 to $6,000. No person to have a fortune of more than 100 to 300 times the average family fortune, which means that the limit to fortunes is between $1,500,000 and $5,000,000, with annual capital-levy, taxes imposed on all above $1,000,000.
2. The yearly income of every family shall be not less than one-third of the average family Income, which means that, according to the estimates of the statisticians of the United States Government and Wall Street, no family's annual income would be less than from $2,000 to $2,500. No yearly income shall be allowed to any person larger than from 100 to 300 times the size of the average family income, which means; that no person would be allowed to earn in any year more than from $600,000 to $1,800,000, all to be subject to present income-tax laws.
3. To limit or regulate the hours of work to such an extent as to prevent overproduction; the most modern and efficient machinery would be encouraged, so that as much would be produced as possible so as to satisfy all demands of the people, but to also allow the maximum time to the workers for recreation, convenience, education, and luxuries of life.
4. An old-age pension to the persons of 60.
5. To balance agricultural production with what can be consumed according to the laws of God, which includes the preserving and storage of surplus commodities to be paid for and held by the Government for the emergencies when such are needed. Please bear in mind, however, that when the people of America have had money to buy things they needed, we have never had a surplus of any commodity. This plan of God does not call for destroying any of the things raised to eat or wear, nor does it countenance wholesale destruction of hogs, cattle, or milk.
6. To pay the veterans of our wars what we owe them and to care for their disabled.
7. Education and training for all children to be equal in opportunity in all schools, colleges, universities, and other institutions for training in the professions and vocations of life; to be regulated on the capacity of children to learn, and not on the ability of parents to pay the costs. Training for life's work to be as much universal and thorough for all walks in life as has been the training in the arts of killing.
8. The raising of revenue and taxes for the support of this program to come from the reduction of swollen fortunes from the top, as well as for the support of public works to give employment whenever there may be any slackening necessary in private enterprise.
God invited us all to come and eat and drink all we wanted. He smiled on our land and we grew crops of plenty to eat and wear. He showed us in the earth the iron and other things to make everything we wanted. He unfolded to us the secrets of science so that our work might be easy. God called: "Come to my feast." But what had happened? Rockefeller, Morgan, and their crowd stepped up and took enough for 120,000,000 people and left only enough for 5,000,000 for all the other 125,000,000 to eat. And so many millions must go hungry and without these good things God gave us unless we call on them to put some of it back.
By November 1934 the "Share Our Wealth" campaign had recruited 3,687,'641 members throughout the country in eight months. (The population of Louisiana is only 2,000,000.) Every member belongs to a society, and Huey has the addresses of those who organized it. To them can go circulars enough for all members. The "Share Our Wealth" organization is first of all a glorified mailing list, already one of the largest in the land, but certain to grow much larger once the Long campaign gets under way. It is the nucleus of a nation-wide political machine. And though the movement is naively simple, its very simplicity is one secret of its success. Anyone can form a society. Its members pay no dues. They send an address to Huey and he supplies them with his literature, including a copy of his autobiography. He urges societies to meet and discuss the redistribution of wealth and the rest of his platform. He promises to furnish answers and arguments needed to silence critics.
I doubt whether Huey and the Reverend Gerald L. Smith realize that property as such cannot be redistributed. How, for instance, divide a factory or a railroad among families? Value lies in use, and if the scheme were to be realized, all property would have to be nationalized, and the income from use distributed. The income from $5,000 would not be much for each family, not more than $200 or $300, certainly not enough to make true the dream of a home free of debt, a motor car, an electric refrigerator, and a college education for all the children, which is Huey's way of picturing his millennium. And if property is to be nationalized, why not share it equally? Why give the poor only a third, and decree the scramble for the other two-thirds in the name of capitalism? If Huey were to ask himself this question, he probably would answer that since both he and America believe in capitalism, he must advocate it. But probably he has not thought the platform through. He conceived of it early one morning, summoned his secretary, and had the organization worked out before noon of the same day. It isn't meant to be specific. It is only to convey to the unhappy people that he believes in a new social order in which the minimum of poverty is drastically raised, the rich somehow to foot the bill through a capital levy. It may be as simple as a box of kindergarten blocks, but could he win mass votes, or organize nearly four million people in eight months, by distributing a primer of economics?
In 1934 Long formalized the program which he hoped would eventually win him the Presidency. The hazy concept of a national redistribution of wealth, presented fifteen years before by the obscure state Senator from Winn Parish, took definable shape in a national "Share Our Wealth" organization. No dues were necessary. Huey produced the expense money as easily as the nation disgorged the followers, both by the hundreds of thousands. No matter that the Share Our Wealth program was demonstrably impracticable as presented. It was believable: a limitation of fortunes to $5,000,000; an annual income minimum of $2,000 to $2,500 and a maximum of $1,800,000; a homestead grant of $6,000 for every family; free education from kindergarten through college; bonuses for veterans, old-age pensions, radios, automobiles, an abundance of cheap food through governmental purchase and storage of surpluses.
After a tempestuous career as governor of Louisiana, Long was elected to the Senate and, before he took his seat, played a decisive role at a critical moment in the nomination of Roosevelt. Fearing neither God nor man nor the devil, he was not intimidated by the White House or the Senate. At his first meeting with Roosevelt in the White House, he stood over the President with his hat on and emphasized his points with an occasional finger poked into the executive chest. He found very quickly that he could move as brusquely around the Senate floor as he had the lobbies of the state legislature. He strode about the Capitol followed by his bodyguards. He ranted on the Senate floor. He made a fifteenhour oneman filibustering speech. He made up his mind very soon that the New Deal was a lot of claptrap and proceeded to preach his own gospel of the abundant life.
He cried out: "Distribute our wealth it's all there in God's book. Follow the Lord." This was the prelude to his SharetheWealth crusade. Huey proclaimed "Every man a King" with Huey as the Kingfish. He made it plain he was no Communist despoiler. He assured Rockefeller he was not going to take all his millions. He would not take a single luxury from the economic royalists. They would retain their "fish ponds, their estates and their horses for riding to the hounds."
When he began, he had no plan at all. He just had a slogan and worked up from there. But by 1934 he was ready to launch the movement with Gerald L. Smith, a former Shreveport preacher, at its head. The program was simple. No income would exceed a million dollars. Everybody would have a minimum income of $2500. The money would be provided by a capital levy which would remove the surplus millions from the rich which revealed that Huey really did not know any more about economics than the President did. There would, of course, be oldage pensions for all, free education right through college for all, an electric refrigerator and an automobile for every family. The government would buy up all the agricultural surpluses against the day of shortages. As a matter of course, there would be short working hours for everyone, and bonuses for veterans. All surplus property would be turned over to the government so that a fellow who needed a bed would get one from the fellow who owned more than one.
Huey Long's Share Our Wealth Speech
In a national radio speech on February 23, 1934, Huey Long unveiled his &ldquoShare Our Wealth&rdquo plan, a program designed to provide a decent standard of living to all Americans by spreading the nation’s wealth among the people.
Long proposed capping personal fortunes at $50 million each (roughly $600 million in today's dollars) through a restructured, progressive federal tax code and sharing the resulting revenue with the public through government benefits and public works. In subsequent speeches and writings, he revised his graduated tax levy on wealth over $1 million to cap fortunes at $5 - $8 million (or $60 - $96 million today).
The full text of this speech, as printed in Long's official Share Our Wealth pamphlet (see right), appears below.
&ldquoEVERY MAN A KING&rdquo Share Our Wealth Radio Speech by Senator Huey P. Long, of Louisiana, February 23, 1934
I s that a right of life when the young children of this country are being reared into a sphere which is more owned by 12 men than it is by 120,000,000 people?&rdquo
I have only 30 minutes in which to speak to you this evening, and I, therefore, will not be able to discuss in detail so much as I can write when I have all of the time and space that is allowed me for the subjects, but I will undertake to sketch them very briefly without manuscript or preparation, so that you can understand them so well as I can tell them to you tonight.
I contend, my friends, that we have no difficult problem to solve in America, and that is the view of nearly everyone with whom I have discussed the matter here in Washington and elsewhere throughout the United States&mdashthat we have no very difficult problem to solve.
It is not the difficulty of the problem which we have it is the fact that the rich people of this country&mdashand by rich people I mean the super-rich&mdashwill not allow us to solve the problems, or rather the one little problem that is afflicting this country, because in order to cure all of our woes it is necessary to scale down the big fortunes, that we may scatter the wealth to be shared by all of the people.
We have a marvelous love for this Government of ours in fact, it is almost a religion, and it is well that it should be, because we have a splendid form of government and we have a splendid set of laws. We have everything here that we need, except that we have neglected the fundamentals upon which the American Government was principally predicated.
How many of you remember the first thing that the Declaration of Independence said? It said: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that there are certain inalienable rights for the people, and among them are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" and it said further, "We hold the view that all men are created equal."
Now, what did they mean by that? Did they mean, my friends, to say that all men are created equal and that that meant that any one man was born to inherit $10,000,000,000 and that another child was to be born to inherit nothing?
Did that mean, my friends, that someone would come into this world without having had an opportunity, of course, to have hit one lick of work, should be born with more than it and all of its children and children's children could ever dispose of, but that another one would have to be born into a life of starvation?
That was not the meaning of the Declaration of Independence when it said that all men are created equal or "That we hold that all men are created equal."
Nor was it the meaning of the Declaration of Independence when it said that they held that there were certain rights that were inalienable&mdashthe right of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Is that right of life, my friends, when the young children of this country are being reared into a sphere which is more owned by 12 men than it by 120,000,000 people?
Is that, my friends, giving them a fair shake of the dice or anything like the inalienable right of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, or anything resembling the fact that all people are created equal when we have today in America thousands and hundreds of thousands and millions of children on the verge of starvation in a land that is overflowing with too much to eat and too much to wear?
I do not think you will contend that, and I do not think for a moment that they will contend it.
Now let us see if we cannot return this Government to the Declaration of Independence and see if we are going to do anything regarding it. Why should we hesitate or why should we quibble or why should we quarrel with one another to find out what the difficulty is, when we know that the Lord told us what the difficulty is, and Moses wrote it out so a blind man could see it, then Jesus told us all about it, and it was later written in the Book of James, where everyone could read it?
I refer to the Scriptures, now, my friends, and give you what it says not for the purpose of convincing you of the wisdom of myself, not for the purpose, ladies and gentlemen, of convincing you of the fact that I am quoting the Scriptures means that I am to be more believed than someone else but I quote you the Scripture, or rather refer you to the Scripture, because whatever you see there you may rely upon will never be disproved so long as you or your children or anyone may live and you may further depend upon the fact that not one historical fact that the Bible has ever contained has ever yet been disproved by any scientific discovery or by reason of anything that has been disclosed to man through his own individual mind or through the wisdom of the Lord which the Lord has allowed him to have.
But the Scripture says, ladies and gentlemen, that no country can survive, or for a country to survive it is necessary that we keep the wealth scattered among the people, that nothing should keep the wealth scattered among the people, that nothing should be held permanently by any one person, and that 50 years seems to be the year of jubilee in which all property would be scattered about and returned to the sources from which it originally came, and every seventh year debt should be remitted.
Those two things the Almighty said to be necessary&mdashI should say He knew to be necessary, or else He would not have so prescribed that the property would be kept among the general run of the people, and that everyone would continue to share in it so that no one man would get half of it and hand it down to a son, who takes half of what was left, and that son hand it down to another one, who would take half of what was left, until, like a snowball going downhill, all of the snow was off of the ground except what the snowball had.
I believe that was the judgment and the view and the law of the Lord, that we would have to distribute wealth ever so often, in order that there could not be people starving to death in a land of plenty, as there is in America today.
We have in America today more wealth, more goods, more food, more clothing, more houses than we have ever had. We have everything in abundance here.
We have the farm problem, my friends, because we have too much cotton, because we have too much wheat, and have too much corn, and too much potatoes.
We have a home loan problem, because we have too many houses, and yet nobody can buy them and live in them.
We have trouble, my friends, in the country, because we have too much money owing, the greatest indebtedness that has ever been given to civilization, where it has been shown that we are incapable of distributing the actual things that are here, because the people have not money enough to supply themselves with them, and because the greed of a few men is such that they think it is necessary that they own everything, and their pleasure consists in the starvation of the masses, and in their possessing things they cannot use, and their children cannot use, but who bask in the splendor of sunlight and wealth, casting darkness and despair and impressing it on everyone else.
"So, therefore," said the Lord in effect, "if you see these things that now have occurred and exist in this and other countries, there must be a constant scattering of wealth in any country if this country is to survive."
"Then," said the Lord, in effect, "every seventh year there shall be a remission of debts there will be no debts after 7 years." That was the law.
Now, let us take America today. We have in America today, ladies and gentlemen, $272,000,000,000 of debt. Two hundred and seventy-two thousand millions of dollars of debts are owed by the various people of this country today. Why, my friends, that cannot be paid. It is not possible for that kind of debt to be paid.
The entire currency of the United States is only $6,000,000,000. That is all of the money that we have got in America today. All the actual money you have got in all of your banks, all that you have got in the Government Treasury, is $6,000,000,000 and if you took all that money and paid it out today you would still owe $266,000,000,000 and if you took all that money and paid again you would still owe $260,000,000,000 and if you took it, my friends, 20 times and paid it you would still owe $150,000,000,000.
You would have to have 45 times the entire money supply of the United States today to pay the debts of the people of America and then they would just have to start out from scratch, without a dime to go on with.
So, my friends, it is impossible to pay all of these debts, and you might as well find out that it cannot be done. The United States Supreme Court has definitely found out that it could not be done, because, in a Minnesota case, it held that when a State has postponed the evil day of collecting a debt it was a valid and constitutional exercise of legislative power.
Now, ladies and gentlemen, if I may proceed to give you some other words that I think you can understand&mdashI am not going to belabor you by quoting tonight&mdashI am going to tell you what the wise men of all ages and all times, down even to the present day, have all said: That you must keep the wealth of the country scattered, and you must limit the amount that any one man can own. You cannot let any man own §300,000,000,000 or $400,000,000,000. If you do, one man can own all of the wealth that the United States has in it.
Now, my friends, if you were off on an island where there were 100 lunches, you could not let one man eat up the hundred lunches, or take the hundred lunches and not let anybody else eat any of them. If you did, there would not be anything else for the balance of the people to consume.
So, we have in America today, my friends, a condition by which about 10 men dominate the means of activity in at least 85 percent of the activities that you own. They either own directly everything or they have got some kind of mortgage on it, with a very small percentage to be excepted. They own the banks, they own the steel mills, they own the railroads, they own the bonds, they own the mortgages, they own the stores, and they have chained the country from one end to the other until there is not any kind of business that a small, independent man could go into today and make a living, and there is not any kind of business that an independent man can go into and make any money to buy an automobile with and they have finally and gradually and steadily eliminated everybody from the fields in which there is a living to be made, and still they have got little enough sense to think they ought to be able to get more business out of it anyway.
If you reduce a man to the point where he is starving to death and bleeding and dying, how do you expect that man to get hold of any money to spend with you? It is not possible.
Then, ladies and gentlemen, how do you expect people to live, when the wherewith cannot be had by the people?
In the beginning I quoted from the Scriptures. I hope you will understand that I am not quoting Scripture to you to convince you of my goodness personally, because that is a thing between me and my Maker that is something as to how I stand with my Maker and as to how you stand with your Maker. That is not concerned with this issue, except and unless there are those of you who would be so good as to pray for the souls of some of UK. Rut the Lord gave His law, and in the Book of James they said so, that the rich should weep and howl for the miseries that had come upon them and, therefore, it was written that when the rich hold goods they could not use and could not consume, you will inflict punishment on them, and nothing but days of woe ahead of them.
Then we have heard of the great Greek philosopher, Socrates, and the greater Greek philosopher, Plato, and we have read the dialogue between Plato and Socrates, in which one said that great riches brought on great poverty, and would be destructive of a country. Read what they said. Read what Plato said that you must not let any one man be too poor, and you must not let any one man be too rich that the same mill that grinds out the extra rich is the mill that will grind out the extra poor, because, in order that the extra rich can become so affluent, they must necessarily take more of what ordinarily would belong to the average man.
It is a very simple process of mathematics that you do not have to study, and that no one is going to discuss with you.
So that was the view of Socrates and Plato. That was the view of the English statesmen. That was the view of American statesmen. That was the view of American statesmen like Daniel Webster, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, William Jennings Bryan, and Theodore Roosevelt, and even as late as Herbert Hoover and Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Both of these men, Mr. Hoover and Mr. Roosevelt, came out and said there had to be a decentralization of wealth, but neither one of them did anything about it. But, nevertheless, they recognized the principle. The fact that neither one of them ever did anything about it is their own problem that I am not undertaking to criticize but had Mr. Hoover carried out what he says ought to be done, he would be retiring from the President's office, very probably, 8 years from now, instead of 1 year ago and had Mr. Roosevelt proceeded along the lines that he stated were necessary for the decentralization of wealth, he would have gone, my friends, a long way already, and within a few months he would have probably reached a solution of all of the problems that afflict this country today.
But I wish to warn you now that nothing that has been done up to this date has taken one dime away from these big fortune-holders they own just as much as they did, and probably a little bit more they hold just as many of the debts of the common people as they ever held, and probably a little bit more and unless we, my friends, are going to give the people of this country a fair shake of the dice, by which they will all get something out of the funds of this land, there is not a chance on the topside of this God's eternal earth by which we can rescue this country and rescue the people of this country.
It is necessary to save the government of the country, but is much more necessary to save the people of America. We love this country. We love this Government. It is a religion, I say. It is a kind of religion people have read of when women, in the name of religion, would take their infant babes and throw them into the burning flame, where they would be instantly devoured by the all-consuming fire, in days gone by and there probably are some people of the world even today, who, in the name of religion, throw their own babes to destruction but in the name of our good government, people today are seeing their own children hungry, tired, half-naked, lifting their tear-dimmed eyes into the sad faces of their fathers and mothers, who cannot give them food and clothing they both need, and which is necessary to sustain them, and that goes on day after day, and night after night, when day gets into darkness and blackness, knowing those children would arise in the morning without being fed, and probably go to bed at night without being fed.
Yet in the name of our Government, and all alone, those people undertake and strive as hard as they can to keep a good government alive, and how long they can stand that no one knows. If I were in their place tonight, the place where millions are, I hope that I would have what I might say&mdashI cannot give you the word to express the kind of fortitude they have that is the word&mdashI hope that I might have the fortitude to praise and honor my Government that had allowed me here in this land, where there is too much to eat and too much to wear, to starve in order that a handful of men can have so much more than they can ever eat or they can ever wear.
Now, we have organized a society, and we call it "Share Our Wealth Society," a society with the motto "Every Man a King."
Every man a king, so there would be no such thing as a man or woman who did not have the necessities of life, who would not be dependent upon the whims and caprices and ipsi dixit of the financial barons for a living. What do we propose by this society? We propose to limit the wealth of big men in the country. There is an average of $15,000 in wealth to every family in America. That is right here today.
We do not propose to divide it up equally. We do not propose a division of wealth, but we propose to limit poverty that we will allow to be inflicted upon any man's family. We will not say we are going to try to guarantee any equality, or $15,000 to a family. No but we do say that one third of the average is low enough for any one family to hold, that there should be a guarantee of a family wealth of around $5,000 enough for a home, an automobile, a radio, and the ordinary conveniences, and the opportunity to educate their children a fair share of the income of this land thereafter to that family so there will be no such thing as merely the select to have those things, and so there will be no such thing as a family living in poverty and distress.
We have to limit fortunes. Our present plan is that we will allow no one man to own more that $50,000,000. We think that with that limit we will be able to carry out the balance of the program. It may be necessary that we limit it to less than $50,000,000. It may be necessary, in working out of the plans that no man's fortune would be more than $10,000,000 or $15,000,000. But be that as it may, it will still be more than any one man, or any one man and his children and their children, will be able to spend in their lifetimes and it is not necessary or reasonable to have wealth piled up beyond that point where we cannot prevent poverty among the masses.
Another thing we propose is old-age pension of $30 a month for everyone that is 60 years old. Now, we do not give this pension to a man making $1,000 a year, and we do not give it to him if he has $10,000 in property, but outside of that we do.
We will limit hours of work. There is not any necessity of having overproduction. I think all you have got to do, ladies and gentlemen, is just limit the hours of work to such an extent as people will work only so long as it is necessary to produce enough for all of the people to have what they need. Why, ladies and gentlemen, let us say that all of these labor-saving devices reduce hours down to where you do not have to work but 4 hours a day that is enough for these people, and then praise be the name of the Lord, if it gets that good. Let it be good and not a curse, and then we will have 5 hours a day and 5 days a week-, or even less than that, and we might give a man a whole month off during a year, or give him 2 months and we might do what other countries have seen fit to do, and what I did in Louisiana, by having schools by which adults could go back and learn the things that have been discovered since they went to school.
We will not have any trouble taking care of the agricultural situation. All you have to do is balance your production with your consumption. You simply have to abandon a particular crop that you have too much of, and all you have to do is store the surplus for the next year, and the Government will take it over.
When you have good crops in the area in which the crops that have been planted are sufficient for another year, put in your public works in the particular year when you do not need to raise any more, and by that means you get everybody employed. When the Government has enough of any particular crop to take care of all of the people, that will be all that is necessary and in order to do all of this, our taxation is going to be to take the billion-dollar fortunes and strip them down to frying size, not to exceed $50,000,000, and if it is necessary to come to $10,000,000, we will come to $10,000,000. We have worked the proposition out to guarantee a limit upon property (and no man will own less than one-third the average), and guarantee a reduction of fortunes and a reduction of hours to spread wealth throughout this country. We would care for the old people above 60 and take them away from this thriving industry and give them a chance to enjoy the necessities and live in ease, and thereby lift from the market the labor which would probably create a surplus of commodities.
Those are the things we propose to do. "Every Man a King." Every man to eat when there is something to eat all to wear something when there is something to wear. That makes us all a sovereign.
You cannot solve these things through these various and sundry alphabetical codes. You can have the N. R. A. and P. W. A. and C. W. A. and the U. U. G. and G. I. N. and any other kind of dad-gummed lettered code. You can wait until doomsday and see 25 more alphabets, but that is not going to solve this proposition. Why hide? Why quibble? You know what the trouble is. The man that says he does not know what the trouble is is just hiding his face to keep from seeing the sunlight.
God told you what the trouble was. The philosophers told you what the trouble was and when you have a country where one man owns more than 100,000 people, or a million people, and when you have a country where there are four men, as in America, that have got more control over things than all the 120,000,000 people together, you know what the trouble is.
We had these great incomes in this country but the farmer, who plowed from sunup to sundown, who labored here from sunup to sundown for 6 days a week, wound up at the end of the time with practically nothing.
And we ought to take care of the veterans of the wars in this program. That is a small matter. Suppose it does cost a billion dollars a year&mdashthat means that the money will be scattered throughout this country. We ought to pay them a bonus. We can do it. We ought to take care of every single one of the sick and disabled veterans. I do not care whether a man got sick on the battlefield or did not every man that wore the uniform of this country is entitled to be taken care of, and there is money enough to do it and we need to spread the wealth of the country, which you did not do in what you call the N. R. A.
If the N. R. A. has done any good, I can put it all in my eye without having it hurt. All I can see that the N. R. A. has done is to put the little man out of business&mdashthe little merchant in his store, the little Italian that is running a fruit stand, or the Greek shoe-shining stand, who has to take hold of a code of 275 pages and study it with a spirit level and compass and looking-glass he has to hire a Philadelphia lawyer to tell him what is in the code and by the time he learns what the code is, he is in jail or out of business and they have got a chain code system that has already put him out of business. The N. R. A. is not worth anything, and I said so when they put it through.
Now, my friends, we have got to hit the root with the ax. Centralized power in the hands of a few, with centralized credit in the hands of a few, is the trouble.
Get together in your community tonight or tomorrow and organize one of our Share Our Wealth Societies. If you do not understand it, write me and let me send you the platform let me give you the proof of it.
This is Huey P. Long talking, United States Senator, Washington, D. C. Write me and let me send you the data on this proposition. Enroll with us. Let us make known to the people what we are going to do. I will send you a button, if I have got enough of them left. We have got a little button that some of our friends designed, with our message around the rim of the button, and in the center "Every Man a King." Many thousands of them are meeting through the United States, and every day we are getting hundreds and hundreds of letters. Share Our Wealth Societies are now being organized, and people have it within their power to relieve themselves from this terrible situation.
Look at what the Mayo brothers announced this week, these greatest scientists of all the world today, who are entitled to have more money than all the Morgans and the Rockefellers, or anyone else, and yet the Mayos turn back their big fortunes to be used for treating the sick, and said they did not want to lay up fortunes in this earth, but wanted to turn them back where they would do some good but the other big capitalists are not willing to do that, are not willing to do what these men, 10 times more worthy, have already done, and it is going to take a law to require them to do it.
Organize your Share Our Wealth Society and get your people to meet with you, and make known your wishes to your Senators and Representatives in Congress.
Now, my friends, I am going to stop. I thank you for this opportunity to talk to you. I am having to talk under the auspices and by the grace and permission of the National Broadcasting System tonight, and they are letting me talk free. If I had the money, and I wish I had the money, I would like to talk to you more often on this line, but I have not got it, and I cannot expect these people to give it to me free except on some rare instance. But, my friends, I hope to have the opportunity to talk with you, and I am writing to you, and I hope that you will get up and help in the work, because the resolutions and bills are before Congress, and we hope to have your help in getting together and organizing your Share Our Wealth Societies.
Now, that I have but a minute left, I want to say that I suppose my family is listening in on the radio in New Orleans, and I will say to my wife and three children that I am entirely well and hope to be home before many more days, and I hope they have listened to my speech tonight, and I wish them and all of their neighbors and friends everything good that may be had.
I thank you, my friends, for your kind attention, and I hope you will enroll with us, take care of your own work in the work of this Government, and share or help in our Share Our Wealth Societies.
Share Our Wealth pamphlet (29MB PDF) &mdash includes text of Huey Long's Share Our Wealth speech
Share Our Wealth Society - History
Radio Speech - Share Our Wealth
(as entered into the 12 March 1935 Congressional Records)
Broadcast 7 March 1935, National Broadcasting Company, New York
Ladies and gentlemen, it has been publicly announced that the White House orders of the Roosevelt administration have declared war on HUEY LONG. The late and lamented, the pampered ex-crown prince, Gen. Hugh S. Johnson, one of those satellites loaned by Wall Street to run the Government, and who, at the end of his control over and dismissal from the NRA, pronounced it "as dead as a dodo", this Mr. Johnson was apparently selected to make the lead-off speech in this White House charge begun last Monday night. The Johnson speech was followed by more fuss and fury on behalf of the administration by spellbinders in and out of Congress.
In a far-away island, when a queen dies, her first favorite is done the honor to be buried alive with her. The funeral procession of the NRA (another one of these new-deal schisms or isms) is about ready to occur. It is said that General Johnson's speech of Monday night to attack me was delivered on the eve of announcing the publication of his obituary in the Red Book Magazine. Seems then that soon this erstwhile prince of the deranged alphabet makes ready to appear at the funeral of NRA like unto the colored lady in Mississippi who there asserted: "I is de wife of dese remains."
I shall undertake to cover my main subject and make answer to these gentlemen in the course of this speech tonight.
It will serve no purpose to our distressed people for me to call my opponents more bitter names than they call me. Even were I able, I have not the time to present my side of the argument and match them in billingsgate or profanity.
What is this trouble with this administration of Mr. [Franklin D.] Roosevelt, Mr. [Hugh S.] Johnson, Mr. [James A.] Farley,l Mr. [Vincent] Astor, and all their spoilers and spellbinders? They think that HUEY LONG is the cause of all their worry. They go gunning for me. But, am I the cause of their misery? They are like old Davy Crockett, who went out to hunt a possum. He saw in the gleam of the moonlight that a possum in the top of a tree was going from limb to limb. He shot and missed. He saw the possum again. He fired a second time and missed again. Soon he discovered that it was not a possum he saw at all in the top of that tree. It was a louse in his own eyebrow.
I do not make this illustration to do discredit to any of these gentlemen. I make it to show how often we imagine we see great trouble being done to us by someone at a distance, when, in reality, all of it may be a fault in our own make-up.
The trouble with the Roosevelt administration is that when their schemes and isms have failed, these things I told them not to do and voted not to do, that they think it will help them to light out on those of us who warned them in the beginning that the tangled messes and noble experiments would not work. The Roosevelt administration has had its way for two years. They have been allowed to set up or knock down anything and everybody. There was one difference between [Herbert] Hoover and Roosevelt. Hoover could not get the Congress to carry out the schemes he wanted to try. We managed to lick him on a roll call in the United States Senate time after time. But, different with Mr. Roosevelt. He got his plans through Congress. But on cold analysis they were found to be the same things Hoover tried to pass and failed.
The kitchen cabinet that sat in to advise Hoover was not different from the kitchen cabinet which advised Roosevelt. Many of the persons are the same. Many of those in Roosevelt's kitchen cabinet are of the same men or set of men who furnished employees to sit in the kitchen cabinet to advise Hoover.
Maybe you see a little change in the man waiting on the tables, but back in the kitchen the same set of cooks are fixing up the victuals for us that cooked up the mess under Hoover.
Why, do you think this Roosevelt's plan for plowing up cotton, corn, and wheat and for pouring milk in the river, and for destroying and burying hogs and cattle by the millions, all while people starve and go naked -- do you think those plans were the original ideas of this Roosevelt administration? If you do, you are wrong. The whole idea of that kind of thing first came from Hoover's administration. Don't you remember when Mr. Hoover proposed to plow up every fourth row of cotton? We laughed him into scorn. President Roosevelt flayed him for proposing such a thing in the speech which he made from the steps of the capitol in Topeka, Kans.
And so we beat Mr. Hoover on his plan. But when Mr. Roosevelt started on his plan, it was not to plow up every fourth row of cotton as Hoover tried to do. Roosevelt's plan was to plow up every third row of cotton, just one-twelfth more cotton to be plowed up than Hoover proposed. Roosevelt succeeded in his plan.
So it has been that while millions have starved and gone naked so it has been that while babies have cried and died for milk so it has been that while people have begged for meat and bread, Mr. Roosevelt's administration has sailed merrily along, plowing under and destroying the things to eat and to wear, with tear-dimmed eyes and hungry souls made to chant for this new deal so that even their starvation dole is not taken away, and meanwhile the food and clothes craved by their bodies and souls go for destruction and ruin. What is it? Is it government? Maybe so. It looks more like St. Vitus dance.
Now, since they sallied forth with General Johnson to start the war on me, let us take a look at this NRA that they opened up around here two years ago. They had parades and Fascist signs just as Hitler, and Mussolini. They started the dictatorship here to regiment business and labor much more than anyone did in Germany or Italy. The only difference was in the sign. Italy's sign of the Fascist was a black shirt. Germany's sign of the Fascist was a swastika. So in America they sidetracked the Stars and Stripes, and the sign of the Blue Eagle was used instead.
And they proceeded with the NRA. Everything from a peanut stand to a power house had to have a separate book of rules and laws to regulate what they did. If a peanut stand started to parch a sack of goobers for sale, they had to be careful to go through the rule book. One slip and he went to jail. A little fellow w ho pressed a pair of pants went to jail because he charged 5 cents under the price set in the rule book. So they wrote their NRA rule book, codes, laws, etc. They got up over 900 of them. One would be as thick as an unabridged dictionary and as confusing as a study of the stars. It would take 40 lawyers to tell a shoe-shine stand how to operate and be certain he didn't go to jail.
Some people came to me for advice, as a lawyer, on how to run business. I took several days and then couldn't understand it myself. The only thing I could tell them was that it couldn't be much worse in jail than it was out of jail with that kind of thing going on in the country, and so to go on and do the best they could.
The whole thing of Mr. Roosevelt, as run under General Johnson, became such a national scandal that Roosevelt had to let Johnson slide out as the scapegoat. Let them call for an NRA parade tomorrow and you couldn't get enough people to form a funeral march.
It was under this NRA and the other funny alphabetical combinations which followed it that we ran the whole country into a mares nest. The Farleys and Johnsons combed the land with agents, inspectors, supervisors, detectives, secretaries, assistants, etc., all armed with the power to arrest and send to jail whomever they found not living up to some rule in one of these 900 catalogs. One man whose case reached the Supreme Court of the United States was turned loose because they couldn't even find the rule he was supposed to have violated in a search throughout the United States.
And now it is with PWA's, CWA's, NRA's, AAA's, J-UG's, G-IN's, and every other flimsy combination that the country finds its affairs and business tangled to where no one can recognize it. More men are now out of work than ever the debt of the United States has gone up another $10 billion. There is starvation there is homelessness there is misery on every hand and corner, but mind you, in the meantime, Mr. Roosevelt has had his way. He is one man that can't blame any of his troubles on HUEY LONG. He has had his way. Down in my part of the country if any man has the measles he blames that on me but there is one man that can't blame anything on anybody but himself, and that is Mr. Franklin De-La-No Roosevelt.
And now, on top of that, they order war on me because nearly 4 years ago I told Hoover's crowd it wouldn't do and because 3 years ago I told Roosevelt and his crowd it wouldn't do. In other words, they are in a rage at HUEY LONG because I have said, "I told you so."
I am not overstating the conditions now prevailing in this country. In their own words they have confessed all I now say or ever have said. Mr. Roosevelt and even Mrs. Roosevelt have bewailed the fact that food, clothes, and shelter have not been provided for the people. Even Gen. Hugh S. Johnson said in his speech of Monday night that there are 80 million people in America who are badly hurt or wrecked by this depression. Mr. Harry Hopkins, who runs the relief work, says the dole roll has risen now to 22,375,000 persons, the highest it has ever been. And now, what is there for the Roosevelt crowd to do but to admit the facts and admit further that they are now on their third year, making matters worse instead of better all the time? No one is to blame, except them, for what is going on because they have had their way. And if they couldn't change the thing in over two years, now bogged down worse than ever, how could anyone expect any good of them hereafter? God save us two more years of the disaster we have had under that gang.
Now, my friends, when this condition of distress and suffering among so many millions of our people began to develop in the Hoover administration, we knew then what the trouble was and what we would have to do to correct it. I was the first man to say publicly -- but Mr. Roosevelt followed in my tracks a few months later and said the same thing. We said that all of our trouble and woe was due to the fact that too few of our people owned too much of our wealth. We said that in our land, with too much to eat, and too much to wear, and too many houses to live in, too many automobiles to be sold, that the only trouble was that the people suffered in the land of abundance because too few controlled the money and the wealth and too many did not have money with which to buy the things they needed for life and comfort.
So I said to the people of the United States in my speeches which I delivered in the United States Senate in the early part of 1932 that the only way by which we could restore our people to reasonable life and comfort was to limit the size of the big man's fortune and guarantee some minimum to the fortune and comfort of the little man's family.
I said then, as I have said since, that it was inhuman to have food rotting, cotton and wool going to waste, houses empty, and at the same time to have millions of our people starving, naked, and homeless because they could not buy the things which other men had and for which they had no use whatever. So we convinced Mr. Franklin Delano Roosevelt that it was necessary that he announce and promise to the American people that in the event he were elected President of the United States he would pull down the size of the big man's fortune and guarantee something to every family -- enough to do away with all poverty and to give employment to those who were able to work and education to the children born into the world.
Mr. Roosevelt made those promises he made them before he was nominated in the Chicago convention. He made them again before he was elected in November, and he went so far as to remake those promises after he was inaugurated President of the United States. And I thought for a day or two after he took the oath as President, that maybe he was going through with his promises. No heart was ever so saddened no person's ambition was ever so blighted, as was mine when I came to the realization that the President of the United States was not going to undertake what he had said he would do, and what I know to be necessary if the people of America were ever saved from calamity and misery.
So now, my friends, I come to that point where I must in a few sentences describe to you just what was the cause of our trouble which became so serious in 1929, and which has been worse ever since. The wealth in the United States was three times as much in 1910 as it was in 1890, and yet the masses of our people owned less in 1910 than they did in 1890. In the year 1916 the condition had become so bad that a committee provided for by the Congress of the United States reported that 2 percent of the people in the United States owned 60 percent of the wealth in the country, and that 65 percent of the people owned less than 5 percent of the wealth. This report showed, however, that there was a middle class -- some 33 percent of the people -- who owned 35 percent of the wealth. This report went on to say that the trouble with the American people at that time was that too much of the wealth was in the hands of too few of the people, and recommended that something be done to correct the evil condition then existing.
It was at about the same time that many of our publications began to deplore the fact that so few people owned so much and that so many people owned so little. Among those commenting upon that situation was the Saturday Evening Post, which, in an issue of September 23, 1916, said:
Along one statistical line you can figure out a Nation bustling with wealth along another a bloated plutocracy comprising 1 percent of the population lording it over a starving horde with only a thin margin of merely well-to-do in between.
And it was, as the Saturday Evening Post and the committee appointed by Congress said, it was a deplorable thing back in 1916, when it was found that 2 percent of the people owned twice as much as all of the remainder of the people put together, and that 65 percent of all of our people owned practically nothing.
But what did we do to correct that condition? Instead of moving to take these big fortunes from the top and spreading them among the suffering people at the bottom, the financial masters of America moved in to take complete charge of the Government for fear our lawmakers might do something along that line.
And as a result, 14 years after the report of 1916, the Federal Trade Commission made a study to see how the wealth of this land was distributed, and did they find it still as bad as it was in 1916? They found it worse! They found that 1 percent of the people owned about 59 percent of the wealth, which was almost twice as bad as what was said to be an intolerable condition in 1916, when 2 percent of the people owned 60 percent of the wealth. And as a result of foreclosures, failures, and bankruptcies, which began to happen prior to and in the year of 1929, before the campaign of 1932, and at this late date, it is the estimate of all conservative statisticians that 75 percent of the people in the United States don't own anything, that is, not enough to pay their debts, and that 4 percent of the people, or maybe less than 4 percent of the people, own from 85 to 90 percent of all our wealth in the United States.
Remember, in 1916 there was a middle class -- 33 percent of the people -- who owned 35 percent of the wealth. That middle class is practically gone today. It no longer exists. They have dropped into the ranks of the poor. The thriving man of independent business standing is fast fading. The corner grocery store is becoming a thing of the past. Concentrated chain-merchandise and banking systems have laid waste to all middle opportunity. That "thin margin of merely well-to-do in between" which the Saturday Evening Post mentioned on September 23, 1916, has dwindled to practically no margin of well-to-do in between. Those suffering on the bottom and the few lords of finance on the top are nearly all that are left.
It became apparent that the billionaires and multimillionaires even began to squeeze out the common millionaires, closing in and taking their properties and wrecking their businesses. And so we arrived (and are still there) at the place that in abundant America where we have everything for which a human heart can pray, the hundreds of millions -- or, as General Johnson says, the 80 million -- of our people are crying in misery for the want of the things which they need for life, notwithstanding the fact that the country has had and can have more than the entire human race can consume.
The 125 million people of America have seated themselves at the barbecue table to consume the products which have been guaranteed to them by their Lord and Creator. There is provided by the Almighty what it takes for them all to eat yea, more. There is provided more than what is needed for all to eat. But the financial masters of America have taken off the barbecue table 90 percent of the food placed thereon by God, through the labors of mankind, even before the feast begins, and there is left on that table to be eaten by 125 million people less than should be there for 10 million of them.
What has become of the remainder of those things placed on the table by the Lord for the use of us all? They are in the hands of the Morgans, the Rockefellers, the Mellons, the Baruches, the Bakers, the Astors, and the Vanderbilts -- 600 families at the most either possessing or controlling the entire 90 percent of all that is in America. They cannot eat the food, they cannot wear the clothes, so they destroy it. They have it rotted they plow it up they pour it into the rivers they bring destruction through the acts of mankind to let humanity suffer to let humanity go naked to let humanity go homeless, so that nothing may occur that will do harm to their vanity and to their greed. Like the dog in the manger, they command a wagon load of hay, which the dog would not allow the cow to eat, though he could not eat it himself.
So now, ladies and gentlemen, we come to that plan of mine for which I have been so roundly denounced and condemned by such men as Mr. Farley, Mr. Robinson, and Gen. Hugh S. Johnson, and other spellers and speakers and spoilers of the Roosevelt administration. It is for the redistribution of wealth and for guaranteeing comforts and conveniences to all humanity out of this abundance in our country. I hope none will be horror-stricken when they hear me say that we must limit the size of the big man's fortune in order to guarantee a minimum of fortune, life and comfort to the little man but, if you are, think first that such is the declaration on which Roosevelt rode into the nomination and election of President. While my urgings are declared by some to be the average of a madman, and by such men as General Johnson as insincere bait of a pied piper, if you will listen to me you will find that it is restating the laws handed down by God to man you will find that it was the exact provision of the contract and law of the Pilgrim Fathers who landed at Plymouth in 1620.
Here's what the Pilgrim Fathers said in the contract with the early settlers in the year 1620. I read you article 5 from that contract:
5: That at ye end of ye 7. years, ye capital & profits, viz. the houses, lands, goods, and chattels, be equally divided betwixt ye adventurers, and planters which done, every man shall be free from other of them of any debt or detriment concerning this adventure.
So the Pilgrim Fathers wrote into the covenant to do just exactly what the Bible said to do, that they should have an equal division of the wealth every seven years. I don't go that far I merely advocate that no man be allowed to become so big that he makes paupers out of a million other people
You will find that it is the cornerstone on which nearly every religion since the beginning of man has been founded. You will find that it was urged by Bacon, Milton, and Shakespeare in England, by Socrates, Plato, Theognis, and other wisest of men in Greece, by Pope Pius XI in the Vatican, by the world's greatest inventor, Marconi in Italy, by Daniel Webster, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Jackson, William Jennings Bryan, and Theodore Roosevelt in the United States, as well as by nearly all of the thousands of great men whose names are yet mentioned in history.
The principle was not only the mainspring of Roosevelt's nomination and election, but in the closing speech of Herbert Hoover at Madison Square Garden in November 1932, even Hoover said:
My conception of America is a land where men and women may walk in ordered liberty, where they may enjoy the advantages of wealth, not concentrated in the hands of a few but diffused through the lives of all.
And so now I come to give you again that plan, taken from these leaders of all times and from the Bible, for the sponsoring of which I am labeled America's menace, madman, pied piper, and demagogue.
First: That every big fortune shall be cut down immediately by a capital levy tax to where no one will own more than a few million dollars, as a matter of fact, to where no one can very long own a fortune in excess of about three to four millions of dollars. I propose that the surplus of all the big fortunes, above the few millions to any one person at the most, shall go into the United States ownership. How would we get all these surplus fortunes into the United States Treasury? Not hard to do. We would not do it by making everyone sell what he owned no. We would send everyone a questionnaire. On that he would list the properties he owns, lands and houses, stocks and bonds, factories and patents, and so on. Every man would place his appraisal on his property, which the Government would review and maybe change on some items. On that appraisal the big fortune holder would say out of what property he would retain the few millions allowed to him, the balance to go to the United States. Say Mr. Henry Ford should allow that he owned all the stock of the Ford Motor Co., worth, say, $2 billion he could claim, say $4 million of the Ford stock, but $1,996,000,000 would go to the United States. Say the Rockefeller fortune was listed at $10 billion in oil stocks, bank stocks, money, and stores. Each Rockefeller could say whether he wanted his limit in either the money, oil, or bank stocks, but about nine billion and eight hundred million would go to the Government. And so, in this way, the Government of the United States would come into the possession of about two-fifths of its wealth, which on normal values would be worth, say, $165 billion.
Then we would turn to the inventories of the 25 million families of America. All those who showed properties and money clear of debts that were above $5,000 and up to the limit of a few millions would not be touched. But those showing less than $5,000 to the family free of debt would be added to, so that every family would start life again with homestead possessions of at least a home and the comforts needed for a home, including such things as a radio and an automobile. These things would go to every family as a homestead, not to be sold either for debts or taxes or even by consent of the owner except by the consent of the court or Government, and then only on condition that the court hold it to be spent for the purpose of buying another home and comforts thereof.
Such would mean that the $165 billion or more taken from big fortunes would have about $100 billion of it used to provide all with the comforts of home and living. The Government might have to issue warrants for claim and location, or even currency to be retired from such property as was claimed, but all that is a detail not impractical to get these homes into the hands of the people.
So America would start again with millionaires, but no multi-millionaires or billionaires with some poor, but none too poor to be denied the comforts of life. America, however, would still have maybe a $65 billion balance from these big fortunes not yet used to set up the poor people. What would we do with that? Wait a moment. I am coming to that, too.
Second: We propose that after homes and comforts of homes have been set up for the families of the country, that we shall turn our attention to the children and the youth of the land, providing first for their education and training. We would not have to worry about the problem of child labor, because the very first thing which we would place in front of every child would be not only a comfortable home during his early years but the opportunity for education and training, not only through the grammar school and the high school but through college and to include vocational and professional training for every child. If necessary, that would include the living cost of that child while he attended college, if one should be too distant for him to live at home and conveniently attend, as would be the case with many of those living in the rural areas.
We now have an educational system, and in States like Louisiana -- and it is the best one -- where school books are furnished free to every child and where transportation by bus is given to every student, however far he may live from a grammar or high school there is a fairly good assurance of education through grammar and high school for the child whose father and mother have enough at home to feed and clothe them. But when it comes to a matter of college education, except in few cases the right to a college education is determined at this day and time by the financial ability of the father and mother to pay for the cost and the expense of a college education. It don't make any difference how brilliant a boy or girl may be, that don't give them the right to a college education in America today.
Now, Gen. Hugh Johnson says I am indeed a very smart demagogue, a wise and dangerous menace. But I am one of those who didn't have the opportunity to secure a college education or training. We propose that the right to education and the extent of education shall be determined and gauged not so much by the financial ability of the parents but by the mental ability and energy of a child to absorb the learning at a college. This should appeal to General Johnson, who says I am a smart man, since, had I enjoyed the learning and college training which my plan would provide for others, I might not have fallen into the path of the dangerous menace and demagogue that he has now found me to be.
Remember, we have $65 billion to account for that would lie in the hands of the United States, even after providing home comforts for all families. We will use a large part of it immediately to expand particularly the colleges and universities of this country. You would not know the great institutions like Yale, Harvard, and Louisiana State University. Get ready for a surprise. College enrollments would multiply 1,000 percent. We would immediately call in the architects and engineers, the idle professors and scholars of learning. We would send out a hurry call because the problem of providing college education for all of the youth would start a fusillade of employment which might suddenly and immediately make it possible for us to shorten the hours of labor, even as we contemplate in the balance of our program.
And how happy the youth of this land would be tomorrow morning if they knew instantly their right to a home and the comforts of a home and to complete college and professional training and education were assured! I know how happy they would be, because I know how I would have felt had such a message been delivered to my door.
I cannot deliver that promise to the youth of this land tonight, but I am doing my part. I am standing the blows I am hearing the charges hurled at me from the four quarters of the country. It is the same fight which was made against me in Louisiana when I was undertaking to provide the free school books, free busses, university facilities, and things of that kind to educate the youth of that State as best I could. It is the same blare which I heard when I was undertaking to provide for the sick and the afflicted. When the youth of this land realizes what is meant and what is contemplated the billingsgate and the profanity of all the Farleys and Johnsons in America can't prevent the light of truth from hurling itself in understandable letters against the dark canopy of the sky.
Now, when we have landed at the place where homes and comforts are provided for all families and complete education and training for all young men and women, the next problem is what about our income to sustain our people thereafter. How shall that be arranged to guarantee all the fair share of what soul and body need to sustain them conveniently. That brings us to our next point. We propose:
Number 3: We shall shorten the hours of labor by law so much as may be necessary that none will be worked too long and none unemployed. We shall cut the hours of toil to 30 hours per week, maybe less we may cut the working year to 11 months' work and 1 month's vacation maybe less. If our great improvement programs show we need more labor than we may have, we will lengthen the hours as convenience requires. At all events, the hours for production will be gauged to meet the market for consumption. We will need all our machinery for many years, because we have much public improvement to do and, further, the more use that we may make of them, the less toil will be required for all of us to survive in splendor.
Now, a minimum earning would be established for any person with a family to support. It would be such a living which one, already owning a home, could maintain a family in comfort, of not less than $2,500 per year to every family.
And now by reason of false statements made, particularly by Mr. Arthur Brisbane and Gen. Hugh S. Johnson, I must make answer to show you that there is more than enough in this country and more than enough raised and made every year to do what I propose.
Mr. Brisbane says I am proposing to give every person $15,000 for a home and its comforts, and he says that would mean the United States would have to be worth over a trillion dollars. Why make that untrue statement, Mr. Brisbane? You know that is not so. I do not propose any home and comfort of $15,000 to each person -- it is a minimum of $5,000 to every family, which would be less than $125 billion, which is less than one-third of this Nation's wealth in normal times of $400 billion.
General Johnson says that my proposal is for $5,000 guaranteed earning to each family, which he says would cost from four to five hundred millions of dollars per year, which he says is four times more than our whole national income ever has been. Why make such untrue statements, General Johnson? Must you be a false witness to argue your point? I do not propose $5,000 income per year to each family. I propose a minimum of from $2,000 to $2,500 income per year to each family. For 25 million families that minimum income per family would require from $50 billion to $60.6 billion. In the prosperous days we have had nearly double that for income some years already, which allowed plenty for the affluent but with the unheard prosperity we would have, if all our people could buy what they need, our national income would be double what it has ever been.
The Wall Street writer and statistician says we could have an income of at least $10,000 to every family in goods if all worked short hours and none were idle. According to him, only one-fourth of the average income would carry out my plan.
And now I come to the remainder of the plan. We propose:
Number 4: That agricultural production will be cared for in the manner specified in the Bible. We would plow under no crops we would burn no corn we would spill no milk into the river we would shoot no hogs would slaughter no cattle to be rotted. What we would do is this:
We would raise all the cotton that we could raise, all the corn that we could raise, and everything else that we could raise. Let us say, for example, that we raised more cotton than we could use.
But here again I wish to surprise you when I say that if everyone could buy all the towels, all the sheets, all the bedding, all the clothing, all the carpets, all the window curtains, and all of everything else he reasonably needs America would consume 20 million bales of cotton per year without having to sell a bale to the foreign countries. The same would be true of the wheat crop, and of the corn crop, and of the meat crop. Whenever everyone could buy the things he desires to eat, there would be no great excess in any of those food supplies.
But for the sake of the argument, let us say, however, that there would be a surplus. And I hope there will be, because it will do the country good to have a big surplus. Let us take cotton as an example. Let us say that the United States will have a market for 10 million bales of cotton and that we raise 15 million bales of cotton. We will store 5 million bales in warehouses provided by the Government. If the next year we raise 15 million bales of cotton and only need 10, we will store another 5 million bales of cotton, and the Government will care for that. When we reach the year when we have enough cotton to last for twelve or eighteen months, we will plant no more cotton for that next year. The people will have their certificates of the Government which they can cash in for that year for the surplus, or if necessary, the Government can pay for the whole 15 million bales of cotton as it is produced every year and when the year comes that we will raise no cotton, we will not leave the people idle and with nothing to do. That is the year when, in the cotton States, we will do our public improvement work that needs to be done so badly. We will care for the flood-control problems we will extend the electricity lines into rural areas we will widen roads and build more roads and if we have a little time left, some of us can go back and attend a school for a few months and not only learn some of the things we have forgotten but we can learn some things that they have found out about that they didn't know anything about when we were children.
Now the example of what we would do about cotton is the same policy we would follow about all other crops. This program would necessitate the building of large storage plants, both heated and cold storage, and warehouses in all the counties of America, and that building program alone would take up all the idle people that America has today. But the money spent would go for good and would prevent any trouble happening in the future. And then there is another good thing. If we would fill these warehouses, then if there were to come a year of famine there would be enough on hand to feed and clothe the people of the Nation. It would be the part of good sense to keep a year or two of stock on hand all the time to provide for an emergency, maybe to provide for war or other calamity.
I give you the next step in our program:
Number 5: We will provide for old-age pensions for those who reach the age of 60 and pay it to all those who have an income of less than $1,000 per year or less than $10,000 in property or money. This would relieve from the ranks of labor those persons who press down the price for the use of their flesh and blood. Now the person who reaches the age of 60 would already have the comforts of home as well as something else guaranteed by reason of the redistribution that had been made of things. They would be given enough more to give them a reasonably comfortable existence in their declining days. However, such would not come from a sales tax or taxes placed upon the common run of people. It would be supported from the taxes levied on those with big incomes and the yearly tax that would be levied on big fortunes, so that they would always be kept down to a few million dollars to any one person.
Number 6: We propose that the obligations which this country owes to the veterans of its wars, including the soldiers' bonus and to care for those who have been either incapacitated or disabled, would be discharged without stint or unreasonable limit. I have always supported each and every bill that has had to do with the payment of the bonus due to the ex-service men. I have always opposed reducing the allowances which they have been granted. It is an unfair thing for a country to begin its economy while big fortunes exist by inflicting misery on those who have borne the burden of national defense.
Now, ladies and gentlemen, such is the share-our-wealth movement. What I have here stated to you will be found to be approved by the law of our Divine Maker. You will find it in the Book of Leviticus, from the twenty-fifth to the twenty-seventh chapters. You will find it in the writings of King Solomon. You will find it in the teachings of Christ. You will find it in the words of our great teachers and statesmen of all countries and of all times. If you care to write to me for such proof, I shall be glad to furnish it to you, free of expense, by mail.
Will you not organize a share-our-wealth society in your community tonight or tomorrow to place this plan into law? You need it your people need it. Write me, wire to me get into this work with us if you believe we are right. Help to save humanity. Help to save this country. If you wish a copy of this speech or a copy of any other speech I have made, write me and it will be forwarded to you. You can reach me always in Washington, D. C.
The United States exhibits wider disparities of wealth between rich and poor than any other major developed nation.
We equate wealth with “net worth,” the sum total of your assets minus liabilities. Assets can include everything from an owned personal residence and cash in savings accounts to investments in stocks and bonds, real estate, and retirement accounts. Liabilities cover what a household owes: a car loan, credit card balance, student loan, mortgage, or any other bill yet to be paid. In the United States, wealth inequality runs even more pronounced than income inequality.
The Richest Americans
As ordinary people around the world suffer from the health and economic impacts of the pandemic, billionaires have actually seen their fortunes expand. According to Institute for Policy Studies analysis of Forbes data, the combined wealth of all U.S. billionaires increased by $1.138 trillion (39 percent) between March 18, 2020 and January 18, 2021, from approximately $2.947 trillion to $4.085 trillion. Of the more than 600 U.S. billionaires, the richest five (Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Warren Buffett, and Elon Musk) saw an 85 percent increase in their combined wealth during this period, from $358 billion to $661 billion. We will be regularly updating this analysis here.
The most visible indicator of wealth inequality in America today may be the Forbes magazine list of the nation’s 400 richest. In 2018, the three men at the top of that list — Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, and investor Warren Buffett — held combined fortunes worth more than the total wealth of the poorest half of Americans. You can find more background on these numbers in our report, Billionaire Bonanza 2020.
In 1982, the “poorest” American listed on the first annual Forbes magazine list of America’s richest 400 had a net worth of $210 million in today’s dollars. The average member of that first list had a net worth of $600 million. In 2020, rich Americans needed net worth of $2.1 billion to enter the Forbes 400, and the average member held a net $8 billion, over 13 times the 1982 average after adjusting for inflation.
Inequality is skyrocketing even within the Forbes 400 list of America’s richest. As of 2019, the net worth of the richest member of this group was 21 times larger than the net worth of the richest member in 1982 (in today’s dollars). Since 1982, just seven men have held this spot: shipping magnate Daniel Ludwig (1982), oil executive Gordon Getty (1983-1984), Walmart founder Sam Walton (1985-1988), media company owner John Kluge (1989-1991), Microsoft founder Bill Gates (1992-2017, except 1993), investor Warren Buffett (1993), and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos (2018-2019).
According to IPS analysis of Saez and Zucman data, as America’s richest .01 percent have accumulated more wealth, they have paid a smaller share of total U.S. taxes. In 2018, the tax share of the top .01 percent was close to what it was in 1953. By contrast, their share of the nation’s wealth nearly quadrupled during that period, rising from 2.5 percent to 9.6 percent.
Over the past three decades, America’s most affluent families have added to their net worth, while those on the bottom have dipped into “negative wealth,” meaning the value of their debts exceeds the value of their assets, according to National Bureau of Economic Research data.
Over the past century, the National Bureau of Economic Research has found that the share of America’s wealth held by the nation’s wealthiest has changed markedly. That share peaked in the late 1920s, right before the Great Depression, then fell by more than half over the next three decades. But the equalizing trends of the mid 20th century have now been almost completely undone. At the top of the American economic summit, the richest of the nation’s rich now hold as large a wealth share as they did in the 1920s.
The rich don’t just have more wealth than everyone else. The bulk of their wealth comes from different — and more lucrative — asset sources, as the Federal Reserve’s Distributional Financial Accounts data shows. America’s top 1 percent, for instance, holds more than half the national wealth invested in stocks and mutual funds. Most of the wealth of Americans in the bottom 90 percent comes from their homes — the asset category that took the biggest hit during the Great Recession. These Americans also hold just around three-quarters of America’s debt.
The Racial Wealth Divide
The median Black family, with just over $3,500, owns just 2 percent of the wealth of the nearly $147,000 the median White family owns, according to our “Racial Wealth Divide” report. The median Latino family, with just over $6,500, owns just 4 percent of the wealth of the median White family. Put differently, the median White family has 41 times more wealth than the median Black family and 22 times more wealth than the median Latino family.
Families that have zero or even “negative” wealth (meaning the value of their debts exceeds the value of their assets) live on the edge, just one minor economic setback away from tragedy. Institute for Policy Studies analysis of Federal Reserve data shows that while the racial wealth gap has improved slightly, an estimated 28 percent of Black households and 26 percent of Latinx households had zero or negative wealth in 2019, twice the level of whites.
As with total wealth, our report shows homeownership is heavily skewed towards White families. In 2016, 72 percent of White families owned their home, compared to just 44 percent of Black families. Between 1983 and 2016, Latino homeownership increased by a dramatic nearly 40 percent, but it remains far below the rate for Whites, at just 45 percent.
Southern History Series: Sen. Huey Long’s Share Our Wealth Society
Chris Hayes says that his greatest fear is that someday a demagogue will come along with a draconian anti-immigration policy and offering medicare for all— Douglas Mercer (@douglasmercer33) November 29, 2019
U.S. registered voter support in a multi-party democracy:
28% Labor (working class center-left)
21% Conservative (traditional-right, pre-Trump)
19% Nationalist (basically Trump)
12% “Acela Party” (socially liberal, globalist, fiscally centrist)
10% Green (basically AOC) pic.twitter.com/7tBD3g6Skn
In my view, the Right doesn’t need to reclaim socialism from the Left so much as it needs to embrace economic populism for moral, political and economic reasons. We need a broad redistribution of wealth in this country like we had in the 1930s to crush the oligarchy, stabilize capitalism and reduce extremes of income inequality. The New Deal was conservative and fully consistent with the Jeffersonian tradition and the alternative was far worse.
“But it was impossible for socialists to deny that Long’s charisma and criticism of the wealthy struck a chord with working-class Americans in a way that organized revolutionaries could not. In an era when socialists struggled to achieve even the smallest electoral foothold, Long drew on Americans’ mass dissatisfaction with capitalism to establish a powerful political machine, turning Louisiana into something of a private fiefdom and fashioning himself into a real presidential contender. …
But not all of those who diagnosed capitalist crisis as the source of society’s ills drew revolutionary conclusions, or even socialist ones.
Populists like Long relied on the support of small producers — mostly farmers who owned plots of land and sold goods at market, all of whom were severely affected by the scarcity of the Great Depression. These populists offered an analysis that charged big banks and tycoons with betraying capitalism’s supposedly egalitarian promise.
Their mission wasn’t to dismantle capitalism, but to rearrange the economy in favor of their popular constituents — market-reliant farmers and small entrepreneurs.
Buoyed by mass resentment towards the wealthy, populist administrations launched rhetorical attacks on powerful capitalists, but stopped short of threatening the class structure at the root of capitalism. As a result, the relationship between organized workers and populist administrations was often unpredictable, and could be contentious. …”
The following excerpt comes from T. Harry Williams book Huey Long:
“On February 23, 1934, Senator Long spoke over a national radio hookup for thirty minutes. He had exciting news for his listeners. The fight to decentralize wealth in America had entered a new phase, he proclaimed: it had achieved the advantage of organization. The organization had been created by people whom he identified only as “we,” and it had a name, the Share Our Wealth Society and a slogan, Every Man a King. He exhorted his hearers to join the society, to get together in their communities and form local chapters. If they needed instructions on how to proceed, they should write him. He emphasized that in the society there would be no national dues.
Huey was being prudently modest when he indicated that other persons had joined with him to form the society. It was completely his own creation, the idea for it coming to him, according to one account, at three o’clock one morning in his rooms at the Mayflower Hotel. Excited and wanting someone to discuss the idea with, he telephoned his secretary and another assistant to come over immediately. He explained his plan to them and then sat down and sketched on sheets of yellow foolscap paper the whole design of the society – its name, motto, structure, and the principles it would advocate.
The principles were not entirely new. They were essentially the same proposals that Huey had been advancing in his Senate speeches since 1932, with the addition of some features that were the result of his recent reading. The federal government would impose a capital-levy tax that would prevent a family from owning a fortune of more than five million dollars, or more than three hundred times the fortune of the average American family. The government would impose an income tax that would prohibit a family from earning more than one million dollars in a year, or more than three hundred times the income of the average American family. From the revenue derived from these taxes the government would provide every family in the country with a “homestead” of five thousand dollars, or “enough for a home, an automobile, a radio, and the ordinary conveniences.” The government would further guarantee that every family would receive an annual income of two thousand to three thousand dollars, or one third of the average family income. Other benefits would be furnished by the government. It would give pensions of thirty dollars a month to the aged (this figure was later deleted and the world “adequate” substituted), finance the college education of youths of proven ability (Huey eventually suggested that the federal government and the state should jointly bear the costs of educating also children below the federal level), and pay generous bonuses to veterans. Lastly, the government would exercise greater regulation over the economy. It would limit the hours of labor to thirty hours a week and eleven months a year, thus increasing the need for workers. And it would purchase and store agricultural surpluses, thus balancing farm supply with demand.
Huey’s announcement of the Share Our Wealth Society received wide publicity. It also set off an extensive discussion by commentators and critics as to the nature of the society’s program. Was Share Our Wealth a radical formula or did it only seem radical? Was it compatible with capitalism or would it subtly transform the American system into something quite different? Some critics denounced the plan as a form of socialism, charging that the rate of taxation would eventually have the effect of eliminating all fortunes and reducing all persons to approximately the same income level. This charge Huey repeatedly and indignantly denied. The socialists advocated government ownership of wealth, which was equivalent to the destruction of wealth, he said. He, on the contrary, would retain the profit motive. His plan, by preventing the concentration of great incomes in the hands of a few men, would actually create more, not fewer, millionaires. Moreover, by redistributing wealth it would remove the worst abuse of capitalism and really strengthen the system. Once he made this argument to a reporter from a leftist magazine, who suggested that the senator must mean to save the magnates who he denounced. “That would be one of the unfortunate effects of my program,” he admitted. “I’d cut their nails and file their teeth and let them live.”
Grasping at all opportunities to disassociate Share Our Wealth from socialism, Huey accepted in March 1934 an invitation to debate the leader of the Socialist Party, Norman Thomas. The request came from a New York City group, which intended to sell tickets to the meeting and, to entire Huey, offered him a fee of five hundred dollars. The crowd that turned out must have astonished the sponsors – twenty-five hundred persons assembled to hear the debaters discuss the questions: “Resolved, that capitalism is doomed and cannot now be saved by redistribution of wealth.”
Thomas spoke first and advocated his philosophy of moderate socialism. His remarks were well received by the audience, which was largely made up of Socialists and urban leftists. Huey realized the mood of the crowd, and to disarm it he affected when he began a Southern rustic pose. He didn’t understand what Thomas had said, he claimed, but when he did, he would write his rival a letter. Striding back and forth, he bellowed that all debts should be “ipso facto remitted.” “Maybe you don’t know what I mean by ipso facto,” he continued. “Well, I don’t neither.” The audience roared with appreciative laughter. A perceptive reporter noticed that in this phase of the speech he made studied grammatical errors but that when he launched into an analysis of Share Our Wealth he talked like a college professor. At the end of the debate a mob of autograph seekers followed Huey out of the building, but no one attended Thomas.”
The choice is populism or socialism:
We don’t need a proletariat of gig economy workers drowning in debt or billionaires like Sheldon Adelson and Michael Bloomberg. There needs to be a ceiling on capitalism.
He proposed to end poverty by giving every family a minimum income of $5,000 a year by taking more money from the wealthy through taxes. He said no one should have an income of more than $1 million a year, it would have provided old-age pensions of $30 a month to elderly people who had less than $10,000 in cash.
To stimulate the economy, he advocated massive federal spending, a wealth tax, and wealth redistribution. These proposals drew wide support, millions joining local Share Our Wealth clubs. Poised for a 1936 presidential bid, Long was mortally wounded by a lone assassin in 1935.
1. Trends in income and wealth inequality
Barely 10 years past the end of the Great Recession in 2009, the U.S. economy is doing well on several fronts. The labor market is on a job-creating streak that has rung up more than 110 months straight of employment growth, a record for the post-World War II era. The unemployment rate in November 2019 was 3.5%, a level not seen since the 1960s. Gains on the jobs front are also reflected in household incomes, which have rebounded in recent years.
But not all economic indicators appear promising. Household incomes have grown only modestly in this century, and household wealth has not returned to its pre-recession level. Economic inequality, whether measured through the gaps in income or wealth between richer and poorer households, continues to widen.
Household incomes are growing again after a lengthy period of stagnation
With periodic interruptions due to business cycle peaks and troughs, the incomes of American households overall have trended up since 1970. In 2018, the median income of U.S. households stood at $74,600. 5 This was 49% higher than its level in 1970, when the median income was $50,200. 6 (Incomes are expressed in 2018 dollars.)
But the overall trend masks two distinct episodes in the evolution of household incomes (the first lasting from 1970 to 2000 and the second from 2000 to 2018) and in how the gains were distributed.
Most of the increase in household income was achieved in the period from 1970 to 2000. In these three decades, the median income increased by 41%, to $70,800, at an annual average rate of 1.2%. From 2000 to 2018, the growth in household income slowed to an annual average rate of only 0.3%. If there had been no such slowdown and incomes had continued to increase in this century at the same rate as from 1970 to 2000, the current median U.S. household income would be about $87,000, considerably higher than its actual level of $74,600.
The shortfall in household income is attributable in part to two recessions since 2000. The first recession, lasting from March 2001 to November 2001, was relatively short-lived. 7 Yet household incomes were slow to recover from the 2001 recession and it was not until 2007 that the median income was restored to about its level in 2000.
But 2007 also marked the onset of the Great Recession, and that delivered another blow to household incomes. This time it took until 2015 for incomes to approach their pre-recession level. Indeed, the median household income in 2015 – $70,200 – was no higher than its level in 2000, marking a 15-year period of stagnation, an episode of unprecedented duration in the past five decades. 8
More recent trends in household income suggest that the effects of the Great Recession may finally be in the past. From 2015 to 2018, the median U.S. household income increased from $70,200 to $74,600, at an annual average rate of 2.1%. This is substantially greater than the average rate of growth from 1970 to 2000 and more in line with the economic expansion in the 1980s and the dot-com bubble era of the late 1990s.
Why economic inequality matters
The rise in economic inequality in the U.S. is tied to several factors. These include, in no particular order, technological change, globalization, the decline of unions and the eroding value of the minimum wage. Whatever the causes, the uninterrupted increase in inequality since 1980 has caused concern among members of the public, researchers, policymakers and politicians.
One reason for the concern is that people in the lower rungs of the economic ladder may experience diminished economic opportunity and mobility in the face of rising inequality, a phenomenon referred to as The Great Gatsby Curve. Others have highlighted inequality’s negative impact on the political influence of the disadvantaged, on geographic segregation by income, and on economic growth itself. The matter may not be entirely settled, however, as an opposing viewpoint suggests that income inequality does not harm economic opportunity.
Alternative estimates of economic inequality
This report presents estimates of income inequality based on household income as estimated in the Current Population Survey (CPS), a survey of households conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau in partnership with the Bureau of Labor Statistics. These estimates refer to gross (pretax) income and encompass most sources of income. A key omission is the value of in-kind services received from government sources. Because income taxes are progressive and in-kind services also serve to boost the economic wellbeing of (poorer) recipients, not accounting for these two factors could overstate the true gap in the financial resources of poorer and richer households.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) offers an alternative estimate of income inequality that accounts for federal taxes and a more comprehensive array of cash transfers and in-kind services than is possible with Current Population Survey data. The CBO finds that the Gini coefficient in the U.S. in 2016 ranged from 0.595, before accounting for any forms of taxes and transfers, to 0.423, after a full accounting of taxes and transfers. These estimates bracket the Census Bureau’s estimate of 0.481 for the Gini coefficient in 2016. By either estimate, income inequality in the U.S. is found to have increased by about 20% from 1980 to 2016 (The Gini coefficient ranges from 0 to 1, or from perfect equality to complete inequality). Findings from other researchers show the same general rise in inequality over this period regardless of accounting for in-kind transfers.
Yet another alternative is to focus on inequality in consumption, which implicitly accounts for all forms and sources of incomes, taxes and transfers. Some estimates based on consumption show that inequality in the U.S. increased by less than implied by estimates based on income, but other estimates suggest the trends based on consumption and income are similar. Empirically, consumption can be harder to measure than income.
Upper-income households have seen more rapid growth in income in recent decades
The growth in income in recent decades has tilted to upper-income households. At the same time, the U.S. middle class, which once comprised the clear majority of Americans, is shrinking. Thus, a greater share of the nation’s aggregate income is now going to upper-income households and the share going to middle- and lower-income households is falling. 9
The share of American adults who live in middle-income households has decreased from 61% in 1971 to 51% in 2019. This downsizing has proceeded slowly but surely since 1971, with each decade thereafter typically ending with a smaller share of adults living in middle-income households than at the beginning of the decade.
The decline in the middle-class share is not a total sign of regression. From 1971 to 2019, the share of adults in the upper-income tier increased from 14% to 20%. Meanwhile, the share in the lower-income tier increased from 25% to 29%. On balance, there was more movement up the income ladder than down the income ladder.
But middle-class incomes have not grown at the rate of upper-tier incomes. From 1970 to 2018, the median middle-class income increased from $58,100 to $86,600, a gain of 49%. 10 This was considerably less than the 64% increase for upper-income households, whose median income increased from $126,100 in 1970 to $207,400 in 2018. Households in the lower-income tier experienced a gain of 43%, from $20,000 in 1970 to $28,700 in 2018. (Incomes are expressed in 2018 dollars.)
More tepid growth in the income of middle-class households and the reduction in the share of households in the middle-income tier led to a steep fall in the share of U.S. aggregate income held by the middle class. From 1970 to 2018, the share of aggregate income going to middle-class households fell from 62% to 43%. Over the same period, the share held by upper-income households increased from 29% to 48%. The share flowing to lower-income households inched down from 10% in 1970 to 9% in 2018.
These trends in income reflect the growth in economic inequality overall in the U.S. in the decades since 1980.
Income growth has been most rapid for the top 5% of families
Even among higher-income families, the growth in income has favored those at the top. Since 1980, incomes have increased faster for the most affluent families – those in the top 5% – than for families in the income strata below them. This disparity in outcomes is less pronounced in the wake of the Great Recession but shows no signs of reversing.
From 1981 to 1990, the change in mean family income ranged from a loss of 0.1% annually for families in the lowest quintile (the bottom 20% of earners) to a gain of 2.1% annually for families in the highest quintile (the top 20%). The top 5% of families, who are part of the highest quintile, fared even better – their income increased at the rate of 3.2% annually from 1981 to 1990. Thus, the 1980s marked the beginning of a long and steady rise in income inequality.
A similar pattern prevailed in the 1990s, with even sharper growth in income at the top. From 1991 to 2000, the mean income of the top 5% of families grew at an annual average rate of 4.1%, compared with 2.7% for families in the highest quintile overall, and about 1% or barely more for other families.
The period from 2001 to 2010 is unique in the post-WWII era. Families in all strata experienced a loss in income in this decade, with those in the poorer strata experiencing more pronounced losses. The pattern in income growth from 2011 to 2018 is more balanced than the previous three decades, with gains more broadly shared across poorer and better-off families. Nonetheless, income growth remains tilted to the top, with families in the top 5% experiencing greater gains than other families since 2011.
The wealth of American families is currently no higher than its level two decades ago
Other than income, the wealth of a family is a key indicator of its financial security. Wealth, or net worth, is the value of assets owned by a family, such as a home or a savings account, minus outstanding debt, such as a mortgage or student loan. Accumulated over time, wealth is a source of retirement income, protects against short-term economic shocks, and provides security and social status for future generations.
The period from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s was beneficial for the wealth portfolios of American families overall. Housing prices more than doubled in this period, and stock values tripled. 11 As a result, the median net worth of American families climbed from $94,700 in 1995 to $146,600 in 2007, a gain of 55%. 12 (Figures are expressed in 2018 dollars.)
But the run up in housing prices proved to be a bubble that burst in 2006. Home prices plunged starting in 2006, triggering the Great Recession in 2007 and dragging stock prices into a steep fall as well. Consequently, the median net worth of families fell to $87,800 by 2013, a loss of 40% from the peak in 2007. As of 2016, the latest year for which data are available, the typical American family had a net worth of $101,800, still less than what it held in 1998.
The wealth divide among upper-income families and middle- and lower-income families is sharp and rising
The wealth gap among upper-income families and middle- and lower-income families is sharper than the income gap and is growing more rapidly.
The period from 1983 to 2001 was relatively prosperous for families in all income tiers, but one of rising inequality. The median wealth of middle-income families increased from $102,000 in 1983 to $144,600 in 2001, a gain of 42%. The net worth of lower-income families increased from $12,3oo in 1983 to $20,600 in 2001, up 67%. Even so, the gains for both lower- and middle-income families were outdistanced by upper-income families, whose median wealth increased by 85% over the same period, from $344,100 in 1983 to $636,000 in 2001. (Figures are expressed in 2018 dollars.)
The wealth gap between upper-income and lower- and middle-income families has grown wider this century. Upper-income families were the only income tier able to build on their wealth from 2001 to 2016, adding 33% at the median. On the other hand, middle-income families saw their median net worth shrink by 20% and lower-income families experienced a loss of 45%. As of 2016, upper-income families had 7.4 times as much wealth as middle-income families and 75 times as much wealth as lower-income families. These ratios are up from 3.4 and 28 in 1983, respectively.
The reason for this is that middle-income families are more dependent on home equity as a source of wealth than upper-income families, and the bursting of the housing bubble in 2006 had more of an impact on their net worth. Upper-income families, who derive a larger share of their wealth from financial market assets and business equity, were in a better position to benefit from a relatively quick recovery in the stock market once the recession ended.
As with the distribution of aggregate income, the share of U.S. aggregate wealth held by upper-income families is on the rise. From 1983 to 2016, the share of aggregate wealth going to upper-income families increased from 60% to 79%. Meanwhile, the share held by middle-income families has been cut nearly in half, falling from 32% to 17%. Lower-income families had only 4% of aggregate wealth in 2016, down from 7% in 1983.
The richest are getting richer faster
The richest families in the U.S. have experienced greater gains in wealth than other families in recent decades, a trend that reinforces the growing concentration of financial resources at the top.
The tilt to the top was most acute in the period from 1998 to 2007. In that period, the median net worth of the richest 5% of U.S. families increased from $2.5 million to $4.6 million, a gain of 88%.
This was nearly double the 45% increase in the wealth of the top 20% of families overall, a group that includes the richest 5%. Meanwhile, the net worth of families in the second quintile, one tier above the poorest 20%, increased by only 16%, from $27,700 in 1998 to $32,100 in 2007. (Figures are expressed in 2018 dollars.)
The wealthiest families are also the only ones to have experienced gains in wealth in the years after the start of the Great Recession in 2007. From 2007 to 2016, the median net worth of the richest 20% increased 13%, to $1.2 million. For the top 5%, it increased by 4%, to $4.8 million. In contrast, the net worth of families in lower tiers of wealth decreased by at least 20% from 2007 to 2016. The greatest loss – 39% – was experienced by the families in the second quintile of wealth, whose wealth fell from $32,100 in 2007 to $19,500 in 2016.
As a result, the wealth gap between America’s richest and poorer families more than doubled from 1989 to 2016. In 1989, the richest 5% of families had 114 times as much wealth as families in the second quintile, $2.3 million compared with $20,300. By 2016, this ratio had increased to 248, a much sharper rise than the widening gap in income. 13
Income inequality in the U.S has increased since 1980 and is greater than in peer countries
Income inequality may be measured in a number of ways, but no matter the measure, economic inequality in the U.S. is seen to be on the rise.
One widely used measure – the 90/10 ratio – takes the ratio of the income needed to rank among the top 10% of earners in the U.S. (the 90th percentile) to the income at the threshold of the bottom 10% of earners (the 10th percentile). In 1980, the 90/10 ratio in the U.S. stood at 9.1, meaning that households at the top had incomes about nine times the incomes of households at the bottom. The ratio increased in every decade since 1980, reaching 12.6 in 2018, an increase of 39%. 14
Not only is income inequality rising in the U.S., it is higher than in other advanced economies. Comparisons of income inequality across countries are often based on the Gini coefficient, another commonly used measure of inequality. 15 Ranging from 0 to 1, or from perfect equality to complete inequality, the Gini coefficient in the U.S. stood at 0.434 in 2017, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). 16 This was higher than in any other of the G-7 countries, in which the Gini ranged from 0.326 in France to 0.392 in the UK, and inching closer to the level of inequality observed in India (0.495). More globally, the Gini coefficient of inequality ranges from lows of about 0.25 in Eastern European countries to highs in the range of 0.5 to 0.6 in countries in southern Africa, according to
- The median income splits the income distribution into two halves – half the households earn less than the median and half the households earn more. Incomes are adjusted for household size and scaled to represent a household size of three. See methodology for details. ↩
- Percentage changes are estimated, and other calculations are made, before numbers are rounded. ↩
- The recession dates are as designated by the National Bureau of Economic Research. ↩
- It is likely that household incomes did not return to their 2000 level till 2016 or later. A redesign of income questionsby the Census Bureau in 2014 is estimated to have given a boost of about 3% to median household income in the U.S. at the time of the redesign. ↩
- Middle-income” Americans are adults whose annual household income is two-thirds to double the national median, after incomes have been adjusted for household size. Lower-income households have incomes less than 67% of the median and upper-income households have incomes that are more than double the median. See methodology for details. Previous Pew Research Center reports have examined the state of the American middle class in greater detail, including trends within U.S. metropolitan areas. ↩
- The data source for these estimates is the Current Population Survey, Annual Social and Economic Supplement for 1971 to 2019. In the survey, respondents provide household income data for the previous calendar year. Thus, income data in this section refer to the 1970-2018 period and the counts of people from the same survey refer to the 1971-2019 period. ↩
- The S&P/Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price Index increased from 80 in January 1995 to 185 in June 2006 (January 2000=100). It fell to 134 in February 2012 and climbed thereafter, reaching 212 in August 2019. At the start of the Great Recession in December 2007, the S&P 500 index stood at about 1,500, three times its level of about 500 in 1995. After the peak in 2007, the S&P 500 fell below 1,000 in 2009. As of November 2019, the index had reached a level of about 3,000. (S&P 500 historical values downloaded from Yahoo! on Nov. 21, 2019.) ↩
- Estimates of wealth are from the Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF). The SCF is conducted triennially by the Federal Reserve Board of Governors. It was first fielded in 1983 and the latest survey for which data are available was in 2016. ↩
- It is not possible to compute the ratio of the wealth of the top 5% of families to the wealth of the poorest 20% because the median wealth of the poorest families is either zero or negative in most years examined. ↩ , the source of these estimates, the 90th percentile household income in 2018 was $184,292 and the 10th percentile household income was $14,629 (incomes not adjusted for household size). ↩
- The Gini coefficient encapsulates the share of aggregate income held by each person or household. If everyone has the same income, or the same share of aggregate income, the Gini coefficient equals zero. If the income distribution is perfectly unequal, a single person or household holds all aggregate income, the Gini coefficient is equal to one. ↩
- The OECD is a group of 36 countries, including many of the world’s advanced economies. The OECD’s estimates of the Gini coefficient are for the following years: U.S. – 2017, UK – 2017, Italy – 2016, Japan – 2015, Canada – 2017, Germany – 2016, France – 2016, and India – 2011. ↩
From the Great Depression to the Great Compression
While the Great Depression served to reduce income inequality, it also decimated total income, leading to mass unemployment and hardship. This left workers without much left to lose, leading to organized pressure for policy reforms. Further, progressive business interests that believed part of the economic crisis and inability to recover was at least partly due to less than optimal aggregate demand as a result of low wages and incomes. These factors combined would provide a fertile climate for the progressive reforms enacted by the New Deal.
With the New Deal providing workers with greater bargaining power, union membership would reach over 33% by 1945, staying above 24% until the early 1970s. During this time, median compensation increased and labor productivity approximately doubled, increasing total prosperity while ensuring that it was being shared more equitably.
Further, during the Great Depression, marginal tax rates were increased numerous times and by 1944, the top marginal tax rate was 94% on all income more than $200,000, which in 2013 inflation-adjusted dollars is $2,609,023. Such a high rate acts as a cap on incomes as it discourages individuals from negotiating additional income above the rate at which the tax would apply and firms from offering such incomes. The top marginal tax rate would remain high for almost four decades, falling to just 70% in 1965, and subsequently to 50% in 1982.
Significantly, during the Great Depression, income inequality came down from its peak in 1929 and was relatively stable with the richest 1% taking approximately 15% of total income between 1930 and 1941. Between 1942 and 1952, the top 1% share of income had dropped to below 10% of total income, stabilizing at around 8% for nearly three decades. This period of income compression has been aptly named the Great Compression.
Economic Inequality and The German and Russian Communist and Fascist Revolutions
Although we detail the effects of Communism and Fascism here, we can briefly say Lenin and Stalin and Hitler came to power in socialist revolutions where the masses had become economically oppressed due to the actions of the aristocrats.
In Germany, it was the aftermath of WWI and the nations who imposed the oppressive economic Versailles Treaty which caused hyperinflation in the young Republic. In Russia’s case, it is the oppression of the Tsarist autocracy which incited Lenin to rebel. Lenin was quickly usurped by Stalin who became nothing less than an autocratic Tsar in his own right, making Ivan the Terrible look like Ivan the Great.
Southern History Series: Sen. Huey Long’s Share Our Wealth Society
Chris Hayes says that his greatest fear is that someday a demagogue will come along with a draconian anti-immigration policy and offering medicare for all
&mdash Douglas Mercer (@douglasmercer33) November 29, 2019
In my view, the Right doesn&rsquot need to reclaim socialism from the Left so much as it needs to embrace economic populism for moral, political and economic reasons. We need a broad redistribution of wealth in this country like we had in the 1930s to crush the oligarchy, stabilize capitalism and reduce extremes of income inequality. The New Deal was conservative and fully consistent with the Jeffersonian tradition and the alternative was far worse.
The following excerpt comes from T. Harry Williams book Huey Long:
&ldquoOn February 23, 1934, Senator Long spoke over a national radio hookup for thirty minutes. He had exciting news for his listeners. The fight to decentralize wealth in America had entered a new phase, he proclaimed: it had achieved the advantage of organization. The organization had been created by people whom he identified only as &ldquowe,&rdquo and it had a name, the Share Our Wealth Society and a slogan, Every Man a King. He exhorted his hearers to join the society, to get together in their communities and form local chapters. If they needed instructions on how to proceed, they should write him. He emphasized that in the society there would be no national dues.
Huey was being prudently modest when he indicated that other persons had joined with him to form the society. It was completely his own creation, the idea for it coming to him, according to one account, at three o&rsquoclock one morning in his rooms at the Mayflower Hotel. Excited and wanting someone to discuss the idea with, he telephoned his secretary and another assistant to come over immediately. He explained his plan to them and then sat down and sketched on sheets of yellow foolscap paper the whole design of the society &ndash its name, motto, structure, and the principles it would advocate.
The principles were not entirely new. They were essentially the same proposals that Huey had been advancing in his Senate speeches since 1932, with the addition of some features that were the result of his recent reading. The federal government would impose a capital-levy tax that would prevent a family from owning a fortune of more than five million dollars, or more than three hundred times the fortune of the average American family. The government would impose an income tax that would prohibit a family from earning more than one million dollars in a year, or more than three hundred times the income of the average American family. From the revenue derived from these taxes the government would provide every family in the country with a &ldquohomestead&rdquo of five thousand dollars, or &ldquoenough for a home, an automobile, a radio, and the ordinary conveniences.&rdquo The government would further guarantee that every family would receive an annual income of two thousand to three thousand dollars, or one third of the average family income. Other benefits would be furnished by the government. It would give pensions of thirty dollars a month to the aged (this figure was later deleted and the world &ldquoadequate&rdquo substituted), finance the college education of youths of proven ability (Huey eventually suggested that the federal government and the state should jointly bear the costs of educating also children below the federal level), and pay generous bonuses to veterans. Lastly, the government would exercise greater regulation over the economy. It would limit the hours of labor to thirty hours a week and eleven months a year, thus increasing the need for workers. And it would purchase and store agricultural surpluses, thus balancing farm supply with demand.
Huey&rsquos announcement of the Share Our Wealth Society received wide publicity. It also set off an extensive discussion by commentators and critics as to the nature of the society&rsquos program. Was Share Our Wealth a radical formula or did it only seem radical? Was it compatible with capitalism or would it subtly transform the American system into something quite different? Some critics denounced the plan as a form of socialism, charging that the rate of taxation would eventually have the effect of eliminating all fortunes and reducing all persons to approximately the same income level. This charge Huey repeatedly and indignantly denied. The socialists advocated government ownership of wealth, which was equivalent to the destruction of wealth, he said. He, on the contrary, would retain the profit motive. His plan, by preventing the concentration of great incomes in the hands of a few men, would actually create more, not fewer, millionaires. Moreover, by redistributing wealth it would remove the worst abuse of capitalism and really strengthen the system. Once he made this argument to a reporter from a leftist magazine, who suggested that the senator must mean to save the magnates who he denounced. &ldquoThat would be one of the unfortunate effects of my program,&rdquo he admitted. &ldquoI&rsquod cut their nails and fil their teeth and let them live.&rdquo
Grasping at all opportunities to disassociate Share Our Wealth from socialism, Huey accepted in March 1934 an invitation to debate the leader of the Socialist Party, Norman Thomas. The request came from a New York City group, which intended to sell tickets to the meeting and, to entire Huey, offered him a fee of five hundred dollars. The crowd that turned out must have astonished the sponsors &ndash twenty-five hundred persons assembled to hear the debaters discuss the questions: &ldquoResolved, that capitalism is doomed and cannot now be saved by redistribution of wealth.&rdquo
Thomas spoke first and advocated his philosophy of moderate socialism. His remarks were well received by the audience, which was largely made up of Socialists and urban leftists. Huey realized the mood of the crowd, and to disarm it he affected when he began a Southern rustic pose. He didn&rsquot understand what Thomas had said, he claimed, but when he did, he would write his rival a letter. Striding back and forth, he bellowed that all debts should be &ldquoipso facto remitted.&rdquo &ldquoMaybe you don&rsquot know what I mean by ipso facto,&rdquo he continued. &ldquoWell, I don&rsquot neither.&rdquo The audience roared with appreciative laughter. A perceptive reporter noticed that in this phase of the speech he made studied grammatical errors but that when he launched into an analysis of Share Our Wealth he talked like a college professor. At the end of the debate a mob of autograph seekers followed Huey out of the building, but no one attended Thomas.&rdquo