“If things carry on like this for long enough,” muses one insider, “we are going to end up like Brazil”.
The one truly continuous trend over the past 25 years has been towards greater concentration of income at the very top. The scale of this shift is not visible from most popular measures of income or wages, as they do not break the distribution down finely enough. But several recent studies have dissected tax records to investigate what goes on at the very top.
The figures are startling. According to Emmanuel Saez of the University of California, Berkeley, and Thomas Piketty of the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris, the share of aggregate income going to the highest-earning 1% of Americans has doubled from 8% in 1980 to over 16% in 2004. That going to the top tenth of 1% has tripled from 2% in 1980 to 7% today. And that going to the top one-hundredth of 1%—the 14,000 taxpayers at the very top of the income ladder—has quadrupled from 0.65% in 1980 to 2.87% in 2004.