Most people are familiar with the story of the French Revolution: When the poor revolted against the unfairness and wealth inequality imposed by the aristocrats, they overthrew the monarchy and beheaded more than 40,000 people, mostly clergy and noblemen, as punishment for their crimes and injustices.
The days of using a guillotine may be behind us – but the anger that led to that revolution is similar to the growing anger at economic inequality in the US today, and could lead to the same kind of unrest.
In France, there were three classes: The First Estate, made up of clergy; The Second Estate, made up of the nobility; and the Third Estate, made up of everyone else. Even though the first two Estates were made up of just 3% of the population, they owned 35% of the land, paid almost no taxes, and held virtually all the political power in the country.
Where are we in America today?
If they were around today, heads still attached, French aristocrats would be mightily impressed with the wealth accumulation of America’s rich. The top 1% of the country owns 35% of the wealth; the top 10% owns 77% of the wealth. The bottom 40% owns 0% (here).
Perhaps the best summary of where we are on wealth inequality can be found in the video below:
Certainly, the American rich are paying more in taxes than did their pre-revolutionary French Counterparts. But as a share of income, the American poor are carrying a much heavier burden.
When most people talk about taxes, they think of income taxes, and on that front the rich do pay quite a bit more: According to the Tax Foundation, in 2015, “The top 1 percent of taxpayers paid a higher effective income tax rate than any other group, at 27.1 percent, which is over 8 times higher than taxpayers in the bottom 50 percent (3.3 percent).”
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