Anybody out there have a friend who’s an American multibillionaire? Could you ask if they ever notice things like, say, growing social unrest in the country? And if so, do they give a darn?

Economic injustice, as much as racism, is deeply implicated in the recent killings of unarmed black men by white police officers. Millions are outraged. Is that rage visible from, say, the six-bedroom apartment at the Pierre Hotel in New York that someone just rented for $500,000 a month?

Municipal governments lost so much money during the Great Recession — while the rich were getting richer, I might add — that many cities can no longer afford to properly pay or train their police.

“In areas without a tax base to speak of, where residents live in poverty already, communities are saddled with a police force that is underpaid and under-resourced in other ways,” David Harris, a University of Pittsburgh law professor who studies policing, told NBC News in October. “It’s another form of a penalty for being poor.”

And yet, a police officer who can barely afford to pay a car note gets to drive a half-million-dollar military assault vehicle. And the penalty for being poor gets ramped up to homicide at the hands of some poorly trained, combat-minded cop.

Do the super-rich ever wake up wanting to clue us in: Hey, black and white working class, can you stop harping on race long enough to see that you’re both being robbed blind? Or, is it just too much fun for rich folk to watch us arguing over whether a poor black man should have been killed by police for selling illegal cigarettes while ignoring the bankers who got away with billions in ill-gotten gains?


Oxfam, the international anti-poverty organization, issued a report this year that referred to extreme economic inequality as “morally questionable.” But what’s to question?

“Extreme economic inequality is damaging and worrying for many reasons,” the report said. “It can have negative impacts on economic growth and poverty reduction; and it can multiply social problems. When wealth captures government policymaking, the rules bend to favor the rich, often to the detriment of everyone else.”

It sounds like a modern-day warning from Plutarch, the ancient Greek biographer, who has been quoted as having written 1,900 years ago: “An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics.” Except that the super-rich don’t seem particularly disturbed.

Businessman Charles Koch (worth $42.1 billion, according to Forbes) ran a TV ad last year that said anyone earning $34,000 is in the top 1 percent of income earners — in the world, that is. In America, though, even in the least expensive parts of the country, it takes roughly $44,000 per year for a family of three to live in relative comfort, according to the Economic Policy Institute in Washington.

Billionaire investor Warren Buffett ($73.6 billion) certainly sounds more sympathetic to the cause of economic justice.

“The rich have come back strong from the 2008 panic and the middle class haven’t, and that affects demand and that affects the economy,” Buffett told CNN Money last year. “The people at the bottom end should be doing better. I think it behooves this very rich country to have less inequality than we have.”


In March, Buffett expressed his support for an increase in the earned income tax credit, a wage supplement for low-income workers. Microsoft founder Bill Gates ($81.4 billion) has suggested that the economic gap could be narrowed by taxing consumption instead of labor.

Maybe both ideas have merit.

I’d settle for a full employment program and reduce poverty by ending that atrocious double-digit jobless rate among African Americans — a modest request in a country where the aggregate net worth of the Forbes richest 400 Americans was $2.29 trillion in 2014, up $270 billion from a year ago.

At the World Economic Summit in Davos in January, there appeared to be a glimmer of hope. Wealthy business people seemed to have an interest in promoting economic justice. According to the summit’s annual Global Risks 2014 report, business leaders cited structural unemployment and underemployment, severe income disparity, and “profound political and social instability” among their greatest concerns.

“The generation coming of age in the 2010s faces high unemployment and precarious job situations, hampering their efforts to build a future and raising the risk of social unrest,” the report said.

Anybody know what happened to that concern?

Courtland Milloy is a metro columnist at The Washington Post.

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