By James Clingman
Remember that movie with the Wayans Brothers? After stealing some credit cards, Damon’s character, Johnny Stewart, had everything he ever thought he wanted. He spent a lot of money on “things” and still found himself with more than enough cash to do whatever he wanted.
I am also reminded of another movie in the 1980s, “Wall Street” that featured the infamous Gordon Gekko whose mantra was “Greed is good.” When King Solomon wrote, “Money answereth all things,” I don’t think he had Stewart and Gekko in mind.
To expand on that point, the Pope and President Obama will be kickin’ it in March to discuss the issue of economic inequality, which is graphically described by the following three points cited in an Oxfam Briefing Paper:
“The wealth of the richest one percent in the world amounts to $110 trillion. That’s 65 times the total wealth of the bottom half of the world’s population;”
“The bottom half of the world’s population [3.5 billion people] owns the same as the richest 85 people in the world;”
“In the US, the wealthiest one percent captured 95 percent of post-financial crisis growth since 2009, while the bottom 90 percent became poorer.”
Do I have your attention?
It is definitely too large a number for me to wrap my brain around, but I do know that $110 trillion dispersed among just 85 families is a whole lot of jack. That makes Gordon Gekko and all of his friends look like paupers, and Johnny Stewart isn’t even in the game. What does this mean to Black folks in the United States? And let’s not even talk about the other countries.
Last week’s column was titled, “The revolution must be financed,” which pointed out that everything we say we want and need to do begins and/or ends with someone writing a check. Juxtapose that fact against the Oxfam report and marinate for a while on our relative economic position in this country.
During the housing collapse, Black people lost an estimated $1 trillion in wealth, more than any other group. We were already way behind before the recession; where do you think we are now? What is our children’s economic position? What does the future hold for Black Americans, collectively, especially since we are a microcosm of the world’s wealth concentration model?
That’s right; we have the same relative situation going on with Black money. A small percentage of Blacks holds a large percentage of all Black wealth. You know the most popular ones, from Oprah and Bob Johnson on down to the entertainers and athletes, but there are other business owners whom many of us have never heard of who hold billions as well. This not an effort to make them out to be culprits; this is merely about facts, and then what if anything you are willing to do to help change your and our situation.
Now let’s get one thing straight, those 85 families are not going to come to our neighborhoods and drop bags of money from helicopters, and the richest Black folks are not going to do that either. As a matter of fact, some of them are too busy being Johnny Stewart (Gotta have that bling). So once again the call goes out to our people to look at the facts and get with the program. Economic inequality will always be with us; therefore, we must not waste our time and resources trying to reach “equality;” we simply need to spend as much time raising our individual and collective wealth as we spend trying to have an impact on politics.
It is now estimated that Black people in the U.S. have exceeded $1 trillion in annual income, which only means something positive to those on the receiving end of that money. Income vs. wealth? No brainer, right? Yes, it takes some sort of income to create wealth, but it will also take good stewardship and “common cents” among our people to reach the lofty heights of economic stability.
Look at economic indicators across the board and you will find Black folks at the bottom of every category. Unemployment, business growth (not start-ups), Black owned firms with employees, average annual sales revenue, poverty, health, education, and a lack of structured economic empowerment initiatives are challenges to our wellbeing and future prosperity and, if not changed, will prove to be our demise. And they say our economy is doing much better, that it’s growing. For whom?
Our president subscribes to the Reagan model of economics that says, “A rising tide lifts all boats.” I say, if you have no boat a rising tide can also drown you. Blacks need to get mo’ money, buy some boats, and get in on this rising tide of economic prosperity.
Jim Clingman, founder of the Greater Cincinnati African American Chamber of Commerce, is the nation’s most prolific writer on economic empowerment for Black people. He is an adjunct professor at the University of Cincinnati and can be reached through his Web site, blackonomics.com.