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Inequality In America: Version 2.0

Growing Gulf Between Rich and Rest of US (10/03/2005)

UN finds global inequality rising (BBC, 8/25/2005)

Answers to questions such as "Who owns the earth?" and "How much is it worth?" are frequently difficult to find. This GEODATA section will focus on land tenure facts and stats as well as maldistribution of wealth figures. We invite your participation. Please send us data you come upon in these areas. And ask and discover for yourself "Who owns the earth?" in your city, county, or region. Email your findings to

Here are a few wealth distribution facts to ponder:

  • "The richest 1% of Americans possess greater wealth than the bottom 90%." (David Kotz, "How Many Billionares Are Enough?" New York Times, Oct. 19, 1986)

  • The 1996 annual ranking of the 400 wealthiest Americans by Forbes magazine (10/14/96) includes a record 135 billionaires, 41 more than last year. The Forbes ranking came as the Census Bureau just reported that the average earning power in the country increased last year for the first time in six years. The reason stated: Wages climbed faster than inflation. But while regular folks' salaries have inched up, the coffers of the rich have ballooned... For the first time, the average net worth of the Forbes 400 exceeds $1 billion. Longtime multimillionaires in businesses like finance, retail, oil and real estate remain on the list... (from Associated Press)

  • In the US the share of net worth held by the top .5% rose from 25.9% in 1962 to 31.4% in 1989; the share of income received by the top .5% rose from 5.7% in 1962 to 13.4% in 1989. (Edward Wolff, 1994)

  • A just-released O.E.C.D. report states that the distributin of income is more unequal in the United States than in other developed countries.

  • The growth in the federal government has brought a growth in federal benefits. Contrary to popular impresson, the bulk of these benefits go to the well-to-do. Peter Peterson estimated an annual flow of $570.7 billion to the non-poor vs. $109.8 billion to the poor. The average benefit to household with income over $100,000 exceeds that to households with under $10,000. (Peterson, 1994)

  • The incomes of the richest 20% of the world's people are approx. 140 times those of the poorest 20%

  • The world now has more than 350 billionnares whose combined net worth equals the annual income of the poorest 45% of the world's population. (The Nation, July 15/22, 1996, "The Limits of the Earth" by David Korten.)

  • "The most pressing cause of the abject poverty which millions of people in the world endure is that a mere 2.5% of landowners with more than 100 hectares control nearly three-quarters of all the land in the world, with the top 0.23% controlling over half. (Susan George, How the Other Half Dies, Penguin Books, 1976, p. 24.)

What is the primary source of this concentration of wealth? Let's look at some bottom line (which is the earth) numbers:

  • "At best, a generous interpretation would suggest that about 3% of the population owns 95% of the privately held land in the USA (Peter Meyer, " Land Rush - A Survey of America's Land - Who Owns It, Who Controls It, How much is Left" in Harpers Magazine, Jan. 1979).

  • 568 companies control 22% of our private land, a land mass the size of Spain. Those same companies land interests worldwide comprise a total area larger than that of Europe - almost 2 billion acres. (from above)

  • A United Nations study of 83 countries showed that less than 5% of rural landowners control three-quarters of the land.

  • According to a 1985 government report, 2% of landowners hold 60% of the arable land in Brazil while close to 70% of rural households have little or none. Just 342 farm properties in Brazil cover 183,397 square miles - an area larger than California (Worldwatch, Oct. 1988)

In order to show that there was NO NEED for land reform in Central America because our land in the USA is even more concentrated in ownership than Central America, Senator Jesse Helms read these facts into the Congressional Record in 1981:

  • In Florida, 1% owns 77% of the land. Other states where the top 1% own over two-thirds of the land are Maine, Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, and Oregon.

Throughout the world, we see these numbers:

  • 86% of South Africa is still owned by the white minority population
  • 60% of El Salvador is owned by the richest 2% of the population
  • 80% of Pakistan is owned by the richest 3% of the population
  • 74% of Great Britain is owned by the richest 2% of the population
  • 84% of Scotland is owned by the richest 7% of the pop.

More information on wealth distribution in the U.S. can be found in this December 2003 article The Death of Horatio Alger by Paul Krugman.

More information on where the U.S. stands in relation to the rest of the world can be found in the January 2005 article: No. 1?


Facts, Stats & Stories

Dr. Nic Tideman, Dr. Mason Gaffney and I have been compiling some data to back up the Law of Rent in answer to a question from an economist who claimed he agreed with Georgist ideas on common heritage resources and land value taxes, but nonetheless stated his opinion that the land problem was irrelevant when compared to capital and finance monopolies, and that Georgists exaggerated the importance of land.

Please send me (Alanna Hartzok, other facts, stats and stories to add to our list.

From Mason:

In San Francisco, the median residence value is over $400,000. Only 15% of the residents can afford such a price, based on disposable income. The other 85% are either old owners or renters. A median rent is about $1500/mo., for modest uncontrolled apartments for two - buildings averaging 75 years old or so. Luxury rents and prime locations go for a lot more.

From Nic:

We don't know the magnitude of rent in the economy because no one has undertaken the effort to collect the information. But consider some calculations:

  • Offices on Park Avenue in New York rent for about $100 per square foot per year. At that rate of rent, it is worth building 80 story buildings, which, I am told, have a cost that can be covered with half the rent. That leaves 40 stories of $100 per square foot, or $4,000 per square foot per year for rent. There are about 25 million square feet in a square mile. Therefore the rental value of prime New York City land is about $100 billion per year per square mile. So one square mile of such land has a rental value, if used efficiently, of about 1% of the U.S. economy. Not insignificant.

  • It is nearly impossible to find a home within driving distance of Silicon Valley for less than half a million dollars. Suppose that a minimal home is on a lot 50 feet wide and 100 feet deep, with another 25 feet of depth for the street, and suppose that the construction cost of such a home is $125,000. Then a 50 foot by 150 foot rectangle of land, or 7,500 square feet, has a market value of $375,000 in Silicon Valley. That is $50 per square foot, or $250 million per square mile. Suppose the rent is 5% of this, or $12.5 million per square mile per year, and suppose that Silicon Valley is 20 miles by 50 miles. Then the rental value of all the land in Silicon Valley is at least $12.5 billion per year.

  • Suppose that the typical residence in the U.S. costs $100,000, and that of this cost, 3/4 is structure and 1/4 is land. Then the average residence has a land value of $25,000. If 5% of this is annual rent, and if there are 100 million residences, then their rental value is $125 billion.

These are just off-hand calculations. But they indicate why it is reasonable to believe that rent is not insignificant.

And remember that rent is not just land and oil, but also electro-magnetic frequency spectrum rights, fishing rights, water rights, airport landing rights, pollution rights, and everything else that is provided by nature and allocated by governments.


  • "More than half of all corporate earnings are generated by real estate and real estate-related activities." Urban Land Institute, America's Real Estate, 1997, p. 14.

  • Anecdotal from New York Times, 7/9/00 "Housing Crisis Confounds a Prosperous City" - "It used to be that rent was one week's salary, but I'm now dipping into my third week," said Vincenza Furst, 63, a working mother in a $1200 a month Greenwich Village apartment. "I was born and bred here, I was married here and I raised my son here, but I may not be able to die here."

  • From Public Opinion, Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, 10/18/00 "Housing costs a stretch for minimum-wage earners" - A person working for a minimum wage of $5.15/hr. has to work 72 hours for the average one bedroom apartment costing $480/month, 87 hours for a two BR at $585/mo. and 111 hours for a three BR at $740/month. (This assuming that 30% of income goes for housing. Statistics from National Low Income Housing Coalition; HUD)

Above we see examples of the Law of Rent - land values are the main cost in the escalating price of housing, and it rises faster/higher than wages, to the point where all advances in technology and production of wealth simply push workers to mere subsistence. The land problem is the reason why the market and supply/demand dynamics do not work to produce affordable housing.

Dick Cheney, Hugo Chavez and Bill Clinton's Band
Why Venezuela has Voted Again for Their 'Negro e Indio' President

Baltimore Chronicle
Monday, August 16, 2004
by Greg Palast

There's so much BS and baloney thrown around about Venezuela that I may be violating some rule of US journalism by providing some facts. Let's begin with this: 77% of Venezuela's farmland is owned by 3% of the population, the 'hacendados.'

I met one of these farmlords in Caracas at an anti-Chavez protest march. Oddest demonstration I've ever seen: frosted blondes in high heels clutching designer bags, screeching, "Chavez - dic-ta-dor!" The plantation owner griped about the "socialismo" of Chavez, then jumped into his Jaguar convertible.

That week, Chavez himself handed me a copy of the "socialist" manifesto that so rattled the man in the Jag. It was a new law passed by Venezuela's Congress which gave land to the landless. The Chavez law transferred only fields from the giant haciendas which had been left unused and abandoned.

Read full article here...

The United Kingdom is 60 million acres in size, of which 41 million are designated "agricultural" land, 15 million are "waste" (forests, rivers, mountains and so on) and owned mainly by the Ministry of Defence and the Forestry Commission, and four million are "urban plot", the land on which most of the 60 million people of these islands live. In sum, 69 per cent of the acreage of Britain is owned by 0.6 per cent of the population. Or, more pertinently, 158,000 families own 41 million acres of land while 24 million families live on four million acres.

Spain (where 70 per cent of the land is owned by 0.2 per cent of the population) is the only other European country in which so much land is concentrated in the hands of so few, if you exclude pseudo countries such as Luxembourg, Liechtenstein and Monaco. Even in Brazil, where the white elite have ruled with impunity for so long, land is more evenly distributed through-out the general population than it is in Britain.

Source: "Property scandal" by Jason Cowley, 9/20/2004, The New Statesman,