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The New Gilded Age in Grand Rapids: Why so few, control so much

October 24, 2019

We are living in an era that could easily be described as the New Gilded Age. A small faction of the world’s population controls over half of the world’s wealth.

This vast wealth gap was confirmed in a recent document published by the Global Wealth Report, which says that the number of millionaires has grown to 47 million. The report also stated that this growing class of rich people, which makes up 0.9% of the world’s population, now controls nearly half of the global wealth, estimated to be $361 Trillion. 

In many ways these numbers make it difficult to even fathom the vast amounts of wealth that so few have, while billions struggle to survive. If we just looked at Kent County, we know that there were at least 600 millionaires in 2014, compared to just 407 in 2010. There are also a few billionaires living in Kent County, with names that are familiar to most. 

The DeVos and Meijer families are both worth billions. According to Forbes, Doug & Hank Meijer are worth $10.7 Billion and the now deceased Richard DeVos was worth $5.7 Billion upon his death. We don’t know the combined wealth of all the DeVos family members, but if we just look at the wealth of the two Meijer heirs and Richard DeVos, the total comes to $16.4 Billion.

Now there are roughly 200,000 people who live in Grand Rapids. If we divided up the wealth of these two families amongst the entire population of Grand Rapids, that would mean that every person, not every household, every person would get $72,500. For some people this may not seem like a great deal of money, but there are tens of thousands of people in Grand Rapids who make less than $72,500 a year and that amount of money would radically improve their quality of life.

How about housing? If we say that on average a house in Grand Rapids goes for $200,000, 72,500 homes could be purchased with the wealth of Meijer and DeVos. This would mean that 72,500 homes could be paid for, which would mean pretty much all of the homes in the city, since the average family size is 4. This would eliminate homelessness, people having to work 2 jobs to pay rent, people facing foreclosure or having to decide if they have heat in the winter or can afford their current mortgage.

Imagine what $16.4 Billion would do to cover health care costs for people in Grand Rapids? How about paying for a mass transit system that would radically reduce the need for cars in the city? $16.4 billion could pay for solar energy for the entire city. $16.4 Billion could provide every student who is currently in K-12 with free college tuition. What would $16.4 Billion do to pay for dealing with lead exposure for children in Grand Rapids, making sure that every family ate healthy food or that no senior citizen had to worry about paying for prescription drugs. $16.4 Billion would go a long way to pay for reparations for African Americans in Grand Rapids. Hell, $16.4 Billion would wipe away the debt of every African American in Grand Rapids, pay for a new home, health care costs, education and pretty much anything else, just from the wealth of these two families. 

Now, if so much could be done to not only alleviate suffering in Grand Rapids, from the wealth of just two families, plus the few other billionaires and the 600 millionaires in Kent County, but could radically improve the lives of everyone living in Grand Rapids, then wouldn’t it stand to reason that so few people controlling so much wealth is an absolute injustice.

In addition, the class of people, the millionaires and the billionaires are constantly buying politicians to keep re-directing more public money into their pockets. So, the question we should be asking ourselves is why are we not rioting? Do we actually think that this much wealth was actually earned by these two families? We know their names and they have addresses.

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