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America’s Billionaire-to-National-Debt Contradiction

May 21, 2014

In 1983, the Reagan administration published the now-infamous report, A Nation at Risk, a report that declares the American education experience is “eroding” due to “a tide of mediocrity.”

Here are the opening sentences of that report:

Our Nation is at risk. Our once unchallenged preeminence in commerce, industry, science, and technological innovation is being overtaken by competitors throughout the world.

The report was published 31 years ago.

In 1983, the US had 13 billionaires.

In 2014, the number of US billionaires has risen to 492.  Thus, in 2014, our “nation at risk” has almost 38 times the number of billionaires it had in 1983– the most in the world by far.

(Inflation doesn’t even come close to accounting for the proliferation in American billionaires. One billion dollars in 1983 converts to $2.38 billion in 2014. 242 of the 492 2014 US billionaires still qualify as billionaires according to 1983-adjusted dollars.)

Interestingly, 13 of the now 31 who are under 40 years old are from the US.

In 1983, the US had 13 billionaires. In 2014, the US has 13 under-40 billionaires. (Four of the 13 remain billionaires according to 1983-adjusted dollars.)

When the nation was declared to be “at risk,” these 13 young US 2014 billionaires were at most eight years old.

The richest man in the world at $77.4 billion— Bill Gates– dropped out of Harvard in 1975— and now presumes to drive American education “reform” for the masses as though it is a business deal.

(Gates has not lived the life of the masses. Consider his high school experience. The heavily-Gates-funded Common Core State Standards {CCSS} would not be found at the high school Gates attended.)

Gates is not alone. A number of American billionaires are purchasing their visions of American public education, including Charles and David Koch, the Waltons (each billionaires: Christy Walton, Jim Walton, S. Robson Walton, Alice Walton), Michael Bloomberg, Jeff Bezos, and Mark Zuckerberg— all of whom are worth at least $32.2 billion individually– and all of whom rank among the 2014 top richest 23 individuals in the world.

Contrary to the Reagan administration’s 1983 panic report, our nation has never been at risk because of deficient education of the masses. Surely if such were the case, we would not boast more billionaires than any other nation in the world over thirty years later. Surely by now, in 2014, this supposed education deficiency of the masses would have caused America to falter as a world power.

“Being overtaken” by “international competitors” has not happened–not in over three decades since the first public-education-damning proclamation.

This noted, I do agree that our nation is at risk– in ways that the Reagan administration’s 1983 report failed to consider.

One such risk involves the great danger that few obscenely wealthy individuals will purchase our democracy. Such is happening to American education. So-called billionaire education “reform” is purchasing its under-regulated, unproven privatization, and it is often disguised as billionaire “philanthropy.”

A second risk involves our national debt. I have written about our national debt, even as it compares to the national debt of other nations with which the US is supposedly in competition for the highest scores on international tests– supposed “proof” of international superiority.

This national debt clock shows the US national debt in real time. It also includes real-time accumulations of mortgage debt, student loan debt, and credit card debt, among numerous other real-time national statistics.

It is mesmerizing to watch.  Take a look.

Our national debt is currently over $17.5 trillion. Paying it off would require the fortunes of 227 individuals as wealthy as wealthiest man in the world, Bill Gates.

News for those laying blame for American “risk” on the “mediocre” masses:

The publicly-educated “masses” did not “cause” the US to accumulate such intellect-defying debt.

The publicly-educated masses are not pushing an “education reform” package that damages communities and fattens monopolies.

If the American federal government really has “concern” for “our people which knit together the very fabric of our society,” as the 1983 report attests, it would do well to face the issues of a rapidly-increasing national debt and democracy-purchasing, ultra-privileged, billionaire minority instead of showcasing a fabricated, forced, test-score-based “race.”


  1. 2old2tch permalink

    Mercedes, your one overwhelming “fault” is that you make too much sense.

  2. “In 1983, the US had 13 billionaires. […] In 2014, the number of US billionaires has risen to 492.”

    When going back as far as 1983, in order to compare apples to apples, inflation needs to be factored in. According to this Inflation Calculator — — $420,126,000 1983 US Dollars would be the equvalent of $1 Billion in 2014 US Dollars.

    In a sense, it is getting “easier” to reach that billionare threshold given the declining value of the US Dollar.

    • One should then factor in how many billions those 13 1983 US billionaires had as opposed to today’s 492.

      At any rate, the US has many more billionaires than any other nation by far.

      We are “winning” that “competition.”

  3. Laura H. Chapman permalink

    You are amazing.

    In your spare time… so much of it….
    …….. toy with the idea of learning how to do these “cool” things with statistics. I am pretty sure Hans Gosling has put his work( data setups, algorithms) in the public domain. Just watch and listen, preferably more than one of his several presentations. His work is amazing.…/hans_rosling_shows_the_best...

    And then there is the educational equivilant of this graphic, if you can find someone to construct a relational database from your book (perhaps you have one) then construct something color- coded like this

    In case you missed this reprieve of “a Nation at Risk,” here it is with Eric Hanusheck at it again…He has over 500 citations in Google Scholar, most designed to promote economic criteria for judging the efficacy of education here and internationally. One of the first, in 1971 constructed a value-added metric. It was much later that this entered into educational policy, via Wm Sanders in Tennessee.

    Hanushek, E. A., Peterson, P. E., & Woessmann, L. (2013). Endangering Prosperity: A Global View of the American School. Brookings Institution Press.

  4. Morgan permalink

    Thank you for your time researching and writing. Your efforts are much appreciated.

  5. Harlan Underhill permalink

    You are right, in my opinion, about both threats, but you do not follow your own logic to its end. It was the electorate, educated or otherwise, that put President Obama in office, which suggests a failure of perception on its part, a lack of judgement.

    And then it was President Obama who pushed the already too high Bush debt from 6 to 17 trillion. The nation is indeed at risk, mainly because of the ignorance of its voters. To what do we attribute that? The media? I think the blame rests squarely on the teaching cadres of the last 30 years who seem to confuse capitalism with evil and have diffused that ignorance to their classes.

    Misguided environmentalism, the phony global warming meme, and so many, many liberal espoused positions are what are responsible, and where would an entire electorate drink in that spiritual kool aid? Possibly the public schools. I’ll grant that McCaine and Romney were hardly attractive alternatives, but who could have predicted the incredible incompetence, wrong ideological goals, and downright direct lies and corruption of the current administration?

    So now, what to do? The high number of billionaires is hardly our biggest problem. Democracy still is the law of the land. Money CAN be outvoted if the electorate sees reality.

  6. Laura H. Chapman permalink

    And how much did the wars add to the debt, and corruption of the financial system, and so on. You seem eager to blame teachers across several generations of indoctrinating students, as if these students learned nothing except what they were told in each grade from a bunch of teachers determined to indoctrinate them into one worldview quite different from the one you acquired.

  7. Seth Sandronsky permalink

    Speaking of comparisons between 1983 and 2012-13, here is relevant data from the U.S. Dept. of Labor:
    “In 2013, the union membership rate–the percent of wage and salary workers who were
    members of unions–was 11.3 percent, the same as in 2012, the U.S. Bureau of Labor
    Statistics reported today. The number of wage and salary workers belonging to unions, at 14.5 million, was little different from 2012. In 1983, the first year for which comparable union data are available, the union membership rate was 20.1 percent, and there were 17.7 million union workers.”

  8. If the Feds want a “competition,” let them acknowledge this “race for most billionaires” reality. Inflation does not come anywhere close to accounting for the explosion in US billionaires. Let Duncan account for that as he maintains US is “going down” due to deficient education. The US has the means for so many individuals to have so much money, and wealth is connected to power, so the US has power. To state that the US is “at risk” because of a “failing” ed system (a declaration that hinges upon intl test scores) is quite the leap in logic itself. To counter with a demonstration of power via the number of incredibly wealthy individuals is less of a stretch in causality than you think.

    As for vouchers, I live in New Orleans, where vouchers were used in the 1960s to maintain segregation. We have a state super and governor pushing vouchers for kids to exit public schools, and the program is a flop. Ironically, it has a pocket of popularity in the state-run district; most schools there are “failing” by the state’s own definition.

  9. The 1: 2.38 conversion included in my article adjusts for “billion” from 1983 to 2014.

    Billionaires (and millionaires) are making American democracy their playground.

  10. Gerri K. Songer permalink

    Reblogged this on We Are More and commented:
    What price tag says, “Enough?”

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