Meet the secretive rich funding efforts to keep others poor

By Sam Pizzigati /

America, a new report details, is minting millionaires at a record pace. Some 37% of the world’s millionaires, analysts at the wealth advisory firm Henley & Partners calculate, now call the United States home.

And these analysts are talking real millionaires, not those Americans who rate as “millionaires” only because they’re living in homes that have wildly appreciated in value since their purchase decades ago. Those appreciations have left typical 50-something American homeowners, the latest Federal Reserve stats show, with personal net worths a bit over $1 million.

The researchers from Henley and their partners at New World Wealth don’t count these house-rich homeowners as millionaires. They only rate as millionaires those households with over $1 million in investible assets—and the United States, their research finds, hosts far, far more of these honest-to-goodness millionaires than any other nation on Earth.

In February, lawmakers in Arizona, home to the nation’s fourth-highest homeless rate, passed a bill that bans “any program where persons are provided with regular, periodic cash payments” they can use “for any purpose.”

The numbers: Over 5.5 million Americans now hold liquid assets worth over $1 million. That total has soared 62% over the past decade, “well above,” observesCNBC analyst Robert Frank, the overall global real-millionaire increase of a mere 38%.

Rich people-friendly observers of America’s economic scene, naturally enough, see stats like these as cause for nothing but celebration. The wealthier our wealthiest become, they postulate, the more jobs—and wealth—these rich create for everyone else. A rising tide, as they like to quip, lifts all boats.

But we are, in fact, seeing no significant rising of any sort for America’s working families. We are witnessing instead stunning increases in what America’s rich are spending on themselves. One revealing recent stat: Our U.S. well-to-do, researchers at Art Basel and the banking giant UBS report, now account for 42% of global fine art sales, well above China’s 19% second-place share.

Another reflection of America’s luxury-spending dominance: The world’s top premium luxury brands—think glamorous retailers like Cartier, Bergdorf Goodman, and Gucci—all have flagship stores in Manhattan. Just this past December, the luxury powerhouse Prada announced plans to spend $835 million buying up the building that hosts its current Fifth Avenue flagship and the building next door.

For America’s poorest, meanwhile, “luxury” has come to mean keeping a roof over your head.

The number of Americans chronically homeless, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reported out this past December, has been climbing since 2016—in what Jeff Olivet, the director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, likens to a “game of really vicious musical chairs.” The United States, he explains, has “an incredible deficit of affordable housing units,” with only one unit available for every three extremely low-income renters.

And “if someone has a medical condition, a mental health disability, a substance use disorder,” Olivet adds, “it makes it all that much more complex for someone to exit homelessness.”

The solution to this growing housing squeeze? America’s most conservative lawmakers have one. Let’s simply do our best, these lawmakers are proposing, to keep our nation’s homeless out of sight.

In Florida, that approach has actually become law. Governor Ron DeSantis, fresh off his go-nowhere campaign for the GOP presidential nomination, has just signed into law legislation that makes it illegal for local municipalities to let homeless people camp or sleep on public property after this October 1.

“Florida,” DeSantis declared upon the bill’s signing, “will not allow homeless encampments to intrude on its citizens or undermine their quality of life like we see in states like New York and California.”

The new Florida law requires local governments without enough bed capacity for unhoused families to set up homeless camps far from parks and other public facilities—and the act also penalizes localities that wink at rough sleeping outside these new hidden-away camps.

Diana Stanley, a top exec in Palm Beach charity circles, considers Florida’s new approach “a statement that we’ve stopped caring about our brothers and sisters.” The main message Stanley takes from the state’s new homelessness legislation: “If we can’t see them, then we don’t have to help them.”

Florida’s latest homeless legislation, Stanley stresses, “does absolutely nothing to address the root cause of homelessness, the lack of affordable housing.” The state’s focus, agrees University of Central Florida sociologist Amy Donley, ought to be on “helping people into housing, not encampments.”

Measures that would help do just that, meanwhile, have come under intense fire from right-wing lawmakers in other states. Those lawmakers are particularly aiming that fire at state and local experiments in providing low-income families with guaranteed, no-strings basic incomes.

In Iowa, one GOP state legislator is calling such basic-income efforts “socialism on steroids.” The sponsor of another move to ban basic incomes, South Dakota’s John Wiik, is charging that basic-income plans amount to “a one-way ticket to government dependency.” In February, lawmakers in Arizona, home to the nation’s fourth-highest homeless rate, passed a bill that bans “any program where persons are provided with regular, periodic cash payments” they can use “for any purpose.”

As of the end of February, lawmakers in some four other states had introduced bills with similar bans.

Who’s driving this nationally coordinated move to end experiments in basic income? Some of America’s most secretive wealthy, charges a recent analysis by Scott Sartens, a founding committee member of Basic Income Action.

These wealthy, Sartens notes, have been bankrolling an outfit that calls itself the Foundation for Government Accountability, “a lobbying group with a billionaire-fueled junk science record every American should know about.”

Among the Foundation’s prime funders: the hard-right billionaires Richard and Liz Uihlein, the nation’s fourth-largest contributors to political campaigns. The Uihleins have pumped almost $18 million into the machinations of the Foundation for Government Accountability. Almost that much has come from the Donors Trust network, a powerhouse that has become what Mother Jonescalls“the dark-money ATM of the right.”

Other major Foundation for Government Accountability funders include assorted deep-pocket entities with a history, notes Climate Investigations Center director Kert Davies, of “hating regulation and trying to stop any progress on things like climate change because they see it as almost a step toward communism.”

The billionaires underwriting all these entities, Basic Income Action’s Scott Sartens believes, share a common fundamental outlook. They fear “a world where things are a bit less unequal,” a world without so many average people “having no power to say anything but yes.”

May those rich see emerge that new world they so fear. Soon.