For the first time in U.S. history, the top 12 U.S. billionaires surpassed a combined wealth of $1 trillion.  On Thursday, August 13th, these 12 had a combined $1.015 trillion.

This is simply too much economic and political power in the hands of 12 people, and is a disturbing milestone in the history of concentrated wealth and power in the U.S. From the point of view of a democratic self-governing society, this represents an Oligarchic Twelve or a Despotic Dozen.

The Oligarchic Dozen are Jeff Bezos ($189.4b), Bill Gates ($114b), Mark Zuckerberg ($95.5b), Warren Buffett ($80b), Elon Musk ($73b), Steve Ballmer ($71b), Larry Ellison ($70.9b), Larry Page ($67.4b), Sergey Brin ($65.6b), Alice Walton ($62.5b), Jim Walton ($62.3b) and Rob Walton ($62b).

Since March 18th, the beginning of the pandemic, these Oligarchic Dozen have seen their combined wealth increase $283 billion, an increase of almost 40 percent.

Elon Musk has been the biggest pandemic profiteer, seeing his wealth triple from $24.6 billion on March 18th to $73 billion on August 13th, an increase of $48.5 billion, or 197 percent.

Amazon co-founder Jeff Bezos was worth $189.4 billion on August 13th, up $76 billion, or 68 percent, since March 18th.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was worth $95.5 billion on August 13th,  up $40.8 billion, or 75 percent, since March 18th.

During the first stage of the pandemic, between January 1st and March 18th, the collective wealth of the Oligarchic Dozen declined by $96 billion. But their wealth quickly rebounded and surpassed their March 2019 Forbes Global Billionaire wealth level. The only exception is Warren Buffett, who is still $2 billion below his March 2019 wealth. Still, he is currently worth $80 billion.

March 18th, 2020 marked the beginning of the Covid-19 lockdown and historic filings for unemployment — and also the intervention of the Federal Reserve with monetary actions to stabilize markets.

Philanthropy is not the answer, as it has become another extension of private power and interests. A number of the Oligarchic Dozen are members of the Giving Pledge, a group of billionaires who promised to give away at least half their wealth before their death. But as an Inequality Brief, “Giving Pledge at 10,” by the Institute for Policy Studies reveals, 10 years after beginning the Pledge, their combined wealth has doubled. Among the Oligarchic Dozen, five of the top seven billionaires — Gates, Buffett, Zuckerberg, Ellison, and Musk — have taken the Giving Pledge.

See our research summary here.

Chuck Collins directs the Program on Inequality and the Common Good at the Institute for Policy Studies, where he also co-edits Omar Ocampo is a researcher for the Program on Inequality and the Common Good at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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