You can think of America as a room. In this room are 100 people who collectively own $100.
In our little room, one person owns 33 of those dollars. Some analysts put this figure at $38, and they may be right, but let’s just say $33. Either way, it’s quite a lot.
The next 19 wealthiest people get to share 51 more of those precious dollars. That’s $2.68 each. It doesn’t seem like much compared to our fellow at the top, but it’s quite good compared with the remaining 80 people.
That is because there’s now only $16 left. In fact, 18 of these people get nothing at all. The other 62 people get to keep some small change, averaging about twenty-five cents each.
Aside from the issue of whether such a breakdown is fair – you can leave that to your private ethical ruminations – remember that this room has many interesting things that make it go. For instance, it has a legal system, an economy, a political system, and so on.
We may ask, who is in the best position to manipulate these things for his own benefit? The question answers itself: that person with the $33, whom we may with full justice label as the practical "owner" of the society.
The owner likes his position, but can’t run things entirely by himself, so he enlists allies. These are in the top quintile. They are the managers. They supervise the great many people who have a few pennies to their name – the worker bees.
At the bottom are those 18 with nothing – absolutely no net worth at all. These are the expendables. As far as the guy at the top are concerned, they could drop dead and he wouldn’t care, except that their presence helps to keep the worker bees nervously occupied and distracted from that most fundamental of all social and political questions: Who Owns What.
Actually, if you look at the numbers more precisely, you can break down the social groups more accurately. The expendables remain at the bottom, of course. Then, up to around the 60th percentile of the population, you have essentially the lower half of the worker bee population. Then, from the 60th to approximately the 90th percentile, you still have worker bees, but they’re better off. Many would call this the American middle class. So in fact, the American management class comprises not the top 20 percent, but more like the top 10 percent of the population. This also conforms more closely with the observed reality of most workplaces.
Things become interesting starting at around the 90th percentile. A dramatic expansion of wealth begins at this point, and you can discern roughly two stratifications within the 90th to 99th percentiles. Of course the Fat Guy at the top percent still sits happily above the rest. (And to go even further, if you were to break down that top 1% of wealth owners you would find the same continued levels of stratification continuing within it).