“Three people in this country own more wealth than the bottom half of America”
— Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)
This snappy talking point is based on numbers that add up, but it’s also a question of comparing apples to oranges. Sanders is drawing on a 2017 report from the left-leaning Institute for Policy Studies, which said that three billionaires — Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos (who owns The Washington Post) and Warren Buffett — had total wealth of $248.5 billion, compared with $245 billion for the bottom 160 million people in the United States. The wealth of the three men has grown even more since then.
But people in the bottom half have essentially no wealth, as debts cancel out whatever assets they might have. So the comparison is not especially meaningful. We once gave Sanders Three Pinocchios when he asserted that the six wealthiest people had more wealth than the half of the world’s population. That was an even more problematic comparison, and we said at the time it was better to focus on inequality within a country.