A Nation of Careless Millionaires

Jeff Wise
4 min readJan 8, 2021

The average American family is worth well over a million dollars. But they don’t know it. So they live in unnecessary poverty.

What asset do they possess that gives them this tremendous unrealized wealth? Their vote.

America is a nation of 200 million voters. Together, they hold absolute power over everything within its borders, just as shareholders of a corporation have absolute power over the disposition of that company’s assets.

When you buy a share of a stock, what you’re buying is the right to one vote of that company. A democratic vote. If you control more than 50 percent of those shares you can do whatever you want. You have absolute power. You can fire the CEO, issue bonds, sell all the assets, paint everything pink — whatever you want.

Most shareholders don’t think like that, of course. Most are careless with their power. They just buy their shares and go along with the program. Most of them don’t know what that program is. They figure that if they’re buying shares in a widget company, that company will keep paying its employees to make widgets and sell them to its customers. They don’t see that they have any particular power beyond just the ability to be part of that arrangement.

Savvy players know their power. They know that if they can control enough shares, they can do whatever they want to that corporation and pocket the proceeds. They can turn the company on its head, strip the assets, raid the pension funds, fire all the employees, and leave the whole thing on the scrap heap, and head off to their penthouses with pockets full of cash. Hedge funds and private equity investors do this all the time.

That’s why stocks have value. Because those who have them have a vote in the disposition of a valuable asset. Roughly speaking, the value of a share of stock is equal to the value of the company divided by the number of shares outstanding. General Motors, for instance, has issued 1.4 billion shares, which are worth $43 dollars each, so the whole enterprise is worth $60 billion.

Not every American has the right to vote as a company stockholder, because not every American owns stocks. But every American over the age of 18 has the right to vote as a citizen. And gives them the same total control over the country and everything in it as a corporate shareholder has over the company. Absolute power.

Jeff Wise

Jeff is science journalist who lives north of New York City. He is the author of “The Taking of MH370” and "Extreme Fear: The Science of Your Mind in Danger."