Can you be too rich?

I wish that billionaires were a declining breed rather than a growing demographic group.

A few decades ago, that statement might have evoked some controversy — but no longer. In fact, the conventional wisdom today (notwithstanding Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity and the other bullies of talk radio and TV) is that the accumulation of unconscionable wealth by a small sliver of society has gotten way out of hand.

While billionaires and multimillionaires have become almost as common as “Law & Order” reruns, the vast majority of Americans are treading water. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, after-tax family income for the top 1 percent climbed 201 percent from 1979 to 2000, while the bottom 20 percent rose only 9 percent. And the picture is even worse for African American and Latino families. Plus, vital public services have been gutted over the last quarter of a century. And this has been done brutally and cynically.

Let’s face it, the bank and train robbers of the Old West were small potatoes compared to today’s thieves, who live in upscale neighborhoods, send our children off to war and employ thousands of lobbyists to promote their financial interests in the corridors of government. Certainly, Californians haven’t forgotten the damage done by Enron’s Kenneth Lay and his posse in Houston and Washington.

In the 1980s movie “Wall Street,” the main character, Gordon Gekko, exclaims with great self-confidence, “Greed is good.” At the time, this idea enjoyed some currency. In the Reagan era, the effects of a new stage of capitalist globalization were still to be fully felt and solemn speeches claiming that wealth creation for the wealthy was in the best interest of all of us were still taken seriously.

It was a hoax then; it is a tragedy and outrage now. It is capitalism on steroids!

Thankfully, the jig is just about up. Since November, President Bush and his gang no longer have the wind at their backs. We are reclaiming our land and insisting on a nation that is just, democratic, decent and at peace with the world.

The Los Angeles Times Sunday “Current” opinion section recently asked Princeton bioethics philosopher Peter Singer; an economist affiliated with Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, Russell Roberts; and the national chairperson of the Communist Party USA, Sam Webb, to “share their thoughts on the subject of income inequality.” Their views were published in the LA Times March 18. Reprinted here with permission of the author is Webb’s response. All three views are online at .