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Demonize and dehumanize, Part III
We have to tax the billionaires out of existence
The ultra-rich, to my mind, are an abomination that should not be tolerated. This is because their existence is also the existence of pointless suffering and struggle by great numbers of human beings who are not the ultra-rich. To be ultra-rich, one has to do little to nothing to alleviate the poverty of billions of other upright apes, members of the same species with less access to resources that make life bearable, and sometimes even pleasant.
I weep for a species so blind it does not take care of its own members. Let alone the rest of the ecosystems on which it depends for long-term existence.
In many parts of the world, inequality is spiraling out of control. The basic facts have become depressingly familiar.
In the United States, the top 0.1 percent now control about the same amount of wealth as the bottom 90 percent of the entire population. Globally, the richest eight individuals possess as much wealth as half the entire planet.
The United States could completely eradicate homelessness by taxing away just 2 percent of the wealth of a mere two billionaires, Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates. If we redistributed 2 percent of the wealth of all the world’s billionaires, leaving completely untouched the wealth of well over 99.9 percent of the world’s population, we could eliminate extreme poverty entirely. Billionaires, meanwhile, would likely not even lose any money in the process since they typically earn more than 2 percent annually off their wealth.
Despite stats like these, the same old objections resurface again and again, like ideological zombies, whenever anyone dares suggest a redistribution of grand fortunes.
The first of these objections: Reducing inequality remains simply impossible because the rich will always be able to avoid paying any new taxes levied upon them. The second: Even if we could raise taxes on the rich, we shouldn’t — because the costs to society always outweigh any benefits. And the third objection: The rich, morally speaking, deserve their good fortune.1
The billionaire class should be outlawed for many reasons. The U.S. tax code is a nightmare precisely because those with obscene wealth have wielded power to ensure they have loopholes and you do not. Jail for billionaires who do not pay an appropriate amount. That’s a system that would work. I do not tolerate a world where a self-proclaimed billionaire pays less in income taxes than I do. Neither should you.
What would the benefits of forcing the immensely wealthy to pay actual taxes be?
Improved environment. The richest 20 individuals emit 8,000-times more carbon than our Earth’s poorest billion people combined. Redistributing a portion of top wealth to invest in things like public transit would directly reduce emissions and help build a desperately needed low-carbon infrastructure.
Stronger democracy. Inequality erodes democracy. In the United States, as the political scientists Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page have noted, the majority “does not rule – at least not in the causal sense of actually determining policy outcomes.” Democracy has disintegrated into oligarchy.
Better opportunities. Inequality makes a mockery of the equal opportunity we claim to value. The poorest residents of Chicago today face a life expectancy fully thirty years shorter than the richest. High redistributive taxes could reverse this most brutal of disparities.
Reduced xenophobia and racism. Right-wing populism typically grows hand-in-hand with economic insecurity. We can reduce that insecurity by taxing the rich to fund free public services, a stronger safety net, and perhaps even a guaranteed basic income.
Reduced social friction. Reducing inequality, the evidence also shows, builds community health and cohesion. Reducing inequality encourages greater levels of trust and tolerance, better mental health, and less crime.
Billionaire abolishment could take many forms. It could mean preventing people from keeping more than a billion in booty, but more likely it would mean higher marginal taxes on income, wealth and estates for billionaires and people on the way to becoming billionaires. These policy ideas turn out to poll very well, even if they’re probably not actually redistributive enough to turn most billionaires into sub-billionaires.2
There is no ethical or moral justification for one individual to control so much wealth. The idea that billionaires are so rich because of natural talent is nonsense. Couple that fact that wealth inequality continues to grow while the social safety networks many rely on for basic existence continue to be undermined, weakened, and stripped of the resources necessary to actually, well, you know, help people who need help, and you are left with a society composed of increasing cruelty, despair, and hopelessness. The epidemic of mental illness and drug abuse eating away at the social wellbeing of many countries didn’t happen naturally. It was created by the excesses and greed of the uber wealthy. You simply cannot be a “good” billionaire. Show me a billionaire who has given away 90% of their unncessary resource hoard while alive, and I’ll show you an alternate universe. It has not happened in this one.
Tom Steyer might come close, but don’t get distracted from the fact that even Tom Steyer shouldn’t have as much wealth as Tom Steyer has. Bernie Sanders got it right3, and he should have been the Democratic nominee. Even Bernie is not extreme enough, however.
Bernie is right. In fact, he could have gone even further — calling not just for redistributing more of billionaires’ money through progressive taxation but going to the source of the problem by bringing their businesses under collective ownership.
Eliminate the billionaires. Tell a friend. Humanity’s future is dependent on ending gross wealth inequality. If only a few of us can prosper, we live in a dystopian nightmare.