Greg Palast is identifying the worst billionaires. There's a great book, Plutocracy, by Chrystia Freeland, that looks at how we got to the point where there are two different castes of people-- the economic elite and the rest of us. Roots Action has joined the fray and has already sent out to close to 200,000 emails with Thom Hartmann's full article and links to an article by me and one by Sam Pizzigati. Thom Hartmann: The No Billionaires CampaignRob Kall: De-billionairize the PlanetSam Pizzigati: The Rich Don't Always Win
The tax the rich, no billionaires meme is gaining traction. The naysayers are helping us by identifying the objections we need to have strong responses to. The stats are coming in the history of wealth differences is being fleshed out. The parameters are starting to come into focus--
- deciding how much is too much-- a billion, half a billion, quarter billion-- when the assets are taxed at 100%
-preventing the creation of dynasties, by raising estate taxes-- call them Dynasty taxes
-tying the no billionaires Campaign with efforts to prevent creation or accretion of too big to fail corporations. That means funding research on how to keep companies small, or at least independent, without being acquired by bigger conglomerates, while still taking advantage of economies of scale.
The naysayers are saying that it is human nature to accumulate wealth (not true according the anthropologists and historians,) that there's no way to stand up to the power of the billionaires and their corporations (there are plenty of examples of such successes.) They say progressives are talkers and don't get their acts together (reference the end of slavery, the womens rights and civil rights and gay rights movements, which didn't happen overnight,) that we're just jealous of wealthy people (some may be but most are more interested in fairness and protecting the weakest and the commons.) They say that if a no billionaires campaign turns into reality the billionaires will leave the country and cost many jobs (billionaires are not job creators. Let them leave, but also make reciprocal deals with other countries to not harbor each others' billionaires-- as part of revised global trade agreements.)
I like to think of the dinosaurs-- how the big, top of the food chain carnivores died out and were replaced by much smaller, less powerful mammals-- evolution happened. And then there's the history of the human race-- a million years or more of humans and their close predecessors living in tribes and bands where everyone was bottom up equal, no dynasties, no passing on of wealth from generation to generation. Any person who tried to own 400 or 4000 times more than anyone else would have been considered insane and either straightened out or thrown out.
The rise of the billionaires is not that new in the US. In her book, Plutocrats, Chrystia Freeland tells us, " Between the 1940s and the 1970s in the United States the gap between the 1 percent and everyone else shrank; the income share of the top 1 percent fell from nearly 16 percent in 1940 to under 7 percent in 1970. In 1980, the average U.S. CEO made forty-two times as much as the average worker. By 2012, that ratio had skyrocketed to 380."
This is not a problem that has been with Americans since the beginning. Ronald Reagan set it in motion with his huge tax breaks, which were supposed to "trickle down."
The existence of billionaires is an anomaly, an economic wrong turn that not only the US, but the world needs to correct. Thom Hartmann tells me he thinks for some billionaires the collection of wealth is an obsessive form of hoarding. Whatever the etiology, the existence of billionaires is dangerous and bad for America, for its democracy for its economy and its future. Chrystia Freeland characterizes these new plutocrats as "the most international." These people are not loyal Americans. They are loyal to money and take it where they can keep the most, even though they used the strengths and resources of the US to make their money.
Try this thought experiment.
Capitalism still exists, like it did for businesses for hundreds of years, perhaps until shortly before the time of the Railroad Barons. But there are laws in place that put limits to growth. Unlimited growth is not the goal. Growth is good, but it must be sustainable and fit within a business ecology based on localization.
If your business really takes off and becomes incredibly valuable, you can hold on to voting shares but the financial value is shared by workers and investors. As is the case for worker owned cooperatives, like Mondragon, which has become a multi-billion dollar operation, no executive at a corporation can earn more than 40 times what a worker earns-- and that includes stock options. Ford Foundation funded economist William Lazonick has described how stock option bonuses are a big part of the problem-- that execs shoot for ways to make the bonuses worth more rather than building the company, developing new products or creating new markets.
Imagine that when a successful company starts to get big, and looks good to a few big companies that might, in the past have acquired the company, the growing company signs on with a "connector" company that helps growing companies to interdigitate with bigger companies looking for new technologies and access to markets and marketing tools. It's illegal for big companies to acquire companies to grow or gain advantage. This system makes it a bit harder for entrepreneurs and investors to cash out, but, in the long run, keeps more workers employed and makes the company more money.
The owner of a fabulously successful company that is now worth billions, since he knew he couldn't keep the money or bequeath huge amounts of it to his children through his estate, breaks the company up into free-standing companies, perhaps giving his children some stock in the companies.
But that owner still has so much equity in his company, he's come close to going over a billion in assets. To avoid that, he's shifted the company to be worker owned. Each worker with more than a year with the company has some equity in it and gets stock options that are dependent upon the company maintaining or growing its value.
In one quarter, the value of the owner's stock has gone up so much, he's passed a billion in value. At that point, the portion of stock that went over a billion dollars in value is automatically split up between social security, medicare, road construction, government funded research, food stamp funding and small business development funding. (this is off the top of my head stuff.) This won't happen very often because letting it happen is a sign of bad faith business management. Being a good economic citizen has become a high priority of corporate leadership-- no more rich, greedy a**holes running companies. Corporate boards won't put up with it-- and boards must include minorities, women and community members-- not just fellow CEOs and execs that vote for each others perks.
Another highly succesful corporate founder tries to sneak his money out of the country. Then, he attempts to move to Scotland or Ireland. When he lands, the police arrest him. The Justice Department no longer protects the wealthy elite, since they are now seen as high risk for criminal behavior. Every CEO is assigned to a team of trackers whose job it is to be sure that he follows the rules, doesn't evade taxes or wealth limitations and follows that laws that have been created to keep jobs in-country. This criminal is arrested in Ireland because we have reciprocal agreements with all our trading partners-- and former tax havens like the Cayman Islands have been ruled illegal depositories-- it's a crime to move your money there. Wealth now comes at the cost of privacy.
There are more people becoming millionaires than ever before, and even more ten and hundred millionaires.
Okay, that's just some speculation on how it would look. Feel free to criticize but don't tell me it's all impossible and don't tell me it's socialism. It's a different kind of bottom-up capitalism.
We can change the world. We can pass laws and policies that make billionaires like the dinosaurs-- extinct, so they no longer exert their toxic influences on the economy on government on our culture. Wealth is fine. Capitalism is fine. But nature limits everything. It is natural to put limits on wealth too.
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