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A Billionaire Ban? No. Tougher Regs and More Taxes? Yes.

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-Carrots and sticks to encourage billionaires to invest at least a certain percentage of assets in at least potentially productive ways within the U.S., especially if new jobs might result. The wealthier the billionaire, the higher the percentage.

-Much higher estate taxes on the super-rich as well as restraints such as tougher banking, securities, occupational-safety and anti-monopoly laws, not to mention campaign finance reform. Should Michael Bloomberg be able to finance his Democratic primary campaign without other donors? Above all, we need to kill the Supreme Court's loathsome Citizens United decision. It let billionaires' money and others' pollute our elections to the point where plutocrats' needs so often come ahead of other Americans'.

-The aforementioned wealth limits--far more sophisticated than simply a billionaire ban. The five richest Americans are now worth more than two percent of our GDP. Perhaps too high? Maybe not. But look ahead. Suppose breakthroughs in artificial intelligence or other areas allow individual inventors or companies to squash the competition in a way and to an extent harmful to the average citizen. Then a percentage-based wealth limit could make sense to account for weaknesses in anti-trust laws or interpretations of them. Better to be proactive and pass such a measure when the political climate permits--no small detail in regard to other ideas here, too.

-Prohibitions on companies exceeding a certain ratio between total compensation for CEOs and the average pay for the workforce.

-Tough laws to protect labor's right to organize in the U.S. while pressing as much possible for similar measures globally.

-Legally required worker representation on the boards of at least the very largest companies, even privately owned ones.

-A carefully phased in universal basic income, at least eventually, in the spirit of proposals from presidential candidate Andrew Yang and others. The more automation, the more desirable a UBI will become not just for workers but for also enlightened business people who want to expand the market for their goods. Marvels such as artificial intelligence and nanotechnology could multiply the total size of the pie in time, leaving billionaires far wealthier than today, while the rest of society participated in the gains.

A $12,000 annual guaranteed income, the amount proposed by Yang, might be too high today. But sooner or later, it could be just a fraction of an affordable UBI. Far better a basic income than a stiff, productivity-sapping tax on robots and artificial intelligence. Meanwhile, if nothing else, we should increase Society Security and medical benefits and otherwise improve the economic stability of the nonwealthy.

Not all billionaire-control measures need come from the government. Business professors and others on campus should take ethics more seriously, including those required of prospective donors to universities and other prestigious institutions. And assuming that the Social Register and local versions in D.C. and other cities still count, an oft-iffy proposition, here's to more deletions of billionaire crooks and near-crooks!

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David H. Rothman is a columnist for The Georgetown Dish (GeorgetownDish.com). He is author of The Solomon Scandals (Twilight Times Books), a 2009 novel featuring a real estate crook with a knack for buying up journalists and politicians. "My (more...)
 

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