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

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Billionaires for Wealthcare
Billionaires for Wealthcare
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Billionaires are not always the most lovable people.

Remember the Silicon Valley venture capitalist who said wealthy Americas were victims of persecution, just like Jews in Hitler's Germany?

Oh, the horrors! Our super-rich are so jeopardized that only three billionaires, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, are together wealthier than the lower half of our population if we go by a 2017 study. Their fortunes now total about $300 billion.

Highlighting the wealth issue is the entry of yet another billionaire, Michael Bloomberg, into the Democratic race. Bloomberg is spending tens of millions, which will hardly dent his $50-billion-plus.

In the worst way, we're in another Gilded Age. The sheriff of Nottingham might as well have cooked up the U.S. tax system in cahoots with Gordon Gekko. The 400 richest American families in 2018 actually paid a lower rate in combined local, state and federal taxes (23 percent of incomes) than did the bottom half (24.2 percent). Compare that to 47 percent in 1980.

What to do? An outright ban on billionaires, as if that could happen, would be a Soviet-level mistake. I'll explain why while arguing for tougher regulations and far higher taxes on the billionaire class. I even favor a small wealth tax, a much-milder version of what Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have called for in the spirit of AOC's thoughts on billionaires. And if we could limit the percentage of our economy that each billionaire and his or her family could own or even control via corporations or otherwise--well, that would be wonderful.

Just the same, I respectfully disagree with the wish of Sanders, and others, that billionaires shouldn't even exist someday. I'll demur on the "de-Billionairization" plan of Rob Kall, editor of OpEdNews, who has articulately channeled the thoughts of many understandably furious progressives (here and here). Ahead are my arguments for the continued existence of billionaires, albeit much-better taxed and regulated ones:

Different people respond to different incentives

Commentators like Rob Kall are personally driven by creativity and idealism. But creativity can take different forms.

Kall presumably would focus on the work product--a life-saving drug, better, cheaper electric cars, better solar cells, a worthwhile political manifesto, a poem, a novel, a movie script, or the stress-monitoring device that he invented. But so many of the world's most dynamic business people see the acquisition of wealth itself as at least one form of creativity. They do count their billions and are competitive about it. Elon Musk, Tesla CEO, nailed down a deal that could net him $55.8 billion in a decade.

Can we wave a magic wand and instantly change the business culture to kill off this obnoxious way of keeping score? Likely not.

Remember, we're not the only country where ambitious would-be billionaire-innovators can go. Even the Chinese would love to get in on the action. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang presumably was joking when he offered Musk a green card, but in the case of less established innovators, Beijing can be a lot more serious.

Let us remember, too, the philanthropy that great wealth makes possible. Where would American libraries be without the robber baron Andrew Carnegie?

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David Rothman Social Media Pages: Facebook Page       Twitter page url on login Profile not filled in       Linkedin page url on login Profile not filled in       Instagram page url on login Profile not filled in

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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Rob Kall

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Comment by Rob Kall:

Well, I disagree with you. But I'm glad you're here to offer your your perspectives.

I think even the most benign, benevolent billionaires are dangerous because they wield too much power and influence. And it is too easy for them to engage in secret actions and machinations.


Submitted on Wednesday, Dec 25, 2019 at 6:17:52 PM

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David Rothman

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And thanks, Rob, for letting me offer my own solution to a major problem that we both agree exists.

To address your understandable concerns, I believe that decent campaign reform would go a long way in reducing the influence of the billionaire class. Tight donations limits, please--and not just on direct contributions. Plus, a lot more openness!

What's more, pressure needs to be created to get the super rich and their foundations to be more transparent and more responsive to the wishes and needs of the nonelite.

I've already made most of these points in the commentary.

As noted, too, I think philanthropies should open up their boards to people from outside the usual elite.

That said, I continue to believe that the better billionaires serve a purpose through useful deployment of capital, which creates jobs and technological innovation. I've suggested ways to encourage helpful deployment. (One possibility going beyond billionaires at the personal level would be tough restrictions on stock buybacks.) Billionaires can spend only so much money on their personal needs; let's encourage them to spend the surplus cash in ways that benefit society, whether through job creation or philanthropy helpful to the nonelite.

Happy holidays,
David

Submitted on Wednesday, Dec 25, 2019 at 7:36:06 PM

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Edward Campbell

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Actually, the Constitution requires it. "The Cornerstone Brief and Secrets of the Forgotten American Revolution" reveals how the equality promises of the Declaration of Independence were embodied into law from our very beginning in the original constitution, The Articles of Confederation, and the later Constitution under which we now live, and how the current oligarches are illegal and unconstitutional power sources in the United States. They give the basis for reclaiming the country, for reclaiming equal opportunity for all and no special privilege for any. Only Bernie seems to stand for this in the political realm, but hopefully this will help support him from all the nonsense and supposed Communist and socialist haters who do not know what they are talking about. click here Sorry, they no longer teach this in school or even in colleges nor will you find it in the active practice o the law. But it is there, really part of our fundamental laws. So when the billionaires die, there is legal precedence to redistribute thebulk of heir wealth for the benefit of the whole country.

Submitted on Thursday, Dec 26, 2019 at 8:30:25 AM

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