Put the Billionaires on a Rocket to Mars

Away with them. Like they tell us, it’s a chance to save Earth.

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Sky’s the limit! Just three billionaires, (from left) Warren Buffett, Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, now possess more wealth than the bottom half of US households. Illustration by Christopher Cheung. Jeff Bezos photo via Wikipedia, public domain; Bill Gates photo via WikipediaCC BY-SA 2.0; and Warren Buffett photo via WikipediaCC BY-SA 2.0.

The world has an intractable problem: in 1990, billionaires had amassed $118 billion in wealth.

Today, they hoard a treasure trove of more than $3 trillion.

Meanwhile, the number of billionaires has grown by nearly 40 per cent over the last five years.

Billionaires are not only proliferating faster than the coronavirus, but they are concentrating the globe’s money supply like there is no tomorrow.

The globe’s 2,153 billionaires, for example, now have more wealth than half the world’s population — that’s 4.6 billion ordinary Earth dwellers.

Just 22 male billionaires have more money than all the women living in Africa. That’s more than half a billion people.

At this rate, billionaires will own everything and everybody in a couple of years.

Billionaire oligarchs already dominate global affairs so totally that a Swiss financial firm publishes a yearly report on their escapades.

Every day, billionaires intervene in elections, fund political parties, run for office, dominate another continent or make more merchandise we don’t need.

When billionaires aren’t telling us how to live, they fly in their private jets to Davos where they pretend to fix the world’s problems.

Apparently only rich people with money and jets can fix things.

In Davos, billionaires, signalling virtue like a host of Vestal Virgins, utter a lot of rich clichés, like solemnly intoning that problems made by technology can be solved by technology — with the help of generous billionaires.

Meanwhile, a whole bunch of digital billionaires are trying to manage and manipulate us like rats in a lab with algorithms as addictive as Oxycontin.

At one time, you could depend on populists to rise up periodically to overthrow the rich and restore some balance to the world, but the billionaires have outflanked us.

They now lead and fund populist movements promising “to drain political swamps.” Talk about a “win-win” for billionaires.

Others rich guys like George Soros and David Koch think they can solve the world’s problems with money, which, incidentally, is pretty much how Judas thought about the world.

We could rise up against the world’s billionaire 0.000027 per cent the old-fashioned way with guillotines and pitchforks, but I have a more modest solution: let’s just send them to Mars.

Billionaires not only like rockets, but they are crazy about Mars and really want to go there in a bad way. I think many of them are also getting the heebie-jeebies here on Earth.

You can understand why. The damned plebs are anxious and awash in debt; the economy has lost its mojo; some populists actually want to tax the rich; and then there is that damnable thing called climate change.

Most of us can smell gunpowder in the air.

One hundred years ago, no rich person in their right mind would have ever thought of going to a Red State, let alone a Red Planet, but things have changed.

Every billionaire worth their salt is selling off their yacht or extending their longevity to buy a rocket.

That’s right: rockets have become the new yachts.

The billionaire President Donald Trump understands the new rocket frenzy.

He notes that “rich people like building rocket ships and sending them up,” and it’s OK with him.

And Trump wants the moon to serve as a launch pad for Mars. “I said, ‘Hey, we’ve done the moon. That’s not so exciting.’ So we’ll be doing the moon. But we’ll really be doing Mars.”

Do Mars, Trump. Do.

The billionaire Elon Musk figures that people, well really rich people, now have two choices.

They can stay on Earth and walk wide-eyed into “an inevitable extinction event” and lose their fortunes.

Or they can “become a spacefaring civilization, and a multi-planetary species.”

That’s how hopeful the billionaires are today. In any case, they really want to get off the planet.

Jeff Bezos, the chief of Amazon, wants not only to go Mars but “everywhere” in space in one of his shiny Blue Origin rockets.

He can afford to, because Amazon doesn’t pay any federal taxes.

He also thinks all “heavy industry will be moved off-planet” and that Earth should be zoned “residential” for non-billionaires.

Let’s send Captain Picard Bezos to Mars before the Earth runs out of merchandise to sell on Amazon.

Make it so.

Musk, who has already put a Tesla roadster into space because he could, plans to establish a colony on the Red Planet by 2050.

I say let him. But make it a colony for billionaires with electric cars only. I don’t care if he calls it Club Musk or Club Red.

Now here comes a really funny part: the Nazi rocketeer Wernher von Braun (who went on to lead the U.S space program) predicted in his book Project Mars, a “technical” case for going wrapped in a 1950s sci-fi novel, that the red planet would be governed by 10 technocrats and their leader would be called Elon.

I am not making this shit up.

Igor Ashurbeyli, a Russian billionaire and rocket scientist, wants to create his own nation in outer space called “Asgardia.”

It will have its own government, currency, calendar and something we don’t have on Earth anymore — a justice system.

Go Ashurbeyli. The Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa, who founded the fashion retailer Zozo, hopes to make it to the moon on one of Musk’s SpaceX rockets.

Maezawa will probably look pretty fashionable on the journey wearing a Zozo body suit.

Bye, bye Maezawa.

Mark Zuckerberg, the whining billionaire who broke a lot of democratic things with Facebook, doesn’t want to go to outer space (at least not yet), but is sending spacecraft to its far reaches.

He wants to be the first to get aliens on Facebook.

So let’s send the violator of our privacies to the Red Planet. I’m sure he will find a lot of friends there.

Bon voyage, Zuckerberg!

Now let me declare my bias, because I obviously have one.

I don’t hate billionaires. I just don’t appreciate their abuse of power and their demonic obsession with money.

Jacques Ellul, a radical Christian that no self-respecting billionaire would ever read, thought money acted like a strange power that invaded the soul and enslaved the heart.

It replaced God’s spirit in every person with absurdities and cruelties.

He thought the only way to deal with the problem of money was by giving it away and treating it profanely.

Now get this: the scriptures identify “the rich” as people who think they don’t need God’s help. That probably explains why most billionaires act like gods and tweet like rock stars.

One more thing. I come from a long line of Norwegian and Ukrainian peasants.

A peasant defines wealth the old-fashioned way: it’s all about family and friends and a good piece of Earth. If you are loved and believe in the Tao or God, you are wealthy even if you have holes in your shoes.

One of my heroes is Emiliano Zapata, a rebel peasant leader from Morelos, Mexico. He refused to sit on the presidential throne in Mexico City in 1914, because that’s not why he fought for the poor. “We should burn that chair to end all ambitions,” he said. Nobody listened to Zapata.

A military man later betrayed Zapata for, you guessed it, money.

Now I know I am writing heresies here. I’ve read the propaganda on the rich: they worked hard at building their hedge funds and earned their money and we should worship them. Billionaires obviously have long-term vision and are determined risk takers while the rest of us are just no-good shirkers.

Without billionaires, goes the propaganda, we’d have no running toilets or high-tech gadgets to distract us from the proliferation of billionaires. Companies run by billionaires, of course, make more money than other companies. And blah, blah, blah.

The billionaire Bill Gates says banning billionaires would be a bad idea because “the amount you would gain would be much less than the amount you would lose.”

But I disagree. I lived well without Microsoft or a smart phone. A billionaire didn’t invent the flush toilet, or penicillin for that matter. In fact, I can’t really think of any problem a billionaire has really solved.

And no billionaire, no matter how much he or she celebrates themselves, will ever be as valuable as a man or woman who cares for a sick child, or a parent crippled by a stroke, or a friend beset by dementia.

So let’s send the world’s billionaires — all 2,153 of them — to Mars before we have a trillionaire problem.

Oh, did I forget to mention that the billionaires have to leave their wealth and their art collections behind?

It is really important to travel light on a flight to Mars.

To be serious for a moment, Wernher von Braun thought life on Mars would be hunky dory.

The colonists would live a subterranean existence and eat microscopic algae. Opportunities for “body repair and brain filling stations” would be readily available, and billionaires just love that kind of talk.

Nobody living on Mars would get nostalgic for Earth, wrote von Braun, thanks to “the standardization of all ideas and desires.”

And what more could a billionaire ask for?

The Billionaires Are Getting Nervous

Bill Gates and others warn that higher taxes would lead to lower growth. They have their facts backward.

By 

The editorial board is a group of opinion journalists whose views are informed by expertise, research, debate and certain longstanding values. It is separate from the newsroom.

Bill Gates in New York on Wednesday.
Credit…Calla Kessler/The New York Times

When Bill Gates founded Microsoft in 1975, the top marginal tax rate on personal income was 70 percent, tax rates on capital gains and corporate income were significantly higher than at present, and the estate tax was a much more formidable levy. None of that dissuaded Mr. Gates from pouring himself into his business, nor discouraged his investors from pouring in their money.

Yet he is now the latest affluent American to warn that Senator Elizabeth Warren’s plan for much higher taxes on the rich would be bad not just for the wealthy but for the rest of America, too.

Mr. Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft, suggested on Wednesday that a big tax increase would result in less economic growth. “I do think if you tax too much you do risk the capital formation, innovation, U.S. as the desirable place to do innovative companies — I do think you risk that,” he said.

Other perturbed plutocrats have made the same point with less finesse. The billionaire investor Leon Cooperman was downright crude when he declared that Ms. Warren was wrecking the American dream. Jamie Dimon, the chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, complained on CNBC that Ms. Warren “uses some pretty harsh words” about the rich. He added, “Some would say vilifies successful people.”

Let’s get a few things straight.

The wealthiest Americans are paying a much smaller share of income in taxes than they did a half-century ago. In 1961, Americans with the highest incomes paid an average of 51.5 percent of that income in federal, state and local taxes. In 2011, Americans with the highest incomes paid just 33.2 percent of their income in taxes, according to a study by Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman published last year. Data for the last few years is not yet available but would most likely show a relatively similar tax burden.

The federal government needs a lot more money. Decades of episodic tax cuts have left the government deeply in debt: The Treasury is on pace to borrow more than $1 trillion during the current fiscal year to meet its obligations. The government will need still more money for critical investments in infrastructure, education and the social safety net.

This is not an endorsement of the particulars of Ms. Warren’s tax plan. There is plenty of room to debate how much money the government needs, and how best to raise that money. The specific proposals by Ms. Warren and one of her rivals, Senator Bernie Sanders, to impose a new federal tax on wealth are innovations that require careful consideration.

But a necessary part of the solution is to collect more from those Americans who have the most.

And there is little evidence to justify Mr. Gates’s concern that tax increases of the magnitude proposed by Ms. Warren and other candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination would meaningfully discourage innovation, investment or economic growth.

The available evidence strongly suggests that taxation exerts a minor influence on innovation. Experts have an imperfect understanding of what drives innovation, but taxation isn’t in the same weight class as factors including education, research and a consistent legal system.

Congress has slashed taxation three times in the past four decades, each time for the stated purpose of spurring innovation, investment and growth. Each time, the purported benefits failed to materialize. President Trump initiated the most recent experiment in 2017. The International Monetary Fund concluded this year that it had not worked.

Moreover, while higher tax rates may weigh modestly against innovation and investment, that calculus is incomplete. It ignores the question of what the government does with the additional money. It also ignores the possibility that higher taxes could result in more innovation.

A study of American patent holders found that innovators tend to come from wealthy families, to grow up in communities of innovators and to receive high-quality educations in math and science. Mr. Gates, one of the most successful entrepreneurs in American history, fits the profile: He grew up in an affluent family and received the best education money could buy.

The implication of that study, and related research, is that public investment, funded by taxation, could give more kids the kinds of advantages enjoyed by the young Mr. Gates.

There is no doubt that it is theoretically possible to raise taxes to prohibitive heights: If people had to pay a tax of 100 percent of the next dollar they earned, they would be likely to call it a day.

But the alarm bells are out of all proportion with Ms. Warren’s plan. Describing his concerns on Wednesday, Mr. Gates at one point suggested he might be asked to pay $100 billion.

The Warren campaign calculates that under Ms. Warren’s plan, Mr. Gates would owe $6.379 billion in taxes next year. Notably, that is less than Mr. Gates earned from his investments last year. Even under Ms. Warren’s plan, there’s a good chance Mr. Gates would get richer.

To his credit, Mr. Gates has said that he thinks the wealthy should pay higher taxes. But that’s not how he behaved on Wednesday. He can demonstrate that he’s serious about tax increases by setting aside the hyperbole and engaging in principled and factual debate about the details. SOURCE

 

Tax the Rich Before the Rest

Candidates should pledge that the middle class won’t pay $1 more in new taxes until billionaires put up at least $1 trillion.

The biggest winners of the last decade, in terms of income and wealth growth, have not been even the richest 1 percent, but the richest one-tenth of 1 percent. (Phone: Shutterstock)The biggest winners of the last decade, in terms of income and wealth growth, have not been even the richest 1 percent, but the richest one-tenth of 1 percent. (Phone: Shutterstock)

Presidential candidates should take a pledge: The middle class should not pay one dollar more in new taxes until the super-rich pay their fair share.

Already candidates are outlining ambitious programs to improve health care, combat climate change, and address the opioid crisis — and trying to explain how they’ll pay for it.

President Trump, on the other hand, wants to give corporations and the richest 1 percent more tax breaks to keep goosing a lopsided economic boom — even as deficit hawks moan about the exploding national debt and annual deficits topping $1 trillion.

Eventually someone is going to have to pay the bills. If history is a guide, the first to pay will be the broad middle class, thanks to lobbyists pulling the strings for the wealthy and big corporations.

Here’s a different idea: Whatever spending plan is put forward, the first $1 trillion in new tax revenue should come exclusively from multi-millionaires and billionaires.

In an economy with staggering inequalities — the income and wealth gaps are at their widest level in a century — the middle class shouldn’t be hit up a penny more until the rich pay up.

Four decades of stagnant wages plus runaway housing and health care costs have clobbered the middle class. In an economy with staggering inequalities — the income and wealth gaps are at their widest level in a century — the middle class shouldn’t be hit up a penny more until the rich pay up.

The biggest winners of the last decade, in terms of income and wealth growth, have not been even the richest 1 percent, but the richest one-tenth of 1 percent. This 0.1 percent includes households with incomes over $2.4 million, and wealth starting at $32 million.

They own more wealth than the bottom 80 percent combined. Yet these multi-millionaires and billionaires have seen their taxes decline over the decades, in part because the tax code favors wealth over work. MORE

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