Paul L. Caron

Friday, November 15, 2019

Billionaires Are Bad For Democracy

New York Times op-ed:  Are Billionaires Bad for Democracy?, by Michael Tomasky:

I’m not expert enough to judge the wisdom of Senator Warren’s proposed wealth tax. ... So this column is not a brief for Ms. Warren’s wealth tax or for her candidacy — I don’t have a preferred candidate. Instead, I want to make a simple plea to the country’s billionaires: Multibillion-dollar fortunes are often called excessive and decadent. But here’s something they’re rarely called but ought to be: anti-democratic. These fortunes will destroy our democracy. ...

[A]ny democracy needs a robust and thriving middle class, and we have spent the last 30 or so years transferring trillions of dollars from the middle class to the people at the very top. Just one set of numbers, from the University of California, Berkeley economist Gabriel Zucman: The 400 richest Americans — the top .00025 percent of the population — now own more of the country’s riches than the 150 million adults in the bottom 60 percent of wealth distribution. The 400’s share has tripled since the 1980s.

This is carnage, plain and simple. No democratic society can let that keep happening and expect to stay a democracy. It will produce a middle and working classes with no sense of security, and when people have no sense that the system is providing them with basic security, they’ll make some odd and desperate choices. ...

Democracy is in peril. If the world’s democracies don’t start delivering more secure lives for working- and middle-class people again, they may not be democracies for much longer. Stability has a price, and someone will have to pay. How about the people with the money?

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Billionaires aren't inherently bad for democracy. What's bad about our billionaires is that they don't pay the taxes they should (e.g., equal taxes on capital gains, the "stepped-up basis") and have entirely too much political power. Their wealth shouldn't enable them to effectively control what gets done in America.

Posted by: Gerald Scorse | Nov 23, 2019 2:03:06 PM

"Kind of destroys your assertion that it [the Deep State] doesn't exist.
Of course it exists: about as much as the Ukranian interference in the 2016 election exists, as much as Trump's claim that he didn't do what anybody with a brain can see that he did, etc., etc.

Posted by: Gerald Scorse | Nov 23, 2019 1:59:08 PM

Gerald, too bad they now admit to it (check out You-tube). Kind of destroys your assertion that it doesn't exist. That was their original defense. Now they switched to "yes we, the Deep State, exist, but we're acting to protect the nation."

You gullible supporters of the Deep State need to keep your stories straight.

Posted by: ruralcounsel | Nov 18, 2019 7:28:01 AM

I am always surprised how otherwise intelligent people don't get the distinction between wealth and money. The "top 400" mostly got that way by creating new wealth (goods and services) for which they were paid by the people who wanted some of that wealth (e.g. computers, mobile devices, internet connectivity) for themselves. The money? Well, that is where a wise monetary policy - expanding in pace with the creation of wealth - helps the entire society grow. Bottom line: the Middle Class isn't poorer for having access to these goods and services, they are richer.

Posted by: MarkB | Nov 16, 2019 5:14:50 AM

Ignored as always is the fact that wealth is not a zero sum game. Yes, they are becoming fabulously wealthy, but they are also tapping into global markets and consumers that were not previously accessible.

There is a very strong argument to be made for antitrust concerns and some monopoly busting, especially with regards to big tech. But just because the rich are getting richer, is not by itself a bad thing. To take one example, Bill Gates/Microsoft have sold computing products to a significant portion of the world, improving business and personal lives. Is his money ill-gotten at the expense of the middle class? Should we have prevented the rise of Microsoft? I think not.

Posted by: todd | Nov 15, 2019 9:18:24 AM

"The Deep State coup..." There isn't any Deep State coup; there are only the gullible who believe such nonsense, spread it, etc.

"The main problem in our society is educational advantage." It wouldn't be if the rich couldn't buy it.

Posted by: Gerald Scorse | Nov 15, 2019 7:54:06 AM

The main problem in our society is educational advantage. Talking about billionaires is a waste of time. This is simply jealousy.

Posted by: Mike Livingston | Nov 15, 2019 4:19:41 AM

Someone else's success has nothing to do with one's "sense of security." Democracy may be in peril, but it's more due to the sense that one's vote has no real influence on how one's government behaves. The Deep State coup does more to destroy our theoretical form of government than any set of billionaires.

Posted by: ruralcounsel | Nov 15, 2019 3:35:35 AM