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Extreme Wealth Accumulation Is A Serious Problem And Should Be Dealt With In A Serious Manner

Absolute last resort, except for fascists of course

According to this month’s Forbes, the 10 richest people in the world are all multi-billionaires. But none of them are the richest in history, not even close. These are the ten richest as of March 1, 2013 at 8:30 AM:

1. Bernard Arnault- $225.9 billion

2. Elon Musk- $202.4 billion

3. Jeff Bezos- $126.4 billion

4. Larry Ellison- $118.3 billion

5. Bill Gates- $110.3 billion

6. Warren Buffett- $106.8 billion

7. Mike Bloomberg- $94.5 billion

8. Carlos Slim Helu- $93.4 billion

9. Steve Ballmer- $90.8 billion

10. Francoise Bettencourt Meyers- $89.4 billion

That list doesn’t include Mark Zuckerberg, who is supposedly worth over $100 billion or the Koch family, also worth over $100 billion. In any case, I think we can all agree that $10-20 million is more than enough and that anything beyond that should be taxed at a 90% rate, with zero loopholes. And if they cheat, one day trial, one day appeal, one day execution. I know it sounds harsh… but what have they done to the rest of us? As as far as subsidies to billionaires, legislators who vote for them should be held accountable as well, no matter what party they belong to.

Historically, though there have been others even richer than these 10. For example, Jacob Fugger von Der Lilie, a German merchant, mine owner and banker was born into a wealthy family in 1459. His wealth is estimated to be around $400 billion in today's dollars, equivalent to 2% of Europe’s GDP at the time. He had the patronage of the Habsburg dynasty and the Vatican.

Another contender for the title of the richest person in history, who you may have never heard of, is Mansa Musa (born in 1312), king of Mali when it was the biggest power in West Africa. His wealth was derived by selling gold, salt, ivory and slaves and is estimated to also be around $400 billion in today’s money.

The other person worth in the $400 billion range was John D. Rockefeller, an American robber baron born in 1839. Robber barons are defined as unethical, exploitative and monopolistic. Other than railroad tycoon, embezzler and lower-digit billionaire Albert J. Adams (5 years in prison), none were ever held accountable for their crimes. Others worth over $100 billion included robber baron Andrew Carnegie (over $300 billion), American Nazi Henry Ford, robber baron William Vanderbilt, robber baron Cornelius Vanderbilt, German-American opium smuggler John Jacob Astor, French-American bankster Stephen Girard— and that doesn’t count heads of state who controlled massive wealth from Alexander the Great, Augustus Caesar, William the Conqueror and Mughal Emperor Akbar the Great to more modern bandits like Stalin, and Mir Osman Ali Khan, the last Nizam of Hyderabad who controlled the diamond market and used a $100 million diamond as a paper weight.

Government subsidies and policies are in great part responsible for these vast fortunes. Even today, modern day robber baron Elon Musk has collected close to $5 billion in subsidies and tax breaks from the U.S. government— over $2 billion for Tesla and closer to $3 billion for SpaceX.

Let me suggest 4 overarching reasons why this kind of great wealth should be severely curtailed, particularly in a society striving for democratic governance:

  1. Extreme wealth inequality inevitably creates extreme social and economic divisions, exacerbates poverty and social exclusion, and contributes to social unrest and instability.

  2. Overly wealthy individuals and corporations have always used their money and influence to shape public policy and undermine democratic institutions.

  3. Extreme wealth concentration leads to inefficient allocation of resources and reduces overall economic growth.

  4. There is also a moral argument to be made that extreme wealth accumulation is unfair, particularly in cases where it is achieved through exploitation or unethical business practices, which is probably about 99.99% of the time.

The best solutions are progressive taxation and wealth and inheritance taxes. Norway, Sweden, France, Germany and Canada all have far more progressive taxation than the U.S. Let’s look at Norway, where there are over 35,000 individuals with net worths above $10 million and two multi-billionaires, Johan Andresen Jr. ($15.4 billion) and Kjell Inge Røkke ($10.4 billion). Norway has a more progressive tax system than the U.S., with a top marginal income tax rate of 38.2% and a wealth tax of 0.85% on net worth above $175,000. So, for example, if someone has a net worth of $233,200 they would pay a wealth tax of 0.85% on the amount above $174,900, which in this case would be $5,852. So the annual wealth tax— above and beyond other taxes— for Andresen would be $1.3 million. And then there’s the estate tax (the arveavgift), which applies to the value of the estate above $112,000 and which can be as high as 15.4%, depending on the size of the estate and the relationship between the deceased and the beneficiaries. The estate tax was designed to help reduce wealth inequality by preventing large estates from being passed down through generations without any taxation, as it is— for the most part— in the U.S.

Let me go back about a month to the review of Bernie’s book, It’s OK to be Angry about Capitalism, in which he notes that unfettered capitalism “destroys anything that gets in its way in the pursuit of profits. It destroys the environment. It destroys our democracy. It discards human beings without a second thought. It will never provide workers with the fulfillment that Americans have a right to expect from their careers. [And it is] propelled by uncontrollable greed and contempt for human decency.”

He reminded his readers that American oligarchs “spend tens of billions… on campaign contributions… to buy politicians who will do their bidding. They spend billions more on lobbying firms to influence governmental decisions” at every level. And ‘to a significant degree,’ the oligarchs ‘own’ the media. That is why our prominent pundits ‘rarely raise issues that will undermine the privileged positions of their employers’ and ‘there is little public discussion about the power of corporate America and how oligarchs wield that power to benefit their interests at the expense of working families.”

Sanders quotes one of the most prescient Americans of the mid-20th century, from 1944: “As our industrial economy expanded [our] political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness. We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence.”
The name of that dangerous revolutionary: Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Several decades before that, Theodore Roosevelt similarly bemoaned the “absence of effective state, and, especially, national, restraint upon unfair money-getting” which “has tended to create a small class of enormously wealthy and economically powerful men, whose chief object is to hold and increase their power”.
There is something extremely refreshing about an author who assumes it should be obvious that billionaires should not be allowed to exist– and has perfectly reasonable proposals about how they should be eliminated. At the height of the pandemic, Sanders proposed the Make Billionaires Pay Act, which would have imposed a 60% tax on all the wealth gained by 467 billionaires between 18 March 2020 and January 2021.
“But why stop at one year?” he now asks. After all, the 1950s were economic boom times in America– and under a Republican president, Dwight Eisenhower, “the top tax rate for the wealthiest Americans was around 92%. America thrived. Unions were strong. Working-class Americans could afford to support themselves and buy homes on a single income.” And the richest 20% controlled a measly (by current standards) 42.8% of the wealth.
Sanders’ 99.5 Percent Act would only touch the top 0.5% of Americans. “But the families of billionaires in America, who have a combined net worth of over $5tn, would owe up to $3tn in estate taxes.” He would accomplish this with a 45% tax rate on estates worth $3.5m and a 65% rate on those worth more than $1bn.
There is much more here, including a convincing case for Medicare for All and an excoriation of a for-profit healthcare system which spends twice as much per citizen as France or Germany and still manages to leaves tens of millions of Americans un- or underinsured, all while nourishing an obscene pharmaceuticals business in which profits jumped by 90% in 2021.
I first toured the castles of the Loire Valley as a teenager in the company of the family of my uncle, Jerry Kaiser, a 60s radical and a very early opponent of the war in Vietnam. As we absorbed the opulence of one chateau after another, Jerry had only one question: “What took them so long to have a revolution?”
The noble purpose of Bernie Sanders’ powerful new book is to get millions of Americans to ask that question of themselves– right now.

11 Kommentare

How did Democrats allow the demonization of inheritance tax with the phrase "death tax?" it was a slam dunk. The dead don't need the money and their heirs haven't earned it. Inheritance is the most anti-democratic from of income. The only justification for wealth inequality is the myth that Capitalism is a meritocracy. If merit does not account for wealth inequality, why should wealth exist in a democratic republic? It's a sign of a broken system. As soon as the poorest kid has the same chance to become wealthy in America as the richest kid, we can go back to allowing inheritance, until then inheritance taxes should be confiscatory and income taxes should be more progressive,

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14. Apr. 2023
Antwort an

"How did Democrats allow..." is the rhetorical question, no matter the issue, that proves how feckless they are.

Further qualifying it with "... and how long have they allowed it" proves just how long they've been as useless as tits on a buick.

the implied answer is: they allow it so they can campaign against it, hoping that their voters remain too stupid to understand that, while evil really does flourish when good people do nothing, campaigning against that evil gets votes from those "good" people doing nothing.

and party above people and nation after all. you gotta know which side your bread is buttered on... and who butters it.

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12. Apr. 2023

Title says it all. "Extreme Wealth Accumulation Is A Serious Problem And Should Be Dealt With In A Serious Manner"

Interestingly, you promote democraps. And a great deal of this current EWA has been because of democraps. Some of it was active (as in slick willie and the democrap party giving wall street their bubble that burst in 2008). Some if it was passive, as in obamanation/holder refusing to enforce rule of law and, instead of jailing banker/criminals, bailed them out so they could continue to lather up his party with bribes.

so I will ask the same question as always: who do you propose will deal with it in a serious manner? implying your democraps are up to th…

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14. Apr. 2023
Antwort an

history shows that a political party can and has been put down within just a few years when THEY became useless and feckless. The Whigs were electorally euthanized when, mostly, they refused to stand up against slavery.

today, we have a plethora of ills on which your democraps have proved to be relentlessly useless, any of which can and will be used by the nazis to end the republic. what we don't have is anyone or a party to put down the democraps.

In 1860 Lincoln led the upstart Republicans (irony alert!) to defeat the southern racist democrats. yada yada yada... and the republic was saved.

from there it got real interesting... but beyond scope.

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Massive inequality leads to judicial corruption the way that standing water leads to mosquitoes. A justice and his insurrectionist wife enjoying fabulous vacations paid for by a collector of Hitler memorabilia is just the most obvious manifestation of that fact.

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12. Apr. 2023
Antwort an

before that was disclosed, we found out that he was a frequent guest of cheney on vacations. quickly forgotten... as this shall be. because americans are both indifferent and dumber than shit.

and the first consequences of massive inequality:

1) even MORE massive inequality

2) widespread poverty among the masses

but, again, indifference and dumber than shit.

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12. Apr. 2023

Howie - I love you BLOG!!! Hope you are well! I'm so sorry we lost our beloved Seymour Stein. I will forever miss my old friend! My father Murray & I loved him dearly. Richard G

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