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[flagged] Abolish Billionaires (nytimes.com)
38 points by dkoch 10 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 73 comments

In 2019 the US federal budget is $4.407 trillion. [1]

The combined wealth of America's top 400 billionaires in 2017 was 2.7 trillion.

If the social democrats got their dream and took all of their money we could fund the government for only about seven months. When will D.C. and the American people realize that tax rates aren't the problem?! It's the spending stupid!

Edit: Yep, keep downvoting facts people. That will surely save us.

[1]: https://www.thebalance.com/current-u-s-federal-government-sp...

[2]: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/ng-interactive/2018/sep/...

Pointing out how high the base-line level of incompetence of the government seems ineffective.

I think the line of reasoning is something like this:

> "The rich" are bad, we need the government to save us from them. The government is underfunded, so when it takes money from the rich, it'll be funded enough to become competent.

The federal debt is $20 trillion. The 400 billionaires and their 2.7 trillion is about 15% of the debt we're in.

Why does the government always get a free pass in... everything?

>I think the line of reasoning is something like this: "The rich" are bad, we need the government to save us from them.

Isn't the argument that extreme wealth disparity is bad, and that government is one of the best and/or only vectors for affecting societal problems on such a massive scale? Your version sounds mangled on purpose to make half of the people in the discussion look bad.

Who else would enact this change?

Bottom up does not have enough direct power. Billionaires won't banish themselves. The problem of government is that many members are rich to filthy rich themselves.

Legislation is government too.

About the only other force that could enact it is a widely accepted religion and there is none anymore.

I think spending is an important part of the equation, but calling a broad audience stupid and then asserting that their negative reaction is because they can't accept facts is textbook unconstructive behavior.

There’s taxation as a means of funding the government. And then there’s taxation as a means to make certain people poorer.

I don’t think people suggesting the billionaire tax care that much about the first point.

Why 400?

Yeah, arbitrary cutoffs make me question things in statistical analysis. This isn't much different.

Why 400? Why Billionaires?

And think about it, with the wealth of 400 people a 331,194,000 person country's gov't programs, including a massive defense program, can be paid for for 7 months! That's a long time for .00012% of the population. The numbers are so big that the human brain just casually slides the scale logarithmically to ignore the sheer magnitude of wealth those 400 people hold!

Are you aware this would be just a one time 7 months ? The following years (decades) nothing. Or problably even a small negative impact (because those 400 will then for sure pay no taxes and do no charities).

Yes I understand that. Plundering the wealth of the rich is a terrible idea. It's a classic straw man:

Theory: We should tax the rich.

Straw-man: If we took the 400 richest people it would only fund the gov't for 7 months!

Accept Fallacy: Oh, then taxing the rich won't work!

Reject Fallacy: Ok, but there are more than 400 rich people, and no one is saying abolish taxes on everyone else. So perhaps there is a better balance, where those with incomes a certain multiple of local medians pay a higher progressive tax rate.

What I pointed out above was just the weird cutoff of 400 to arrive at 7 months. Why not a base 10? 100,1000,10000 richest. Or something like "The richest 674 people in America could fund it for 1 year" (made up numbers). When an arbitrary number is selected, I just get skeptical. Especially when it anchors to nothing else. What metric/group/club is there that top 400 American billionaires make up. Why do I care about 7 months?

I feel this abolish billionaires movement needs some tweaking.

History has many examples of people changing the world for the better and getting filthy rich doing so. If we start wealth taxing these people to limit their resources you are limiting their ability to push boundaries and hopefully advance society.

Where I feel the issue sits is with dynastic wealth. Just because grandpa did something, great grandchildren 10 generations on shouldnt be expected it's their right to be sitting on massive trusts of assets.

And I think this limits society if we let capital accumulate for a bunch of reasons but mainly 1) we become a divided society with little social mobility, 2)we lose innovation as people sit on assets and industries reduce competition. And poor people don't have the access to time or resource to innovate themself and 3) most importantly if we let small groups of elites run the country they stop caring about services that matter to most people. Things like schools and hospitals become cost lines to be reduced because they or their kids will never use the public system so that increasing teacher ratio, or longer waiting lists become less meaningful.

Carnegie wrote about this 100 years ago in the Gospel of wealth and that’s why we had estate taxes and a high top marginal tax rate.

... and no wealth tax.

In a just society the only way you can get rich is through voluntary interaction by adding value to world. In our society you can get rich through legislation, which has created the wealthy parasitic class that earns a living by preventing competition.

To target all the rich is to loot and destroy your society. To target the wealthy parasitic class would be a revolution frankly.

I don't know if calling it a 'revolution' is the best idea - it seems like they always end up devouring their children. Marxist 'eat the rich' types of revolutions are pretty recent, too - traditionally it seems like a frustrated upper middle class is what aristocrats and overreaching executives really have to fear. Also, I never miss a chance to trot out this quote:

"Don't put your trust in revolutions. They always come around again. That's why they're called revolutions. People die, and nothing changes."

- Terry Pratchett, Night Watch

As far as I understand it there has been a few legislative pincher moves since inception. The 17th amendment might qualify as one. It allowed for a populist instead of representative vote of our senators and basically created the modern situation of whomever spends the most campaign money wins. AKA special interest/lobby groups now rule.

That is one of of the few small changes of course the country made that if reversed would probably be to the benefit of most. To revoke the 17th would be senators literally voting themselves out of work, hence it would never happen. A soviet style collapse is a revolution too, just forced and likely crummy.

Since most governments are also billionaires, maybe we could abolish them too.

I think the original success of the US was due to the paradoxical government we created. The entire purpose of the government was to protect people from the government.

Ummm, country ≠ person...

Also are billionaires going to allow people to vote who owns their wealth and allocates their spending every 4 years?

You know, there are a lot of problems with your logic. I'm a product of a Jesuit University where I was forced to write paper after paper on topics around morality, good, evil, justice, and similar themes. Justice has a lot of different potential definitions - many (most) of which wouldn't define "adding value" as a "just" way to get rich. A different definition of "just" might more likely define a massive distribution of wealth to some individuals as morally unjust based on outcomes. With such a logic targeting the rich would be morally justified - even if illegal and involving killing or death.

The Jesuits are a very serious bunch of guys - many have died for their beliefs. And just because they are Catholic doesn't mean that they agree with Catholic policy - though they recognize that it has the weight of established policy (as Pope Francis has said more than once as he defended things I know he disagrees with.)

I define a 'just' society as one in which initiating violence is forbidden and you must only use reason to persuade people to action.

It is in line with the commandments "Thou shalt not murder/steal", which would be in effect even (especially?) if you think you are making the world a better place through wealth distribution.

You mean a society without a government at all ?

This is a very stupid idea that will no doubt get a lot of attention for the author by people who will explain in great detail how stupid it is. I wonder if that was the intent?

There is zero chance of this ever happening. It is not worth the time to read about it.

Edit: Seriously, this is populist clickbait drivel the Times is running so the broke millennial demographic can drool over revenge fantasies of smashing the bourgeoisie while the Times and their cadre of surveillance partners figure out how to get them to buy a Lexus. Ignore it.

You may be right, but I don't think you could have made a less persuasive argument.

I doubt anyone who doesn't immediately dismiss this as nonsense is capable of being persuaded by any kind of rational argument.

This kind of black and white vitriol actively drives people away from what you're saying.

This article is a troll. It is not a good faith argument. It's an attempt to gain attention by saying something outlandish. The proper response to a troll is to ignore it.

There are real discussions to be had about how to best redistribute wealth to benefit society. This isn't it. Thy picked an arbitrary number and declared people with more money than that "bad" and "immoral". There is zero mention of what mechanism would be implemented to stop people from attaining more money than the arbitrary "bad person" number, so there is nothing to discuss in terms of whether this would be helpful.

Give it an hour - I guarantee there are worse ones to come.

Putting aside moral issues, taxes don't redistribute wealth. They just give it to the government.

How is the government going to be suddenly better at managing money? What leadership controls this new spending? What makes them so much better? This is the day 2 stuff that never gets any thought, and yet is the critical piece of this theory.

I too would like to see this half of the proposal. Surely there must be educated writing out there somewhere about the less dramatic part of the story.

Case in point: 2018 Federal taxes centralized $3.4T in the hands of 300 people.

The rich should be the ones who are the most concerned with runaway wealth inequality, because the historical endpoint of that line usually isn't pretty for anyone. (But can be especially bad for the rich)


Abolish billionaires. Okay, and then what? These ideas never seem to consider what the next steps are. Wealth and inequality will always exist no matter how hard you try to eradicate it. It is fortunately or unfortunately depending on your viewpoint, a fundamental part of the human condition.

The only viable stable long-term solution is focusing on uplifting the masses from the bottom up such that, even the poorest classes of people can have a basic standard of living. This of course entails some kind of universal basic income, which will definitely be difficult to achieve, but it is far more realistically achievable than just "abolishing billionaires". Violent and angry rhetoric like that may feel good and be great for garnering support, but is a road that leads ultimately to ruin.

Fixing wealth inequality is a never ending process. You have to continuously transfer wealth downward, as wealth in a capitalist system has a kind of gravity such that it flows more to people who already have it.

You don’t need to eliminate wealthy people or raise everyone into the middle class, you just need policies that constrain the extremes within reasonable limits — for the sake of societal stability if not of basic fairness.

Real question: If I start a business and people love my product so much so that I become a billionaire. Am I a bad person?

You’re a bad person if you don’t give most of it away. Nobody needs a billion dollars.

>the man who dies leaving behind many millions of available wealth, which was his to administer during life, will pass away " unwept, unhonored, and unsung," no matter to what uses he leaves the dross which he cannot take with him. Of such as these the public verdict will then be : "The man who dies thus rich dies disgraced."

—Andrew Carnegie

No, not in the least. But you do then question the context which allows a few to accumulate so much wealth while simultaneously observing a significant proportion of the population with stagnant levels of wealth.

Well, they got the widgets the new billionaire sold. They wouldn't have bought them if they didn't find it advantageous. Win win.

Of course not. Is the owner of a monopolistic company a bad person? No. Is it good for society to allow a company to become a monopoly? No.

Under current Democratic party norms: yes.

AOC aside, there's also Obama's famous "you didn't build that" monologue.

I find it hard to believe this curt post portrays your real intellectual opinion, as opposed to your emotional feelings. It just seems like shit stirring.

It is pretty clear that new wave Democrats (e.g., Justice Democrats, or the like) are more than willing to consider any billionaire immoral because they are billionaires.

At least that is what their most prominent pols say.

That's... The opposite of clear. It's not Billionaires that are on trial, it's the system. Billionaires are the symptom.

You may not agree with that, but that's what's going around.

Do you really believe this?

The democrats are on the whole not against billionaires, there is simply an increase in popularity to make billionaire pay more tax. Something closer to historical levels no less.

Then people make comments like this and try and things into a storm in a teacup....I wonder if this is how they truly see the policy or its just cheap internet comments.

I only know what I read.

"Coates followed up: "I hate to personalize this, but do you think it is moral for individuals to, for instance—do we live in a moral world that allows for billionaires? Is that a moral outcome?"

The answer from the congresswoman [AOC] was emphatic and came without any hesitation. "No, it's not. It's not. It's not. And I think it's important to say that."


"Technology executives and venture capitalist have also expressed increasing concern in the past few weeks about Democrats’ denigration of business leaders, said Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), whose district includes Silicon Valley."

“It should come as no surprise that a few billionaires want to continue to hoard as much wealth as possible, increasing their corrupting influence over our political system,” said Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.)."


edit: added [AOC} to make it clear which congress member was speaking to Coates.

If you read your own quote from Coates, he reformulates his question midstream. Is a world with billionaires moral? Is that a moral outcome?

He's not asking if billionaires are moral people. That's not the same question.

The bigger point is how they take the statement of one person and make out like is applies to the group.

Anyone can twist an arguement to any POV like this. Its cheap debate method and seems typically fanatics trying to avoid reality of a reasonable conversation on a topic.

It seems to me like the answer is obviously "no", and that nobody outside the extremes in all these wealth disparity conversations even suggests such a thing, so I wonder if you had a more subtle question in mind along similar lines.

No, but you shouldn't even be able to become a billionaire in the first place. That capital should be reinvested into society, not held by an individual.

They reinvest it. They don't swim in it like Scrooge McDuck.

No you are not a bad person.

If you knew for a fact that you would never make more than $100million no matter how successful it was would you still try to start a business?

The true colors are out in force

Personally, I don't go so far as to advocate abolishing billionaires, but I do favor a very high tax bracket like 80 or 90 percent to fund basic redistribution. This would not abolish billionaires, but would make it harder to become a dollar billionaire.

When asked why he robbed banks, Willie Sutton answered: "Because that's where the money is."

Well, at least you understand that you’re robbing someone.

This is frankly an absurd reduction, and harmful to rational discourse. While arguing for and against it can be a helpful thought exercise, it's depressing how often I see it simply stated in indignation.

Not at all. Taxation isn't robbery at all. The tax system one of the institutions that makes it possible to create great enterprises in the first place.

Seems like Elon Musk is a "good" billionaire for instance. The people who want to get rid of billionaires don't seem very well informed and use it as some kind of catch-all to explain where all their issues come from. It's very much disconnected from reality.

The existence of billionaires is about distribution of agency. Right now agency is distributed in an extreme and convoluted way. How can you have universal basic income without fixing the other end of the spectrum? The power to invest resources, to effect meaningful material change in our world, is being concentrated in the hands of very few.

I don't think this should be flagged. Individual comments, yes, but the post itself, no. This is a discussion our society needs to have - we need to weight the pros and cons of allowing unlimited accumulation of wealth and power by individuals.

Can we start maybe with the basic stuff?

Tax profits and capital gains as much as we tax income. If there are 3 dominant companies dont allow 2 of them to merge. U know, the basic stuff.

Solution is simple. The more money you have, the greater is your responsibility towards others (beings and nature).

Taking things out by force (from anyone and anything) is never a solution, because everything is relative in this world, including your wealth.

The concentration of the vast majority of wealth in the hands of a small number of people is obviously an unbalanced and unjust system that can't continue to work.

It's been this way forever. What is the forcing function you believe will lead to a change now?

I'm ready to quit hacker news if we can't have substantive discussions.

There is an effort to push communism without calling it communism.

When you ban the rich(or for that matter tax them so heavily they are no longer billionaires) and also raise minimum wage. Everyone ends up in the middle class. That's called communism.

When you have equality of outcome, the 180 IQ software developer who is extremely successful gets the same pay as a 80 IQ. What's the incentive to work or do anything more than that 80 IQ person? ~10% of the population has an IQ below 80. If I don't get my Mclaren and private jet, why bust my ass?

The problem with communism that you lose your purpose. Then you must have work camps; where you are forced to work. It's the only way for communism to work.

So the billionaires are the ones causing all your problems?

Are you trying to position that unless something is the root of all your problems you cant address it?

Also straw man. It's a cheap form of debate... https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Straw_man

This sounds like sarcasm, but I think there are reasonable lines of argument that this is explicitly true.

Literally, yes.

So none of your problems are caused by anyone/anything other than billionaires. Literally.

Good to know that millionaires are safe from your wrath.

As Lenin said - steal the stolen

and in a few years, people started to starve to death.

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