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Problems with relying on billionaires to save us (vox.com)
39 points by 5faulker 11 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 107 comments





If the US confiscated all of the wealth of the billionaires in the US (which would absolutely wreck the economy as well as that wealth, since much of that their wealth is tied up in stocks)...it would fund less than a year of government spending and not even be able to pay for the $3.5T package that is currently being debated (maybe close...the most recent estimate wealth for US billionares is between $3T and $3.5T).

...and then we couldn't blame billionares for being the problem.


Lets ask this question in the other direction. How is it in most modern economies you are able to have good healthcare, a robust safety net, pretty decent infrastructure, the opportunity to further yourself via education without breaking the bank and still keep those economies trucking along while the US: the richest country on the planet can't seem to get this done? There is obviously some disconnect.

> Lets ask this question in the other direction. How is it in most modern economies you are able to have good healthcare, a robust safety net...

Because they tax the middle class intensively.

In particular they have tax regimes built more around the Value Added Tax (which taxes consumption) and less around the income tax (which damages incentives to save and invest and which is easily bypassed by billionaires who simply borrow the money they spend without realizing income). If anything, the Nordic states with their lauded safety nets are more market- and capital-friendly than the US, and less economic-interventionist, and happy to say so.

It's not all roses. Competent government still matters; there are plenty of debt crises and pension crises and the like in certain nations without it. Overall, families are somewhat less well-off financially, and high youth unemployment remains a chronic problem.


Politicians. College has gotten to expensive because the government is involved and has made it a priority for everyone to get a college degree...when many of the people going to college have no business being there. Give out money to kids to go to college...demand goes up...prices go up...give out more money...and the cycle continues.

Healthcare simply has too many hands in the pot. Government pays x amount but it costs hospitals 2x...so they charge 3x to insurance companies to make up the difference. It's insane, but making it "free" may not be what fixes it.

What safety net does the US not have? Over 60% of people paid no federal income tax last year and we have huge numbers of programs to help low income people.


>Politicians. College has gotten to expensive because the government is involved and has made it a priority for everyone to get a college degree...when many of the people going to college have no business being there. Give out money to kids to go to college...demand goes up...prices go up...give out more money...and the cycle continues.

What you are ignoring is that government is more involved in colleges in these other countries and they manage to keep it under control. Again, how is the US screwing up whereas everyone else has it working properly? You haven't actually addressed this.

>Healthcare simply has too many hands in the pot. Government pays x amount but it costs hospitals 2x...so they charge 3x to insurance companies to make up the difference. It's insane, but making it "free" may not be what fixes it.

Again....you are ignoring my point...It is working in other countries right now! If making it free does not fix it what will? The only other option is going further in the opposite direction of all the working systems...

>What safety net does the US not have? Over 60% of people paid no federal income tax last year and we have huge numbers of programs to help low income people.

Most programs have very strict criteria (thanks to corporatist Republicans and Democrats) such that you either have to fall into very bad poverty to even quality, wait a tremendous amount of time to get in, and then have to contend with so many criteria that forces you to either remain in a certain state of poverty or else you are kicked out of the program before you have gotten back on your feet. This is no real safety net like what other economies have. This is bolted on garbage to use as a talking point for people like you.


You can look at the Pandemic assistance that the federal government put out as a great example of how they incentivize not being a productive member of society. $600 a week above normal unemployment benefits...more than half the people made more not working than working for several months. How much money was wasted giving people money to stay home where expenses should be less than if you were working (no childcare, no driving to work, more time to cook meals...not to mention not having to pay rent).

Governments in other countries are more involved in colleges...and they also restrict who gets in. We let pretty much everyone in that wants to go and will give them money to do so...that is a terrible way to run the system.


Your response is omitting some serious caveats such that you have totally twisted the argument.

First of all the reason people are staying home thanks to pandemic unemployment is due to the fact that they were being paid so poorly before with no hope of career advancement that the meager 600$ a week was a leg up. Now that people have gotten a taste of what it feels like to not be constantly treading water, they are not going back to those low paying jobs. This is something the government should have gotten ahead of years ago in the sense of raising minimum wages and adding benefits but have constantly been blocked by anti-government forces. The minimum wage should be close to 23$ today yet we can't even have a discussion on 15$.

Luckily the people are starting to wake up. While government aid has ended in many states people are still not going back to work. There are numerous strikes that are beginning right now or are about to begin and I think this will continue for the foreseeable future. All of this is a response to people who think like you and have been at the reigns for decades.

>We let pretty much everyone in that wants to go and will give them money to do so...that is a terrible way to run the system.

You mean give them loans that are not dischargeable in bankruptcy very different from Europe. Furthermore you point on letting everyone in is 100% false. Are you an American? Its starting to sound like you are not. For example my alma mater which is a third tier technical school has only a ~50% admission rate. Many colleges are less than that. Also consider that only ~30% (going on 40% thanks to the pandemic) of Americans have a Bachelors degree or higher. This system is restricted by who can afford to go or who is willing to bear the burden of years of loans.


OK, well now you are getting on a different topic all together. I was talking about a poorly run safety net program...there was no need to pay people more money to not work during the pandemic. Want to pay 100% up to a cap then fine...but don't pay them 30% more than what they were making.

Just because people go to college doesn't mean they get degrees...but they certainly rack up the debt. Apply to enough colleges and you will get into one...I guarantee it. My alma mater, a state school had an 82% acceptance rate in 2020. Another local one...Portland State University had a 95% acceptance rate...95%!!!

https://www.usnews.com/best-colleges/portland-state-3216


> What you are ignoring is that government is more involved in colleges in these other countries and they manage to keep it under control. Again, how is the US screwing up whereas everyone else has it working properly? You haven't actually addressed this.

With college in the US, the specific mechanism seems to be a combination of (a) colleges that have an incentive to raise tuition as high as people will pay, (b) people who consider a college degree important enough that they'll pay as much as they can afford, and (c) government action that greatly increases people's ability to pay, either via subsidies or by expanding the availability of student loan debt.

Compare this to the public K-12 school system, which doesn't have the same split between a seller and a cost-insensitive, subsidized buyer in its funding structure. (This is similar, I believe, to the way college is funded in a lot of other countries.) The cost per pupil in public K-12 school is also rising faster than inflation, but at a much slower rate than higher education. Same country, different funding structures, different results.


Yes I understand this but he does not. Government can step in and dictate how much an education should be paid for at a fair market price. Yes there will always be private schools that will go all out but the point of this whole thing is to provide an avenue for anyone to be able to better themselves through hard work. Public tuition free schooling is what modern economies should all strive to have (and all but one really already have it)

> Healthcare simply has too many hands in the pot. Government pays x amount but it costs hospitals 2x...so they charge 3x to insurance companies to make up the difference. It's insane, but making it "free" may not be what fixes it.

One of the biggest debates getting stonewalled right now, is whether or not the US Government should negotiate prices for Medicare.

Making this a "free healthcare" debate is just... missing the forest for the trees. There's a political party that's against even the US Government negotiating for better prices but otherwise keeping the same system.

As if negotiations are a bad thing or something. Look, I'm not liberal to believe in free healthcare, but... surely making the government pay less money for the same services is a good thing?


The government could tax the service at a higher rate, which is fiscally similar to negotiating lower rates except the feature that taxes also skim from the non-govt payor remittances.

That also has the effect of artificially raising the price for everyone outside of the government sphere of influence. Ex: me, because I'm not on Medicare / Medicaid yet.

Since I have to pay for my medical procedures, the fact that the big government has "decided" that its okay to overpay on X means that I __also__ have to overpay on X. I, the small market participant, am relying upon the big guys to negotiate prices and set them more fairly for the rest of the market.

Nominally, this is the job of insurance companies, but no one trusts those guys. (I pay for insurance. The insurance companies negotiate more detailed prices with hospitals). And there's the issue that the government (or more precisely: Medicare / Medicaid) is a "bigger" market participant than any insurance company, so the government's lack of negotiation is probably raising prices on everybody artificially.


>surely making the government pay less money for the same services is a good thing?

Is it? Are they actually paying less...or is the cost being dumped on to someone else? This is like saying people who get SNAP benefits are paying less and everyone wins...except someone has to pick up the cost. Many Medicare costs aren't negotiated and the hospitals are told what they will pay for certain procedures (and again hospitals change the price for others to make up the difference).

I think what they are talking about is prescription drug prices...which even Trump said needed to be done.


> Are they actually paying less...or is the cost being dumped on to someone else?

Cost compared to what? In a free market situation, everyone gets to negotiate for the price.

It seems insane to be a group advocating for the free market of ideas, only to decide that the free market / negotiation suddenly doesn't work in this case.

If the government negotiates too low, then the other side rejects the deal. If the government negotiates too high, the other side accepts the deal and the government wastes money (but probably less waste than no negotiation at all). You know, like sane people would. Standard free market philosophy.

Government doesn't want to lose services (Medicare / Medicaid promises a set of services), so that incentivizes the Government not to shoot too low on the price. That's the price discovery mechanism.


AOC rebutted this point years ago. I'm starting to think we will be having these pointless discussions for decades or until the system completely collapses. There is just so much disinformation out there and it is still being peddled today in 2021.

[1]: https://youtu.be/Ma2FvPTi5uQ?t=16


The same reason the US can spend what it did on the war in Aghanistan and still end up with the Taliban taking control of Kabul as they're on their way out. Total incompetence, no decent end game, and human nature in people that they just won't be able to change. Just a bunch of people lining their own pockets along the way.

If the US has a culture of people making poor decisions for their own health, exploiting systems for their own benefit, and of government bureaucracies utterly failing to achieve the ends they're supposed to achieve with no accountability (and it does), no amount of tax revenue is going to suddenly provide everyone with world-class healthcare with no concern for their own money.

I'd love to never have to deal with my insurance company again, or take diagnostics or treatments without being able to find out how much I'll have to pay. I really would. I just have zero confidence that any of that would change no matter how much more of my money gets taken by the US government.


The question then becomes, when did things start to become this way? Was this culture always a US way of thinking or was there a time when the government and people in charge did focus on the long term benefit of its citizens?

If corruption and incompetence was the path the whole time, how do you explain the US system becoming #1 in the world? Was it a fluke and that now that we have gotten 100 years of lucky wins the luck has run out and now we have the grim reality of the US system actually being trash?

You look at FDR and how close the US population supposedly almost came to eating the elites. Around that time we finally got breadcrumbs in the form of Medicare and Social Security. Now we are seeing moves to even get rid of those programs so we are left with nothing. You can't have a society where a certain percentage is playing by the rules while everyone else is picking whatever they can on the dying carcass.


In addition to smileysteve's comments, I'd also question the idea that the US is the #1 system in the world. By some metrics? Yes. By other metrics? No. It seems to be a subjective argument thrown around with about as much basis behind it as the people who seem to think we have a free market healthcare system when we obviously don't. We have a weird public / private mix that's incredibly complicated, not a free market at all, and honestly I've had so many problems with debt collectors coming after me for massive bills that nobody can explain for me (all stemming from either childbirth or routine preventative care mind you, like I said I'm pretty healthy) that I consider the panic attacks I get from the process my #1 health risk. I can't imagine what it must be like for people who get cancer, though I've heard horror stories.

> how do you explain the US system becoming #1 in the world?

The US was part of the industrial revolution, but suffered few domestic casualties (infrastructure) from either World War. The dollar becoming the world reserve currency for oil/capitalism cemented it.

(Where Russia, Continental Europe, and China were ravaged by WW2)


Waste.

The US government spends as nearly much on healthcare as a national healthcare system costs in the UK as a percent of GDP. Medicare, Medicaid, and the VA are 1.5 trillion in spending. Or about 7% of GDP.

In normal years, NHS spending in the UK is 8% of GDP.

I am sure there are substantial coverage differences for a lot of procedures, but all the life threatening stuff for an entire population is handled for what the US spends on just the elderly and poor.


It's only waste if you aren't one of the people pocketing from the inefficiency.

And I suspect I could find the extra 1% of GDP in things like Tricare, employee health benefits for federal, state, and municipal workers, CHIP, etc.

> Waste.

Not least of all the waste of all the parallel, sometimes overlapping and sometimes mutually exclusive public and private healthcare systems.


Now ask who is profiting from the waste.

Waste is a fake answer. The UK makes tradeoffs that the US polity is unwilling to engage with. This is a very expensive form of juvenile behavior.

<raising hand> Ooo! Ooo! I know this one!!! I know this one!!!

Over the past 30 years, steady changes to regulations in healthcare, education and infrastructure have created a system where we pay HUGE premiums for similar services compared to almost every other countries.

It is the result of unabated, in-the-open, perfectly-legal, endemic corruption.

This should be a universal and bipartisan issue that unites people, but it isn’t.

We’re too stupid to stop fighting each other. We always take the bait from the armies of talking heads telling us how to think and who to hate.

In the lovely words of Amy Mann, “It’s not going to stop until you wise up”


While OP may continue to bumble around with his right wing talking points, let me continue this discussion with you since you get it.

What do you think is the end state of this whole saga? It seems like either we reform or we eventually collapse. Maybe its possible a whole generation will continue to zombie walk through this trash system that we have?


> What do you think the whole end state of this whole saga?

Honestly, I don’t know.

But I don’t think reform and collapse are the only two outcomes.

A lot of countries hobble along and simply live with their corruption for long periods of time.

I tell you what my answer isn’t. It’s not some cliched breathy end-times prediction where I make vague comparisons to the fall of Rome while parroting the same reasons every other ding dong has been parroting long before I was born (decline in morality, government spending, rising inflation)

I don’t know what’s going to happen and the people who have consistently predicted the wrong outcome for the last 5 decades are just as clueless.

Let’s start from a place of humility and tell ourselves we don’t know.

Most of us are so profoundly ignorant on the subject we’d do a lot better asking BASIC questions that reveal our ignorance rather than bloviating inane predictions.

I have so many basic questions that I’d love to ask much smarter people. Questions like:

* Are there inflection points in history we should study where people brought about meaning reform without huge social volatility? * How can societies depolarize themselves? How has it happened throughout history? * What questions should I be asking? (This one should be asked every day)


I will note that GP mentions "We the People" are fighting each other because the talking heads tell us to. I contend that this is on purpose. A casual glance through Rules for Radicals shows that social friction is a tool for social change. With that noted, let's talk end game.

There's a common (almost cliche) line of "bad times make strong men, strong men make good times, good times make weak men, weak men make bad times", which appears superficially true. Consider the Weimar Republic, or Imperial Russia from about 2 centuries ago. Both appeared to follow that pattern. The fall of Rome kinda fits that, too, if you squint.

The hallmarks of "bad times" appear to be increased law and regulation, increase in law/regulation complexity, non-dependable money supply (inflation was an issue in all three of the above scenarios), dilution of national identity, and so on. I'd argue that what underpins those changes is eroding morality. A perfectly moral people need no law, and their money supply is uncorrupted. As morality decreases, the necessity of law becomes apparent, and so the increase in law and regulation. As graft increases (which drove the need for law and regulation) the money supply becomes corrupted, fiat.

The collapse of empires (make no mistake, the United States is a cultural economic empire) is typically sudden, violent, and bloody. All three scenarios all featured a lot of death in a very short amount of time.

The end for the United States will likely be the same. Inflation will destroy what's left of the propped up economy. People will start to go hungry, their housing and livelihoods will be threatened. As soon as the bottom of Maslow's Hierarchy is in question, people start to rebel. You see some of that already with anti-vaccine riots. People believe their bodily autonomy is threatened. Definitely their livelihoods are threatened (this game of coercion -- get a vaccine, or you can't even work -- that Australia is playing and that the US seeks to implement -- is pushing people out of their comfort zones).

Are we in the end game? Dunno. We won't know until it is the end. Sudden, violent, bloody.

[edit] misplaced asterisks [/edit]


Yeah what you describe is basically on par with people like Michael Moore. I don't disagree but however let me bring up the British Empire. I've been interested in how the UK faired after its empire declined as that is one of the most recent examples of a Western decline and looking at the UK today it doesn't seem that bad. Do you feel that the US can just go through a "slow burn" and sort of end up like the UK? Maybe the UK never really collapsed an instead ended up being propped up in part by the US due to common ideals. Maybe we haven't seen the true collapse yet.

The thing I worry about is that the UK invested in its people after WW2 and formulated a robust safety net and for all their faults, if everything were to collapse they would likely have means to get back on their feet. They also have OK infrastructure and that is money already spent that can't be taken back.

Americans are in a situation where they have no real money (~40% live paycheck to paycheck), they have bad health thanks to the corn laden trash they have eaten their whole lives, no healthcare so a lot of preventative things have gone unaddressed and finally no real good infrastructure so that if everything were to collapse they would have nothing to fall back on as they rebuild. We spent all our precious resources on the wars and giving money to the rich.

On another note, who would even replace the US? After Evergrande I think a lot of people have realized that while China is full of talent and ambition they have serious structural problems that will prevent them from ever becoming #1 on the world stage.


Are you trying to imply that these other countries have those things you listed because they have no billionaires?

There's millions of reasons why that isn't happening in the US. Billionaires are almost certainly not one of those reasons.

The US subsidizes so much for other countries. Without the US, these other countries wouldn't be able to have the same success.

Just look at the numbers:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_research_...

As an aside, I think the biggest irony is commenting this on HN. I know tons of SDEs that come from other countries because they get paid fractions of the salary they would get here.


The concentration of the majority of wealth to a smaller number of people is definitely a factor, it's the hallmark of a corrupt system...

> I know tons of SDEs that come from other countries because they get paid fractions of the salary they would get here.

This is not irony, and has nothing to do with billionaires. Most SDEs won't even be millionaires.


>The concentration of the majority of wealth to a smaller number of people is definitely a factor, it's the hallmark of a corrupt system...

How?

>This is not irony

We're on a developer news site, talking about the US not having this or that, while also ignoring the fact that the US is very sought after by developers.


on inequality and corruption: https://www.hks.harvard.edu/publications/inequality-and-corr......

Also, it's not irony because it's not even a related subject. People are complaining about billionaires... 99.9999% SDEs are not coming to this country and becoming billionaires. Saying "we're ones to talk" or some kind of equivilant is an irrelevant attempt to lump any sort of wealth with being a billionaire... which is a fairly old-fashioned method to distract by creating lower-class infighting about what "wealthy" means.

For an SDE making a very healthy $200k a year... it would take five thousand years to reach $1 billion.

It's like arguing that the 2nd amendment should allow the private ownership of nuclear warheads. It's a strawman well outside the scale of the actual discussion.


Other countries have billionaries and still manage to get these things done so no I don't think it is only just billionaires. OP's talking points seem to ignore this fundamental truth so thats why I was asking him to clarify.

>The US subsidizes so much for other countries. Without the US, these other countries wouldn't be able to have the same success.

This chart provides a false picture of R&D spending as European countries do in fact provide a lot of R&D to the global economy in ways that benefit regular people. How is the R&D broken down? I bet the US has a lot of R&D devoted to defense which I woudn't consider in the same category as other types of R&D spending. But regardless of this fact are you implying that since the US subsidizes so much for the other countries that Americans deserve to live in this second rate system where everyone is on their own?

>As an aside, I think the biggest irony is commenting this on HN. I know tons of SDEs that come from other countries because they get paid fractions of the salary they would get here.

I hear this trope trotted out so many times and in two tangental ways.

First point that is always made is we should be happy that US employees makes so much more salary. What you fail to understand is that Europeans are coming from an environment where they had good schooling, probably no debt from University and made it to adulthood without any health issues thanks to good healthcare and good healthy food policies.

All of this is a nonzero cost that allows Europeans to jump into the US system with a leg up from many of their American counterparts who may not have had those luxuries. Look at the typical middle class American household and you'll see all these hidden costs that reduce the chances of them achieving the success that the immigrants came into the country with.

Furthermore Europeans ALWAYS have an exit strategy to go back to a system that has all these fundamentals. The US employee may be paid better but they grew up and live in an environment where everybody else is sinking due to the lack of these fundamental systems. Just look at how San Francisco is turning out with its failures. Sure tech is booming but everyone else is sinking. Americans were born into this and for the most part are stuck in this system for life.

Secondly on a tangental point, Europeans love to talk about how Americans have access to a billion options for snacks and food. What they fail understand is that if you have grown up in this environment of corn laden garbage it is a prison that is difficult to escape. It is easy for Europeans to be in awe coming from an upbringing of whole nutritious foods. Its another thing to realize how much more expensive it is to eat healthy in the US vs Europe thanks to policies that were in place before even I was born (88).


>This chart provides a false picture of R&D spending as European countries do in fact provide a lot of R&D to the global economy in ways that benefit regular people.

Even if you consider defense RnD spending "useless" (its not), look at pharmaceutical spending.

https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/docserver/health_glance-2015-7...

Why don't we nail down one of these countries you're describing, so we can directly compare the spending?

>but regardless of this fact are you implying that since the US subsidizes so much for the other countries that Americans deserve to live in this second rate system where everyone is on their own?

Where did I say that?

You asked why other countries can do X. One of the reasons is because they don't have to pay for Y. If other countries could not longer rely on the US or China, we would see a much different picture.

>First point that is always made is we should be happy that US employees makes so much more salary. What you fail to understand is that Europeans are coming from an environment where they had good schooling, probably no debt from University and made it to adulthood without any health issues thanks to good healthcare and good healthy food policies.

So why abandon that environment?

>Furthermore Europeans ALWAYS have an exit strategy to go back to a system that has all these fundamentals. The US employee may be paid better but they grew up and live in an environment where everybody else is sinking due to the lack of these fundamental systems.

Do you have evidence for this?

>Secondly on a tangental point, Europeans love to talk about how Americans have access to a billion options for snacks and food. What they fail understand is that if you have grown up in this environment of corn laden garbage it is a prison that is difficult to escape. It is easy for Europeans to be in awe coming from an upbringing of whole nutritious foods. Its another thing to realize how much more expensive it is to eat healthy in the US vs Europe thanks to policies that were in place before even I was born (88).

That's the first time I've heard of this.

Normally I hear "wow, you're going to pay 3x as more for the same job I was doing in Spain?"

Look, you asked why countries are different and I gave an answer. You're now debating whether or not that is "good". You're also leaving out countless negatives about these countries you're alluding to.


I think we’re ignoring scale here. Is there a country with similar population levels that provides all that?

I’m Canadian and I am thankful for our benefits but our public services have been stretched for decades and I’m skeptical that our systems could handle 10x the population.


It's ignored because it hardly seems relevant. Is providing healthcare to ~80m people (France, Germany—numbers off the top of my head but I think that's close for both) or, what, 150m or so (Japan, again, IIRC) really that different from 350m? What part of the difference in scale makes it impossible for the country of 350m with a higher GDP-per-capita than those other examples? Some parts of our country are sparsely populated, yes, but it's not like passing that off to a mix of highly-funded public ventures and market forces (i.e. our current very, very expensive system) magically solves that problem, so how's that relevant to preventing us from having universal healthcare? Plus, Canada's got that problem nearly as bad as we do, no? I know most of the population's down near the border, but you've got the same issues with large areas that are still lightly populated, but you manage. So that can't be the reason.

Isn't the theory that 10x the population would mean 10x the tax revenue, and 10x the infrastructure? The same reason a lot of people like to look at per capita measurements over absolute figures?

Or looking at it another way: with the assumption that a country of 30M people can have good infrastructure, and is not an outlier, and there can exists more than one of such country, what is different between 10 countries of 30M people each with good infrastructure and 1 country of 300M having bad?

Governments are big, so it's difficult to just point a finger at a specific cause of an issue, but it would seem to me the issue is not continuously building out infrastructure. That, and poorly written, but possibly well meaning, legislation that leads to regulations massively increasing administration costs on every and all areas of our infrastructure (healthcare, general construction, transport, housing).


In the specific case of the US, it is the scale of the populated geography more than the number of people. This has created problems even in boring and non-controversial policy areas. For example, prior attempts to regulate highway speed limits nationally, which has since been devolved back to local control. At the scale of individual States, it works much more like it does in other countries.

Any national-scale policy will be poorly adapted for some major region of the US because it is simply too diverse geographically, culturally, historically, and economically.


The bigger you are the harder it is to do things properly or react fast enough to changing conditions. This is why most companies get huge and then end up failing...they can't change fast enough to stay competitive.

It's one thing to be a Scandinavian country that has a homogenous culture and smaller population (and land mass)...and another to mix large amounts of different cultures across a giant nation of states and have everyone agree upon the same thing or be able to institute the same infrastructure.


Scandinavian countries also have diverse and differing cultures depending on where you live. Just because everyone calls themselves "Swedish" doesn't mean they all agree.

I suspect the answer is somewhat different. Just look at their parliaments: they almost always have majority coalitions made up of multiple parties, and a diverse group of opposition parties.

What is exceptional about America is its calcification into a two party system, which I think is far more of an issue than the actual differences of opinion and culture in the American populace. In fact, polls regularly show that a majority of Americans generally agree on a number of issues, and broadly support a number of possible policies and programs. For instance, on abortion, a majority of Americans have long supported legalizing it some fashion up until recently. Through the 70's into the 90's, support even reached 60%. Only in the mid 90s did the discussion become wildly more combative and enter a stalemate.

Really, most of the extremely popular social safety net programs were created and institutionalized during the 40 years of continuous Democratic majority. What ended it, and brought about the modern Republican party and the current state of American politics, was the "Republican Revolution" in '94[0]. The 2 party system then ran into a brick wall as both parties froze into defensive turtling.

[0]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Republican_Revolution


There's also a reason why Google, Amazon and Microsoft are the only companies that can compete in cloud computing, it's called economies of scale.

Sure, but why was Tesla able to start up and take a big portion of the EV market over the last few years? The big companies were too slow in reacting to changing demand. It took years to get something that was equivalent to what they are offering...and yet they still don't have anything close despite far more industry knowledge on how to mass manufacture cars.

There are economies of scale. There are also diseconomies of scale:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diseconomies_of_scale

Inertia and institutional sclerosis are serious problems for organizations that are large, old, or both.


Aside from all of the things that generally come up in this discussion (politicians, country size, melting pot, american dream, government bloat, etc), I think a pretty big contender is poorly written legislation on regulations.

Certain things are fairly obviously good to regulate in healthcare, whether that is for privacy, or price transparency, or making sure emergencies don't get turned away, but administration costs of running our healthcare network seems to have blown far and away the cost of the actual healthcare providers (doctors, nurses, surgeons, etc). There is so much paperwork and administrative work in healthcare and it just seems like so much of it could be trimmed away.

Legislation seems to be written with the good intentions of protecting patients, but if the administration costs (monetarily or bureaucratically) of complying aren't taken into consideration, that too can indirectly affect patients.

I'm neither in the medical field nor do I know how US healthcare regulations compare to other countries, but it just feels like the amount of healthcare administration has grown at a far greater rate than the actual healthcare providers.


Do you trust health insurance companies or hospital administrators to pass on the costs saved from reduced regulation to consumers? I absolutely do not.

No more than I trust the government to work on passing on reduced costs in the form of lower taxes...

Fair, but I can't vote for/against private health insurance companies and they have many fewer transparency requirements.

Citizens have much more power when it comes to the government versus private industry. I can't even vote with my wallet because my employer chooses my insurer.


No, but it's not about trust. Businesses don't lower their prices out of good will.

and health insurance companies have zero incentive to lower their prices, it's not even a competitive market because the majority of health insurance is tied to employment – even as an employer costs are roughly the same across the board, especially if your company is too small to negotiate better rates

At least in Europe, the middle-class pays much higher taxes than in the US, which funds much of that safety net. Contrary to popular belief, high-income earners in States like California already pay tax rates similar to Western Europe. Imposing European-style tax rates on the US middle-class is unpopular with both major political parties.

One could argue that the US is the richest country because of the way things are set up here, not in spite of it.

Also, as another commented noted, it's not all roses in those other "modern economies" you mention: France, for example, with its subsidized healthcare system has a public debt equal to 117.8% of its GDP. The US's deficit amounts to 15.2% of GDP in contrast.


War.

Taxing billionaires out of existence isn't about solving funding problems, it is about muzzling their ability to throw their wealth at politics and distort democracy.

> which would absolutely wreck the economy as well as that wealth, since much of that their wealth is tied up in stocks

Yet somehow Mackenzie Scott is divesting billions and not crashing the economy.

And you just got done saying how they don't actually have that much, yet if they sold it all its so huge it would tank the economy. That is a case of Schroedinger's equity.


> ...and then we couldn't blame billionares for being the problem.

Of course we could, and would. The narrative would then just shift to be "because these ruthless bastards didn't pay their fair share when it counted and was needed, now we're in a situation that the problem is too big and it's too late....because of THEM. You are suffering because of THEM. Look at history as it's been done a number of times.


>If the US confiscated all of the wealth of the billionaires in the US

Who is arguing for the government to do so? Certainly not anyone with real power in the US.


Right. People argue that we should take more than what we do but less than all of their wealth. The problem being, if taking all of their wealth wouldn't solve our problems, how would taking less of their wealth?

I personally think we should be taking more of their money, just describing what I think the "take all of their money" argument is doing.


> Who is arguing for the government to do so?

No one, but its a common bad-faith take on arguments that the economic system should be reformed and that the existence of billionaires is a sign of the problems that should be fixed.


Why does it have to be someone with real power?

I've seen several people on forums/twitter (yes, real people not bots) advocating or doing the math on what we could do with the "1% wealth" ... there's also this

https://youtu.be/XX0u08Gb2Gc

Which got through countless producers and two hosts without so much as a "?" from anyone.


>Why does it have to be someone with real power?

Because unless there are either powerful folks advocating for this, or a huge group of people doing so (and neither of those exists, AFAICT), it will never happen.

Yes, there are folks out there with ridiculous ideas. Mah nishtanah, ha-laylah ha-zeh?[0]

If I were to promote the idea that we should require all women to wear shelf bras[1] (or none at all), that would make me a pig and an objectifier of women.

In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if there were folks out there who already do so

Would such a thing garner widespread support? Would someone advocating for such a thing be taken seriously by enough people (or the right people, which was the point of my initial comment) to make it happen?

The same can be said of "confiscating the wealth of the billionaires."

It makes me wonder if we should expand Peter Medawar's comment[2] beyond just religious institutions. [N.B. I am an American]

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ma_Nishtana

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_bra_designs#List_of_br...

[2] https://quotefancy.com/quote/1574828/Peter-Medawar-The-USA-i...


That's fair...

I would argue that a significant % of people are arguing for this though, or at least open to the idea.

I mean, would you say a significant % of people believe that Q nonsense?


>I would argue that a significant % of people are arguing for this though, or at least open to the idea.

>I mean, would you say a significant % of people believe that Q nonsense?

I refer you to my previous comment where I said:

It makes me wonder if we should expand Peter Medawar's comment[2] beyond just religious institutions. [N.B. I am an American]

The link[0] referenced is a quote:

“The USA is so enormous, and so numerous are its schools, colleges and religious seminaries, many devoted to special religious beliefs ranging from the unorthodox to the dotty, that we can hardly wonder at its yielding a more bounteous harvest of gobbledygook than the rest of the world put together.”

[0] https://quotefancy.com/quote/1574828/Peter-Medawar-The-USA-i...


Personally I’m more interested in driving up the estate tax. The effect of generational wealth strikes me as particularly corrosive to a republic. The revenue raised is really only a minor side benefit.

If you make billions, fine. Pay income tax, but you can remain a billionaire. But your kids should not get to keep that. They’ll have to make do merely with millions.


You're right. The US government spends so much, and owes so much, that even raiding the wealth of the billionaire class probably wouldn't do much in the overall scheme of things.

But how much of US economic and fiscal policy has been influenced by billionaires (and "the rich" generally) to the detriment of the country's finances and those of everyday citizens? It's the policies that are the problem.

If you counted the costs of the tax loopholes designed specifically to benefit big corporations, real estate developers, Wall Street titans, the 1% of the 1%, etc., subsidies for the most powerful special interests, and regulations that actually stunt innovation and economic growth to protect large corporations, I suspect you'd be looking at many multiples of the wealth of individual billionaires.

In other words, to get one astronaut worth a cool $100 billion, the country probably "spends" many multiples of that.


Exactly the never ending quantitive easing has just been piling more and more money into the hands of the rich in the name of helping the poor. Heaven forbid we have some deflation, and assets cost less while wages get stronger.

Deflation benefits the rich. They have lots of money that gets to appreciate. You're just turning money into housing or Bitcoin. Something the rich speculate with to the detriment of the less wealthy.

No, they don't have lots of money, they have lots of assets. No one is sitting around with a silo full of doll-hairs they go swimming in like a greedy duck. And with deflation, those assets become cheaper. Inflation they become more expensive. The exact opposite of wages.

I think it just comes down to where do you get the most bang for your buck. Money sitting in a bank/stocks (billionaires), or money in the pockets of people willing to spend it (everyone else).

> If the US confiscated all of the wealth of the billionaires in the US (which would absolutely wreck the economy as well as that wealth, since much of that their wealth is tied up in stocks)...it would fund less than a year of government spending and not even be able to pay for the $3.5T package that is currently being debated (maybe close...the most recent estimate wealth for US billionares is between $3T and $3.5T).

That is so deceptive. You are assuming that everyone else won't be paying their taxes. Everything would be paid for but we could use the "confiscated" wealth for additional stuff. Not that I am necessarily for or against wealth redistribution.

Nobody is saying the wealth should be used to fund the government. The american taxpayers do that. The additional money could be used for other stuff.


Are taxpayers funding the government? Last year, federal tax revenues were $3 trillion less than federal spending.

> Are taxpayers funding the government?

Yes. It certainly isn't the billionaires as all their wealth wouldn't as the OP noted.

> Last year, federal tax revenues were $3 trillion less than federal spending.

A once in a few generations pandemic will do that. See how when things are put into context, it doesn't seem so bad?


I'm glad someone here is thinking about the lives of the billionaires.

This isn’t about the billionaires. What is an immense amount of money for individuals (100 billions) really isn’t that significant for a Western government like the United States.

Seizing Bezos/Gates wealth would have very little impact on the overall health of the country, the government is working with trillions already


> Seizing Bezos/Gates wealth would have very little impact on the overall health of the country

Why on earth would one build the next Tesla or SpaceX or Amazon here if this is the attitude the people will take?


At some point during the 20th century financial success became the primary mechanism of measuring achievement. This isn't necessarily the natural state of things - see counterexamples like Jonas Salk or Grigori Perelman. So my question to you would be: why do we only count innovation that results in someone getting fabulously rich as valuable? Why are we worried about losing the next Tesla or SpaceX to taxation instead of worrying about losing the next Hawking to a fatally flawed healthcare and education system?

Why is this fallacy used EVERY single time someone points out the absurdity of liquidating every billionaire.

I would make the same claim. I'm not rich. I just don't want people with "good intentions" creating "bad consequences" because they don't understand fundamentals.


The bad economic consequences you vaguely alluded to would presumably apply to the 1950s when the US and its middle classes grew the fastest and top rates of tax were ~98%.

No. But I'm glad you seem to be familiar with this.

So its funny you left out the countless proposed, failed and later repealed attempts at wealth taxes in Europe.

If you want a very simple example, just look at how Sweden killed their markets.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swedish_financial_transaction_...

Countless business lost, lives damaged and millions lost, just because someone wanted to introduce a "tax" with "good intentions" without thinking.


>So its funny you left out the countless proposed, failed and later repealed attempts at wealth taxes in Europe.

I do remember when news media outlets owned by the very wealthy claimed the French wealth tax failed because Gerard Depardieu left.

>If you want a very simple example, just look at how Sweden killed their markets. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swedish_financial_transaction_...

A simple example of what? This was not a wealth tax it was a transaction tax on securities.


>I do remember when news media outlets owned by the very wealthy claimed the French wealth tax failed because Gerard Depardieu left.

Why are you listening to news media outlets? You just have to look at the reality of the situation. Wealth taxes failed. They had consequences that outweighed the benefits.

>A simple example of what?

A "simple" tax that had popular support and planning but failed miserably.

If you want an example of a wealth tax that didn't work, just throw a dart at Europe and google when it was repealed in that country.

>This was not a wealth tax it was a transaction tax on securities.

Sure. Its comically the same exact tax (down to the %) that Bernie Sanders (a serious politician) is proposing though... but I suppose we're getting a bit off topic with that one.


>Why are you listening to news media outlets? You just have to look at the reality of the situation. Wealth taxes failed.

This is indeed the prognosis you would assume consuming from those outlets. They might use subtle misdirection in order to achieve this.

>A "simple" tax that had popular support

It didn't sound like it was either one of those things, not that that would even be relevant even so since it wasn't a wealth tax.

>Sure. Its comically the same exact tax (down to the %) that Bernie Sanders (a serious politician) is proposing though

That was ~0.005%, not 0.5%. It was attacked vehemently by the financial industry/media on the basis that it wouldn't raise much in the way of money even though, of course, it wasn't supposed to (nice bit of misdirection). It was designed to kill off the largely parasitic HFT industry and leave regular old securities trading intact (unlike sweden's tax). It was a very well designed tax, actually, which is why a variant is used by Singapore and Hong Kong.

None of this, of course, has much to do with the 98% tax rates of the 1950s, which presaged some of the highest levels of economic growth America has ever seen, fomenting the true birth of the modern middle class - a class with money in its pocket. Or, a socialist/communist that wrecked the economy for decades to come. Depending on whom you ask.


Billionaires at least introduce a diversity of perspectives & approaches.

Such diversity is usually missing from the mandarin class of ivy-leaguers & federal-government-lifers for which Vox's 'explanatory journalism' manufactures consent.


From where I'm standing I don't see any diversity of perspectives. I see a group of people who all generally believe that:

* IP laws should me maximized to protect the "owners"

* consumer protection laws should be minimized to remove corporate responsibility

* taxes should be minimal

* worker protections should be almost non-existent

Basically libertarianism or "fuck you, got mine".


As an example of diversity of approaches, look at the Fast Grants program:

https://future.a16z.com/what-we-learned-doing-fast-grants/

It was created in 2020 to give grants for COVID-related research. Its big selling point was that it would give out money fast: very little paperwork to fill out, and yes/no decisions made within 48 hours. They were surprised to discover that even researchers at top universities were having a hard time getting funding out of the usual institutions like the NIH, which were adapting very slowly to the pandemic. They seem to have done very well in speeding up research, at least with the amount of money they had, just by giving out the funding in a way that few-to-none of the existing institutions would.


Warren Buffett is clearly a pro-taxes billionaire, among many others. But Buffet is probably the most popular / richest one of them?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buffett_Rule

> The Buffett Rule is named after American investor Warren Buffett, who publicly stated in early 2011 that he believed it was wrong that rich people, like himself, could pay less in federal taxes, as a portion of income, than the middle class, and voiced support for increased income taxes on the wealthy.


I dont see much of your bullet-item beliefs from billionaires like:

* Winfrey

* Dorsey

* Soros

* Steyer

* Benioff

* Bloomberg

* Simons

* Sussman

* Pritzker

* Buffett

* Scott

* Omidyar

* Williams

* Kardashian

* Lucas

A few of them support IP protections, at least at current levels supporting their sources-of-wealth, but not your other examples. (And whether they support IP any more than the average voter, or union-member, is unclear.)

Maybe partisanship "from where [you're] standing" is blinding you to the social & political programs of many billionaires?


Also, many of them are trying to create land dynasties. Bill gates is buying farmland.

If you interact with some top tier wealthy people, 0.9% wealthy to the 0.01%, you really quickly see that they have very little understanding of a number of issues that "middle-class" people face (let's ignore that "middle-class" is insanely broad, for the sake of the uber-wealthy, middle class is basically the 1% and poorer).

They often have a hyper inflated sense of individual accomplishment; they're usually "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" people (while unaware of the true meaning of that phrase) and they usually despise any attack on their sense of control, including the narrative that they are "self-made".

They generally have a remarkably homogeneous set of values and promote the same sets of policies and programs on a national scale. They use their influence to tip the scales on a very select group of issues and "personal interest" problems, but they also espouse broadly libertarian approaches to their holdings and wealth, all while insisting they are remaining apolitical.

What they do for PR stunts is usually belied by large scale tax evasion, extremely intensive lobbying, aggressive litigation, and monopolistic capture of whole markets if need be to protect their wealth. Many of which is of questionable legality, but perhaps of even more questionable morality and ethics.


>"they have very little understanding of a number of issues that 'middle-class' people face"

I get the same impression reading private-school-educated Vox writers.


Sure, but then we shouldn't rely on them to save us either. (I don't know who does, probably just them tbh.) Character assassination doesn't make the argument less compelling for either group. If you want to discuss the ideals of the professional media class, you would find an equal homogeneity of values and an equal vacuousness of public self-aggrandizing in many.

"Relying on someone to save us" is really a perversion of democratic ideals. We are capable of deciding for ourselves the society that we want, in fair respect of the equal dignity of others, and a democratic society is the vehicle for that achievement.


The person pushing the inflammatory "relying on billionaires to save us" framing is a manipulative hit-chasing Vox muckraker.

I'd say the main issue is that not a single one of them cares about our problems and never will, even if they have a charity that makes them look like saviors.

That's a puzzling empirical claim. Why would no billionaires care about other people's problems?

And why should they? Are billionaires responsible for your problems?

Exactly, so relying on them in some hope they fix something is a bad idea.

I don't see how anyone is forced to rely on billionaires, and if anything I'd rather rely on a billionaire than on a politician: one of the two has actually done something.

Save us? I'll be thankful if they just don't kill us off.

Who should save us then? Young activists with nothing to offer but righteous ignorance? Cynical politicians, who believe nothing but their focus groups? Our well appointed chattering class whose hatred towards billionaires is obviously rooted in envy?

I would say we are better off sticking with the billionaires. They have competence on their side at least.


What is it with this "billionaire hate" narrative? What have billionaires done besides create enormous wealth for their country and themselves? How is that a bad thing?

I think there are 2 questions that do deserve discussion and debate:

1. Whether a society should be structured to allow billionaires at all; and,

2. Whether the existence of billionaires is actually helpful/creating a net benefit for everyone else.

The debate originates out of the dominant ideological form of liberalism in Western liberal democracies, Rawlsian liberalism, and, in particular its idea of the "difference principle", which argues that inequality can exist so long as democratic institutions are accessible and enabling upward social mobility, and so long as the majority of the benefits from government actions/programs/policies benefit the most worse off populace the most.

In a sense, the debates around wealth, and especially the extremely wealthy, start when there is the popular sense that that "difference principle" is failing or no longer operating as it should be. Billionaires begin to be seen as extractive rather than as a benefit for a country.


"To Giridharadas, the real “stepping up” would come from billionaires renouncing the use of loopholes to evade taxes that weaken government’s revenue and ability to respond"

I'm not sure... would the US covid situation be better if Amazon spent less on building out their infrastructure and instead sent more money to the Trump administration?


Yea, go ahead and start your decent into hating successful people. I have 0 doubt if you got rid of billionaires, problems would remain and then you would go after millionaires...

The biggest irony is that you'll chase the most productive and brilliant people away. Think of how many great scientists and intellectuals came from the Eastern bloc... or Germany during the rise of Hitler. They literally expelled some of their most brilliant and successful people, making the US (or whatever country they fled to) stronger.


Drug cartels are successful as well.

The real problem is that legal work isn't being rewarded. Simply letting your money or real estate idle is a much better bet than actually investing it in an economy with slow population growth.


>Simply letting your money or real estate idle is a much better bet than actually investing it in an economy with slow population growth

Do you have anything that points to a majority of billionaires doing this?


Wait, what? The asset classes with the highest rates of return over the past decade have all been equities, i.e. actually investing it in the economy:

https://advisor.visualcapitalist.com/asset-class-risk-and-re...

Letting your money sit idle has had much worse performance.




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