The N.Y. Times is running a series on wealth with the subtitle of “Articles on Managing Fortunes, Improving Lifestyles, and Finding Financial Security.” (Somehow sucking up to the wealthy qualifies as all of the news fit to print.) Today’s contribution is “Why You Might Not Want to Take Away a Billionaire’s Money” by Jeff Sommer.
Mr. Sommer begins his article thus:
“There is a problem with billionaires: They’ve got way more money than any human deserves.
“But if you were simply to take it all away from them, you would, in many cases, be doing more harm than good.”
WTF? Who is calling for taking away all of the money from the rich? Anybody? Nobody I know. Then he uses John D. Rockefeller as an icon of philanthropy to support his thesis (all of those museums, and scholarships, and schools, oh my). He doesn’t mention Mr. Rockefeller’s rapacious business practices or any of his other negatives, he just mentions parks and museums and schools, etc.
His point is the same as many others: billionaires know better what to do with money than you do, no matter how they managed to acquire it. I have written about this before in “Bill Gates Ideas Are Better than Yours.” But the current point still has no basis in reality. The only way you could test this hypothesis, is to give an ordinary person a billion dollars and ask them how they would donate it to good causes, then compare the performances of the rich and poor philanthropists. Basically the article’s argument is that billionaires spend their money better than a guy who would pile it all up and burn it. (No, duh!) This argument is a version of the comedian Gallagher’s dog food commercial which goes “Look how much friskier the Alpo dog is than the dead dog over there.”
Also, it stacks museums, etc. on one side of the ledger and doesn’t place anything on the other, other than “non-museums.” I think if you were to do the most draconian thing, take away 80% of a billionaire’s money and give it to the poor, that money would vanish from human sight. (It would get spent.) But what value do you place on being able to feed your children, send them to school, or afford medical care for your spouse. No one could visit those things sometime in the future but the benefit would be very, very tangible to the people afforded those things, the hundreds of thousands of people afforded those things.
And what about the billionaires, like the Koch brothers, using their wealth to make sure that ordinary people have no say in our government, that their ideas get implemented and the poor, well they need to go get a job. These people have amassed great wealth by commercially taking small amounts of money from many, many people. Then they used that wealth to rig the game to make even more wealth. Consider the Bush tax cuts that transferred large amounts of money to the very wealthy in the form of taxes not needing to be paid, with the shortfall in federal receipts being made up by smaller amounts collected from millions of Americans. Because of this, if the wealth were to be transferred back, it would only involve a small amount to each individual American, but the point is that wealth should never have been accumulated in the first place. (I will blog about this shortly.)
And before I hear from droves of apologists for the wealthy, you can stick your globalization and free trade arguments where the sun doesn’t shine. The same factors affect all of the world’s economies and in none of those other countries has wealth inequality anything even approximating what it is in the U.S. The rich have captured our government and are running it for their own benefit, which proves my second point: the damned billionaires can’t be trusted with the power that comes with that wealth. For every benign billionaire, like Warren Buffet, there are a dozen rapacious assholes, like the Koch brothers.
Also interesting is how such poorly-argued propaganda for the rich got past the editors of the N.Y. Times. Oh, I forgot, the Times is owned by the wealthy, as are most of the rest of the news media. Sucking up to the boss is so very easy to do.