Farhad Manjoo was in a restless mood when he woke up yesterday morning. He hadn’t written anything truly stupid and controversial since his column last month, “There’s Nothing Wrong with Open Borders,” and his New York Times editor was demanding something that would generate clicks and get the right really, really mad at the paper.
For Manjoo, a piece of cake. And “Abolish Billionaires” was born.
A billion dollars is wildly more than anyone needs, even accounting for life’s most excessive lavishes. It’s far more than anyone might reasonably claim to deserve, however much he believes he has contributed to society.
At some level of extreme wealth, money inevitably corrupts. On the left and the right, it buys political power, it silences dissent, it serves primarily to perpetuate ever-greater wealth, often unrelated to any reciprocal social good.
It’s not that Manjoo didn’t put any thought at all into the idea. Like the Grinch, “he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore.” And then, out he vomited the notion that billionaires were the root of all evil and must be eliminated.
I suspect the question is getting so much attention because the answer is obvious: Nope. Billionaires should not exist — at least not in their present numbers, with their current globe-swallowing power, garnering this level of adulation, while the rest of the economy scrapes by.
I like to use this column to explore maximalist policy visions — positions we might aspire to over time rather than push through tomorrow. Abolishing billionaires might not sound like a practical idea, but if you think about it as a long-term goal in light of today’s deepest economic ills, it feels anything but radical. Instead, banishing billionaires — seeking to cut their economic power, working to reduce their political power and attempting to question their social status — is a pithy, perfectly encapsulated vision for surviving the digital future.
Daydreaming about eliminating people because, in his subjective opinion, they have “too much” money might seem a little loony to reasonable people. But whoever accused a leftist of being reasonable? In fact, there are several lefties who are suggesting the exact same thing, as Nick Gillespie writes at Hit and Run:
As left-wing populists and progressives ascend in the Democratic Party, they are laying down new dogma, none more heartfelt than the idea that billionaires are evil, rotten, and not to be tolerated. For the Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warrens, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortezes of the world, billionaires are what witches were to Salem congregationalists and kulaks were to Lenin: a threat to the system that must be eliminated.
Ocasio-Cortez’s economic policy adviser Dan Riffle has changed his Twitter name to “Every Billionaire Is a Policy Failure.” Lefty blogger Tom Scocca declares “Billionaires are bad. We should presumptively get rid of billionaires” (he graciously adds, “they may go on living…[but] they must not be allowed to possess a billion dollars”). A research director at the proggy Roosevelt Institute says simply, “We do not need billionaires.”
Presumably, it’s perfectly alright to possess $999,999,999.99. If not, how much is too much? $500 million? $100 million? $100 grand?
That’s what makes this suggestion so utterly stupid, as Kevin Williamson writes at National Review:
Implicit in the above is that someone somewhere is empowered to determine who deserves what and what counts as a contribution or social good. We already have a system for doing that, one in which everybody gets an equal vote. “I have an idea, a business, a product — would you like to buy some?” People decide for themselves, just as if they had minds of their own!
A billion dollars does buy some political influence. So does a New York Times column.
Up against the wall!
I don’t think Manjoo and other leftists want to start measuring what billionaires contribute to society, looking for an imbalance between the good they do and the resources they have.
We can all play that game. What do poor people contribute to society? Why do they get to “exist” and billionaires don’t?
One could argue (I’m not) that the poor are inherently immoral. Surely many millions who are born poor find a way to rise up the ladder of success and become self-sufficient, tax-paying members of society. Why can’t all the “poor” do that? If racism is to blame, why do so many black Americans pull themselves out of poverty into the middle class? Shouldn’t every single black American be oppressed and poor?
Let us state the obvious: life is not fair. If life were fair, 10-year-old little girls and boys wouldn’t die of cancer. Hurricanes wouldn’t destroy your home. And everybody would have exactly the same amount of cash, meaning billionaires wouldn’t exist.
The casual ignorance it takes to propose taking people’s property from them because of some misguided belief that it’s “unfair” for some to have so much has become an epidemic on the left. Proposals like “Medicare for all,” a “Green New Deal,” and “free” college tuition — costing tens and tens of trillions of dollars — will never be funded, even if you take every cent from every billionaire in America.
“Wealth redistribution” only works for those in charge of redistributing it. Just ask the kulaks, millions of whom were “redistributed” into the grave.