Bernie Sanders, Bill Gates, and the Politics of Shortsighted Greed

(AP Photo/Gerardo Bello)

A good con artist knows never to shear his marks too close. Take them for too much, and they’ll catch on to the con. But a truly sharp operator can keep the same victims happy and clueless enough that they keep coming back to get conned again and again.

Bernie Sanders is a terrible con artist. So is Liz Warren.

Both candidates have pegged their campaigns to Medicare for All, and neither candidate has an honest clue — with the accent on “honest” — of how to pay for all that free health care. Of the two, Sanders is probably the worst, since he’s now threatening to tax billionaires out of existence to pay for even more fleeting benefits, like “solving” the “homeless crisis.”

On Wednesday, Microsoft co-founder and multibillionaire Bill Gates had a couple things to say about the so-called wealth tax, like the ones proposed by Sanders and Warren. “I’ve paid over $10 billion in taxes. I’ve paid more than anyone in taxes. If I had to pay $20 billion, it’s fine.” Gates then added, “But when you say I should pay $100 billion, then I’m starting to do a little math over what I have left over.”

Sanders took to Twitter yesterday to reply:

Don’t worry about what it costs to end homelessness (you can’t, without attacking mental illness, which Sanders won’t) or provide safe drinking water (pretty cheap, when government isn’t screwing it up). Sanders doesn’t know and likely doesn’t care, and besides, the issues aren’t important. He could have named “ending drug addiction” and “slave reparations,” or “ending hunger” and “put a democratic socialist on the moon.” The point isn’t solving problems; the point is taking the money. They’ll figure out what to spend it on later, after they know exactly which palms need greasing and which interest groups can deliver the most votes.

But first, get the money out of private hands and into politicians’ hands where it belongs.

The beauty, as it were, of payroll taxes is that they’re a very smart con. They aren’t so high that people revolt, some of them are hidden because employers appear to pay them, and the pain of paying them is lessened because you never have to write an actual check. If any government ever invented a smarter way of fleecing its marks, again and again, I’ve never heard of it.

But this idea of a wealth tax is just so fabulously stupid that it takes an incredibly shortsighted con artist to dream it up.

Don’t worry about the details of the Warren plan or the Sanders plan to tax wealth, because they aren’t that important. She’d tax X percentage over Y amount, and he’d tax A percentage over B amount, but it doesn’t really matter what values you plug into the variables. The result is the same: The end of innovation.

Sure, you can sock it to a Bill Gates or a Jeff Bezos or a Walton Family for most of their wealth… once. And then they’re either broke or move their remaining wealth overseas. But the real problem is that the next Gates or Bezos or Walton takes one look at that wealth tax and never bothers to innovate. And we never get the next Microsoft, or the next Amazon, or the next Walmart. Existing players thrive, everybody else stagnates. Which kind of sucks if you want a growing, modern economy, but it’s just fine if you’re looking for a return to feudalism. Which, come to think of it, is exactly what socialism is — “democratic” or not.

Mostly what we’re seeing here is the politics of greed — “He has it! We want to spend it! Let’s take it!” — combined with political expediency of needing to buy enough votes to win a presidential election. Maybe it will work, maybe it won’t. But this much is certain: If it does work, like any shortsighted con it will work only once.