Should there be a limit to how much wealth a person has? If so, how much is too much?
In “Abolish Billionaires,” Farhad Manjoo writes:
Last fall, Tom Scocca, editor of the essential blog Hmm Daily, wrote a tiny, searing post that has been rattling around my head ever since.
“Some ideas about how to make the world better require careful, nuanced thinking about how best to balance competing interests,” he began. “Others don’t: Billionaires are bad. We should presumptively get rid of billionaires. All of them.”
Mr. Scocca — a longtime writer at Gawker until that site was muffled by a billionaire — offered a straightforward argument for kneecapping the wealthiest among us. 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. For Mr. Scocca, that level is self-evidently somewhere around one billion dollars; beyond that, you’re irredeemable.
He continues by discussing the idea of abolishing billionaires:
But it is an illustration of the political precariousness of billionaires that the idea has since become something like mainline thought on the progressive left. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are floating new taxes aimed at the superrich, including special rates for billionaires. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who also favors higher taxes on the wealthy, has been making a moral case against the existence of billionaires. Dan Riffle, her policy adviser, recently changed his Twitter name to “Every Billionaire Is a Policy Failure.” Last week, HuffPost asked, “Should Billionaires Even Exist?”
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.
Students, read the entire article, then tell us:
— Should anyone have a billion dollars? Is there a limit to how much money a person should have? Are billionaires a sign of a country’s health or weakness? Are billionaires helping or hurting society?
— How convincing is Mr. Manjoo’s case against billionaires? Where is his argument most effective? Where is he least persuasive?
— How concerned are you about income inequality and the concentration of wealth in this country? What do you think should be done to address or remedy these issues?
— In Reason Magazine, Nick Gillespie, a libertarian, responds to Mr. Manjoo’s Opinion column. He asks if the world would be better off if former Beatles musican Paul McCartney didn’t have a net worth of $1.2 billion:
Would there be less suffering in the world if his money is expropriated and transferred to the wretched of the earth via higher taxes rather than through his own charitable donations and investments? Probably not, especially when you think about how much suffering, especially in the developing world, is the direct result of government action.
“Abolish Billionaires” is a smart slogan, but that’s all it is. Figuratively lopping the heads off of the richest of the rich will not make life easier for the poor and dispossessed, and it won’t increase economic growth and living standards. It might sate the bloodlust of left-wing populists for a while, but certainly that outcome can be purchased for lower cost.
Do you agree with Mr. Gillespie’s argument? Should we blame billionaires for their own good fortune, hard work or talent? Will abolishing billionaires hurt economic growth and living standards and end up harming those less fortunate?
Students 13 and older are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.