Thursday, February 07, 2019


Farhad Manjoo, a former tech writer for The New York Times who's now writing op-eds for the paper, signs on to a growing movement:
Abolish Billionaires

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 ... 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.

... Dan Riffle, [Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's] 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.
I'm for imposing some serious taxes on the wealthy. I would not be displeased if the result was that the superwealthy were now substantially less wealthy. (They'd still be stinking rich by any normal person's standard.) If this were accompanied by a better standard of living for non-rich people, I'd say that was an excellent tradeoff. And if it meant no one was a billionaire anymore, I'd be perfectly content with that.

But if economic progressives intend to memeify the phrase "abolish billionaires," as seems to be the case, that's going to have an unintended impact on how we talk about inequality. Americans are very much on board with the idea of significantly higher taxes on the rich ...
A plan from first-term Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) to slap a 70 percent marginal rate on income earned over $10 million clocked in at 59 percent support in a recent Hill/HarrisX poll.

The new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll, conducted Feb. 1-2, found that 61 percent favor a proposal like the “wealth tax” recently laid out by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) that would levy a 2 percent tax on those with a net worth over $50 million and 3 percent on those worth over $1 billion. Just 20 percent opposed the idea.
... But I predict that the idea of abolishing billionaires will poll badly. Americans today are resentful of the disproportionate wealth and power of the rich, but Americans have never wanted to close the door to the possibility of being rich. They're not going to like "abolish."

It's not exactly analogous, but Americans don't like the idea of abolishing ICE:
A new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll shows that most voters oppose eliminating Immigration and Customs Enforcement — the homeland security agency some liberal Democrats have called for abolishing.

Only 1 in 4 voters in the poll, 25 percent, believe the federal government should get rid of ICE. The majority, 54 percent, think the government should keep ICE. Twenty-one percent of voters are undecided.
Polling shows that Americans oppose a border wall and support a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants in the country now. They've expressed outrage at family separation. But abolishing ICE is a step too far.

Conservatives like to portray liberal/progressive ideas as totalitarian. (Hell, conservatives like to portray the existence of government itself as totalitarian. They think taxes at any level are theft.)

Most Americans don't think that way -- but slogans with the word "abolish" do sound a bit totalitarian. It may not matter -- the "Abolish ICE" slogan didn't prevent Democrats from making big gains in the 2018 midterms (and probably won the Democrats a fair number of votes in more left-leaning districts). But "abolish" slogans carry risks. There'll be polling on "abolish billionaires" eventually. We'll see how popular the idea is.

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