This last week Bernie Sanders released an aggressive plan to introduce an extreme wealth tax should he become president. The tax would only affect households with a net worth of $32 million or more, starting at 1% of assessed net worth at that level and capping out at 8% for households with more than $10 billion. This wealth tax plan came on the heels of Elizabeth Warren's own, similar plan, but it's much more aggressive at the highest brackets and came with a reiteration of an idea that Bernie has expressed before; billionaires should not exist.
I'm going to largely ignore the predictable corporate responses to a plan like this - like one taxfoundation.org writer's claim that such a tax would "likely lead to a decline in national saving, which would make the nation poorer as a whole"1, as if somehow middle class people will stop putting $100 in their savings accounts every month because they're worried about the day when they'll hit $32 million and pay a small tax - and instead focus on what a billionaire is, and why Sanders is absolutely right that they shouldn't exist.
I think the problem, though, is it's hard for us to imagine a billion dollars. We think of billionaires as just sort of bigger, better millionaires. It's easy to imagine a hard-working, smart, savvy entrepreneur striking it big with their idea and making a million dollars, and Sanders and I would both say that's great! People should be rewarded for hard work and good ideas! But we need to realize that a billion dollars is something completely different, because a billion dollars is 1,000 times a million dollars. A billionaire isn't just a bigger, better version of a millionaire, in the way someone with a MA in English is a bigger, better version of someone with a BA in English. No, a billionaire is 1,000 millionaires.
In order to earn a billion dollars, though, at my salary level, I would have to work for 40,000 years! Think about that; Hammurabi's law code dates to about 1750 BC, give or take. So to make a million dollars it will take about half my lifetime, and to make a billion dollars it will take more than 10 times as long as the Rule of Law has existed! Like, we could have an interesting debate on the morality of being a millionaire in a Christian context, and I might grudgingly admit that in a more secular ethics it's fine for millionaires who came by their fortunes legally to maintain them, but a billionaire is something else entirely! A billionaire is a greedy, bloated, wealth demon with an unconscionable amount of money that they cannot possibly justify having, let alone ever meaningfully deploy with any utility. And someone like Jeff Bezos isn't just a billionaire; his net worth is figured at $110 billion usd. Jeff Bezos is 110,000 millionaires put together. That is absurd. Billionaires should not exist. That's not socialism; it's morality.