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.
Now right up front there are those that will say that claims like this are some kind of violent form of fascist communism, or that Sanders and I hate hard-working rich people and want to take people's freedom away and live in a Stalinist hellhole! That's the most extreme example of course, but there are many others who will think to themselves in milder terms that such an idea is unfair; after all those people earned that money and should have the right to do with it as they please, and if they've become billionaires it must be due to hard work and business savvy. The great underlying lie, of course, that keeps working-class people voting conservative is that they too may one day become billionaires, and want to keep that money when they do.
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.
To give a little perspective, I work my butt off in two jobs and various side hustles, and I'll probably earn about $25,000 this year after taxes. I could probably be making more, and indeed have turned down more lucrative work opportunities because I work for nonprofits that I believe in, but if I had a spouse making the same amount I would actually be at the median income for my area. At that yearly pay level, with no changes, I will earn a million dollars in about 40 years. Now obviously I won't have a million-dollar net worth in 40 years because I have to, you know, spend a lot of that money on silly things like housing and food, nor will I get anywhere close to $32 million where I would start paying a wealth tax under president Sanders, but I can earn a million dollars and most workers in the United States will earn a million dollars in their working lifetimes.
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.