If you’ve ever listened to Bernie Sanders speak you’ve probably heard him rail against billionaires. So it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that the newly minted Democratic Socialists in Congress feel the same way. In fact, it turns out Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has a policy adviser named Dan Riffle who believes billionaires are immoral even if they’re good people. Yesterday he tweeted this about Bill Gates:
Important point here. Bill Gates’ money hoarding makes him greedy, but maybe he goes 6/6 on the other deadly sins and, on balance, is a good person.
Still, he’s a policy failure. The acquisition of that much wealth has bad consequences. A moral society needs guardrails against it https://t.co/KmzBPmNGSg
— Every Billionaire Is A Policy Failure (@DanRiffle) January 22, 2019
To be clear, he’s not necessarily saying Bill Gates is personally immoral only that the existence of billionaires like Gates is a sign society is immoral. So billionaires are immoral even if they’re okay people, though he seems to think that’s pretty unlikely.
In any case, the idea that Bill Gates is “hoarding” doesn’t make much sense if you know anything about Bill Gates. He’s one of the creators of a pledge (Warren Buffett is the other) to donate at least half of his wealth to charity. His charity, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is the largest private charity in the world. Last year alone he donated 4.6 billion of his wealth to the charity which is trying to eradicate Malaria and polio.
Of course, even with all his giving, he’s still the world’s richest man. That’s fair enough but it’s not accurate or fair to say he’s “hoarding” or “greedy.” On the contrary, he seems to be extremely generous. But when challenged with this, Riffle replied as if the existence of philanthropy was itself a failure:
Philanthropy is the privatization of the social safety net.
— Every Billionaire Is A Policy Failure (@DanRiffle) January 23, 2019
This is a revealing statement. Apparently, if we confiscated enough wealth from people like Gates, we wouldn’t a) have any billionaires capable of philanthropy and b) need any philanthropy. If you believe in confiscating private wealth and further believe that the government would do a better job distributing that wealth then I guess this makes sense.
It’s not difficult to see that this doesn’t really add up. In fact, you can quickly figure this out yourself. Gates’ entire personal fortune is estimated to be about $85.2 billion dollars. Imagine for a moment that AOC and Riffle had their way and instead of just a 70% marginal tax rate on Gates’ income, they seized 100% of Gates wealth. So now they have his $85.2 billion and he’s broke.
Question: What percentage of the 2018 budget deficit would Bill Gates’ entire fortune pay for? The answer is 10.9 percent. Last year’s budget deficit was $779 billion. Here’s another question: What percentage of the federal debt would Bill Gates’ entire fortune eliminate? The answer is less than half of one percent. So with Bill Gates now living in a tent somewhere in Seattle, we’d have accomplished…nothing. In terms of our national spending, Bill Gates’ entire personal fortune is beer money.
Here’s another question: If philanthropy is a privatization of the social safety net, how would Gates’ money wind up fighting Malaria in Africa if it were confiscated by the U.S. Treasury? That money would go to our safety net. Gates’ money wouldn’t be providing a safety net (or any more mosquito nets) for people in Africa. Sure, we could designate his fortune for that purpose, but looking at our national debt, does anyone really think that would happen? Hint: It wouldn’t. Not unless we had a global government collecting global taxes, which is something I wouldn’t be surprised to learn Riffle supports, eventually.
Billionaires aren’t the cause of our financial problems, they are a convenient, cartoon villain for socialist demagogues like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to rail against. In reality, our financial problems are far bigger than even the elimination of all our billionaires can solve. The people who tell you otherwise are lying. Case in point…