…it seems so simple, yet I never hear it being mentioned. But, alas, sometimes ‘simple’ ideas take a while to be discovered and formulated. And I think it will require a simple idea – one that can be easily articulated and comprehended by the masses – if it is to garner the necessary support for implementation. That’s one of my favorite things about MLK – in addition to his courage and oratory skills, or course – that I discovered in the course of the festival I did in Pisa a few years back, namely, his brilliance at finding small actionable solutions to specific solvable problems and articulating both the problem and strategies in simple terms that everyone could understand. He also wanted it to be easy for anyone to measure the progress being made and see when victory was achieved. Within the massive, more general injustices of the time, he found individual ‘bite-size’ issues to focus on, and then created highly-specific campaigns and strategies that were then picked up by the masses and carried through to success: bus boycotts, sit-ins, marches, etc. I’m really in awe of that, and especially today, with our shorter attention-spans and more focus on sound bites, I think it is the simplest ideas that have the biggest chance of success.
I like looking for these cracks and finding ways to articulate them. I particularly like trying to decouple ideas that shouldn’t be coupled, e.g., antisemitism and anti-Zionism, zoophilia and animal abuse, limits on personal wealth and socialism, etc. That’s what led me to E.F.A. while thinking about social mores, or New Jewish State while thinking about Jewish survival, or ‘Rubber’ (my life-long project about abolishing religion) … or my film about the next level of evolution (not unrelated to questions of speciesism), or this economics idea that grew out of another film of mine, Flux, that deals with all sorts of hierarchies in society and nature. But then implementing those ideas in the real-world seem to be a bit outside my of skill-set. So the EFA idea is now being championed by the Germans) … and this economics idea, as well, would have to be developed, spread, fought for and implemented by people who are far more strategic, grounded and practical than I am (I am painfully aware of the ‘real-world’ limitations and challenges I posses as a poet-artist-philosopher hybrid), and by those who are more educated in the fields of law, economics, taxation, and – let’s be honest – revolution (the Eric Princes of the world won’t willingly hand over their billions to any foundations…).
Thus, if one were to ask “Would the threshold be income, or wealth? And, whichever you answer, how would you set the level”, I would have to confess that I haven’t really thought those through in detail, since I don’t think my efforts in those areas would add anything that others couldn’t do far better than me. But I did spend yesterday thinking about them, and this is what I came up with:
1) Beginning with the second one first, since it’s a bit easier to tackle: a) I don’t think a specific number would be the ideal threshold, since ‘a billion dollars’, for example, varies from currency to currency, and from time to time based on inflation. I think a better threshold would be based on the GDP, or average per capita income of any given country/region in question. So as currencies and overall wealth fluctuate, the percentage of the total available wealth would remain constant, and at no point would any individual be able to own more than the established maximum percentage.
Regarding an amount based on our status quo, my gut tells me that a number that would garner widespread support would be a cool billion dollars. I personally think that 100 million would get a lot of support, too, since it’s hard to argue that one would could ever need more than that (especially when we have studies like this about the magical 75,000 happiness salary: https://www.wsj.com/articles/BL-WHB-3576), but in America at least, I feel as though a lot of people enjoy seeing their stars get very rich, and a campaign to cut off wealth at 100 million – with athletes signing 250-million-dollar contracts every day – wouldn’t muster the overwhelming widespread support necessary to make this idea a reality. Perhaps in the future, if such a threshold is ever instituted, it could come down somewhat, but I think initially it would have to be higher. I think a billion-dollar cap could get massive support and rolls off the tongue quite easily. Even the Oxford debate was worded that way as opposed to “Ultra-Millionaires”, etc., even though there is no mathematical or moral basis for differentiating between billionaires and 500-millionaires…
2) Regarding income or wealth, I would say both. By ‘wealth’, I think you mean property, stocks, etc., and if so, I would say both. This obviously introduces a lot of questions with regard to determining the exact value of properties, art, stocks, etc., but those challenges already exist when it comes to taxation. Values are never fixed in stone (see Weisselberg…) and it’s never a perfect science, but there are already mechanisms in place when it comes to property taxes, or for deciding which tax bracket one is in, etc., and these same mechanisms could be used to determine if someone is above or below the threshold. There would obviously be endless attempts at evasion and undervaluing, but those have always existed and will always exist, but at least those games would only be played around the determined threshold. Most people, by definition, are far below that threshold, and whether Bezos is forced to give 204 billion to his foundation, or 203 if he can manipulate the values of his first billion, wouldn’t be that big a tragedy considering that at least 203 would now be going towards the common good. A few days ago he gave away 200 million, so less than 0.1% of his net worth, and he left some perpetual chatterboxes speechless: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rli9ZRvemh0 So just imagine what 203 billion could do! thus, I think that the inevitable tricks and games around the edges of any threshold are not enough to discredit the merit and value of the overall initiative.
Some would obviously burn money or give it away to family and friends before reaching that threshold. OK. But a) people do that anyway to avoid entering higher tax brackets; and b) the gifts would be taxed, if done legally, and then said family members would also soon reach their thresholds, and then the rest would go to the foundation. Again, even if Bezos gave all of his family members the maximum amount, he would still have at least 180 billion in his foundation. Not too shabby…
Companies and corporations will most likely have to exist over that threshold, but the ownership of those companies would either be in the hands of more shareholders, each of which would have to be below the threshold, or the companies can be owned by the foundations – many billionaires currently give their shares to foundations which, in turn, rise and fall according to the share prices. So if Elon Musk, for example, used his money to found a new company and the company then earns more than a billion, he can hold onto to a billion-worth of ownership and the rest would be owned by others, or by the foundation. He could continue managing it, expanding it, with his ego and glory rising and falling according to the size of his foundation, but his private ownership would remain at the threshold. Many charities, foundations and endowments already work this way, with principal being invested with hopes of gains and expansion.
Many will inevitably argue that any limits on wealth create slippery-slopes towards socialism, which leads to godlessness, etc. (I mentioned this in my last email, and just saw it again on TV today: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dOL_uVrz6Yg, where the idiot claims that giving healthcare leads to Marxism, i.e., the destruction of the family unit, churches…???) But, as I also mentioned, we already have so many limits on earning potential – limits which everyone seems to embrace: patent and copyright expiration, anti-trust laws, price-gouging laws, etc. We also already have limits on how people can spend that money (lobbying, political donations, bribery, gifts, pump-and-dump schemes, etc.). So limits on earning and spending are a necessary part of any system, even though the specifics of these laws will be fought over for all eternity, as would any maximum threshold for private property.
We also used to have systems – and many countries still do – where some individuals had more rights than others – monarchies, gentry, caste systems, sex-, race- and religion-based rights, etc. – but we in the West have pretty much abolished those, which essentially meant taking away some rights and power from some and expanding the rights of others. This opened opportunities for many while making others have to work and compete harder than they were used to. This process isn’t new, even though every step in this process requires a new revolution of sorts…
Some of the wealthy might not even fight this initiative, e.g., Buffet, who seems to enjoy the thrill of investing, and if he were investing the foundation’s money as opposed to his own, I think he might be as content as he is now. Or people like Carnegie, who was famously against leaving huge inheritances to one’s children, might also accept that what is harmful to one’s children, i.e., excessive wealth, may not be ideal for the parents either… But most billionaires would probably fight this initiative like crazy, with many even using violence. But we have seen that before with Apartheid, slavery, or voting rights for women and blacks (which are just other forms of minimizing the power of a few), or when overthrowing dictators or monarchies… Rarely do people relinquish power willingly, but if the masses are sufficiently convinced and mobilized, nothing can stop them, especially in the States, where we have seen so much drastic change recently with gay rights, marijuana legalization, etc. I already feel new groundswells of support surrounding gun laws, as well as the issue of income inequality and I believe that once an effective message is produced, with clear actionable strategies, things can move quite quickly…
So those are some thoughts based on my layman’s knowledge of economy, law, taxation, etc.
I think that a proper expert or think tank could have fun developing a more robust blueprint or white paper on the subject, and it would be my honor. Aside from a brief post on my website, as well as a very abstract treatment of these concepts in my animated film ‘Flux’, I don’t think I will be developing it any further on my own – at least not in the foreseeable future, as I genuinely don’t feel equipped to do a good job with it. If a robust proposal is developed, and it gains traction amongst the experts and policy makers, a more watered-down version can then be presented to the public, along with some easy-to-understand and easy-to-quote statistics, and then I can imagine it gaining wide support.
I think the word ‘tax’ scares people, so when you say 100% taxation after the threshold, it’s less effective than ‘charity’ or ‘philanthropy’. And it’s also so much harder for the ultra-wealthy (perhaps ‘grotesquely-wealthy’ can be a useful catchphrase) to fight against: they can easily argue that the government is corrupt, wasteful, incompetent etc., and therefor unworthy of more taxes, but they can’t say – or would never say – that they themselves would be incompetent at giving charity, or that they absolutely need another twenty jets/yachts/islands/castles, etc. In the Zuckerberg video I sent, what would he be able to say against this initiative??? …
- July 22, 2021