TGIF: Abolish Billionaires?

by | May 5, 2023

TGIF: Abolish Billionaires?

by | May 5, 2023

sanders

Sen. Bernie Sanders wants to abolish billionaires. You read that right. He says he’d confiscate 100 percent of people’s money above the $999 million mark — as if that would cover a significant portion of the nearly $7 trillion the feds will spend in the next fiscal year. Even if the government stole everything over $1 million, the money wouldn’t go very far. The rich don’t have enough money to finance the profligate state, and they wouldn’t submit to the tax collector even if they did: incentives matter.

But no matter — raising revenue is not Sanders’s goal. He just wants to deprive people of money he thinks they do not deserve. Why don’t they deserve it? Because it’s so much more than most people have. So there.

Sanders, who has long favored a wealth tax on top of the income tax, says, “I think people can make it on $999 million”  — as though it’s for him and his colleagues in power to tell people how much they are allowed to want or need.

Don’t bother to point out that most billionaires — over 70 percent — are self-made (not that inherited money should be confiscated either). Sanders won’t care. For him, a person who makes a fabulous fortune or builds on inherited wealth by providing valued goods and services better than competitors is no different from one who gets money by stealing it or, what is the same thing, having good connections with politicians. It would be a different matter if Sanders paid attention to the myriad ways the politicians help some people gain wealth at the expense of others, but that’s not what he does. His target is wealth per se.

He just doesn’t like wealth inequality, and right now he’s drawing the line at billionaires. Later on he’ll probably be willing to lower the threshold further. Do you think he’ll be content with almost-billionaires on the loose? Presumably the new level will be above his own millionaire status. “I wrote a best-selling book,” he said. “If you write a best-selling book, you can be a millionaire, too.” However, he apparently was being modest about his wealth.

Who really epitomizes “greed,” as people typically define it? Value-creating entrepreneurs who engage strictly in voluntary exchange? Or Sanders, who covets other people’s money for his own purposes and is ready to call on armed agents to seize it? Don’t be fooled because he says it wants to benefit other people with that money. In fact, he wants to expropriate the money of creators so he can live his chosen life as a savior. Beware humanitarians with guns.

We’re talking about envy and bitter ignorance. Why should anyone take seriously a plan to confiscate wealth? It can’t be because the confiscators will put the money to better use. That cannot be the case because the confiscators are insulated from the signals that indicate how consumers would like scarce resources to be used. Those signals are prices, the spontaneous result of suppliers and demanders interacting — cooperating — in competitive markets.

Governments, as we all too well know, squander unbelievable amounts of wealth on overt and covert wars, subsidies to the well-connected, politically favored infrastructure boondoggles, and the like. And there is the disappearing money, which audits constantly show. The pro-confiscation lobby seems to delight in transferring wealth from where it is subject to market forces generated by regular people and giving it to politicians who only have to pretend to care about the people. If they really cared, they let people keep their money and make their own decisions.

But is it their money? A couple of Sanders supporters say on YouTube that the money doesn’t actually belong to wealthy people. How do they know? Do you see any business person’s name on the money? they ask. It’s the government’s money, and the government is just taking it back. (Watch this.) They don’t seem to realize that their astounding claim would apply to low-income people too. Have they never wondered where the government gets the money? It’s not through production.

It’s true that the government operates the monetary system, but that’s only because it won’t let a competitive free-banking system operate. Such a system would have no need for the government’s printing press or the Federal Reserve’s magical money machine. Stable free banking and market-based money, without government involvement, is as old as ancient Greece.

But don’t expect Sanders and his ilk to know that. They are a resentful group that disguises its envy in deceptive blather about equality. The kind of equality they want ignores the vast differences in people’s capacity to satisfy consumers in the marketplace. It also assumes that one person’s gain in what Adam Smith called the “natural system of liberty” is another’s person’s loss — which is demonstrably false. Unlike political relations, market transactions tend to be win-win in the eyes of the participants. The only equality worth struggling for is “equality of authority,” in which no one has the power to aggress against anyone else.

The bottom line is that no one has the right to take anyone’s honestly acquired possessions — including money — from anyone else.

Sheldon Richman

Sheldon Richman

Sheldon Richman is the executive editor of The Libertarian Institute and a contributing editor at Antiwar.com. He is the former senior editor at the Cato Institute and Institute for Humane Studies; former editor of The Freeman, published by the Foundation for Economic Education; and former vice president at the Future of Freedom Foundation. His latest books are Coming to Palestine and What Social Animals Owe to Each Other.

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