On Wednesday, The New York Times published a piece by an opinion columnist in which he insisted on abolishing billionaires. Quoting respected experts such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, ethicist Peter Singer of Princeton University, (yes, the very same Peter Singer of whom The New York Times itself once wrote, “To Singer, a newborn has no greater right to life than any other being of comparable rationality and capacity for emotion, including pigs, dogs, and cows”) and billionaire leftist Tom Steyer, who has made it an obsession to remove President Trump from office, Farhad Manjoo makes his case that allowing anyone to have billions of dollars is wrong and something must be done about it.
Manjoo posits, “At some level of extreme wealth, money inevitably corrupts. On the left and the right, it buys political power, it silences dissent, it serves primarily to perpetuate ever-greater wealth, often unrelated to any reciprocal social good.”
Manjoo offers no data to back up this claim; he simply parrots the old cliché about money corrupting, without considering that among the wealthy, there are people who are generous and people who are not, just as there are among all social classes. Referencing an article from Tom Scocca, editor of Hmm Daily, which stated, “Billionaires are bad. We should presumptively get rid of billionaires. All of them,” Manjoo concurs:
… I’m embarrassed to say I had never before considered Mr. Scocca’s idea — that if we aimed, through public and social policy, simply to discourage people from attaining and possessing more than a billion in lucre, just about everyone would be better off … Billionaires should not exist — at least not in their present numbers, with their current globe-swallowing power, garnering this level of adulation, while the rest of the economy scrapes by.
Manjoo’s suggestions for possible improvement include, “ … preventing people from keeping more than a billion in booty, but more likely it would mean higher marginal taxes on income, wealth and estates for billionaires and people on the way to becoming billionaires.”
Then he buttresses his claim with this absurd effort: “These policy ideas turn out to poll very well, even if they’re probably not actually redistributive enough to turn most billionaires into sub-billionaires.”
Yes, let’s poll people who don’t have as much money about what to do with other people’s money.
Manjoo worries, “Inequality is the defining economic condition of the tech age. Software, by its very nature, drives concentrations of wealth.” He opines, “A few superstar corporations, many in tech, account for the bulk of American corporate profits, while most of the share of economic growth since the 1970s has gone to a small number of the country’s richest people.”
This ignores that the general citizenry has gotten more prosperous in recent decades; even the left-wing Brookings Institute published a piece in October 2016 by Ben Bernanke, who served two terms as Chair of the Federal Reserve, that stated, “The bottom line: According to this metric, Americans enjoy a high level of economic welfare relative to most other countries, and the level of Americans’ well-being has continued to improve over the past few decades despite the severe disruptions of the financial crisis and its aftermath.”
Manjoo asks, “Why should anyone have a billion dollars, why should anyone be proud to brandish their billions, when there is so much suffering in the world?”
He quotes Ocasio-Cortez : “I’m not saying that Bill Gates or Warren Buffett are immoral, but a system that allows billionaires to exist when there are parts of Alabama where people are still getting ringworm because they don’t have access to public health is wrong.” He quotes Singer: “I have a moral concern with the conduct of individuals — we have many billionaires who are not living ethically, and are not doing nearly as much good as they can, by a wide margin.” He quotes Steyer: “I understand about the real issues of money in politics. We have a system that I know is not right, but it’s the one we got, and we’re trying as hard as possible to change it.”
Manjoo concludes, “When American capitalism sends us its billionaires, it’s not sending its best. It’s sending us people who have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with them. They’re bringing inequality. They’re bringing injustice. They’re buying politicians.”
Then he adds one final sentence, “And some, I assume, are good people.”
Manjoo never suggests just who would be in charge of this redistributive effort. Some years ago, when writing about the problem with knowing whom to trust when sourcing news information, he wrote, “Particularized trust destroys generalized trust. The more that people trust those who are like themselves — the more they trust people in their home town, say – the more they distrust strangers. And when particularized trust far outweighs generalized trust, loathsome things happen.”
And yet Manjoo wants some people to decide just where other people’s money should go.