As reported by The Daily Wire, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez recently launched into a particularly delusional rant about billionaires. While being interviewed for a MLK Day event, Ocasio-Cortez claimed that all billionaire businessmen get rich on slave labor. They don’t make what they sell, she explained. They “sit on a couch” and do nothing while “thousands of people are paid slave wages” to do all of the work for them.
She then launched into a standard litany of capitalism’s alleged victims — “undocumented people,” “black and brown people,” “single mothers” — who are all “literally dying” because they aren’t being paid enough to live. “No one ever makes a billion dollars,” she said. After pausing thoughtfully she added, “You take a billion dollars.”
This all played very well in the auditorium she was sitting in, just as it plays well with Democrat voters and younger people generally. But, for the most part, it’s nonsense. AOC wants us to see billionaires as nothing but a bunch of greasy, pot-bellied tyrants, chomping on their cigars and laughing maniacally while clutching big bags with dollar signs on the front and gold coins spilling out. Her ultra-simplified worldview cannot accommodate the possibility that billionaires have any redeeming characteristics whatsoever. They are straightforwardly evil and useless, and that’s all that can be said about them.
This cartoon is easier to draw if you just stick with portraying billionaires as greedy and materialistic. It’s a tougher sell when you want them to be sedentary on top of it. Say what you want about Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, and the rest of the gang, but you really can’t call them lazy. In fact, CEOs work over 60 hours a week, which is almost 20 hours more than the average American. It turns out that you can’t actually run a billion dollar company by sitting on your couch. And you certainly can’t found a business and build it into an empire that way. I could probably put this in even stronger terms: there is no such thing as a successful and lazy businessman. In the world of business, those two qualities tend to be mutually exclusive.
What about the employees? Are they really a bunch of emaciated slaves? While it’s true that some companies, such as Colin Kaepernick’s employer, have been guilty of essentially using slave labor, it would be hard to argue that this is the norm in modern America. The much-hated Walmart, for example, pays its full time hourly employees an average of $14.26 an hour. Store managers usually make over $170,000. Over half of their employees are women and almost half are people of color. They also tend to promote from within, providing advancement opportunities to those on the lowest rung of the ladder. Even the company’s CEO began his career unloading trucks at a Walmart warehouse. None of this sounds like slavery to me.
“You don’t make a billion dollars, you take a billion dollars,” may be an effective and catchy applause line in front of an already sympathetic audience, but it doesn’t mean anything. Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, and even Google were all started in garages by their respective founders. Those founders became billionaires because lots of people liked their products. That would seem to qualify as “making a billion dollars,” by any fair definition of the phrase. If Bill Gates “took” his billions, who did he take it from? Were people forced to buy Microsoft products? Did he have a gun to everyone’s head? Or did they offer up their money in exchange for the product he provided?
If we really want to point the finger at useless, lazy leeches who take but don’t make, we should be pointing in the direction of the institution AOC herself represents. It’s the government that survives and thrives by literally taking money at gunpoint. Bureaucrats and politicians are the ones who, in so many cases, do nothing of substance all day and yet get paid hefty sums. Virtually everything AOC said about CEOs would apply far more to herself and her politician friends. And yet her solution to our country’s troubles is to put more money into the hands of the very people who have wasted trillions of dollars, and more power into the hands of the very people who have shown themselves ethically and practically incapable of handling it.
AOC wants capitalism to be a zero-sum game where every dollar earned by a billionaire is a dollar stolen from you and me. But it doesn’t work that way because we choose to forfeit our dollars and we do so in exchange for the goods and services we desire. In the government’s case, however, it is indeed a zero-sum proposition. Every dollar they earn is a dollar taken from us. We don’t volunteer it and we have no choice but to give them whatever they demand. Maybe we’ll benefit from what they do with the money, maybe not. Most of the time, not.
This is the whole problem with the program that AOC, Sanders, and Warren put forward. They want to prevent Apple and Amazon from making billions, but they see no problem with Uncle Sam making trillions. They want us to look with contempt and suspicion on the rich and powerful, and yet to blindly trust the richest and most powerful force on Earth. And they’re hoping we’re stupid enough not to notice the contradiction.