Monday, August 7, 2023

Why Having Billionaires Is Bad

Concentrated power in the hands of a few is never a good idea.

There was a made-up controversy a few months back, when some on the Left opined that "Billionaires shouldn't exist!" to which the United Billionaires of America replied, "Oh, no, Antifa is trying to kill us off!  This is a call to violence!  Shame on them!"

Oh geez. Do we have to go through this again?

What they were inelegantly getting at was that if we went back to the tax policies of "the good old days" of the 1950s, where marginal rates were 70% or more, Billionaires wouldn't exist.  Moreover, there is no logical reason why someone should be able to accumulate such a staggering amount of wealth which is not proportional to "how hard they worked" or how clever or smart they were or what they "invented/"  Rather, Billions are acquired usually by being very lucky and then parlaying that luck into staggering wealth.

Warren Buffet said it succinctly, "The first Billion is the hardest!"  What he meant by that was that once you have a Billion dollars, you can control markets, affect entire industries,and sway public opinion. You have raw power - more than governments or industries combined.  You can elect Presidents or have them impeached.  You can even have your own pet Senator.  Congressmen?  Dime a dozen.

The problem with Billionaires isn't the money they have, but the control these un-elected power brokers have over the lives of so many others.  When you have the power to control markets - and by extension, prices and wages, you have absolute, dictatorial powers.  Even the government, with the largest army in the world and a cache of H-bombs, is powerless against you - for the most part.

And it isn't just the United States, either.  An article appeared recently that a Billionaire donor decided to stop supporting efforts in Israel to "reform" (read: weaken) the judiciary, which would benefit the current government.  Similar efforts have been tried (and succeeded) in Poland, to the point where one-party rule is now fully ensconced.  You can argue for or against these policies, the point is, one guy in America is funding the major portion of a political movement in a foreign country. And he is accountable to no one.

The same is true of course, in the USA.  Robert Kennedy Jr., who by all accounts is nutzo, is being funded by Republican PAC money and half of this is coming from one guy.  One guy is all it takes, if they have Billions.  And if you have Billions, you can start or buy your own social media company and control the narrative of debate.  A lot of Tweets have been made about how Elon Musk is ruining Twitter.  The irony is, of course, that they are Tweeting this, instead of simply abandoning the platform. Other platforms are no better.  Facebook algorithms have been shown time and time again to push right-wing "controversial" content on users - no doubt to advance a low-tax-on-Billionaires agenda that favors you-know-who. It also is based on the simple fact that controversy creates engagement.  As Howard Stern learned decades ago, listeners who hated him listened for twice as long as those who loved him - and they listen right through all those commercials, too!

Single-man rule, whether it is a monarch, a fascist dictator, or a communist leader, has almost always lead to disaster.  You have to hope the leader is a kind and compassionate person who also has a clear vision of the future - the wise and benevolent king that they write about in children's storybooks.  Those are fairy tales.  The real result is that these rulers generally lose their minds, are narcissists, paranoids, and end up killing millions.  Even in a situation where the monarchy is largely decorative, bad things can happen - and do.

So, Elon Musk losing his mind is not an anomaly, but a design feature of what happens when you have absolute power and surround yourself with yes-men and lackeys.  Narcissism and paranoia set it  You start to believe you can do anything and anyone who disagrees with you is the enemy that must be destroyed.

You have Zuckerberg cashing in Facebook to start "Meta" - because no one told him no, for example.  But others seem, on the surface, to be more benevolent.  Warren Buffet seems like everyone's favorite Grand-Dad, but questions remain as to who will take the throne once he passes on.  And you have to hope that he doesn't devolve into dementia before that happens!  But even old Uncle Warren has sort of an evil side.  He buys companies and sets up "moats" to keep out competition.  Sure, this is sharp business practice and makes him a lot of money - but does it do so at the expense of society at large?  Monopoly pricing never helps the consumer.

Others are willing to literally burn down the planet to protect their investments.  You have the Koch brothers who are heavily invested in the oil business and sponsor candidates who mirror those views, even as oil destroys the planet and starts wars.  You have coal barons who push through a "Democratic" candidate who is pro-coal, even though it is a dead-end industry that should have died ages ago (particularly in an era of cheap fracking gas).

As recent politics shows, it isn't hard to get people all riled up over nothing and get them to vote for a candidate who represents someone who is looting their pockets.  Your average plebe has no idea how the system works, choosing instead to believe conspiracy theories and poverty stories.  You tell them, "Vote for me! I will make sure your daughter doesn't get an abortion and your son doesn't turn gay - or trans!  And trust me, these are the most important issues in your life right now!  I should know, I made them up!"

And people believe this, as they spend most of the free hours of their pitiful sad lives staring into a screen which beats this shit into their heads.

A Billion dollars isn't just "a lot" of money, neither is it a million-million.  But it is a thousand-million and a whole lot more than a mere million (which today, is barely enough to retire on).  As one wag put it, a million dollars is a thousand times a thousand dollars.  A Billion is a thousand times a million dollars.  It isn't just ten times as much, or even a hundred, but a thousand times more money.

We're not talking gold-plated yachts or private jets here - that stuff you can afford if you have mere hundreds of millions.  When you have Billions, your daily needs of living - even including personal assistants, personal chefs, bodyguards, chauffeurs, pilots, mansions and whatnot, are all well paid-for.  You still have Billions left over.  It is there that the problem begins.

I noted early on in this blog that wealth represents power and control. Even the pitiful amounts of money we plebes handle can cause others to dance to our tune - at least for a short while. But with Billions, you can affect world politics, and the question is, are you qualified to do that?  The myth of Elon Musk was of this visionary who would turn the car industry electric, eliminate the global warming problem, and colonize Mars. Too late, we find out that most of this was bunk - he had no great visions, only delusions of grandeur.  We placed all our faith in one man and he turned out to be a stinker.

And by "placing all our faith" I don't mean we voted for him or otherwise consented to him having this power. He manipulated us into buying his stock (well, not me, anyway) and used a PR campaign to paint him as a visionary tech hero. The same is true of other tech heroes, too. Bill Gates saddled us with a second-rate operating system that just seems to get worse and worse with every iteration.  And the alternatives are just products from competing oligarchies that offer no relief - they just weren't quite as popular. Maybe Chrome will someday replace Windows - but is that any improvement?  I mean, Google ditched its "don't be evil" moniker years ago.  And no, Linux and its derivatives are not answer, until you can buy a Linux laptop at Walmart.

In the past, we dealt with problems of extreme wealth as we recognized that it tended to stifle the economy and innovation. We developed anti-trust laws to prevent one person from controlling an industry. Guess who has been behind efforts to weaken these laws? We had huge marginal rates for people making millions a year - and a hefty inheritance tax to prevent dynastic wealth from accumulating.  Guess who has been behind efforts to reduce or abolish these?

Dynastic wealth bears special mention. While you could argue that a Billionaire "earned" his money through hard work and sharp business practice (you could argue it, it doesn't mean you are right), even if that was true, what did his snot-nosed kid do to earn it?  Like the heir to the throne, often the next generation is twice as evil and four times as incompetent as the previous one.

Will things ever change back to the way they were?  Maybe, maybe not.  Recall it was John F. Kennedy who lowered the marginal tax rates back in the early 1960s to pull us out of the "Eisenhower Recession." So it doesn't look like Bernie-like proposals for a "wealth tax" are going anywhere. Besides, Americans are convinced that tax cuts for the wealthy will somehow affect them - and Trump very cleverly put an expiration date on tax cuts for the middle-class - but made tax cuts for the rich perpetual.  So your average Joe Paycheck thinks, "Biden raised my taxes" when in fact, it was Trump.

You see how hard it is to explain this to people. Maybe stricter enforcement of anti-trust laws will be an answer- but I don't see the FANG companies being broken up anytime soon, and most have weathered anti-trust suits in the past.

Maybe if people just stopped listening to these propaganda channels?  Nah, that will never happen.  The revolution will not be televised, nor will it be on Facebook or Twitter.