Microsoft founder and billionaire Bill Gates spoke about Elizabeth Warren’s Ultra-Millionaire tax with The New York Times last Wednesday.
“I’ve paid over $10 billion in taxes. I’ve paid more than anyone in taxes,” he said. ”If I had to pay $20 billion, it’s fine … But when you say I should pay $100 billion, then I’m starting to do a little math about what I have left over.” He added, smiling: “Sorry, I’m just kidding.”
This humor here by Mr. Gates is so effective due to the worry all Americans frequently experience of only having a few billion dollars left. Asked if he would speak to Warren about her tax plans, he said: “You know I’m not sure how open-minded she is. Or that she’d even be willing to sit down with somebody who has large amounts of money.”
Bill here speaks of Elizabeth Warren as if the two of them might have a negotiation where the needs of the country can be balanced with his personal preferences. To his credit, this kind of negotiation would make complete sense considering his power over Elizabeth Warren and every other American. He has a net worth of $108 billion and earns billions more every year. This kind of money gives him and every other billionaire a tangible control over our “democracy.”
Warren responded to Gates’s banter via Twitter, the standard mode of communication between billionaires and presidential candidates: “I’m always happy to meet with people, even if we have different views. @BillGates, if we get the chance, I’d love to explain exactly how much you’d pay under my wealth tax. (I promise it’s not $100 billion.)”
I’m always happy to meet with people, even if we have different views. @BillGates, if we get the chance, I’d love to explain exactly how much you’d pay under my wealth tax. (I promise it’s not $100 billion.) https://t.co/m6G20hDNaV
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) November 7, 2019
I’m unsure that Gates and Warren have such different views. Despite misunderstanding that a capitalist must own some means of production, Warren self-identifies as capitalist repeatedly and believes Bill Gates is legitimate owning billions of dollars. Compared to Bernie Sanders, who says that billionaires should not exist, Warren and Gates are very like-minded.
The most uncomfortable implication of their interaction is that Gates’s opinion really is the final say on the matter. He and other wealthy people make economic and political decisions in this country. In taxes should he pay $20 billion? $100 billion? Our opinion really makes no difference. Bill Gates and the remainder of wealthy people control society and therefore have the only relevant opinion on the question. It is the job of politicians such as Elizabeth Warren to lick his boots so he might toss some crumbs to us non-billionaires.
This is a crucial and frequently forgotten point. Everyone loves having debates about capitalism. Is it an effective way of satisfying our needs? How does it distribute wealth, and to whom? Are capitalists justified owning billions of dollars given the way they manage society? These are all very important questions. But these debates can only occur in the context of capitalism itself, the system controlling the world’s labor power and resources.
Debates about capitalism happen on capitalist platforms such as the New York Times and frequently feature capitalists such as Bill Gates, as though they were objective and unbiased sources to ask about whether or not we should allow them to remain in control of society. CNBC literally held what they referred to as a debate about capitalism, featuring none other than Bill Gates, Charlie Munger and Warren Buffet. It may come as a surprise, but all three capitalists concluded that capitalism was the better system.
How should we organize an economy? This is a very difficult question and we must draw on thousands of years of ideas, history, economics and logic in order to solve it. But nowhere along our line of inquiry will we be helped turning to these actors. Capitalist politicians, capitalist news sources and capitalists are obviously biased in favor of the control over society they presently enjoy. The sooner we stop listening to them, the sooner our collective understanding of the world will improve.
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Harrison Raskin is campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.