Reading time: 3:45min | Arwa Mahdawi’s recent article on billionaires for The Guardian caught my interest.
She writes that the fabulous wealth billionaires are amassing by the day (recently Jeff Bezos made 13 billion in one day) should be taken to tackle the pandemic’s hardships.
She calls for a greed tax to finance the war against the Coronavirus. She writes: The idea that the rich should bail out the poor, who have been disproportionately hurt by the pandemic, is a no-brainer; it’s the only conscionable thing to do. A few lines later she writes: There is a significant difference between millionaires and billionaires: the former should pay their fair share via a more progressive tax system; the latter shouldn’t exist. Billionaires aren’t just super-rich people, they’re policy failures.
I agree. However, to develop meaningful politics, we should be asking ourselves why their unbelievable riches are still untouched, even are adored?
First, it’s always great to have a role model. Billionaires fit well in the scheme of humanity’s supremacy. They are an example of the success of male societies, our capitalist system and the alleged confirmation of the hoax of if you really want it you can make it. Second, their existence proves that God loves us differently, some more, some less. Their presence is a vindication of our belief in predestination. Just check Marvel Comics or almost any Disney film to get a grip of that. From Cinderella to Black Panther, predestination is the core of pop culture and very much evangelic (plus tons of Ancient Greek influences).
To call billionaires in the pandemic war profiteers is only stating the obvious. It is pointing to a core weakness of our system where people tend to think the billionaires’ gains are a sign of their individual cleverness and evidence that the pandemic isn’t that bad; it only touches the old and the feeble and the not-so-clever (which are at the end of their lives anyway or not much worthy of God’s love).
We all know that none of this is based on facts or even remotely true. It’s malicious thinking, serving the interest of unrestricted capitalism and reactionary religious organisations. But all of this is deeply anchored in people’s heads. It’s the core of the western world’s value system. It’s no hyperbole to note that billionaires are incandescent prophets of western culture.
According to Arwa Mahdawi taxing down billionaires to regular millionaires is the only reasonable thing to do giving politics more substantial leverage in dealing with the challenges we are already facing: declining health, climate warming, age of extinction. If we don’t tax rich people more, we either have to tax the average Joe more (with all the downsides that have led to the raid of the Capitol), or we sacrifice we hold dear most: our children’s future.
But the idea of taxing billionaires down to regular millionaires means waging war on our system, even our culture. It seems that the centennial wars of the right vs the left enter a new round. Perhaps, perhaps reason will prevail, and billionaires will surrender their undeserved riches to society on their will and support a more just tax code. And if they don’t, they’ll show their true colours: maximised greed with an authoritarian disdain to democracy.
Arwa Mahdawi writes: A system in which 10 men can see their collective wealth increase by half a trillion during a global crisis can’t be fixed with a one-off wealth tax — we need greed taxes that prevent people amassing that much in the first place.
I agree again, but I wouldn’t talk about greed tax; the term greed would sound like a prejudgment (though in many cases it is the right judgement based on facts). The term greed tax accuses billionaires of a mortal sin and will be furnishing them a fit occasion. They will be playing their best card: the billionaires’ generous philanthropy as the saviour of the world. That includes the argument that rich people deal better with money than governments and know better which cases deserve financial support (which is in reality absurdly small and is a fraction of the budgets a wealth tax would provide). I would stick with the term wealth tax, with a code designed so that fortunes in the billion are a thing of the past.
That way, such a tax code might find more acceptance in the western world’s unholy co-religion of capitalism and Christianity. Wealth, according to Christian story telling, should also be shared for the common good. If that doesn’t work as an argument, perhaps the threat of going to hell will do the job. I’m quoting Jesus Christ in Matthew 19:21: “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
All rich people who I know are unfortunately immune to religious narratives (or should I say, fortunately?). Even if they have contacts with normal people, the vast majority follow other rich people’s worldview, which is characterised by entitlement, righteousness, and uptight feelings of superiority and timidity towards the rest of the population (there’s an exception to every rule). A change in the overall situation can only come from within the circle of the rich 0.01%. Billionaires, as their role models, can play a key role in this existential transformation process.