Elon Musk and the dangerous power of insecure billionaires

Elon Musk does not believe that visionaries like him they must pay taxes as a common person does. After all, why hand over your money to boring bureaucrats? In America, they’ll just squander it on petty schemes like … rescue your company, Tesla, at a crucial moment in its development. Musk has his sights set on more important things, like getting humanity to Mars to “preserve the light of consciousness”.

You see, billionaires tend to be surrounded by people who tell them how wonderful they are and would never, ever suggest that they are making a fool of themselves.

But don’t you dare make fun of Musk. Billionaires’ money gives them a lot of political clout, enough so that, in this country, they can block the Democratic Party’s plans to fund much-needed social spending with a tax that would only affect a few hundred people in a nation of more than 300 million. Now imagine what they might do if they think people are laughing at them.

Either way, the determined and thus far successful opposition of incredibly wealthy Americans to any effort to tax them as normal people raises a couple of questions. The first: is there any truth to their insistence that taxing them would deprive society of its unique contributions? The second: why are people who have more money than anyone can really enjoy so determined to keep every penny?

As for the first question, the right wing has always argued that taxing billionaires will deter them from doing all the wonderful things they do. For instance, Mitt Romney He has suggested that taxing capital gains will cause the ultra-rich to stop creating jobs and instead buy ranches and paintings.

Is there, however, any reason to believe that taxes will make the rich turn like John Galt and deprive us of his genius?

For the uninitiated, “becoming like John Galt” is a reference to the novel Atlas rebellion by Ayn Rand, in which taxes and regulation motivate wealth generators to retreat to a hidden stronghold, causing economic and social collapse. It turns out that Rand’s magna was published in 1957, during the long aftermath of the New Deal, when the Republican and Democratic Parties accepted the need for highly progressive taxation, a strong antitrust policy, and a powerful labor movement. Thus, the book can be seen in part as a commentary on Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower’s America, a time when business taxes were more than double of what they are now and the maximum tax rate for individuals it was 91 percent.

So the productive members of society went on strike and paralyzed the economy? No. In fact, the postwar years were a time of unprecedented prosperity; household income, adjusted for inflation, is they doubled over the course of a generation.

And in case you were wondering, the rich failed to dodge all the taxes that were imposed on them. How he documented a fascinating fortune article By 1955, the status of corporate executives had declined considerably compared to before the war. But somehow they kept doing their job.

So the super-rich will not go on strike if they are forced to pay some taxes. But why are they so concerned?

Not that having to do without, say, $ 40 billion has a visible impact on the ability of an Elon Musk or a Jeff Bezos to enjoy the pleasures of life. It is true that many very wealthy people seem to consider that making money is a game, in which the objective is to surpass their rivals; but the ranking in that game would not be affected by a tax that all players had to pay.

What I suspect, although I can’t prove it, is that what really moves someone like Musk is an insecure ego. He wants the world to recognize his matchless greatness; get him to pay taxes like a “stuffed Wall Street guy making $ 400,000 a year” (my phrase movie favorite Wall Street) I would suggest that it is not a unique treasure, that perhaps it does not deserve everything it has.

I don’t know how many remember the “anger against Obama”, Wall Street’s furious reaction against then-President Barack Obama. While it was in part a response to real changes in fiscal and regulatory policy — indeed, Obama raised taxes on the top earners a lot — what infuriated financiers was their sense of being insulted. Because he even called some of them big shots!

Are the very rich more petty than the rest of us? On average, maybe yes; After all, they can afford it, and courtiers and sycophants drawn in by big fortunes certainly make it easy for someone to lose their flat.

But the important thing is that the pettiness of billionaires comes with great power. And the result is that all of us end up paying a high price for their insecurity.

Paul Krugman has been an Opinion columnist since 2000 and is also a Distinguished Professor at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. He won the 2008 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences for his work on international trade and economic geography. @PaulKrugman

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Elon Musk and the dangerous power of insecure billionaires