Nobody likes a multi-billionaire who stiffs his workers. Donald Trump accuses Jeff Bezos of greed and Bernie Sanders agrees, suggesting a man who pockets $157 billion a year while his warehouse workers live on food stamps is a man whose conscience is questionable.* While Trump’s strategy for dealing with Bezos is bluster, Sanders has an idea. He wants to tax the head of Amazon a dollar for every dollar the government spends supporting Bezos’ employees with food stamps and Medicaid. (“Amazon: The war between Bernie and Bezos, The Week, Sept. 14, 2018, pg. 34.)
To be clear-eyed about taxation, under the current administration, redistributing wealth doesn’t seem to be on the agenda. Never in the history of the world has an entrepreneur been capable of garnering so much worth, personally, and for his or her company. The net worth for the four tech giants total the economy of the United Kingdom. Count the individuals who work in these fiefdoms and we’d probably replicate numbers equal to the population of the United Kingdom, as well.
Sander’s proposal poses a problem, however Imagine the impact on the IRS alone. First the bureaucracy would have to promulgate new regulations, new accounting procedures, buy new machinery, employ more people and train them. Do we want our taxes spent on another layer of government and more surveillance?
Instead of clawing back money after it has reached the oligarchs, I suggest we capture it further upstream. We could begin by asking how much an idea is worth? If no one wanted a smart phone, would Apple be a corporate behemoth? Of course not. What gives an idea value is demand. Therefore, shouldn’t those who create that demand share in the profits?
Some oligarchs admit the connection between value and the consumer. After all, money, like water, is a national asset. So they share that asset by donating to charity. The problem is, they do the choosing. One oligarch wants to send rockets to Mars. Another sends mosquito nets to Africa. But are these decisions solely theirs to make? Where is the consumer’s voice? Perhaps the consumer would prefer to see students freed from the burden of college loans.
Sanders doesn’t need another bureaucracy to correct the way money pools in the hands of a few. What he needs is an algorithm to determine how profits are to be shared between the public and oligarchs.
(*Since I wrote this blog, Bezos has raised the hourly wage of his workers.)