On The Wealth Gap That Trump Will Do Nothing To Narrow

Even Warren Buffett has remarked how unfair it is that his secretary is taxed at a higher rate than he is.
01/20/2017 11:18 am ET Updated Jan 20, 2017

The San Francisco Chronicle, my paper, has a new columnist by the name of David Talbot, and his opinion piece from yesterday is spot on. His topic isn’t new—the income gap between the one percent and everybody else—but he articulates the facts succinctly—and facts are something we’re going to have to protect, as we descend into this maelstrom of fact-free trumpism.

Entitled “Growing wealth gap is recipe for disaster,” it cites a brand new Oxfam report whose title is absolutely shocking: “Just 8 men own the same wealth as half the world.”

I mean, we knew that a handful of super rich men owned a lot of money, but just eight owning 50% of Earth’s wealth? That is beyond shocking. It’s inexcusable. Now, here from the Oxfam report are those eight men:

  1. Bill Gates: America founder of Microsoft (net worth $75 billion)
  1. Amancio Ortega: Spanish founder of Inditex which owns the Zara fashion chain (net worth $67 billion)
  1. Warren Buffett: American CEO and largest shareholder in Berkshire Hathaway (net worth $60.8 billion)
  1. Carlos Slim Helu: Mexican owner of Grupo Carso (net worth: $50 billion)
  1. Jeff Bezos: American founder, chairman and chief executive of Amazon (net worth: $45.2 billion)
  1. Mark Zuckerberg: American chairman, chief executive officer, and co-founder of Facebook (net worth $44.6 billion)
  1. Larry Ellison: American co-founder and CEO of Oracle  (net worth $43.6 billion)
  1. Michael Bloomberg: American founder, owner and CEO of Bloomberg LP (net worth: $40 billion)

I’m not saying that these are evil people. Some of them are the biggest philanthropists in the world. Some have pledged to give almost all their money to charity, not to their kids, when they die. I have a great deal of respect for Bloomberg, and several of them—Gates and Zuckerberg in particular—have altered our lives in immeasurably positive ways. So this is not a criticism of them.

No, it’s a criticism of our American system of taxation, including the income tax and the estate tax. That individuals are allowed to accumulate such obscene wealth, while there’s so much poverty and suffering, is the indictment of our age. Look, our tax system didn’t come to us from heaven, like the Ten Commandments: it was written by congressional politicians at the behest of rich people who contributed to their campaigns–people who want to hold onto every dollar they have, and to hell with everyone else. I believe in confiscatory taxes: people like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett would remain unbelievably rich even if they were taxed at the 95% level. And even Warren Buffett has remarked how unfair it is that his secretary is taxed at a higher rate than he is.

I’m not going to let Democrats off the hook, because they’ve been a little too cozy with Wall Street and Goldman Sachs and have not pushed as hard as they could for higher taxes on the rich. But you know who’s worse—much worse—than Democrats? Republicans. Everybody knows they’re the party of the rich. Always have been. They’re always calling for lower taxes, even on the Warren Buffets of this country, and they want to do away with the estate tax completely. Now, let me tell you something about the estate tax: as currently constructed, it’s disgusting. I know a family in San Francisco that is uber-wealthy. They now have a third generation living on grandpa’s inherited wealth, and believe me, the kids do absolutely nothing that contributes to the general welfare. (It’s not the Jacksons. They don’t live in San Francisco, and those Jackson kids are terrific, hard workers with social consciences.) That this San Francisco family should be allowed to transfer their wealth, largely untouched, from generation to generation to ne’er-do-wells is appalling, and I will never understand why Republicans let them get away with it: both the Republican politicians and the blue-collar types who vote against their own interests in electing these protectors of billionaires.

And now we have a President who is one of them, who has pledged to cut taxes on Warren Buffet and Bill Gates even further (to a maximum 25%), and has vowed to repeal the estate tax, a move that would financially benefit him and his Cabinet—the richest in American history, by the way, collectively worth $14 billion.

It’s disgusting; I think Trump is an oligarch and a fascist, but then, I’m a liberal Democrat, so the teabaggers out there can say “Heimoff is just pissed that his side is losing.” Yes, I am. But I look at the laid-off blue collar dude in Pittsburgh or Cleveland and I wonder what he must think when he reads about Trump’s Goldman Sachs administration and the billionaires that are running it. Here’s what he’s probably thinking. “Well, I’m not completely comfortable with some of that, but as long as Trump brings the jobs back, I’m willing to cut him some slack.” Freud would call that rationalization: “A defense mechanism in which controversial behaviors or feelings are justified and explained in a seemingly rational or logical manner to avoid the true explanation, and are made consciously tolerable—or even admirable and superior—by plausible means.” In this case, the “true explanation” is that these blue collar people voted for a man who is completely at odds with them, their families and their friends—a man who would not allow them into his mansions unless they were there to clean the bathroom. These voters make Trump “consciously tolerable” to themselves because to admit the extent of the mistake they have made would be intolerable. Man, do they have a surprise coming at them. And P.S. Trump isn’t going to bring the jobs back, although he’ll lie about that, too.

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