September 19, 2021

O’Day: Income inequality is a problem of envy, not public policy

If Warren Buffet genuinely wanted to pay a higher tax rate than his secretary, as he has sanctimoniously claimed in Congressional hearings and to anyone with a microphone, he’d write a large check to the U.S. Treasury.

Better yet, he would fire his small army of accountants and tax attorneys. Every year they scour thousands of pages of tax code to find him the best loopholes. There’s nothing wrong or illegal about that, I would do the same. What I find reprehensible is his insidious rhetoric about the tax code. Buffet knows capital gains, the primary source of his income, are taxed at a much lower rate than normal income to encourage risk and investment in the marketplace.

When NASA achieves major milestones in space on the taxpayer dime, it is justifiably hailed as progress and they sell trendy T-shirts at Target. But when billionaires like Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson and Elon Musk use their own money to pioneer the private sector space industry their efforts are smeared by media figures like Canadian columnist Vinay Menon who called it “one small step for greed, one giant leap for ego.” Even if that’s true, these private contributions to space travel are remarkable. Amazon’s Blue Origin hauled cargo into space for NASA at a cheaper cost than NASA could do on its own.

Until recently, dreams of space travel were only accessible to a handful of astronauts. Now it’s within reach for those with $250,000 to spare. That’s how innovation works. Initially a new product or service is only available to the super rich. Producers compete and use their profits to improve quality and drive down prices. In the early 1980s only wealthy businessmen had car phones. Today nearly every American, rich or poor, has a cell phone or even a handheld smartphone computer.

A couple weeks ago Musk took to Twitter defending the astronomical achievements of his fellow billionaires. “Those who attack space maybe don’t realize that space represents hope for so many people,” he tweeted.

Georgetown political science Professor Don Moynihan offered a cynical response, “Yet other people would simply like billionaires to pay their taxes and fix earth’s problems.”

Last year Bezos pledged $10 billion to help environmental groups fight climate change. I would love to know Moynihan’s level of charitable contributions. There’s no evidence any of these billionaires have cheated on their taxes. If Moynihan is genuinely angry about how little these billionaires pay in taxes, he should redirect his ire toward the Congressmen and Senators who wrote the byzantine maze of loopholes and exemptions into the federal tax code. As such a prestigious authority in his field I’d think Moynihan would understand that. Perhaps I should send him the Schoolhouse Rock! vhs tape explaining how a bill becomes a law.

Underlying this righteous indignation over the billionaire space jam is a jealous rejection of the Lockeian moral philosophy on which America was founded. John Locke wrote that every citizen is endowed by their creator with the rights to life, liberty and property. That is reflected almost verbatim in the Declaration of Independence. Every person is entitled to the fruits of their own labor, so long as they aren’t infringing upon the rights of others.

Your thoughts on how Jeff Bezos spends his money carry even less weight than the last Amazon review you wrote. Walk out to your garage and start your own multi-billion dollar company. I’m not jealous of any of these billionaires because I lack their incredible business acumen. I’m unwilling to make the early sacrifices they made and continue to make. I probably would’ve retired after the first billion.

Bezos is not a mobster or a drug dealer, he earned every penny within the parameters of the law and has spread that wealth to those working for him. All Amazon workers in America are paid at least $15 per hour.

It’s not hard to speculate how the misanthropic socialist Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez would waste Bezos’ roughly $200 billion. She’d probably use it to build more inefficient wind turbines and solar panels that kill endangered and protected species of birds. Then she’d dump another boatload on the welfare state, even though American poverty rates have remained stagnant since Lyndon Johnson declared war on them. Over $28 trillion has been spent on welfare programs since 1965, and taxpayers have nothing to show for them except crippling levels of debt.