Michael Dell, the billionaire, was asked what he thought of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal to increase the marginal tax rate to 70%. He didn’t like that at all. His reasoning was mostly skewered by a competent economist on the panel, who pointed out that the US had that rate for quite a long while during a period of strong growth.
But I was amused by another point. He claimed he donated more to his charitable foundation than the increased rate would take from him.
My wife and I set up a foundation about 20 years ago, and we would have contributed quite a bit more than a 70 per cent tax rate on my annual income.
That seemed unlikely. So I had to look it up; my source is Forbes, which is going to be biased in favor of billionaires. I am aware that the 70% would be taken from his earnings for a year, and this number is apparently as a fraction of his lifetime earnings, so there’s a bit of apples/oranges comparison going on here, but as I suspected, he’s not giving away as much money as he implies.
I’m pretty sure 5% is a lot less than 70%.
Not covered in just the bare numbers is the way billionaires use philanthropy as a tax dodge, and to manipulate the target population in a way that benefits them personally. For that, I’m going to recommend this podcast, “The Neoliberal Optimism Industry”, which explains the game these arch-capitalists are playing.
We’re told the world is getting better all the time. In January, The New York Times’ Nick Kristof explained “Why 2017 Was the Best Year in Human History.” The same month, Harvard professor and Bill Gates’ favorite optimist Steven Pinker lamented (in a special edition of Time magazine guest edited by – who else? – Bill Gates) the “bad habits of media… bring out the worst in human cognition”. By focusing so much on negative things, the theory goes, we are tricked into thinking things are getting worse when, in reality, it’s actually the opposite.
For the TEDtalk set, that the world is awesome and still improving is self-evidently true – just look at the data. But how true is this popular axiom? How accurate is the portrayal that the world is improving we so often seen in sexy, hockey stick graphs of upward growth and rapidly declining poverty? And how, exactly, are the powers that be “measuring” improvements in society?
On this episode, we take a look at the ideological project of telling us everything’s going swimmingly, how those in power cook the books and spin data to make their case for maintaining the status quo, and how The Neoliberal Optimism Industry is, at its core, an anti-intellectual enterprise designed to lull us into complacency and political impotence.
All those names really do have to be among the first lined up against the wall when the Revolution comes.