How about if we take all the billionaires’ money?

I think it’s a rule that all rich people have to have their “let them eat cake” moment before they’re trundled away to the guillotine. Here’s Bill Gates’ moment.

Speaking at a forum in New York with New York Times writer Andrew Ross Sorkin, Microsoft founder Bill Gates came off as far from enthusiastic about Warren 2020. Speaking about the wealth tax, Gates said there’s a limit to what he would be willing to pay.

“If I had to pay $20 billion, it’s fine,” Gates said. “But when you say I should pay $100 billion, then I’m starting to do a little math about what I have left over.”

Let’s do a little math — very little math. Bill Gates has money worth $107 billion. Take away $100 billion, that’s … $7 billion left over. Oh, how will he live on a mere $7 billion? If he were to live another 70 years, that would leave him with only $100 million dollars a year to live on! How could he possibly stretch his budget to survive on that pittance?

What he’d really lose his unwarranted clout. He loves having that power and influence, able to lecture people on education policy and economics, despite being a college dropout from a wealthy family who made his money by luck and ruthless capitalism.

Elizabeth Warren has already responded to reassure him that her wealth tax wouldn’t cost him anywhere near $100 billion. I’m disappointed in her. Why not? Go ahead, take 99% of the money Gates didn’t earn.

Gates isn’t done, though. He’s got another foot to stuff in his mouth.

Then, Sorkin posed a scenario which, for the moment, is a hypothetical — albeit one which appears to have more of a chance of happening by the day. The Times writer asked Gates who he would back in a general election: Warren or President Donald Trump.

And despite being a vocal Trump critic in the past, Gates would not commit to supporting Warren to defeat the president.

Good god. He’s so selfish about his absurd excess of wealth that he’d consider supporting an incompetent, treacherous buffoon for the presidency, rather than getting taxed 6%? I was considering wheeling the guillotine away and just confiscating his ill-gotten riches, but now, sorry, guillotine is back in play.

You want more fun? Here’s a billionaire hedge fund manager, the classic capitalist parasite, breaking down in tears at the thought of the government deciding how to distribute his money, skimmed off the labor of workers. He was planning to leave half of it to his kids, who had done even less to earn it.

That guy, Leon Cooperman, seriously believes he worked hard enough to earn $3 billion. Let’s disillusion him.

Seriously, billionaires weeping at the thought of a Warren presidency is the best advertisement for her ever. I think Sanders would make them cry just as hard. Let’s get one of those two into office!

By the way, did you know that after retiring, despite his carefully calibrated charitable donations, Bill Gates’ net worth has been going up? Somehow, he manages to dole out money to his own foundations in such a way that none of it actually costs him anything, while claiming to be a generous philanthropist.

Here’s some more fun with math.

Gates has to know this, or he’s even less deserving of his wealth than I thought.


  1. Snarki, child of Loki says

    Guillotines are so old-fashioned, and the ones that are up for sale on eBay are of dubious quality.

    I suggest a wood-chipper, modern, efficient, and readily available at very reasonable prices at your local home & garden center.

    For Windows 8, Bill gets the “feet first” treatment also, too.

  2. lotharloo says

    I’m actually kind of surprised that you support Warren rather than Sanders. Warren calls herself a capitalist whereas Sanders does not.

  3. Akira MacKenzie says

    The problem is that decades of Reaganomics, bootstrapism, and Ayn- Rand-inspired rants about how the Left wants to “punish achievement,” even America’s “liberals” believe that unless we lower class mortals don’t pamper and placate them, the gods of the upper class won’t do their capitalism magic and the economy “won’t go.”

  4. says

    The obvious problem is inheritable wealth. Back when I was doing my postings about the political system of hypothetical Badgeria, I put forth the idea that the Badgerians might believe that wealth is effectively a temporary reallocation of society’s assets based on a person’s achievement. At death those assets revert to society; why would anyone assume that a person’s kids are owed a sinecure because they were lucky enough to have a successful parent? Badgeria combines a 100% asset re-collection on death with a basic living supplement for everyone, funded from recaptured economic growth.

    Here’s a problem for those of you who enjoy models and calculus: at the current rate of inequality increase and assuming continued economic growth, how many more years do we have until Bezos owns everything?

  5. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    I like Gates argumentum exageratum , IE the false argument of opposing something by exaggerating it ( a specific form of straw man) . The mistake he made was not using $200Bfor the exaggeration, which would leave him in negative, bolstering his reluctance. Using the numbers Warren’s formula yields would crumble him into defending throwing $10B into a philanthropy, rather than into taxes which ensures benefits for citizens who buy his products.
    — I find it difficult to prioritize the philanthropies over the tax, maybe Gatekeeper, being such a genius, can show me./S
    I will never understand how “people” with 10s of billions of dollars refuse to part with pennies. I know the aphorism I paraphrase as “the way to get rich is to be tight with your purse”. okay to point, 10s of billions seems to be pretty safe cushion to allow 1 or 2 out to benefit many people around you. I like to repeat Henry Ford’s argument for increasing the wages of his workers, “so they will have enough to BUY the cars we make”, which is easily generalized to the general population. Paying for education and health is a sure fire way to expand ones market to make one even more wealthy than by stashing the wealth for yourself only.
    — thank you for reading

  6. says

    I thought Gates said he was giving his fortune away on his death. So what does he care? He’s just advancing the schedule a bit.

    And he’s set his kids up so they’ll be fabulously wealthy, which they earned through the hard sweaty work of being born rich.

  7. Akira MacKenzie says

    Maybe Gates is playing on the fact that most people can’t really grasp just what having $1 billion would mean for their lives, much less $7 billion or $107 billion. All they know is 7 is less-than 107 and that’s “bad.”

  8. tbp1 says

    I have related this anecdote many times, possibly including here, but I always remember my first time in Paris. I went to Versailles, and as I walking down the apparently endless corridors through a seemingly infinite number of rooms, each more wretched in its excess than the one before (elaborate parquet floors and crown moldings, gilded carved furniture, pictures of dead aristocrats in fancy gilded frames, incredibly detailed paintings on the ceiling), I thought to myself, “You know, that whole Reign of Terror thing is starting to make sense.”

    I had similar feelings in some of the palaces in St. Petersburg.

  9. says

    @tbp1: the terror only killed a few thousand aristocrats; the bonapartism that followed was vastly worse. Most of the French aristocracy fled with their money and lay low for a generation. It was a botched job, really.

  10. methuseus says

    I don’t understand inheritance for when you have more than a million in liquid assets. If you want to give it to your kids, give it to them before you die. The only stipulation is for minor children; I would want them to be careful for. But a society that can care for everyone by taxing inheritance probably wouldn’t even need that stipulation.



    blockquote>Here’s a problem for those of you who enjoy models and calculus: at the current rate of inequality increase and assuming continued economic growth, how many more years do we have until Bezos owns everything?



    I enjoy both, but not enough to depress myself for that relatively simple exercise. I honestly wish I had a bit more money, enough that the cheap process at Amazon weren’t enough to keep me buying from them at times.

    I honestly don’t begrudge Gates’ kids the ability to be wealthy, it’s them being multi millionaires just for being born rich that is a problem. That’s way beyond simple wealthy-ness.

  11. colinday says

    Would Warren direct any of that money to the Free Software Foundation and Open Source Development Labs?

  12. JoeBuddha says

    “Now, suppose we had twenty million dollars.”
    “That’s ridiculous! Nobody needs that kind of money!”
    “OK, then how about ten?”
    “Make it eighteen…”

    With apologies to Bill Waterson; couldn’t find the actual Calvin and Hobbes strip.

  13. methuseus says

    I couldn’t watch the video without going to the CNN site. The ad played before the video was for a high-end (expensive) index fund in which to board wealth. So the ad send a little tone deaf, but oh well.

    If he’s a philanthropist in order to make people’s lives better with his money, then he should be glad! The tax (which, 6% per year is really pretty low) is going to make sure people get educated, can afford food and healthcare, and generally just make lives better. But he’s so sad because he doesn’t get to control who gets it? What an ass!

    I can’t seem to find what he donated to, so I have no idea who he thinks it’s deserving. I’m sure it’s much more limited than my own would be, given the same money. I also have a hard time believing that, at his age, his kids aren’t already set for life without an inheritance. Besides which, at 6% for the probably 20 – 30 years max he has left, he will still have over a billion left to leave them. That’s how percentages work; the actual amount gets smaller every year since it’s a percentage.

  14. Nemo says

    What gets me is all the pundits repeatedly saying things like “if Warren is the nominee, the Democrats will lose 40 states”. Based on what? The polls have her at about 8 points up nationally. I realize polls aren’t perfect, and things can change over the course of an election, but they’re the closest thing to actual data that we have on the subject. There is no data to support “Warren will lose 40 states.”

  15. jack lecou says

    The extremely wealthy (and their defenders) are often surprisingly innumerate.

    One talking point I’ve seen pop up in a couple places recently in defense of the status quo is the fact that e.g., the Forbes 500 isn’t completely static. Every year a few previously unnoted billionaires make such lists (as their wealth balloons), while a few others fall off the bottom, down to lowly positions like 501 or 514… PROOF that the American economy is still thriving and dynamic and meritocratic, with opportunity and upward mobility available to all!

    This is the equivalent of watching a yacht party with binoculars, noting that occasionally the faces of the handful sunning themselves on the deck change a little, and concluding that the whole town must be on the boat.

    They don’t quite seem to grasp the fact that the ‘1%’, say, is more than a few hundred people. It is, in fact, by definition* something on the order of several million people. The top couple thousand of those could play musical deck chairs on the pinnacle as much as they please, and it doesn’t mean economic mobility is nearly as good for even the next couple hundred thousand down, nevermind the rest of us in the bottom 99. (Which, of course, this is what the actual data shows – mobility, especially for ordinary people, is at historical lows.)

    Clearly they’re either hopelessly foolish and innumerate themselves — a real possibility — or they’re hoping the rest of us are.

    * Unless maybe they think the population of the US is 50,000 or so, I guess. Maybe just the people who matter to them?

  16. rabbitbrush says

    $1,000,000,000 ➗ $5,000 ➗ 365.25 = 547.6 years. It would take 547.6 YEARS to earn $1 billion making $5,000 a day.

  17. F.O. says

    Capitalism requires having people with a lot more power than others.
    This power includes the control of the media and of the elected “representatives”.
    In the long term, capitalism is not compatible with democracy.

  18. Dunc says


    blockquote>Oh, how will he live on a mere $7 billion? If he were to live another 70 years, that would leave him with only $100 million dollars a year to live on!<?blockquote>

    Only if you assume that he isn’t making any return on it. Assuming a fairly conservative 4% return, he could take $280 million a year in perpetuity.

  19. microraptor says

    Snarki @1: Now, let’s be fair and only punish Bill for things he actually did. Windows 8 came out well after he retired.

  20. blf says

    Elizabeth Warren offers to explain her wealth tax to Bill Gates:

    […] Warren, who has proposed a 6% tax on wealth over 10 figures, reassured Gates that he wouldn’t have to pay $100bn, and offered to meet with him to explain.

    I’m always happy to meet with people, even if we have different views. @BillGates, if we get the chance, I’d love to explain exactly how much you’d pay under my wealth tax. (I promise it’s not $100 billion.)

    At the conference, Gates had said, I’m not sure how open-minded she is — or that she’d even be willing to sit down with somebody who has large amounts of money.

    Warren responded: “I’m always happy to meet with people, even if we have different views.”


    On Thursday, Gates replied to Warren on Twitter, saying: I greatly respect your commitment to finding ways to address wealth inequality and poverty at home. While we may disagree about some of the ways to get there, we certainly agree we need a lot of smart people committed to finding the path forward.

    This isn’t the first time Warren has contended with disgruntled billionaires. Last week, the billionaire money manager Leon Cooperman exchanged tense words with Warren on Twitter and sent her a letter criticizing her vilification of the rich.

    “Leon can and should pitch in more,” she responded, “so that every kid has the same opportunities he did to succeed.”

  21. hemidactylus says

    I recall Dan Ackroyd’s character the judge from Nothing but Trouble and his hatred toward bankers and especially the bone stripping rollercoaster he put people through. We need that.

    Back in the day top marginals were over 70 percent and we survived. After reading some about how the World Bank and IMF sock it to former colonized nations with debt restructuring in Jason Hickel’s Divide while Vice News was exploring the 2007-2008 meltdown through the eyes of the financiers who engineered the bailout in the background I am in a fouler mood than usual.

    Didn’t quite realize that Occupy was upset about bailing the higher echelon out while in contrast the Tea Party was mad that the actual homeowning victims were being helped. Quite a revealing difference in perspective.

    But we can’t criticize Gates because he just loves Pinker’s rosy picture books.

  22. bryanfeir says

    Of course, Gates was born rich as well. I mean, literally, his grandfather had left him a million dollar trust fund for when he turned 18. Sure, he’s a lot richer now than he was then, but he didn’t start from nothing.

    As for philanthropy, my understanding is that he mostly got shamed into it by other rich families with older money. You know, the Carnegies, Rockefellers, that sort of thing.

    A lot of the general direction of the money is really more from his wife. One of the big things the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is known for is health improvement projects, such as vaccination in remote locations. The near-eradication of polio was significantly financed by them. So at least some of it has been going to causes that I at least would consider deserving. That said, there have been problematic control aspects even in some of those.

  23. unclefrogy says

    I do not understand how the conservative who profess to hold “the market place” in such high esteem and hold profit and capitalism as the bedrock of a strong and prosperous society can at the same time advocate for tax and regulatory policies that do nothing to increase the size and prosperity of the people who make up the market and thus increase the size of the market and its ability to buy the products and services that are available which would equal more profit. Instead they support tax reduction on the profits and tax structures that make it harder for the people who make up the market to afford the goods and services on offer thus shrinking the size of the market.
    innumerate is too kind
    uncle frogy

  24. chris61 says

    The nice thing about picking on the extremely wealthy is that there are so few of them to complain. Personally I’d take Warren more seriously if she was proposing to institute wealth taxes on those in her own wealth bracket. As I understand it she and her husband are worth somewhere in the vicinity of 12M. Surely that’s more money than any two human beings reasonably need for a lifetime.

  25. harryblack says

    Text book example of how these discussions go once they make it to TV:

    Three privileged idiots tag teaming a thoughtful academic and making her views seem unfleshed out and unpopular. Ash is an absolute hero in how the tackles these panels time and again.

  26. says

    It’s incredible to me the level of understanding of what money is by PZ and most of the commentators here. Money doesn’t feed or shelter poor people. Money isn’t pie, it isn’t food, it isn’t shelter, you can’t just take it from people and expect there to magically be more food, healthcare, and shelter. Yes, it is how a small minded person thinks when they have money and they want to pay for things, but on the larger scale, it doesn’t work that way at all. When you take it from billionaires and give it to others, you automatically devalue it. Taking his money won’t make more houses appear out of nowhere. It won’t make farmers produce more food. It won’t make anyone’s life any better, and this way of thinking tends to make things a lot worse. The only reason there is to take all the billionaire money from them is out of a bizarre sense of jealousy and rage over the fact that someone’s work could be worth so much more than their own. “oh no! that man has too much money! oh no!” If PZ wasn’t a sheltered academic inside of a small echo chamber, if he put all his work into making millions (which he could have done), he wouldn’t be singing this tune, I’m sure of it.

  27. Mark Jacobson says

    @George Norman:

    In the United States there are more houses than homeless. There’s so much food we don’t eat more than half of it. This isn’t about magically making more, its about letting people who need it fucking get it.

  28. hemidactylus says

    @30-George Norman
    Money is just some unit of exchange. We can print more or get the wealthy to kick in their fair share since they use infrastructure and benefit from publicly educated employees.

    PZ’s blog posts here have more use value to me than what Gates has wrought by being a rich kid in the right place at the right time taking advantage of IBM PCs and the stuff Xerox had developed at PARC. Aside from work where I’m forced I don’t use Gates’ products. I don’t judge PZ by his place on the wealth totem.

  29. John Morales says

    Another article:

    Pullquote (with nice metaphor):

    That reality highlights the problem with big philanthropy promises like the Giving Pledge or other commitments from the tech industry to “give back” or spend their fortunes on fostering social or political change. It is not as though they oversee a lake of standing water that they draw from every year to fund their missions until the lake is entirely drained. They instead oversee a lake trapped in a perpetual rainstorm, taking on more rainwater each day as they try futilely to bucket out a few drops to charity before they die.

    George @30, are you familiar with the concept of Rent-seeking?

    Once one has enough capital, no work at all is necessary.

  30. chrislawson says

    I’m incredibly disappointed in Bill Gates. I thought he was better than this, closer to Warren Buffett’s views. Apparently all that talk about not leaving his wealth to his kids was just hot garbage.

    And the real kicker is his complaint that he has paid over $10B in tax. Since he is worth $107B, that means he has paid less than 10% of his lifetime wealth accumulation in tax. The average American pays 30% of their annual income in taxes (income tax + Medicare + Social Security) — not including sales, property, or vehicle taxes. Sure he’s paid $10B, but even with a flat tax rate and no threshold, he should have paid $32B just to have parity with the average person.

    Essentially, the vast majority of Americans are subsidising his multi-billionaire lifestyle and he has the gall to complain about the possibility of losing his parasitic privileges.

  31. nomdeplume says

    Oh FFS, now Bloomberg is going to run for nomination because he doesn’t like the policies of Warren and Sanders?!

    The French and Russian revolutions had the right approach.

  32. chrislawson says

    Furthermore, Warren has clearly set out her wealth tax at 2% on fortunes >$50M and 3% on fortunes >$1B. Which means Bill Gates’ saying he was prepared to pay $20B but not $100B was an outright lie about her wealth tax. Even if her tax is implemented, it would mean Gates paying an extra $3.2B a year — way less than the $20B he very generously claims to be willing to give up.

  33. Alt-X says

    So sick of the people carrying on about Gates. He wasn’t a tech guru, he was a shrewd businessman. That’s it. Networking, copied Novell, windows interface, copied OS2. Disk tools, stolen, competitors crushed by $$$ not innovation.

    Shit man, they can’t even make a web browser that doesn’t suck. Largest most powerful software company in the world, and they can’t even make a web browser.

  34. whywhywhy says

    #30 Hey George,
    It is incredible to me that folks who criticize a wealth tax based on how little it will do the poor completely miss the whole point of the wealth tax. No one, let me repeat NO ONE believes that taxing the wealthy will directly put a house over every person and a beet in every pot. The money collected can be put to good use by the government, assuming the government is actually acting in the best interest of the populace. That last part is the critical piece. Pay attention because here comes the key point: The creation of a class of people that have sufficient wealth capable of sustaining themselves and their descendents in perpetuity is guaranteed to corrupt and warp democracy over time. Thus there can be rich folks and democracy assuming there is opportunity for each person to rise to the upper class and for folks in that class to fall back. We (the US and the rest of the world) are creating a class of folks whose wealth will never fade and if left unchecked will end democracy. The happiest countries on the planet have the lowest wealth inequality.

  35. hemidactylus says

    What’s the ratio of a well placed Gates or Zuckerberg to the descendants of slaves who were born into a pipeline to prison?

    I’m not rich but I’m fortunate enough to be well enough placed to not currently require services of a soup kitchen, food stamps, or social services. If I put my entire income and savings for the rest of my life toward righting wrongs it wouldn’t amount to Gates sneezing. Granted he has done something to benefit others and he shouldn’t be the effigy for ill gotten dirty wealth since he isn’t in the financial sector and at least produced something of technological value, not some destructive financial instrument. But people of his economic stature benefit far more from society than they give back.

  36. Rob Grigjanis says

    George Norman @30:

    The only reason there is to take all the billionaire money from them is out of a bizarre sense of jealousy and rage over the fact that someone’s work could be worth so much more than their own.

    That reeks of projection, as well as laughable ignorance about how most ultra-rich people become ultra-rich. My guess is you’re one of those pathetic little toads who wish they had far more wealth than they could possibly need, to compensate for their utter self-loathing and inadequacy as a human being.

    Billionaires love cheap lickspittle enablers like you. From a distance, of course. If they’re even aware of your existence.

  37. John Morales says

    Then, there’s this: ““If I had to pay $20 billion, it’s fine,” Gates said.”

    Excellent! He’s fine with paying $20 billion, by his own claim.

    (Not gonna happen, of course)

  38. PaulBC says

    You can hypothesize some social good to holding out billion dollar lottery prizes for “innovation” but it’s ludicrous to suggest that even the idealized “self-made” billionaire actually personally created all that wealth. The only reason not to tax it is that with that much accumulated power they won’t let you. It is not property in the Lockean sense and they have no moral right to it. Others created the wealth but lacked the negotiating power to claim their share. That’s capitalism in a nutshell. Also, most billionaires didn’t innovate diddly squat or create anything useful. The financial “industry” causes more harm than good and many people simply inherit wealth.

    And I really don’t resent people richer than I am. However I do see taxation as a reasonable tool for reducing wealth inequality. Libertarians call it theft, but the wealth is itself mostly the result of very intentional and calculated wage theft.

  39. wzrd1 says

    OK, responses were tldr;
    OK, just one commenter or PZ, kindly shit out an operating system.
    One would suffice and to be up front, I don’t use Microsoft products if I can avoid them, the same is true for Apple.
    I’m typing from something entirely not either at all.
    I also earn a fairly decent living working with either or both platforms, akin to PZ’s massive earnings. I’ll await the laughter subsiding, likely I’ll take a meal break.

    I’ve worked on computers from when dos was the thing, a GUI came out called Windows, looked lousy at 1.0. Let’s avoid boredom and jump ahead to NT 3.51, good at that, still can make it hop up and do tricks.
    Apple, using badly folded, spindled and mutilated *BSD, as well. Also remember tricks with pre-OS X.

    Now, kindly shit out an operating system. Granted, Gates bought his, stole a lot to gain market value, lost in court and paid up.
    No, delete your operating system, then try to take what he earned. He, at least has dedicated a fair part, actually, an insane portion of his wealth to programs to help humanity.
    Doing otherwise is simply being a vengeful prostitute, sucking up the utility, while objecting to excesses not the individual’s own.

    Typically, I actually do earn more than PZ, which pisses me off massively, as college professors should make more than an information security professional, server administrator, directory administrator, group policy administrator or even simple advanced level PC tech.
    But, we’d reach the point where both of us would be called upon to give up what we earn to survive.
    So, when do I stop? When I can’t afford my blood pressure medications and have a stroke? When I go into CHF and die? When my abdominal aorta finally explodes, which wouldn’t take long at all, given withdrawal of my thyroid blocker, beta blocker or calcium channel blocker?
    And given, I cannot afford a physician’s appointment and labs and I’m out of my methimazole, that is rather important to me.
    I’m also out of beta blocker, but it was raining, cold and miserable today, tomorrow is just to be a fair bit cool, I’ll pick up the last refill for that.

    Out of work, combating idiot recruiters, some so cross-purposes, employers demand notification that duplicate applications are summarily ineligible and who called the most? One company that’s now spam filtered, calling 30+ times, with as many “recruiters” to apply me for that same position.
    Idiots that want me to sell fucking insurance, if I get one more call from them, I will likely be in prison for arson of said business.
    Three others, they’re currently in a two way knife fight and one, novel and interesting.

    So, when I do leverage my experience and knowledge, which is to go, heart, brain or aorta, which is already damned close to 90% lethality?
    Don’t worry, the world will fully know how to construct a current generation thermonuclear device if the lot of you manage to kill me.
    I only wish I had a converse poison pill, remove that knowledge from humanity on my way out. Were that to exist, I’d happily suicide via 6000 or higher grit abrasive, rather than something so crude as low grit, less suffering. It’d be worth just that much to me.

    And yes, that’s an abbreviated version of my general health. My wife of nearing 40 years has advanced osteoporosis, due to PCOS that was thankfully mild enough to allow two offspring, wanted a third, adopted entire families as needed for them along the way. She also has near universal spinal stenosis, osteoporosis induced multiple vertebral fractures and severe equina cauda.
    And frankly, I have zero desire to survive a minute after her, so things can get uglier than imaginable.
    So, I earn excess, not allowed to spend in our current system, now hijacked and things are that life threatening to us, what gain vs immediate loss do we have?
    Welcome to our very real world.
    We can’t visit our grandchildren, despite being a little over an hour away, due to our motor vehicle is totaled, we’re living in a shit hotel full of roaches and bedbugs, although both did get culled via some creative biological warfare. Many of my peers are dead, that whole military thing.
    And military, my happiest moments were helping to build a school and a clinic, the latter, we actually operated for a time.

    But, one makes too much, let’s take it.
    No, I’ve never had a problem with being taxed, even when I was earning twice PZ’s wage, due to working at high experience and knowledge, in a very hazardous area.
    But, I also expect to be compensated for my knowledge, experience and capabilities. Always, which is why I’m pissed off at PZ’s embarrassing wage.

    The idea is fair share, earned. Gates, while despicably earning more than is well, honorable, did earn a lot by building a current, critically needed, if somewhat lacking operating system. I couldn’t manage that, despite having all of the tools to do so, I’d forget something important, totally fuck the damned thing up.
    But, I also consider Gates, post-retirement, most of his income and accumulated wealth goes back out to help.
    Did the entire pay it forward thing incessantly myself, to the point of coming up a bit short at times on expenses, which cut into our diet, which wasn’t lacking. And that included hosting homeless people at our dinner table.
    And hosting homeless people within our home, meals included.

    Come talk to me when you’ve done at least either or both of those.

  40. alkisvonidas says

    Hate to break it to you, man, but these super-mega-billionaires? THEY are your government. The people you elect* are just their staff.

    So yeah, roll out the guillotine, because it will take much more than just electing the “right” butler to confiscate the ultra-rich’s money. You can’t expect a system that allowed Bill Gates to amass $107 billion in the first place to have the power to take it back from him.

    I mean, it’s rather evident that, by the rules of the game, Gates DID earn his billions. If you want to change the rules of the game that’s fine, but be warned: they won’t change just for Gates. So watch out for that guillotine, too; history shows it has a way of diversifying in its clientele.

    *The people you count on electors to elect.

  41. hemidactylus says

    @45- alkisvonidas

    That the candidate from the usurious state of Delaware may still get nominated speaks greatly to where the power lie$ (dollars = votes). Sanders and Warren are threats to the current established status quo.

    Things took a nosedive in the 80s especially after the fall of the Berlin Wall signaled the triumph of neoliberalism and the ideological battle stemming from talk radio just got ramped up. That transformed into Fox News (Limbaugh-fied TV) and etched away at the tv viewers’ Weltanschauung where people are now hooked into rightward slanted self-defeating ideology.

    But yeah Tom Paine reminds us of what can happen when the reversal gets too carried away with itself. I don’t think Warren is anywhere near that extreme.

    But then we need not look not too far for the bloody seeds of counter-revolution, as examples abound in my own hemisphere. Juntas, death squads, and Chile’s DINA give the French Terror a run for its money.

  42. alkisvonidas says

    @46- hemidactylus

    But yeah Tom Paine reminds us of what can happen when the reversal gets too carried away with itself. I don’t think Warren is anywhere near that extreme.

    I’d say no-one in the US who even has a remote chance of being elected to office was ever anywhere near that extreme. It’s a common tactic for the right-wingers to present mildly socialistic or even centrist politicians as radical leftists and communists (I’ve seen plenty of this nonsense in my native Greece). And it works, because (especially in the US) lots of poor people don’t view themselves as poor, but as not-yet-rich.

    But that’s precisely why Warren or Sanders, even if elected, will have limited powers in reforming the status quo. PZ may daydream about Warren taxing Gates for 99% of his fortune, but that could never happen, because the legislation required for it to happen just can’t come into existence. It would actually be easier to confiscate Gate’s money than to legally tax 99% of it under the assumption that he’s acquired it through legal means. The fact that he can live like a king on less than 1% of it is irrelevant, because the law allows one to be as filthy rich as they (legally) can, and taxes people roughly in proportion to their income, tacitly accepting it IS their income. Having more money than you could ever need is not considered a problem in capitalism.

    Juntas, death squads, and Chile’s DINA give the French Terror a run for its money.

    Again, agreed. But there have been terrors in the former Eastern Bloc at least as horrific, or even much more horrific. I certainly don’t believe that any attempt to topple capitalism, as opposed to reforming it, must needs end in tyranny, but I’d say the risk is considerable. This is all academic, however; as I said, we’re nowhere close to such a situation, in the US or anywhere in the West. What’s being attempted is at best a reform, and even that is met with enormous resistance by the masses, even those who in the end would benefit from a radical reform.

  43. anat says

    lotharloo @2: It doesn’t matter what people call themselves, what matters is what policies they are going to successfully enact. Even if Sanders has some policies that are better than Warren’s in the ideal state where a president can get whatever they want done, in real life I expect Warren to be able to achieve more.

    Warren supports doing away with the filibuster, so if Democrats take the Senate she will be able to do more than Sanders who wants the filibuster to remain intact. Warren also has realistic plans for what she can do by executive action alone if she doesn’t have the Senate – see Elizabeth Warren’s plan to pass her plans. I think she is better at communicating with the general public and will make better use of the Bully Pulpit. I also think she will have an easier time recruiting the collaboration of members of the Democratic party in Congress.

  44. AlexanderZ says

    Marcus Ranum #10

    the terror only killed a few thousand aristocrats; the bonapartism that followed was vastly worse. Most of the French aristocracy fled with their money and lay low for a generation. It was a botched job, really.

    No, the fall of the aristocrats started after the Flight to Varennes (1791), when the most powerful aristocrats emigrated/fled France. Later a law was passed that stripped the Emigres from all of their french property and honors. Even later, during the Reign of Terror (1793), all (with very few exceptions) members of the 1st estate had to either flee France (and forfeit their wealth and lands) or die.

    When Napoleon came to power he allowed all Emigres to return, provided they recognized their loss of privilege and landed property. In reality this was a reversal of the previous policy, as the aristocrats slowly (and then much quicker after the Bourbon Restoration) reacquired their lands through government sponsored shady dealings (the lands corresponded to enormous amounts of worthless bonds which were bought en masse by the rich and the aristos, and then the bonds were slowly recognized and repaid by state in a way that helped people who had enough bonds to control land, but not the poor who only had few bonds per person).

    Why on earth would you think that a power hungry and disgusting person like Napoleon would care about the poor?

  45. ck, the Irate Lump says

    Much of the big philanthropy of the Gates Foundation (and virtually every other big money foundation) is that it is more often than not a vehicle to spread free market fundamentalism to the developing world under a guise of a gift you cannot refuse.

    From Mariam Mayet, Executive Director of the African Center for Biodiversity, a food sovereignty advocacy group that works in Southern and East Africa (Citations Needed, episode 46):

    So we’re campaigning for radical transformation of our systems whereas the Gates Foundation and others are coming from the opposite direction, trying to deepen structural inequalities and create more space in our food systems for the corporate sector.

    US agribusiness corps are brought in under the guise of modernizing food production in these developing countries, but of course demand modifications to the laws to allow them to operate. Since the charity cannot offer aid without these for-profit partners, the governments have little choice but to acquiesce. If successful, this creates a dependency on those same corporate partners. If not successful, it has at least opened the domestic economy to multinational corporations. Even the anti-malaria project operates under these same parameters.

    Linsey McGoey wrote an excellent book on this, which unravels the idea that we should excuse billionaires just because they’re giving some of the money away. And we shouldn’t forget that the Gates Foundation has also worked domestically and was a big champion of charter schools, and funded anti-teacher union propaganda.

    So, we shouldn’t give them an out through their supposedly charitable foundations.

  46. KG says

    If capitalism rewarded hard work, most of the richest people in the world would be African women. (Not my own, I hasten to add, but I don’t remember the source.)

  47. says


    I think she is better at communicating with the general public and will make better use of the Bully Pulpit.

    meh. Maybe. You can really only judge the truth of this in terms of popular response. If I respond well to Bernie’s style (and I generally do) that he might seem to me to be making good use of the bully pulpit. But maybe Warren would use it better. The problem is that it’s vanishingly unlikely that both will be president (the only way it could happen is if Sanders becomes president in 2021 and Warren follows in the not-too-distant future). While things like how well you campaign aren’t the same as how well you use the office and trappings of the presidency, we can have ideas about this, but we can really only compare one president to another president.

    So I’m not willing to promote or disparage a candidate on the idea of whether or not they’ll use the bully pulpit aspect of the office well. I just think we’re in too poor a position to judge that until it’s too late, so I’d rather judge on other factors.

    That said, I’m glad Warren has a plan to pass her plan. I haven’t read it and I’m unlikely to in the next 8 months. To be sure I’ll educate the heck out of myself before I have to vote for a candidate, but since I don’t have a vote in the primary (registered as a green), I don’t vote on anything presidency-related for another 51.5 weeks. It’s WAY too early to consider candidates’ plans for anything at T -51.5 weeks.

  48. Marissa van Eck says


    You…utterly, completely, entirely fail to comprehend the point. Like, it’s gone so far over your head it died of decompression sickness on the way up.

    You. Are. Not. In. The. Club.

    PZ isn’t in the club either.

    Someone who has a $500,000 home but no other assets isn’t in the club, if it comes to that.

    Warren’s politics will help you, not harm you. You are not a Gates. You are not a Buffet. You are not a Bezos. You are not a Koch (and a good thing for you, as they don’t make enough asbestos for where the Kochs are going…). From the PoV of the obscenely wealthy, there is zero daylight between you, PZ, the man with the half-million-dollar home, and me, the woman who’s been homeless and who’s eaten out of the trash more times than she can count.

    Stop defending them. They are the reason you and your wife are in this perilous position. Why do you think they’d let you into “the club?” Why would you want to be anywhere near people like that?

    They’ve got you completely brainwashed, willingly opposing your own best interest for the crumb of faint hope that you, too, may someday be a soulless, ethically-void member of the 0.01%. Meanwhile, the term for people like you is “useful idiot.”

    I am reminded of a quote, source now lost to me, that runs “the fondest hope of the slave isn’t freedom, but slave ownership.” The older I get, the more and more I see this is true for more and more people, to ever-increasing despair.

  49. says

    My heart clenches for them. Well, if they don’t want Warren, I’m fine with htat, she’s my distant third, behind bernie Sanders, who is in turn behind total liquidation of the capitalist class. After all, they eat gold-flake hummus and word is, you are what you eat…

  50. blf says

    OK, just one commenter or PZ, kindly shit out an operating system.
    One would suffice

    Sufficed — University, c.1980, before Andrew Tanenbaum’s Minix. Target was a DEC PDP-11(/45 as I now recall).

    I don’t use Microsoft products if I can avoid them, the same is true for Apple.

    Yes. Same here. Always been the case.

    I’m typing from something entirely not either at all.

    Yes. Same here.

    I also earn a fairly decent living working with either or both platforms

    I don’t. I have standards.

  51. ck, the Irate Lump says

    blf wrote:

    Sufficed — University, c.1980, before Andrew Tanenbaum’s Minix. Target was a DEC PDP-11(/45 as I now recall).

    Also wholly irrelevant. Bill Gates didn’t create Microsoft Windows. Thousands of Microsoft’s employees created Microsoft Windows. His demand to his employees to create Microsoft Windows is a trivial effort compared to the sweat and tears that went into actually carrying out that demand.

  52. PaulBC says

    It does take some skill to write an OS or any other significant software, but it takes the right opportunity to make a killing at it. Bill Gates had some wile or some business savvy depending on how you want to think of it, but he was not that special among software developers even for his time period.

    Others like Richard Stallman (whatever his other issues), Linus Torvalds or Guido of Python fame, just to name a few are just as skilled, just as prolific, but not billionaires.

    I’m not gunning for Gates’s money but the idea that it is his hard-earned property in some ethical sense is just ludicrous. How much can we tax gambling and lottery gains? Do you have some merit-based argument for these?

    I believe in the concept of private property but I also believe that beyond a reasonable point (and well below a billion) the amount an individual gets to keep is a social agreement, not a matter or absolute ethics.

    Nobody earns a billion. Period.

  53. PaulBC says

    And even if the obvious answer isn’t a confiscatory tax (which doesn’t bother me ethically but there could be some unintended consequences on incentives) the conclusion that the billionaire deserves their money is a strange one to reach.

    How about the conclusion that they’re overcharging their customers, underpaying their employees, using public services with paying their share, or transferring costs through externalities such as pollution. Or probably all of these things.

    A billion dollars piling up as the personal assets of an individual is itself a market failure and proof that our economic system is inequitable.