‘Tax the rich’ is going mainstream in the US

Anand Giridharadas is the author of the book Winners Take All. In an interview, he called out the global plutocrats at Davos about their so-called ‘philanthropy by rich people as a solution to the world’s problems’, angering many of them. The real solution is to tax the hell out of them.

I think Davos is a family reunion for the plutocrats that broke the modern West. I’ve never been to it, so I’m a cultural critic looking from a distance, but it seems to me to be a gathering of people who think that they are changing the world when they are exactly what needs changing. A gathering of people who use the idea of making a difference as a kind of lubricant in the engine of making a killing, of people who promote generosity as a cheap substitute for justice.

What became clear when they shot down AOC’s proposals or when they insinuate I’m a communist or laugh off my critique, “change the world” has become a way for them to shoot down and remove from serious consideration ideas that would threaten their power of privilege. And so then what Davos is becomes clearer, which is that it is a way of getting together, using the world’s problems as a convening mechanism, to form a cartel against real change.

The genius thing that these people understand, that maybe prior generations of plutocrats didn’t, is you don’t fight public pressure for people-friendly change by shooting mine workers and busting unions in the light of day. They do that secretly. But what you actually do is you fight back by claiming to be one of those people. You claim to be a revolutionary yourself. You claim to be fighting for the people yourself. And your relatively modest do-gooding provides your credibility that pays for itself many, many times over.

He goes on to blast the idea that there can be private solutions to major public problems and says that the billionaires are terrifed by the direction that the political conversation has taken.

Bloomberg suggested that Warren’s wealth tax may be unconstitutional and then it’s basically Venezuela. I just want to say these old billionaire, encrusted oligarchs are really showing their terror. I really feel like I am winning the conversation, and AOC is winning this conversation, and Elizabeth Warren is winning this conversation, and Edgar Villanueva, who wrote “Decolonizing Wealth,” is winning this conversation, and thousands of people who are talking about this in different ways. And these guys are terrified.

When you hear old white guy billionaires telling you a wealth tax is Venezuelan, or Howard Schultz saying twice in 24 hours that two ideas emerging from offices of women of color in Congress are un-American, these are billionaires who understand that the politics have changed America.

For the first time in my lifetime, we’re talking about whether billionaires should be able to be here, and I think my message to these guys is, you are free to go. Taxes, all these policies that we’re talking about, these policies are just the rules of the road of a society. We can set whatever rules we want consistent with the law in the Constitution. And then everybody has a free choice about whether these laws and everything else this country offers as a package works for them or not. And if you don’t like the tax rates, you’re allowed to go. If you think it’s confiscatory to have a 3% wealth tax, you’re absolutely free to go.

I’m willing to play poker with any of these billionaires because I think they’re all bluffing. I don’t think any of them are going to leave. I don’t think any of them will leave.

I think we’re all passengers in a billionaire hijacking. We were all drugged on the plane, and these guys are now terrified in the cockpit because they’re realizing that in the back there we just woke up.

Great stuff.

In a series of tweets, economist Paul Krugman says that the ‘soak the rich’ attitude was always there in the majority of people but is coming into the open now in the Democratic party. Here is one of his five tweets.


  1. says

    The real solution is to tax the hell out of them.

    The rich bestir themselves, muttering and grumbling, “it’s time to finish taking over politics, so the mice can’t vote to put a bell collar on our neck.”

  2. wsierichs says

    I prefer ‘guillotine the rich.’

    I can’t decide if the above is intended as a joke or a real preference Maybe a bit of both …

  3. deepak shetty says

    Ill believe it when I see it. I dont have any faith in the ability of the Democrats to actually deliver something substantial , even if they were willing , and I’d bet that the majority aren’t that willing either.

  4. militantagnostic says

    Marcus Ranum @1

    The rich bestir themselves, muttering and grumbling, “it’s time to finish taking over politics, so the mice can’t vote to put a bell collar on our neck.”

    Are you familiar with Tommy Douglas’ parable of the mice and the cats? (Tommy Douglas was a former Premier of Saskatchewan and leader of the federal New Democratic Party.)

  5. lanir says

    I’m not sure if I care whether the billionaires all leave or not. Their companies are here. If there is a popular movement on this front the best they can do is hope to ride it out with one shady tax evasion scheme after another and pray they just exhaust the public will to continue. But if that was going to just work going forward, it would still be working because (as far as I can tell) that’s been their current tactic in democratic countries since the world wars if not before.

    Even if the richest people in the country go all John Galt (as if -- they want servants) and make off with every dime they currently have it wouldn’t hurt the economy nearly as much as they think. The economy is money in motion and their wealth really doesn’t do much for anyone outside of K street. At worst we’d have a mini recession. As long as the government didn’t opt for counterproductive austerity measures in response we’d bounce back rapidly because production and demand wouldn’t change much.

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