Abolish Billionaires?

There are about 2,200 billionaires in the world, about one-fourth of those are U.S. citizens.

Farhad Manjoo recently wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times that engendered more than 1,500 comments. Most simply, he argued, we should abolish billionaires through much higher taxes and related policies.

When it comes to billionaires, I’m of a mixed mind. On the one hand, given rising inequality, I’m surprised more people aren’t agitating against members of the three -comma club. Not just writing commentaries, but taking to the streets Occupy Wall Street style.

On the other hand, as the philosopher Peter Singer points out, some billionaires are giving away the bulk of their wealth to philanthropy. Bill Gates, in particular, plans to give away 99.6% of the cash money I paid him back in the day for successive versions of Microsoft Office.

Of course, as Manjoo points out, we have to analyze whether the billionaires’ charitable giving is having positive effects or not. Anand Giridharadas style. As Manjoo explains, Giridharadas argues that many billionaires approach philanthropy as a kind of branding exercise to maintain a system in which they get to keep their billions. Especially when they put their largess into politics.

“. . . whether it’s Howard Schultz or Michael Bloomberg or Sheldon Adelson, whether it’s for your team or the other — you should see the plan for what it is: an effort to gain some leverage over the political system, a scheme to short-circuit the revolution and blunt the advancing pitchforks.”

Gates might be an outlier, but his giving is so exemplary, I’m less inclined to order a pitchfork from that billionaire with the online superstore.

Columbine, Blacksburg, Tucson, Seal Beach, Aurora, Newtown

The National Rifle Association has gone silent, hoping that we conclude there’s an inevitability to gun violence, call it an unfortunate cost of Second Amendment rights to gun ownership. That’s the exact reason we can’t become desensitized to the steady stream of incomprehensible violence.

We have to spend the next few months insisting that our Congressional representatives take the actions that Michael Bloomberg and Diane Feinstein described on Sunday’s Meet the Press.

We have to learn to think about mental illnesses like physical illnesses and advocate for more accessible and affordable care for the mentally ill.

We have to insist on people’s rights. To go to school, to go shopping, and to go to a movie without fear.

We have to resist the urge to arm more people. On the same Meet the Press, Bill Bennett (pundits should be like yogurt and have expiration dates) said we should probably have an armed security guard in every school. I thought of that when I walked into my YMCA Sunday afternoon to workout. The doors open for anyone and the membership check-in is about 30 to 40 feet inside the building. I passed 20+ people before having to show my membership card. Sometimes when the line is long, I just slide in behind it and head to the locker or weightroom. So unless we’re going to install TSA-like security at every YMCA, mall, and theater, I don’t see armed school guards as a solution. I recommend Jim Fallows position on this and his most recent Atlantic piece on the shootings (and Goldberg’s which he references).

We have to ask why, according to Mother Jones, since 1982, males are responsible for 61 out of 62 mass murders with firearms across the country. What does the fact that some young men more than young women want to physically injure and/or kill others say about our parenting of boys, our schools, and our culture? What changes in our parenting, schools, and culture are needed?

Lastly, an impassioned debate among two female writers—I am Adam Lanza’s Mother and Don’t Compare Your Son to Adam Lanza.

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