Wealth Tax Proposal Has Billionaires Acting Super Normal

Photo: Cheryl Senter (AP)

“I don’t think that billionaires should exist,” Vermont Sen. and Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders said last week as he proposed a wealth tax on the one percent.

On Tuesday night, the CEO of private equity firm Blackstone and an advisor to President Donald Trump, Steve Schwarzman, was asked about Sanders’ plan to address income inequality.

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“Maybe Bernie Sanders shouldn’t exist,” he said.

Sanders suggested a marginal tax rate not only on income but on accumulated wealth for 180,000 households, starting at a 1 percent tax on households with a net worth of $32 million and going up to an 8 percent tax for those with a net worth of $10 billion or more.

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“This proposal does not eliminate billionaires, but it eliminates a lot of the wealth that billionaires have, and I think that’s exactly what we should be doing,” he explained.

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Schwarzman’s net worth is a mind numbing $17 billion. Not only that, but Blackstone manages $545 billion in assets. I’m no finance expert, but if the government taxed billionaires, that company would have a lot less to do.

Schwarzman was promoting his new book, the obnoxiously titled What It Takes: Lessons in the Pursuit of Excellence. Rule 19 out of 25 for a successful life is the incredibly illuminating “Don’t lose money!!!” Thanks, I’ll remember that next time.

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He get super angsty over the idea of taxes, to the point that in 2008, he apparently spoke to board members at a nonprofit and compared tax increases for private equity firms to war, “like when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939.” ¡Muy picante!

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Like Sanders, Massachusetts Sen. and Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren has proposed a wealth tax plan as well. She would tax those with net worths of $50 million to $1 billion a rate of 2 percent, and she would tax those with a net worth above $1 billion a rate of 3 percent.

I am concerned there is some rhetorical slippage in Schwarzman’s comment. You see, for the extremely literal readers among us, Sanders doesn’t mean that he wants people who hoard wealth to stop exist existing. It means that they would be living their same comfortable lives with slightly less money. In fact, their lives would theoretically be better, because their money would go to housing, universal child care, and universal health care. I don’t know why it’s so hard for people to think about taxes as a contribution for their own good.

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Now personally, I think that billionaires should be taxed to the point that their lives are no longer quite so cushy. They should have to use single-ply toilet paper and take public transit at least twice in the rain and once in snow. But realistically speaking, with the taxes that Sanders and Warren are proposing, the ultra wealthy would probably have to make very few changes in order to accommodate these taxes.

In January 2016, Schwarzman attacked Sanders, doing some nice classic American both-sides-ing. “I find the whole thing astonishing and what’s remarkable is the amount of anger whether it’s on the Republican side or the Democratic side,” he said at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “Bernie Sanders, to me, is almost more stunning than some of what’s going on in the Republican side. How is that happening, why is that happening?”

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