On October 15, 2014, Chris Matthews writes in Fortune Magazine:
The billionaire philanthropist wants to distinguish between the wealthy who are using their money for good and those who are merely consuming it.
It might not come as a surprise to many that Bill Gates, whom Forbes’ magazine ranks as the second wealthiest man in the world, doesn’t agree with the ideas of French economist Thomas Piketty.
It’s Piketty, after all, who made a big splash this year with his book Capital in the 21st Century, which argued that it is a fundamental law of capitalism that wealth will grow more concentrated absent destabilizing events like global wars. Piketty’s solution? A global tax on capital that could help governments better understand how wealth is distributed and stem the tide of inevitably increasing inequality, which Piketty believes is socially destabilizing.
If you believe the Forbes list, there is nobody in the world besides Carlos Slim who has more to lose than Bill Gates if Piketty’s global tax on wealth were to be instituted. ButGates’ critique of Piketty’s work, published Monday on his personal blog, isn’t completely self-interested. After all, Gates has already pledged to give away half his fortune over the course of his lifetime, a much larger amount than the 1% or 2% wealth tax, proposed by Piketty, would confiscate. His problem isn’t with the idea that the super wealthy should spread their fortunes around, but ratherwith Piketty’s mechanism and the incentives it would create:
“Imagine three types of wealthy people. One guy is putting his capital into building his business. Then there’s a woman who’s giving most of her wealth to charity. A third person is mostly consuming, spending a lot of money on things like a yacht and plane. While it’s true that the wealth of all three people is contributing to inequality, I would argue that the first two are delivering more value to society than the third. I wish Piketty had made this distinction, because it has important policy implications.”
Gates shares Piketty’s goal of spreading wealth, yet he doesn’t want to discourage the uber wealthy (like Gates) who are taking risks, investing in value-creating businesses, and helping the world through philanthropy. Gates’ solution? Shift the American tax code from one that taxes labor to one that taxes consumption. Now, this sounds like standard, right-wing economic theory. Consumption taxes are usually favored by the wealthy and by conservative economists because they tend to be regressive in nature. Since everyone—rich and poor—have to consume some amount of goods and services, and because the proportion of income spent is much higher for the poor than the rich, consumption taxes like state and local sales tax burden the poor more than the rich.
But this doesn’t necessarily have to be the case. Economists like Cornell University’s Robert Frank have long advocated for progressive consumption taxes that could do much to solve what they perceive as the ills of growing income inequality. As Frank writes:
“Under such a tax, people would report not only their income but also their annual savings, as many already do under 401(k) plans and other retirement accounts. A family’s annual consumption is simply the difference between its income and its annual savings. That amount, minus a standard deduction—say, $30,000 for a family of four—would be the family’s taxable consumption. Rates would start low, like 10 percent. A family that earned $50,000 and saved $5,000 would thus have taxable consumption of $15,000.
“Consider a family that spends $10 million a year and is deciding whether to add a $2 million wing to its mansion. If the top marginal tax rate on consumption were 100 percent, the project would cost $4 million. The additional tax payment would reduce the federal deficit by $2 million. Alternatively, the family could scale back, building only a $1 million addition. Then it would pay $1 million in additional tax and could deposit $2 million in savings. The federal deficit would fall by $1 million, and the additional savings would stimulate investment, promoting growth. Either way, the nation would come out ahead with no real sacrifice required of the wealthy family, because when all build larger houses, the result is merely to redefine what constitutes acceptable housing. With a consumption tax in place, most neighbors would also scale back the new wings on their mansions.”
As you can see, one of the strategies behind this tax regime is to reduce the incentive to consume. With less conspicuous consumption, the poor would suffer from the negative effects of having less than those around them. As many behavioral studies have shown, relative wealth has more of an impact on personal happiness than absolute wealth.
Such a regime could appeal to both the right and left sides of the political spectrum. For those on the left, who are sometimes uncomfortable with the effects of a culture based around consumption, this tax would discourage such behavior. Meanwhile, a regime that encourages savings and investment would appeal to conservatives.
But for a progressive consumption tax to be truly progressive, there would need to be a hefty estate tax to prevent the rich from simply letting their wealth grow over generations through interest income. But Gates argues this is not a problem, because we have the ability to institute estate taxes, a policy which he is a “big believer” in.
What is upsetting about Bill Gates’ views is that he completely ignores the issue of OWNERSHIP concentration of wealth, yet he knows very well that the reason is wealthy––the second wealthiest according to Fortune––is because he is an OWNER of a massive diversified capital asset portfolio, including Microsoft.
Gates also knows from first-hand experience that increasing concentration of wealth (the ownership of valued assets) feeds on itself, assuring that the already wealthy will just get wealthier. Gates fails to focus on the necessary policies to broaden OWNERSHIP participation in the economy. even while the bottom 90 percent struggle to make ends meet on stagnant incomes. It is impossible for them to accumulate savings. which sadly is the requirement for being able to invest and benefit from a growing portfolio of wealth assets.
Gates needs to realize that the problem of income inequality and wealth inequality is rooted in the archaic notion that savings are required to finance economic growth and attain ownership of valuable productive capital assets. Bill Gates, Chris Matthews, Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen, other Federal Reserve Board members, influential economists and business leaders, as well as political leaders, should read Harold Moulton’s “The Formation Of Capital, ” in which he argues that it makes no sense to finance new productive capital out of past savings. Instead, economic growth should be financed out of future earnings (savings), and provide that every citizen become an owner.
The Federal Reserve is the instrument that can abate wealth inequality by providing capital credit loans at zero “0” percent interest to local banks who would in turn lend this interest-free money (at no additional cost, except for minimum administration fees) for the specific purpose to finance the creation of new wealth-creating, income-producing capital assets to grow the economy. Who should benefit from such interest-free capital credit should be EVERY child, woman and man, who would then be empowered to acquire over time significant portfolios of self-liquidating capital asset investments in the American economy with the capital credit loans repaid out of the FUTURE earnings of the investments.
Broadening capital ownership would “increase the pay of the least advantaged workers” (and non-workers) who would be contributing their productive capital to the expansion of the the economy.
Gates is focused on consumption taxes to encourage savings and investment and redistributive policies such as higher taxes on inheritances. He completely ignores the necessity to broaden capital OWNERSHIP as part of an incentive package that eliminates corporate and capital gains taxes in exchange for creating new owners and, as a substitute for inheritance and gift taxes, imposes a transfer tax on the recipients whose holdings exceeded $1 million, thus encouraging the super-rich to spread out their monopoly-sized estates to all members of their family, friends, servants and workers who helped create their fortunes, teachers, health workers, police, other public servants, military veterans, artists, the poor and the disabled.
As the economy continue to grow, even at present-day anemic rates, people are going to OWN the non-human factor––tools, machines, robotics, computerization, etc–– of any economic expansion, which as time progresses will continue to be the MAJOR input factor in ANY economic expansion. Gates knows this. His recommendations will not abate wealth inequality.
What Gates should be advocating is the passage of the Capital Homestead Act. That would enable every child, woman and man to gain equal access to capital credit for generating their own earned ownership income to engage in what Aristotle called “leisure work.” Saez and Zucman and other academics and politicians should take the time to study seriously the Louis Kelso-Mortimer J. Adler paradigm as presented in the free down-loadable books and articles on the Center for Economic and Social Justice “virtual library” at http://www.cesj.org. Then hopefully Saez and Zucman will come to understand that a growing percentage of every citizen’s income and wealth accumulation could conceptually result from the Just Third Way’s reforms to democratize personal opportunities to participate as an owner of future capital growth and non-coercive transfers of existing capital’s ownership opportunities. The Just Third Way strategy would enable a growing number of citizens to be educated, participate in and thus earn a sufficient and increasing capital income. As the market economy continues to become increasingly capital-intensive, more and more citizens would become economically liberated to engage voluntarily in the unpaid and unlimited work of civilization. This would also reduce the cost of education at all levels, and certainly, when implemented increase family choices over education and health benefits.
What is needed and necessary is a new policy direction specifically aimed at creating new capital owners simultaneously with the growth of the economy. The financial mechanisms used MUST NOT REQUIRE past savings and instead be available as a unique and exclusive opportunity for American citizens to access insured, interest-free capital loans for the specific purpose of acquiring newly issued full-dividend earnings payout stock in corporations growing our economy. In other words, we need to use a credit mechanism by which the loans are paid for with the future earnings generated by the creation of new capital assets, which result in products and services needed and wanted by Americans, which then further propels the economy’s growth. Such a policy program is what the Capital Homestead Act would achieve.
The Federal Reserve, which has been largely responsible for the powerlessness of most American citizens, should set an example for all the central banks in the world. Chairwoman Yellen and other members of the Federal Reserve need to wake-up and implement Section 13 paragraph 2, which directs the Federal Reserve to create credit for local banks to make loans where there isn’t enough savings in the system to finance economic growth. We should not destroy the Federal Reserve or make it a political extension of the Treasury Department, but instead reform it so that the American citizens in each of the 12 Federal Reserve Regions become the owners. The result will be that money power will flow from the bottom up, not from the top down––not for consumer credit, not for credit that doesn’t pay for itself or non-productive uses of credit, but for credit for productive uses to expand the economy’s rate of growth.
The Federal Reserve needs to stop monetizing unproductive debt, and begin creating an asset-backed currency that could enable every child, woman and man to establish a Capital Homestead Account or “CHA” at their local bank to acquire a growing dividend-bearing stock portfolio to supplement their incomes from work and all other sources of income. Steadily over time this will create a robust economy with millions of “customers with money” to purchase the products and services that are needed and wanted.
Our leaders need to put on the table for national discussion this SUPER-IRA idea and the necessary reform of our tax policies that would incentivize corporations to pay out fully their earnings in the form of dividend income and issue and sell new stock to grow. The CHA would process an equal allocation of productive credit to every citizen exclusively for purchasing full-dividend payout shares in companies needing funds for growing the economy and private sector jobs for local, national and global markets,
The shares would be purchased on credit wholly backed by projected “future savings” in the form of new productive capital assets with future marketable products and services produced by the newly added technology, renewable energy systems, plant, rentable space and infrastructure added to the economy.
Risk of default on each stock acquisition loan would be covered by private sector capital credit risk insurance and reinsurance (ala the Federal Housing Administration concept), but would not require citizens to reduce their funds for consumption to purchase shares.
Essentially, the pressing need is for everyone in a position of influence to encourage President Obama to raise the consciousness of the American people by making his NUMBER ONE focus the introduction of a National Right To Capital Ownership Bill that restores the American dream of property ownership as a primary source of personal wealth.
This is the solution to America’s economic decline in wealth and income inequality, which will result in double-digit economic growth and simultaneously broaden private, individual ownership so that EVERY American’s income significantly grows, providing the means to support themselves and their families with an affluent lifestyle. The Just Third Way Master Plan for America’s future is published at http://foreconomicjustice.org/?p=5797 and the platform of the Unite America Party is published by The Huffington Post at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/gary-reber/platform-of-the-unite-ame_b_5474077.html as well as Nation Of Change at http://www.nationofchange.org/platform-unite-america-party-1402409962 and OpEd News at http://www.opednews.com/articles/Platform-of-the-Unite-Amer-by-Gary-Reber-Party-Leadership_Party-Platforms-DNC_Party-Platforms-GOP-RNC_Party-Politics-Democratic-140630-60.html.
The Capital Homestead Act (http://www.cesj.org/learn/capital-homesteading/capital-homestead-act-a-plan-for-getting-ownership-income-and-power-to-every-citizen/ and http://www.cesj.org/learn/capital-homesteading/capital-homestead-act-summary/) would grow the U.S. economy faster in a non-inflationary way, create new private sector jobs, finance new productive capital and provide capital incomes for all Americans from the bottom-up by enabling them to own trillions annually in new capital formation and transfers in current assets . . . without taking private property rights away from billionaires and multi-millionaires over their existing assets.