Billionaires Are a Policy Failure That Must Be Addressed | Opinion

According to a recent report by Oxfam, over the past two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, the world's 10 richest men doubled their collective fortunes from $700 billion to $1.5 trillion at the same time that incomes for 99 percent of humanity fell.

In the wake of out-of-control billionaire wealth during perhaps the most challenging two years for human society in the last 75 years and President Joe Biden unveiling a new minimum tax on billionaires in the budget proposal, it's time for us to start asking an important question: Should there be a limit on how much wealth a person can have?

Despite all the human and economic suffering that COVID-19 has managed to wreak on the world, the pandemic presents at least one silver lining: the opportunity to see just how absurdly and unnecessarily wealthy a handful of billionaires around the globe have become and to finally find the resolve to do something about it.

People may not know that Jeff Bezos, the second richest man in the world, got $81 billion richer during the pandemic. But everyone read about his $500 million superyacht that is causing a historic bridge in Rotterdam to be taken down, which thousands are planning to protest.

It is a travesty that billionaires like Bezos can amass so much wealth and spend it so frivolously in the face of so much suffering in our world today. But this isn't the only reason why we should be angry about billionaires: We should also be disturbed by the inordinate power that they possess and exercise on account of their money.

In the United States, and especially since the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court ruling, billionaires dominate the campaign finance scene. In the 2020 election cycle, just a handful of billionaires contributed no less than 10 percent of all federal campaign contributions. What this means is that billionaires like Charles Koch, George Soros and Richard Uihlein have an outsized say when it comes to who runs for office, who wins elections and then ultimately what politicians do once in office. It's no wonder public policy outcomes in America disproportionately reflect the wishes and preferences of the ultra-wealthy over those of average people.

We should be angry that billionaires like Bezos can spend their money on superyachts while millions needlessly suffer and die, and we should be angry that billionaires like Charles Koch can single-handedly bankroll the campaigns of elected officials. But our real outrage should be directed at the fact that we as a society let people like them get so insanely rich in the first place, and it's time that we do something about it.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk is pictured
Tesla CEO Elon Musk is pictured. PATRICK PLEUL/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

We can start by asking: When does one have enough?

Accumulating $30 million puts one in the top 0.1 percent of American households. This is very rich. At this level of wealth, you don't have to work and can buy just about anything you can imagine needing or wanting. Maybe not a yacht like Bezos', but certainly one could charter a superyacht for a week or two. That seems like enough, so a billion dollars is unequivocally beyond enough.

We must set an upper limit on how much money a single person should be allowed to amass in this world. If every billionaire is a policy failure, then let's fix the broken policy that allows them to exist in the first place.

Forty years of misguided tax policy have left us with a status quo where it is virtually impossible for billionaires to do anything but get richer. The only direct approaches left to us to fix the mess of excessive wealth are a wealth tax on the very richest Americans and a stronger estate tax that effectively curtails dynastic wealth. We should also enact policies that strengthen the overall position of working Americans like paying living wages, strengthening and protecting unions, bolstering social safety nets, sharing stock ownership of companies with workers, reforming executive compensation packages and more.

I believe that people who are hardworking, innovative and successful should be handsomely rewarded. But humility demands one recognize success derives from many factors beyond the individual, including luck.

To make $1 billion, the average full-time American worker would need to work over 19,000 years. No human being needs or deserves 19,000 years' worth of money. It is time that we declare that no human being needs or deserves to be a billionaire in our world today.

Alan Davis is a member of the Patriotic Millionaires. He was the founder and CEO of Conservatree Paper Company, the leading distributor of recycled paper, and the founder and CEO of ASDavis Media Group. Currently, he's the president of The Leonard and Sophie Davis Fund, a private family foundation, and the director of the WhyNot Initiative, the foundation's program to support social change efforts that have the potential to significantly address problems with the democratic process, income and wealth distribution, universal health care and tolerance.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.