(p. B1) In the negotiations over President Biden’s infrastructure bill, Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon and chairman of the Finance Committee, proposed the idea of a tax on billionaires specifically. Thursday morning, Mr. Biden announced his framework for paying for the bill, which promised additional taxes on the income of “the wealthiest 0.02 percent of Americans.”
Mr. Wyden’s proposed tax will likely never make it into law.
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(p. B5) Elon Musk, in a tweet, seemed to come out against the proposal. “Eventually, they run out of other people’s money and then they come for you,” he wrote. It is fairly safe to say that Mr. Musk will never run out of money. A back-of-the-envelope calculation from Forbes’s real-time net worth tracker suggests that he could spend $1 million a year for 100,000 years and still have more money than Bill Gates, with an estimated $136.2 billion.
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Abigail Disney, granddaughter of Roy Disney and a longtime critic of income inequality, said in an interview that she believes the immense displays of wealth by the country’s richest during the pandemic — particularly the ostentatiousness of last summer’s space race — helped foster a serious discussion about the tax burdens on billionaires.
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In comments denouncing the proposed billionaire tax, Mr. Manchin described the ultrawealthy as people who “create a lot of jobs and invest a lot of money and give a lot to philanthropic pursuits.”
That was an implicit endorsement of the idea, often repeated in discussions around high-net worth giving, that regular people pay taxes while rich people pursue philanthropy, giving not to the Treasury but to their preferred causes. “My plan is to use the money to get humanity to Mars and preserve the light of consciousness,” Mr. Musk said in a subsequent tweet in response to the tax proposal.
“That idea that ‘it’s my money and I should decide what to do with it’ is very dominant, and it goes along with the culture of individualism that allows people to feel that they’ve done this on their own and haven’t benefited from social goods like roads and education and laws,” Professor Sherman said.
Ms. Disney, who is an active member of the Patriotic Millionaires, said she sees that thinking as a primary obstacle to raising taxes on the richest Americans. “Billionaires may be brilliant — and I don’t doubt Elon Musk’s I.Q. — but they don’t do anything on their own,” she said. She also questioned the prevailing wisdom among the country’s wealthiest that they know best and the government shouldn’t be trusted with their money.
“The last time I was in the Bay Area, I went walking in the marina and saw seven consecutive boats named after characters from Ayn Rand,” Ms. Disney said. “They need to come to their senses.”
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(Note: the online version of the story was updated Nov. 2, 2021, and has the title “Who Are America’s Billionaires, Anyway?”)