Should we abolish billionaires?
We are kicking off 2020 with a new season of our Equals podcast, with a great interview with the person described as ‘the self-appointed scourge of well-meaning plutocrats everywhere’, Anand Ghiridharadas, the author of the brilliant book, ‘Winners take all: the Elite Charade of Changing the World’.
Anand says that we can all agree on two things. Firstly ‘that we live in a remarkable era where elites are bending over backwards to give back’, an ‘age of historic levels of philanthropic contribution’ and that ‘it is rare to find a rich person not involved in these kinds of actions’.
Yet at the same time the second observation, which ‘sits uncomfortably alongside that is that the same class of people, and in many cases the same actual people in parallel.. stewarding an economy that persistently, foreseeably, reliably fails most people, squeezes most people and has produced a winner takes all economy’. That ‘they do just enough good that no one stops their ability to keep doing harm’.
He goes on to say that ‘the idea of revolution, and even of change itself, has literally been stolen in our time. That whole genre of thinking has been stolen and turned into a corporate project...Once the idea of changing of the world has been defanged, the very idea of change has changed. And what is played back to us as change is in fact a gussied-upversion of the status quo’.
He gives a really powerful analogy that highlights the craziness of the ‘doing well by doing good’, ‘win-win’ idea, ‘the problem is that they are at pains to suggest that we can lift up those down below in a given situation without interfering with, in fact by benefiting those standing on their necks....this is improbable as a matter of both physics and of sociology. I don’t know how you lift someone up who is being stood on without interfering with the person standing on them.’
Anand also doesn’t hold back on billionaires, ‘Look, I think the best thing to do with billionaires is to not have them anymore’. He thinks that anyone having that much money is dangerous for society: ‘even if you had a society where you had redistributed enough...where you’ve accounted for that level of basic decency, I actually don’t think anybody should have $100 bn unless we could be sure that wouldn’t buy them undue influence over public life in a democracy... Its intrinsically dangerous for someone to have $100 bn in a society.’
‘I think there are two ways to get to abolishing billionaires through policy. The first is during the money-making stage. If you had proper tax policies, proper regulation, people would simply make way less money in the first place. Second, once the money is made, then we should look at redistribution throughsomething like a wealth tax.’
His message for the billionaires meeting in Davos last week was very clear: ‘Once again, many of the people most responsible for some of the biggest shared problems we have are gathering to toast themselves as the solution to those problems. If they just come together and agree to pay their damn taxes, stop lobbying against the kind of regulation that actually restricts corporate power to help ordinary people....and actually start paying people a living wage. We don’t need them to change the world we need them to stop rigging the world’.
This was a very fun interview to do! Anand’slanguage and ideas are such a pleasure to listen to-what a brilliant start to the year.