Zuckerberg: No One Deserves to Be a Billionaire, But It's Useful
This post is testimony to the great influence Thomas Piketty's analysis of modern capitalism has had, and continues to have, on both the economics profession and politics. Both Sanders and Warren economic programs draw heavily on Piketty and Emmanuel Saez theoretical and policy work on aggravated inequality trends. One of their conclusions, which left wing candidates have embraced, is: "there should be no billionaires". I am always tempted to ask: "Should there also be no poverty?" I am sure both Piketty and Saez would agree. But I am not sure Piketty's equations on profit and wealth predict that exact outcome. They show that capital (weath) accumulation and its political side effects with respect to power, are inexorable, but CAN be offset by taxation.
Both Zuckerberg and Bill Gates have essentially made the same reply to Piketty (Gates did a live interview with him and holds him in high regard). "I agree that income should be taxed progressively. But why wealth? Great concentrations of wealth make vast projects, like climate change, or poverty, possible to address. Even if I am taxed, capital must accumulate to do big things. Why are my decisions worse than what a government agency is making now?"
Piketty makes a (now somewhat famous in econ circles) reply: "If you are right, perhaps instead of taxing or prohibiting "billionaires", we should not tax or constrain them at all?"
Gates: "You have a point." A truly double-edged conversation.
Interesting differences between Marx and Piketty include the former's philosophical and analytical training, and the latter's focus on data. Marx's philosophical materialism tends toward instrumentalism, especially in later years. Instrumentalism maintains that the truth of an idea is determined by its success in the active solution of a problem, and that the value of an idea is determined by its function in human experience. In Marx capital is a social but nonetheless material force. Individual humans make choices but they are constrained by competing economic forces. The economic system, in this sense, requires X investors and Y wage and salary workers. If the system does not provide a Z, you do not get to choose it. Thus, for Marx, Gates', or Zuckerberg's 100 Billion dollars is a force in its own right. Gates or Zuckerberg are as much its agent as owner.
Last thought, this morning: Even if the "billionaire" is banned, capital will still seek to accumulate in other forms, perhaps corporate, or sovereign wealth funds. Even when taxed, the tendency toward accumulation will not be exterminated.
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