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Bill Gates, billionaire, speaks onstage at 2019 New York Times Dealbook on November 06, 2019 in New York City.

Bill Gates, billionaire, speaks onstage at 2019 New York Times Dealbook on November 06, 2019 in New York City. (Photo: Michael Cohen/Getty Images/The New York Times)

Taxing Bill Gates $100 Billion, Counters Bernie Sanders, Could End Homelessness and Microsoft Founder 'Would Still Be a Multibillionaire'

The message, said the 2020 candidate, is that "the billionaire class cannot have it all when so many have so little."

Eoin Higgins

Billionaire Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates on Wednesday told a crowd at a New York Times sponsored conference that a proposed wealth tax from Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a frontrunner for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, could take so much money from his vast fortune that he wouldn't know how much was left. 

"When you say I should pay $100 billion, then I'm starting to do a little math about what I have left over," said Gates, who prefaced his remarks by saying he was willing to pay $20 billion in taxes. 

As Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who is also running for the Democratic nomination for president in 2020, pointed out on Twitter, Gates' fortune is valued at roughly $106.8 billion, leaving $6.8 billion after the hypothetical tax hit. 

"Say Bill Gates was actually taxed $100 billion," said Sanders. "We could end homelessness and provide safe drinking water to everyone in this country. Bill would still be a multibillionaire."

Warren, by contrast, rushed to reassure Gates on Twitter that he wouldn't be on the hook for $100 billion and invited the Microsoft founder to meet for a chat where the Massachusetts Democrat could "explain exactly how much you'd pay under my wealth tax."

Gates replied to the senator, saying that the tax discussion was part of an "interesting conversation" on how to solve the myriad issues at play in the primary.

"I greatly respect your commitment to finding ways to address wealth inequality and poverty at home," said Gates. "While we may disagree about some of the ways to get there, we certainly agree we need a lot of smart people committed to finding the path forward."

Progressives found Warren's tone to be too friendly to Gates and politically problematic as it missed the power dynamics in play with Gates' wealth.

"You can't logic Gates out of his class interest," tweeted lawyer and activist Emma Caterine. "This is about power. We need a president who tells the billionaires to suck it up, not one who tries to win them over."

Jacobin writer Luke Savage opined that Warren's response was unlikely to wrest meaningful concessions out of Gates. 

"Whatever the intention, this kind of conciliatory posture is not how you promote or pass a wealth tax," said Savage. "Billionaires aren't some innocuous constituency to whom you patiently explain the nuts and bolts of tax policy: they're an illegitimate power bloc to be confronted and beaten."

The wealth in question, according to former Splinter editor Jack Mirkinson, is part of the problem.

"It's a pretty major indictment of American society that Bill Gates even has $100 billion to complain about being taxed on

Even with a wealth tax like the one Gates fears, $6.8 billion for one person is still too much, said 34justice co-founder Ben Spielberg.

"It would be good to also explain to Bill Gates that $6.8 billion—the amount he'd have left if he had to pay $100 billion—is an insane amount of wealth that most people can't even imagine," tweeted Spielberg. "Neither he nor anyone else should be able to have anything close to that amount."

One person on Twitter with the username "San" put the amount of money into perspective by referring to her own financial situation, one more in line with the rest of the world than with Gates—among the wealthiest of the 2,153 billionaires on the planet.

"Saw someone tweet that taxing 100 billion dollars from Bill Gates' $106.8 billion would 'literally' bankrupt him and my bank balance would gently like to tell you to fuck off," San said.


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