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The New Shepard is seen launching into space from Van Horn, Texas

Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket lifts off from the launch pad carrying Jeff Bezos along with his brother Mark Bezos, 18-year-old Oliver Daemen, and 82-year-old Wally Funk on July 20, 2021 in Van Horn, Texas. (Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

'Nothing Says Tax the Rich Like a Recreational Billionaire Space Race': Critics Denounce Bezos Flight

"If there was any economic justice in the world," said one critic, the U.S. would have imposed "a $100 billion re-entry tax on Jeff Bezos upon his return from outer space."

Julia Conley

Economic justice advocates recoiled on Tuesday at the sight of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, the world's wealthiest person, launching himself into space—momentarily leaving behind a planetary emergency; a global pandemic that's disproportionately affecting poor countries without access to vaccines; and rampant wealth inequality in the U.S. and around the world—all of which could be eradicated or mitigated with a wealth tax imposed on Bezos and other billionaires.

The New Shepard launch came days after business magnate Richard Branson launched his own spacecraft, beginning what the news media has called a "billionaire space race."

Both flights made the latest powerful argument for a wealth tax, said critics like Public Citizen, which tweeted Tuesday: "Nothing says tax the rich like a recreational billionaire space race." 

Warren Gunnels, policy adviser to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), tweeted that  "if there was any economic justice in the world, we would impose a $100 billion re-entry tax on Jeff Bezos upon his return from outer space."

With a net worth of more than $200 billion, Bezos has for years reported to the IRS a salary of just $80,000 per year, allowing him to pay a "true tax rate" of less than 1%, according to a recent analysis by ProPublica. 

Bezos "has enough disposable income to finance a multi billion dollar vacation to space but still won't pay his taxes," said Nina Turner, former co-chair of Sanders' 2020 presidential campaign now running in the Democratic primary for a congressional seat in Ohio's 11th District.

As progressive lawmakers including Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) have argued, a wealth tax on Bezos's assets from Amazon stocks and capital gains would force the billionaire to pay more than $5 billion per year, with the tax on the country's richest households generating nearly three-quarters of the American Rescue Plan, President Joe Biden's pandemic relief package passed earlier this year. 

"If Jeff Bezos can afford to go to space, he can afford to pay more in taxes."
—Stephen Prince, Patriotic Billionaires

Over two years, Bezos's payment alone under the wealth tax would fund the Civilian Climate Corps, which would employ 1.5 million people to complete federally funded projects to help communities fight the climate emergency.

As cable news hosts lauded Bezos for his 11-minute expedition on Tuesday, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) noted that "on a related note, a wealth tax would generate at least $3 TRILLION for our communities."

Stephen Prince, vice chair of the Patriotic Millionaires, pointed out that when the first American went to space five decades ago, the top income tax rate was 91%—making Bezos's space launch "a sad reminder of just how far our country has fallen."

"If we ever want to return to an era where we accomplish incredible things together as a society, we need to start taxing the rich again," said Prince. "If Jeff Bezos can afford to go to space, he can afford to pay more in taxes."

The Working Families Party said that in Van Horn, the West Texas town of 2,000 people where Bezos launched the New Shepard, nearly 30% of the population lives below the poverty line.

"Tomorrow in Van Horn, many families will struggle to put food on the table," tweeted the party. "Tax the rich."

Bezos's space flight came days after the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) and Americans for Tax Fairness (ATF) released a report detailing how the astronomical wealth of the richest people in the U.S. could fund "the entire $1.8 trillion ten-year cost of Biden’s American Families Plan, which would make critical investments in education, childcare, healthcare, nutrition, and more for tens of millions of Americans."

Earlier this year, Oxfam released an analysis showing that the planet's 10 richest men could pay for vaccines for the entire world with the wealth they accumulated during the first year of the coronavirus pandemic, as their total assets reached nearly $12 trillion in December 2020. 

After returning to Earth on Tuesday, Bezos thanked "every Amazon employee and every Amazon customer, because you guys paid for all of this"—a statement supported by reports that warehouse workers at his ecommerce company are only permitted strictly timed bathroom breaks and are discouraged from interacting with one another during their 10-to-12 hour shifts, while delivery drivers have been known to urinate in plastic bottles instead of finding public bathrooms, in order to keep up with demand.

In the 11 minutes Bezos spent launching into space Tuesday, said AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler, his wealth grew by $1.7 million.

Meanwhile, she added, thousands of Amazon workers completed "10 hour 'megacycle' shifts. In one shift, they will earn 0.0001 of what Jeff Bezos made in 10 minutes."

"Tax the rich," Shuler said.


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