Attendees at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, are worried about Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). So says CNBC, which reports that the multimillionaires and billionaires at the annual elite gathering are all but quaking in their expensive winter boots at the thought of her proposed 70 percent marginal income tax rate. “It’s scary,” claimed Scott Minerd, a high-ranking executive at investment firm Guggenheim Partners. Bridgewater’s Ray Dalio predicted the call for a 70 percent top tax rate would pick up steam ahead of the 2020 election. Michael Dell, the head of Dell Technologies, with an estimated net worth of slightly more than $31 billion, proclaimed that it wasn’t necessary. “I do not think it will help the growth of the U.S. economy.”
But no one could top Ken Moelis, the head of the Moelis & Co investment bank, who claimed the freshman congresswoman’s proposal would “be disastrous for the economy,” because it would take away the incentive to work. He also asked:" “What’s going to happen to the two-workforce family? You forget where 70 percent starts to kick in.”
For the record, Ocasio-Cortez would like to see that top marginal rate kick in at $10 million. I don’t know too many families earning that sort of money even if they send all their children and assorted pets to work, and I doubt you do either, unless you live next door to the owner of a hedge fund.
When you hear comments like Moelis’s stated belief that a 70 percent tax on income over $10 million is going to put an end to the two-income family, you realize that Ocasio-Cortez is the least of the problems facing the people who can afford to attend Davos.
It’s hard to blame billionaires from wanting to get together and congratulate each other on their smarts (not to mention attend many a party), but our ruling plutocrats also want to be congratulated for their unique virtue while doing so. The idea all but baked into the Davos gathering is that the elite who can afford to attend are among what was once called the best and the brightest, people who by dint of their wealth and their financial accomplishments bring an understanding of important matters, one that exceeds that of most mere mortals and voters.
In fact, in many cases, it’s the opposite. Their wealth cuts them off, allowing them their restricted vision, and I mean that literally. A few years back, a behavioral finance study determined that the wealthier people are, the less they look at other people surrounding them as they walk down the street.
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Reports on the ground say the men — and they are mostly men — attending Davos are more than a bit depressed. It’s not just that 70 percent marginal tax threat. President Trump is a last-minute no-show, thanks to the partial shutdown of the federal government he initiated and refuses to bring to an end. British Prime Minister Theresa May, still reeling from her Brexit vote defeat last week, isn’t present either. Ditto France’s Emmanuel Macron.
Fears of a global recession are thick on the ground. And then there is another top discussion item, a scolding letter penned by non-attendee Seth Klarman, the head of the Baupost Group hedge fund, who wrote, “It can’t be business as usual amid constant protests, riots, shutdowns and escalating social tensions.”
But somehow — maybe it’s that blinkered vision — the men and occasional woman at Davos mostly fail to see their personal responsibility for all that economic and political unhappiness. They don’t get that there’s a connection between, as Oxfam reported, the wealthiest 1 percent of the world population capturing 82 percent of all wealth created last year, and the increasing unrest.
Reminder: These are the sorts of people who believe the typical worker will be impacted by a tax that begins at $10 million in annual income.
As it turns out, possessing the ability to spend the tens of thousands of dollars that gains you admission to Davos (not to mention paying the absurd prices when there, like ordering a $56 hamburger) means never needing to worry about your role in the problems Klarman described, and the ones keeping the leaders of the United States, Britain and France away. It means you can surround yourself with people who will tell you it’s not your fault that the masses are angry after decades of income stagnation, while the wealthiest continue to make gain after gain. It means you can continue to pontificate about possible solutions for the mess of problems confronting the world order, while somehow exempting yourself from the sacrifice needed to solve them. And it means you don’t need to acknowledge that you are part of the problem, and not likely to be among those to offer a solution.