Am I the only person who thinks that something is seriously amiss when an individual can spend $2B on a basketball team and still have $16B left over? And this guy is only #21 on the Forbes 400 list!
It’s pretty hard to get your (or at least my) head around how big a number that is. So I looked up some government budgets for comparison. Yeah, yeah, I know that governments are inefficient and wasteful, but how can $2B for a basketball team possibly be productive? So here are a few numbers:
- The original light rail budget for Seattle was $1.7B. Ballmer could have funded the whole thing and still had $300M left over.
- For you highway lovers out there, current interstate highway construction costs in Washington run about $7-10M/mile. Ballmer could build at least 200 miles of new interstate highway for the cost of his team.
- The entire Seattle City budget is $4.4B. So he could fund five months worth of city spending instead of owning a pro sports team. Or if he was feeling generous with his entire personal fortune, he could fund everything Seattle for fours years and still have money left over.
- From 2011-2013, Washington State spent $16B on public education and an additional $12B on higher education. Ballmer could easily have funded either on of those two for a couple of years and still had billions left over.
I could go on and on, but you get the idea. I think something is wrong with our system when such vast fortunes are accumulated by individuals. And it’s only getting worse. If you look at the top ten of Forbes 400, four of them were born there having done nothing other than selecting Sam Walton as their father. Two of them, the infamous Koch brothers were born to vast inherited wealth, but they grew that wealth to make it to the very top tier. Of the top 10, only Larry Ellison came from modest circumstances.
These fortunes are so vast that it is almost impossible to spend them, so they are passed on to heirs. We’ll soon have a system of oligarchy that will make the Russians look, shall we say, communistic? Some may say that people like Bill Gates are showing the way for the ultra-rich to handle their fortunes – set up a foundation and give it all away. There are already thousands of foundations set up by the rich to give away a portion of their money. But isn’t there something unseemly about school districts going cap in hand to Mark Zuckerberg to fund public education?
With money comes power, but in the land of the free and the home of the brave, aren’t there supposed to be checks and balances to prevent the abuse of power? A concept that makes no sense to me is that money is speech. How can speech be free when someone can spend millions or billions to drown out all other voices?
I know we can’t just confiscate all that wealth, but can’t we come up with a tax system, including massive inheritance taxes to keep this aristocracy from forming in the first place? Isn’t that what the Founding Fathers would have wanted? As Thomas Jefferson said,
A power to dispose of estates for ever is manifestly absurd. The earth and the fulness of it belongs to every generation, and the preceding one can have no right to bind it up from posterity. Such extension of property is quite unnatural.
Or how about Adam Smith, aka The Godfather of capitalism, when he wrote,
There is no point more difficult to account for than the right we conceive men to have to dispose of their goods after death.
OK, I’m done ranting for a while.