Why Can’t Billionaires Advance the Common Good

  1. Almost every country has billionaires. Even Venezuela and Zimbabwe each has one billionaire.
  2. The U.S. has the largest number of billionaires, around 624.
  3. China has the second largest number of billionaires, 390. Not bad for a country professing communism. In fact, the number of Chinese billionaires is even higher, because Hong Kong is listed separately with 66 billionaires, and independent Taiwan adds additional 40 Chinese billionaires.
  4. Germany has 110 billionaires, Russia has 102 billionaires, followed by India with 94 billionaires.
  5. Each of the remaining countries has fewer than 100 billionaires, with many in Australia, Canada, France, Switzerland.
  6. I would guess that there are more billionaires who were not known by Forbes or not counted because their wealth couldn’t be estimated. This would include royals, dictators, and criminals. I would venture that the world has somewhere between 2,000 to 2,200 billionaires. The estimated total net wealth of the world’s billionaires is over $8 trillion.
  1. The billionaires suddenly realize that the Common Good of the planet is an important goal for them, so they join forces to save humanity and Nature,
  2. Our governments make billionaires pay their “fair share” of taxes, or
  3. Society decides that billionaires shouldn’t exist, and our governments simply tax them out of existence.
  • Inherited Wealth: around 60 percent of wealth in the US is inherited. The best chance you have of becoming a billionaire is to marry or be born into intergenerational riches.
  • Monopolies: Jeff Bezos’ Amazon accounts for nearly 50 percent of all e-commerce retail sales in America. Our patent and trademark systems, which have been extended in duration, create billionaire like George Lucas and Oprah Winfrey.
  • Insider Information: Hedge fund billionaire Steven A. Cohen made “hundreds of millions of dollars of illegal profits” — through his expertise in insider trading. This is not an isolated incident.
  • Politics: You can invest in politicians — or even bet on them, like racehorses — through your timely campaign contributions. Americans for Tax Fairness estimates that Charles Koch and David Koch and/or Koch Industries could save between $1 billion and $1.4 billion combined in income taxes each year from the Trump tax law―and that doesn’t include how much the Koch Industries save in taxes on offshore profits or how much their heirs will benefit from weakening the estate tax.
  • Tax avoidance through offshore tax loopholes is a significant reason why corporations, which paid one-third of federal revenues 60 years ago, now pay one-tenth of federal revenues.
  • U.S. corporations dodge $90 billion a year in income taxes by shifting profits to subsidiaries — often no more than a post office box — in tax havens.
  • U.S. corporations hold $2.1 trillion in profits offshore — much in tax havens — that have not been taxed in the U.S.
  • General Electric, which uses a loophole for offshore financial profits, earned $27.5 billion in profits from 2008 to 2012 but claimed tax refunds of $3.1 billion.
  • Apple made $74 billion from 2009–2012 on worldwide sales (excluding the Americas) and paid almost nothing in taxes to any country.
  • 26 profitable Fortune 500 firms paid no federal income taxes from 2008–2012. 111 large, profitable corporations paid zero federal income taxes in at least one of those five years.
  1. lower the tax-exempt amount to a much lower number, and
  2. increase the tax rate on the remaining amount from 40% to a much higher number — say 70%.
  • Risks to charitable independent sector organizations include increased volatility and unpredictability in funding, making it more difficult to budget and forecast income into the future; an increased need to shift toward major donor cultivation; and an increased bias toward funding heavily major-donor-directed boutique organizations and projects. The increasing power of a small number of donors also greatly increases the potential for mission distortion.
  • Risks to the public include an increasingly unaccountable and undemocratic philanthropic sector; the rise of tax avoidance philanthropy; the warehousing of wealth in the face of urgent needs; self-dealing philanthropy; and the increasing use of philanthropy as an extension of power and privilege protection.
  1. ensure the public is given access to the truth, and protected from misinformation and “alternative facts.”
  2. ensure elections will be fair and free (without the imposition of poll taxes, and other suppression techniques)
  3. promote policies for the Common Good, instead of tax-breaks that serve narrow, special interests.

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