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Saturday, March 25, 2023

Hiltzik: Elon Musk proves why the billionaire tax is so important

Thanks to Elon Musk, who is often considered the richest man in the world, we now have a good clue if anyone has too much money. The clue is when he turns tax policy into a Twitter game.

On Saturday, Musk responded to a proposal to impose a tax on the wealth of billionaires by running a Twitter poll asking subscribers if he should sell 10% of his shares in Tesla, an electric car company. He promised to “abide by the results of this poll, in any case.”

The final vote was for the sale, 57.9% versus 42.1%, with over 3.5 million votes cast.

Musk’s approach has drawn objections from people who think seriously, rather than capriciously, about the social and economic consequences of concentrated wealth.

One of them is Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, who prepared a proposal that infuriated Musk. Wieden’s plan, which did not survive the legislative concessions on Capitol Hill, taxed unrealized gains on fixed assets such as stocks every year. Under current law, capital gains are not taxed until the asset is sold, giving wealthy people a convenient means to avoid paying taxes for years, decades, and even forever.

“Whether the world’s richest man pays taxes at all shouldn’t depend on the results of the Twitter poll,” Wyden tweeted.

As of June 30, Musk owned 244 million Tesla shares, or about 23% of its shares. This includes 73.5 million shares that Musk must pay out as a result of the exercise of the 2012 stock options that expire at the end of August 2022.

Musk’s overall assessment of his fortune is heavily influenced by Tesla’s stock price, which at the time of this writing was around $ 1,181. Thus, Musk’s stake was about $ 288 billion.

Musk’s Twitter campaign against Wyden’s tax proposal reflects how he used social media to defend the wealth privilege. 42 Last month, after David Beasley, director of the UN World Food Program, called on the world’s billionaires to “step up” the fight against world hunger, commenting on CNN that $ 6 billion, or about 2% of Musk’s fortune, could “help.” millions of people who will literally die if we do not achieve them, ”Musk replied sarcastically.

“If WFP can accurately describe on this Twitter thread how $ 6 billion will solve world hunger, I will sell Tesla shares right now and do it,” he wrote. Beasley offered to fly anywhere to meet Musk for an explanation. There is no indication that Musk has accepted the offer.

Musk’s exchange with Beasley highlighted an important question posed by the unprecedented concentration of wealth in America and the world today: Do we really want solutions to pressing social problems left to the discretion of a tiny handful of ultra-rich people like Musk? To ask a question is to answer it.

Musk waged war on Wyden’s tax proposal before conducting his Twitter poll: “After all, they run out of other people’s money and they come for you,” he tweeted on October 25. There is no evidence that such an idea was considered, especially given the Democrats’ reluctance to raise taxes for the middle class, however defined.

No, the billionaire tax was targeted exactly where it was indicated – the ever-expanding class of America’s billionaires. No one knows better than 1% to evade taxes or push for changes in the tax code that are legally beneficial to them.

Musk’s claim that taxing his majestic wealth would result in higher taxes for ordinary Americans is just bragging. He protects his wealth, don’t think otherwise. His willingness to manipulate public opinion to keep his pockets full is the best proof that the billionaire tax is desperately needed.

Michael Hilzik is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times. © 2021 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by the Tribune content agency.

World Nation News Desk
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