Advertisement
Editor's letter

The world has had enough of billionaires

As the tide of public opinion turns against those with too much money, there could be uncomfortable times ahead for the world's billionaires, says Merryn Somerset Webb.

933_MW_P03_Ed-Letter
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: no one's laughing now

Well. It rather looks like we have had enough of billionaires. Flick through the headlines written during Davos a few weeks ago and you'll see a pretty clear change in the trend. "Forget philanthropy. The super rich should just pay their taxes," said The Observer (some do by the way). "Great and good on top of a mountain at Davos see ground shift beneath their feet," said The Times.

Advertisement - Article continues below

The "great annual jamboree of the globalists in Davos... felt out of tune with the times", said The Daily Telegraph. "No more heroes for a global elite," said the Financial Times.

Look at the bits and bobs from the conference that filtered down to the rest of us and you will feel it too. A clip of a Danish historian complaining about how, amid all the mutterings about social justice, no one is talking about the super-rich paying their taxes ("I feel like I am at a firefighters' conference and no one is allowed to talk about water") went viral fast, and the most discussed non-participant was probably New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a rising star in the Democratic party thanks to her idea that imposing a 70% rate of income tax on the very rich would be a fine idea.

Advertisement
Advertisement - Article continues below

Ocasio-Cortez would (quite rightly) have been laughed off the mountain a decade ago. No more. It's now being discussed earnestly across the US as a perfectly viable policy option. So bad has it got for billionaires in the last few months that the very word is no longer the badge of pride it once was. Pity poor Howard Schultz, ex-Starbucks boss, billionaire and US presidential hopeful (for now). He doesn't want to be a billionaire any more. In a television interview this week he asked to be referred to as a "person of means" instead.

Advertisement - Article continues below

What, you might wonder, is wrong with billionaires? Regular MoneyWeek readers will know that part of what's wrong with a lot of them is the fact that (with many honourable entrepreneurial exceptions) they often exist as a result of mismanaged monetary policy (free money can do a lot if you use it right); badly thought-out regulation; politically unacceptablerent-seeking; corruption; asset bubbles; a failure of anti-trust rules; or some miserable mixture of the lot (see our cover story for how this can affect the economies of emerging markets and of course which economies are most insulated from it).

But the other part, says this week's interviewee Anand Giridharadas, is their endless patronising self-righteous do-goodery and tendency to "richsplain" (my new favourite word) problems to us, combined with their failure to actually accept any possibility of the kind of structural change that might involve any inconvenience for them.

Take Amazon's chief executiveJeff Bezos. We do not need him to help a small number of homeless people out, says Giridharadas. We need him to stop putting small bookshops out of business and to pay Amazon staff properly whatever the long-term impact on his own power might be. So if you are one of MoneyWeek's billionaire, or even millionaire, readers, should you be worried? Possibly.

The political and tax tides are turningfast. There could be uncomfortable times ahead for the people who have what other people consider to be too many means.

Advertisement
Advertisement

Recommended

How long can the good times roll?
Economy

How long can the good times roll?

Despite all the doom and gloom that has dominated our headlines for most of 2019, Britain and most of the rest of the developing world is currently en…
19 Dec 2019
The charts that matter: gold finally sets a new record high 
Global Economy

The charts that matter: gold finally sets a new record high 

As gold surges past its previous high, John Stepek looks at how it's affected the charts that matter most to the global economy.
1 Aug 2020
Gold bugs' dreams are coming true – but we could still see a V-shaped recovery
Gold

Gold bugs' dreams are coming true – but we could still see a V-shaped recovery

John and Merryn talk about how it's perfectly reasonable to expect a V-shaped recovery and to continue holding gold as well. Plus, inflation, staycati…
30 Jul 2020
How the dearth of babies will affect the global economy
Global Economy

How the dearth of babies will affect the global economy

The world’s population is going to peak before the century is out and then enter into a big decline, putting serious pressure on economic growth, acco…
25 Jul 2020

Most Popular

Gold hits the big $2,000 level – are Aim miners about to play catch up?
Gold

Gold hits the big $2,000 level – are Aim miners about to play catch up?

With the price of gold shooting through $2,000 an ounce, the yellow metal looks unstoppable. Things are so bullish, even Aim-listed junior gold miners…
5 Aug 2020
Don’t despair on dividends – these companies could be set to bring them back
Income investing

Don’t despair on dividends – these companies could be set to bring them back

The value of dividends paid out by UK stocks has plummeted this year as companies “rebase” their payment policies. But things could soon start to look…
6 Aug 2020
Too embarrassed to ask: what is “real return”?
Too embarrassed to ask

Too embarrassed to ask: what is “real return”?

MoneyWeek's latest "too embarrassed to ask” video explains what a real return is and why it's so important for investors.
5 Aug 2020