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.

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.

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.

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.

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
Oil producers are back at their Covid-19 lows – is it time to buy?
Oil

Oil producers are back at their Covid-19 lows – is it time to buy?

With demand for oil hammered by Covid-19 and talk of “peak oil demand”, there are lots of good reasons to be bearish on oil producers. So, asks John S…
22 Sep 2020
Jim Reid: an ”age of disorder” is looming
Global Economy

Jim Reid: an ”age of disorder” is looming

The world is headed for a new “age of disorder”, says Jim Reid, the veteran multi-asset strategist at Deutsche Bank, in the latest edition of his annu…
21 Sep 2020
The charts that matter: China’s recovery bolsters the yuan
Global Economy

The charts that matter: China’s recovery bolsters the yuan

China's strengthening currency is a sign of confidence in the country's economic recovery. John Stepek looks at the yuan chart, and all of the others …
19 Sep 2020

Most Popular

The rising dollar is proving bad news for most other assets – will it last?
Investment strategy

The rising dollar is proving bad news for most other assets – will it last?

Precious metals, stocks and pretty much every other asset has taken a tumble as the US dollar strengthens. Dominic Frisby looks at how long this trend…
23 Sep 2020
Oil producers are back at their Covid-19 lows – is it time to buy?
Oil

Oil producers are back at their Covid-19 lows – is it time to buy?

With demand for oil hammered by Covid-19 and talk of “peak oil demand”, there are lots of good reasons to be bearish on oil producers. So, asks John S…
22 Sep 2020
Why you should stuff your end-of-pandemic portfolio with Chinese stocks
China stockmarkets

Why you should stuff your end-of-pandemic portfolio with Chinese stocks

For an end-of-pandemic portfolio, you need assets that can cope with today’s volatility. And that, says Merryn Somerset Webb, means Chinese stocks.
14 Sep 2020