Should Billionaires Even Exist?

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You know what’s not cool anymore? Billionaires.

Their very existence is now the subject of political debate, sparked most recently by tax-the-rich proposals from two prominent politicians.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) proposed placing a 2 percent tax on wealth over $50 million and 3 percent on assets over $1 billion. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) said she wants to increase the marginal tax rate on those earning more than $10 million a year.

Their ideas went viral, starting a mainstream conversation about inequality and wealth.

This kind of talk has always existed among a certain group of hard-core progressives and left-leaning economists, but heading into next year’s presidential election, the idea that the super-rich should pay their fair share is gaining real momentum.

Marshall Steinbaum, a research director at the left-leaning Roosevelt Institute, has advocated taxing the rich at higher rates for years. “We do not need billionaires,” Steinbaum told HuffPost. “The economy’s done better without billionaires in the past.”

For Steinbaum, higher taxes on the wealthy would mean freeing up more money for everyone else. If you think of the economy as a pie, right now, billionaires are getting just about all of it, while we’re all left splitting just one slice.

If you raise taxes on the richest, their incentive to grab at every morsel declines. The theory is they’ll fight a little less hard to depress everyone else’s wages if they know that every extra million is going to get taxed away. A high-paid CEO has less incentive to keep workers’ wages low so he can get a bigger payday.

Billionaires were once a rare breed. In the past few decades, as the U.S. has slashed tax rates, their numbers have exploded, far outpacing inflation.

Since 2008, the number of billionaires in the world has doubled, according to a report published last week by the anti-poverty nonprofit Oxfam. In just the last year, billionaires raked in an astonishing $2.5 billion each day.

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