Jeff Bezos’s $500 Million Superyacht Proves We Need An Obscenity Tax
We could raise $1+ trillion for healthcare and education with zero job losses
The world’s wealthiest man/most dangerous politician is making news again with the announcement that he’s building a half-billion-dollar boat.
Little is known about Oceanco Y721 beyond the basics:
- It’s 417 feet long containing several decks.
- Once finished, it will be the world’s largest three-masted schooner.
- Like all good yachts, it comes with its own support yacht and helipad.
- The annual operating cost is a cool $50 million.
And Bezos isn’t the only one buying new boats amidst a global health crisis.
- Steven Spielberg recently listed his $158 million yacht while he waits for a new one from the same company that’s building Jeff’s.
- In total, there are around 50 boats longer than 328 feet currently under construction.
I guess that’s what happens when the world’s 2,365 billionaires add $4 trillion to their net worth during a pandemic that killed millions and financially crippled millions more.
- 690 million people will go to bed hungry tonight and 9 million people will starve to death this year.
- Tens of millions of Americans struggle under the weight of housing affordability and insecurity, and 1 million people per day are forced into slums globally.
- We’re facing planetary and species collapse, rampant hyper-inflation, and a looming automation joblessness mega-crisis.
It’s time for an obscenity tax
For centuries, nations have used excise taxes to curb anti-commons behaviors like gambling, alcoholism, and coal production, among others. (And if the weak sugar tax has taught us anything, it’s that we haven’t pushed them nearly hard enough.)
- California already charges 15% on planet-killers like fossil fuels.
- D.C already charges 50% on vice products like cigarettes.
- New York already has a 75% premium cigar tax.
Clearly, profligate consumer spending is an anti-social behavior. If we lived in a real democracy, the vast majority of the human population would almost certainly vote against egregious personal expenditures such as $500 million private yachts.
That said, we don’t want to go totalitarian and totally stop people from spending the way they want to spend…
So why not charge the richest people on earth a 100% tax on completely unnecessary luxury goods?
If Zuckerberg wants to burn $12,000 on a motorized surfboard, fine.
If you want to own one of the world’s 2.5 million private jets, go for it.
You’ll just have to pay the new sales tax.
But he earned it!
Apologists are quick to suggest that billionaires really do “earn” their ten-digit net worths — a mathematically impossible feat made manifest only off the backs of untold millions of workers, menace economics, and usually a hefty dose of monopolization or financialization — and that all taxation is theft.
They are, of course, wrong on both accounts.
Some even dopily argue that everything in modern life is a luxury — iPhones, cars, wine, etc — and that’s true; but any reasonable person can accept that there are obviously levels of spending that are simply unacceptable while others suffer. Democracy should decide. (It’s ironic to think the direct democracy is the only real form of truly free-market capitalism. This must be an extremely scary thought for all the faux-free marketers who are actually just thinly disguised corporatists.)
How much an obscenity tax could raise
The potential income from taxing the obscene purchases of the ultra-elite is absolutely enormous:
- Private aviation is expected to grow to $39.84 billion by 2025.
- The fine art market/money-laundering scheme (think: Christie’s, Sotheby’s, etc.) is already a $64 billion annual scam.
- The global luxury goods market (think: LVMH, Rolex, etc.) is expected to reach $296.9 billion by 2026.
- Elites are forecasted to spend $4.5 trillion on luxury real estate by 2027.
When you add in obscenity taxes on doomsday bunkers, private islands, and pet cheetahs, our global community could re-allocate trillions towards real necessities that could improve the lives of everyone on earth.
How we could spend it
Taking back just $1+ trillion from the world’s greatest extractors could be spent on things that would vastly improve the health and future of our people and our planet:
- Give Medicare to 200+ million people.
- Send 10+ million students to university for four years.
- Power 10+ million houses with solar for 50 years.
And remember: that’s every single year.
$1 trillion might seem like a lot, but remember: the rich can afford it.
- Fortune 500 corporations are currently avoiding up to $767 billion in income taxes each year.
- Rich families are already costing us $280 billion in lost taxation each year.
- The top 0.0000003% are currently sitting on $12.39 trillion and the richest families have $32 trillion stashed in offshore tax havens.
Income and corporate tax rates for the top 1% have been falling for decades and will continue to trend in that direction — introducing an obsenity tax might be the only way to bring some sense of equality back into our global family.
Remember, this isn’t a proposal to tax any source of income that might be used to re-invest in active assets that nominally “create jobs.” Right-wingers can make no claim that this tax would be “stealing” from the “productive” economy. This is literally just a tax on outrageous personal spending.
The beauty is that, unlike income taxes and corporate taxes which are easily evaded by the elite, sales taxes are taken at source. Worst case scenario: The mega-rich stop wasting so much money on unnecessary luxury purposes.
I subscribe to the radical notion that the real needs of our global family are a far greater priority than the flaunting excesses of the elite.
Because what’s more important? The health, safety, education, economic security, and ecological sustainability of the next generation, or the purses, paintings, and superyachts of the sociopaths who clearly don’t care if the rest of us suffer and die?
We need to care less about Jeff’s boat and more about our brothers and sisters who can barely keep their heads above water.