By John Taylor; 2012 Apr 25, 168 BE
Book Review: The Trouble with Billionaires, by Linda McQuaig and Neil Brooks, Viking Inc., Toronto, 2010
Whenever I pick up a book by Linda McQuaig, I cannot put it down until I have read it cover to cover. I find her strangely compelling. She always seems to grasp the essence of what a good journalist should be investigating. This, her latest volume, is even better and more authoritative than usual because she teams up with a law professor and taxation expert, Neil Brooks. Together they take on the self-serving lies that the rich, who are nothing better than the hogs who happen to be closest to the trough, come up with to justify their unfair position in accumulating wealth. It is a joy to see their drivel so effectively refuted in this book.
The wealthy love to delude themselves. They loudly proclaim that they are rich because they deserve to be rich. They repeat this Big Lie so often that lately a great number of gullible but otherwise intelligent people are conceding that they might be right. Maybe innovation, talent and skill were what got them their affluence, and not just the fact that they are just pigs that happen to be standing right next to the slop pail.
In a time when billions of people do not have enough to eat, and billions more do not have the resources to live a decent, productive life, it is important to grasp the enormity of the evil that these few billionaires, the notorious one percent, are perpetrating on the human race. Their lies are so big that they make Hitler's big lie and the mere sixty million murders that he committed seem trivial by comparison.
I will not attempt to review "The Trouble with Billionaires" in the usual way. You can read an excellent review of the book at the Amazon website at:
If you want a taste of the book, there is an excerpt at:
Using a new scanner I just bought, I have OCR'ed the table of contents of Trouble with Billionaires. What I will do then is that instead of a normal book review I will comment on certain chapters of the book in the order written.
Chapter One: Return of the Plutocrats
The book starts off in an unexpected way. It is the most innovative opening for a non-fiction book I've seen in a while. It should win them some kind of a book prize. The problem they address is that most people think of a billionaire as little more than a millionaire spelt with a "b." You have to use nine rather than six zeros to write the digits for "one billion," but that does not convey what a huge number you are dealing with. Here is how they get around that problem.
Imagine this: you are given one dollar every second.
At that rate, after one minute, you would have sixty dollars. And after twelve days, you would be a millionaire -- something beyond most people's wildest dreams.
But how long would it take to become a billionaire?
Well, at that rate, it would take almost thirty-two years.
Being a billionaire isn't just beyond most people's wildest dreams, it's likely beyond their comprehension.
Another way to grasp the sheer size of billionaires' fortunes is to imagine how long it would take Bill Gates, generally considered the world's richest man, to count his $53 billion. If he counted it at the same rate -- one dollar every second -- and he counted non-stop day and night, he'd have it all tallied up in 1,680 years. Or still another way to look at it: if Bill Gates had started counting his fortune at that rate back in AD 330 -- the year the Roman emperor Constantine had his wife boiled alive and chose Byzantium as the empire's new capital -- he'd just be finishing up now." (p. 1)
A billion is, then, a rather large sum. Of course, so is a billion people. A billion people living in total, miserable, avoidable indigence. Don't get me started on that wrong. Suffice to say, our descendants will not be saying "oriental tyranny, cruelty and wealth," they will be talking about early twenty-first century billionaires' tyranny, cruelty and conspicuous consumption.
The point is that all this wealth is our common inheritance from the past. These funds were earned and generated not by the wealthy few, but by previous generations of inventors, thinkers and workers. "Innovation," they write, "is accumulated social capital: if most of what we are able to create is inherited from the past, it seems reasonable that any resulting windfall should go back to society." They make this point over and over, and illustrate it with many examples. It is a point that should be drilled into everybody now, but a press that is, not incidentally, owned by billionaires, is not likely do any of that debunking. You have to read books like this one to find it out.
Chapter Two: Why Pornography Is the Only True Free Market
The hog squeals: "Do not tax me because I earned my billions fair and square." The hog wants a totally free market, ignoring the fact that markets are the product of laws, government and taxes. Without that, the one percenters would not be able to squeeze a penny out of the rest of us. The authors make this point by describing the sad case of porn stars. These "sex trade workers" make relatively little money, compared to Hollywood stars, because the police tend to be lax in protecting them from being pirated. Porn is widely copied and distributed for free on the Internet. No matter how talented a porn star may be, he or she does not rake in money hand over fist like a billionaire, protected by intellectual property laws, even ones who are non-talented, who inherit their wealth.
Millionaires and the Crash of 1929
The only time when wealth was concentrated into as few hands as now was just before the Great Depression. Enough said.
Billionaires and the Crash of 2008
Now that billionaires have dismantled the many protections erected after the Great Depression, the Great Recession and its jobless recovery have set upon us. The cause is clear, too much concentration of wealth. When the wealthy get more money, they fritter it away gambling on the stock market. Speculation and gambling have a negative effect on society. When normal people get money, they buy things from productive businesses, which bolsters the general prosperity. They are even known to share wealth with the poor. When billionaires give, they support facilities frequented by the very rich, opera houses, golf courses, etc. Oh, and they also give to political parties so that they will lower taxes even more.
Why Bill Gates Does Not Deserve His Fortune
Bill Gates is the poster boy for billionaires, a self made man. Except that he is not quite the saint that he is made out to be. His sordid story of betraying and stealing an operating system from the guy who actually wrote an innovative OS is told here.
Why Other Billionaires Are Even Less Deserving
Bernard Shaw, who was not unfamiliar with the very rich, said that behind every great fortune there lies a great crime. This is still true, only much, much worse. Sordid stories are told here of gamblers whose rash behaviour resulted in billion dollar payoffs while many other smaller players lost everything are told here.
Hank Aaron and the Myths about Motivation
Hank Aaron in the 1970's broke baseball records while making a relatively modest salary. Current athletes, less so, but they make up for it with their multimillion dollar pay checks, and with their creative substance abuse. Everybody with the slightest claim to talent is cashing in on the greedy myths popularized by the very rich.
Taking the Fun Out of Tax Havens
One of the ways billionaires feather their own nest is by doing all they can to glorify the crime of tax evasion, and the antisocial practice of tax avoidance. In reality, anybody who does either should be ashamed to call themselves a citizen. The story is told here of two terrorists. One, a Muslim from a poor country, the other a wealthy nutball who read too much of the billionaires' propaganda and took it into his head to fly an airplane into an IRS building in Texas, killing one of its tax collectors. The first terrorist is universally condemned by all in the media. The daughter of the second is handed questions from toadying reporters like, "Do you think your father was a hero?"
This is my favourite chapter, because it not only lays out the problem of tax evasion and tax havens, it points out how ridiculously simple it would be to solve it. It is so easy, you would have to wonder why nobody has done it. After all (this is not in the book), the current president before he was elected pledged to eliminate these so-called "offshore" banks. Yet nothing has been done about it yet. Such is the power of the closest hog to the slop. Anyway, I cannot resist closing by including the solution to these banks whose money laundering enables billionaires, organized crime and other, more small time crooks.
All that is encouraging, but falls considerably short of what's actually needed to stem the extensive use of tax havens and the considerable damage they do to national treasuries.
In fact, the solution is quite simple and easy to implement.
What's needed is not just a promise from tax haven countries to adhere to international standards, but a requirement that all financial institutions, whenever they make a payment to a client, report that payment to the tax authorities of the country where the client resides.
The report would be automatic, in electronic form, and include a unique number to identify the client. That way, all governments around the world would be notified of all payments made to their wealthy citizens, and be able to tax them accordingly -- in the same way that governments receive notification from domestic banks about payments to citizens within the country, and use that information to verify their tax returns.
Such a system could be enforced by an existing body like the World Trade Organization, the Bank of International Settlements, or the United Nations. It would be particularly beneficial to Third World nations, which badly need the money parked overseas and have few resources to track down wealthy drug lords and other rich people determined not to share their resources with their abjectly poor fellow citizens.
Perhaps this scheme sounds too ambitious, but in fact it's no more complex than the international system of passports, which works well and with few compliance problems. Each passport has a unique identification number. Every time a person crosses a border, her number is swiped into a computer, which instantly discloses information about her. Transmitting an electronic record of all payments made by tax haven banks would be no more complicated than that. It turns out that, among the benefits of the computer age are not only video games, but the easy tracking and taxation of the gigantic hidden fortunes of the world's billionaires. (p. 139)