Some politicians, often led by Senator Bernie Sanders, and social activists believe that too many Americans are wildly wealthy and too many successful corporations do not pay enough in taxes. These conditions, they argue, exist while over 11% of Americans live below the poverty line, and the pandemic drives more and more people below that level. Some of the country’s wealthiest citizens have tried to address the inequality on their own. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey donated $15 million this week to underwrite universal basic income programs in 15 cities across America which include Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Richmond, St. Paul, and New Orleans. But his action is voluntary. The larger debate is whether the richest Americans should be put into extremely high tax brackets so their wealth is available for, among other things, aid to the country’s poorest residents.
The target of a great deal of the debate about higher taxes on the rich is Jeff Bezos, the richest man in America, and perhaps the world. Bezo’s net worth is $186 billion according to the Bloomberg Billionaire Index. If he gave every American $500, his net worth would still be over $15 billion.
Bezos has been attacked for a second reason. Amazon.com, critics say, pays its workers poorly. It employees over 700,000 people. Amazon also pays a relatively low sum in taxes, and does not pay sales tax in some places, while bricks and mortar retailers do.
It is absurd to imagine the federal government will tax any meaningful part of the Bezos fortune. However, his case does show the gulf between the wealthiest Americans and those so poor they need financial aid.
The current status of a massive COVID-19 package to pay American unemployment benefits includes a White House proposal to pay individuals $600 on time, and couples $1,200. The proposal comes as unemployment benefits run out for over 12 million Americans at the end of this month. The pandemic relief packages have already helped drive the national debt up by hundreds of billions of dollars. New relief programs will push that debt figure up by another several hundred billion if they are extended into 2021.
The Bezos billionaire tax debate is merely an abstract way to look at extreme wealth as the U.S. government may send unemployed Americans a few hundred dollars in relief. And, as the government “looks for” $600 for many unemployed Americans, his wealth continues to be part of the debate, whether it should be or not.