Why America needs more billionaires

Perhaps the super-rich should pay higher taxes, but they aren't a sign of capitalist immorality. They're a sign of economic vibrancy.

(Image credit: Illustrated | ONYXprj/iStock, Tania Bondar/iStock, RosLilly/iStock)

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has an issue with the superrich. At at Martin Luther King Jr. Day event in Harlem, writer Ta-Nehisi Coates asked the new House member, a New York Democrat and democratic socialist, if a "world that allows for billionaires" has produced "a moral outcome in and of itself." Coates wasn't quite finished with his question when Ocasio-Cortez interjected: "No. No, it's not." She quickly qualified that sweeping statement by allowing that "not all billionaires were immoral," citing Bill Gates and Warren Buffett as examples, perhaps because of their philanthropy. Both have pledged to give away most of their fortunes.

So it's the game Ocasio-Cortez claims to hate — "a system that allows billionaires to exist" amid poverty — not the players, at least perhaps if they are charitable. Yet surely a billionaire can represent a "moral outcome" just by being good at business and selling a good or service that people value. Take Gates, for example. Microsoft, the company he co-founded with Paul Allen, helped revolutionize home computing, generated massive wealth for retirement plans everywhere, and created hundreds of thousands of jobs over the decades. (Indeed, the American tech sector, while producing lots of billionaires, also produces jobs with annual compensation twice the U.S. average). Surely, Gates' lifework wasn't a net negative for society until he decided to start the Gates Foundation and fund efforts to boost education and reduce global poverty.

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James Pethokoukis

James Pethokoukis is the DeWitt Wallace Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute where he runs the AEIdeas blog. He has also written for The New York Times, National Review, Commentary, The Weekly Standard, and other places.