Should we eat the rich?
The idea came to mind as I read the Forbes annual list of the 400 wealthiest people in America. Bill Gates topped the list (as usual) at $54 billion. He was followed (as usual) by Warren Buffett at $45 billion. Larry Ellison, poor guy, only took the bronze at $27 billion.
The fifth person on the list is Charles Koch. He tied for fifth with his brother David— at $21.5 billion each. Charles is a much more private person than Gates, Buffett or Ellison, but I've been at the same table with him on a number of occasions.
So I can tell you something that may surprise you. He's very much like me.
Yes, you read that right. Very much like your endearing columnist. Charles Koch graduated from M.I.T. just like I did, though not in the same year. (But his brother David graduated in 1962, as I did.)
Charles Koch married and had two children. Just like me.
Charles Koch once worked at Arthur D. Little, a consulting firm of yore. Just like me.
And Charles Koch was once on the board of directors of the National Taxpayers Union, which is where I learned all this because, yes, I was on the board of the National Taxpayers Union.
Indeed, Charles Koch and I are virtually interchangeable, except for two things. Charles Koch is handsome. And then there's that $21.5 billion.
That's a lot of money. It helps to remember what a mere billion is. It is 1,000 checks for $1 million. A billion is also the cut-off number for membership in the Forbes 400. It seems like an unbelievable amount of money, doesn't it?
And it is— until you start to imagine feeding the rich to our hungry government. According to the most recent report on federal finance, the federal deficit for the fiscal year just ending is about $1,471 billion. The estimate for the year we are just starting is $1,416 billion. That's about $118 billion a month, nearly $4 billion a day.
So let's imagine a little conveyor belt constructed for the sole purpose of feeding the government enough rich people that it can pay all its bills without borrowing. Organized in November, the money squad goes to Gates and Buffett and tells them, "Sorry, but the government has better uses for your money than all that tacky charitable foundation stuff. Everything you have will be liquidated for the public good, this month."
Unfortunately, Gates and Buffett total only $99 billion. This is just enough to cover the deficit from Nov. 1 to Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 25. So the money squad makes a quick trip to pick up Larry Ellison. They tell him the government has better uses for his money than building mega-yachts. His $27 billion will fund the deficit for another seven days, taking us to Dec. 2.
The money squad has to work a bit harder in December because personal fortunes shrink rapidly as you go down the wealth list. What you could do with only three rich people in November takes six in December. The first Walton heir (Christy, with $24 billion) picks up on Dec. 3. The Koch brothers are brought in after Christy, and MIT loses its two biggest likely donors. Heir Jim Walton (Forbes No. 7, with $20.1 billion) is brought in to get through Christmas Day. The last Walton (S. Robson, $19.7 billion) is brought in to get past New Year's Day.
The first person the money squad gets in January is Michael Bloomberg (No. 10, at $18 billion), but by the end of the month Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page have been fed to the deficit, as have Sheldon Adelson (casinos, $14.7 billion), Michael Dell (computers, $14 billion), George Soros (investments, $14.2 billion), Steve Ballmer (Microsoft, $13.1 billion) and Paul Allen (Microsoft, $12.7 billion). In three months we've gone through the top 17 wealth holders in America. The number required each month is rising.
It will take 11 more to finance the February deficit and about 27 to finance the March deficit. We might go through the first 100 by the end of April. We'd go through the next 100 in May, the third 100 in two or three weeks and the last 100 in a bit over a week— by the end of June. So, in about nine months every single member of the Forbes 400 list (and every enterprise they owned) would be history.
A sober person might conclude we either need a lot more rich people or a less hungry government.