Elizabeth Warren makes fresh push for wealth tax – 'Yes, Jeff Bezos, I'm looking at you'

Business

CNBC 28 July, 2021 - 12:39pm 70 views

Sen. Elizabeth Warren on Wednesday reignited her push for a tax on the wealth of the richest Americans and called out billionaire Amazon founder and space-tourism magnate Jeff Bezos for what she views as his failure to pay his fair share.

"I want to see us tax wealth, however your wealth is tied up. It shouldn't make a difference whether you have real estate, or whether you have cash or whether you have a bazillion shares of Amazon. Yes, Jeff Bezos, I'm looking at you," the Massachusetts Democrat said on CNBC's "Squawk Box."

"Whatever form you have your assets — diamonds, yachts, paintings — I think there ought to be a tax on that annually," she added.

Bezos is the wealthiest person on Earth with a net worth of $207.7 billion, according to Forbes.

Amazon didn't immediately respond to a CNBC request for comment on behalf of Bezos.

Read more of CNBC's politics coverage:

A wealth tax, one of the most hotly debated tax proposals, has grown in popularity with populist and progressive politicians as a means to combat economic inequality.

During her 2020 presidential campaign, Warren proposed a 2% annual "ultra-millionaire tax" on net worth over $50 million and 6% on fortunes of more than $1 billion. The revenues generated from such a tax — $2.7 trillion over a decade, according to the Wharton School — would have been deployed to improve health care, child care, housing and education programs.

Warren mentioned Bezos multiple times during her interview, arguing that he and others have unfairly avoided paying into the U.S. tax system thanks to low annual book income and borrowing against his most valuable asset — his Amazon stock holdings.

"Jeff Bezos has not paid taxes on the wealth that he has," she said. He is worth "a bazillion dollars. He has not paid taxes on all of that wealth. ... In fact, Jeff Bezos, many years, has either paid nothing in taxes or has paid 1%."

Her barbs at Bezos came just over a week after the e-commerce tycoon rocketed to the edge of space with his space-tourism company, Blue Origin.

"For every Amazon customer out there and every Amazon employee, thank you from the bottom of my heart very much. It's very appreciated," Bezos said after his flight.

The tourism market is a sliver of an estimated $420 billion space economy

The launch marked Blue Origin's entrance into the market of private spaceflight, joining Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic — its direct competitor in the sector of suborbital tourism — and Elon Musk's SpaceX.

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Elizabeth Warren makes fresh push for wealth tax – 'Yes, Jeff Bezos, I'm looking at you'

Forbes 28 July, 2021 - 08:15am

Sen. Elizabeth Warren on Wednesday reignited her push for a tax on the wealth of the richest Americans and called out billionaire Amazon founder and space-tourism magnate Jeff Bezos for what she views as his failure to pay his fair share.

"I want to see us tax wealth, however your wealth is tied up. It shouldn't make a difference whether you have real estate, or whether you have cash or whether you have a bazillion shares of Amazon. Yes, Jeff Bezos, I'm looking at you," the Massachusetts Democrat said on CNBC's "Squawk Box."

"Whatever form you have your assets — diamonds, yachts, paintings — I think there ought to be a tax on that annually," she added.

Bezos is the wealthiest person on Earth with a net worth of $207.7 billion, according to Forbes.

Amazon didn't immediately respond to a CNBC request for comment on behalf of Bezos.

Read more of CNBC's politics coverage:

A wealth tax, one of the most hotly debated tax proposals, has grown in popularity with populist and progressive politicians as a means to combat economic inequality.

During her 2020 presidential campaign, Warren proposed a 2% annual "ultra-millionaire tax" on net worth over $50 million and 6% on fortunes of more than $1 billion. The revenues generated from such a tax — $2.7 trillion over a decade, according to the Wharton School — would have been deployed to improve health care, child care, housing and education programs.

Warren mentioned Bezos multiple times during her interview, arguing that he and others have unfairly avoided paying into the U.S. tax system thanks to low annual book income and borrowing against his most valuable asset — his Amazon stock holdings.

"Jeff Bezos has not paid taxes on the wealth that he has," she said. He is worth "a bazillion dollars. He has not paid taxes on all of that wealth. ... In fact, Jeff Bezos, many years, has either paid nothing in taxes or has paid 1%."

Her barbs at Bezos came just over a week after the e-commerce tycoon rocketed to the edge of space with his space-tourism company, Blue Origin.

"For every Amazon customer out there and every Amazon employee, thank you from the bottom of my heart very much. It's very appreciated," Bezos said after his flight.

The tourism market is a sliver of an estimated $420 billion space economy

The launch marked Blue Origin's entrance into the market of private spaceflight, joining Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic — its direct competitor in the sector of suborbital tourism — and Elon Musk's SpaceX.

Got a confidential news tip? We want to hear from you.

Sign up for free newsletters and get more CNBC delivered to your inbox

Get this delivered to your inbox, and more info about our products and services. 

Data is a real-time snapshot *Data is delayed at least 15 minutes. Global Business and Financial News, Stock Quotes, and Market Data and Analysis.

William Watson: Four cheers for Jeff Bezos

Financial Post 27 July, 2021 - 10:00am

All of that may be true. Or not. One funny thing about the human condition is that none of us can predict the future — though for some reason most of us keep trying. When someone undertakes a major enterprise, which Bezos is certainly doing, nobody actually knows what will happen. It may succeed beyond anyone’s wildest expectations, as Bezos’ first major project, Amazon, did. Time was when Amazon was a river. Not any more, not after Bezos and his ex-wife, MacKenzie Scott, started selling books out of their garage just 26 years ago.

Even after the fact it’s hard to assess influence. The Apollo program certainly changed the world, even beyond giving us Teflon, Tang and Velcro (none of which NASA actually invented though it used them a lot and in so doing helped promote them). But how and how much it changed the world are impossible to say without re-running history, which for the time being the human condition does not allow.

Let me pause for a second and get the obligatory identity stuff out of the way. I am a male of a certain age and spent a good part of my childhood and teen years glued to black-and-white broadcasts of American space launches, first Mercury, then Gemini and finally Apollo. And though I’m skeptical of visions of lunar and Mars colonization — the distances and lift requirements are just too great and we’d have to find another word than “colonization” — I think just about everything space-related is fascinating.

But what I or anyone else thinks is not the point. The point is that, unlike the authoritarians who oppose us, we are the free society. We’re the society built on the assumption that no one person or party has access to the truth or understands how the future will unfold. So we let people try things and see how it goes. We welcome, we embrace individual initiative. We are the system of free enterprise. If you want to undertake something, be our guest. Give it a try. Pursue your vision and/or dream. See how, or if, it works out.

Columnists and other boo-birds will issue catcalls and dismissive tweets. That’s our system, too. Everybody gets their say. If you can’t stand the heat, get away from the launch pad. But we don’t shut you down for dreaming and daring.

But if you’re fit, willing and able, as the regulatory jargon has it, and can satisfy the rules designed to protect innocent third parties from having your space junk fall on their heads, then go for it.

Bezos had the humility and, I thought, good grace after returning to Earth conscious and intact to thank Amazon customers and workers “because you guys paid for all of this” — a sentiment for which he naturally got pilloried on social media. Pilloried is his usual position on social media.

But he was merely recognizing reality. Without Amazon Bezos would never have been the richest man in the world. But without Bezos and MacKenzie Scott there would never have been an Amazon. Sure, given the new technology, somebody eventually would have figured out you could sell just about everything online. So Bezos and Scott have to be thankful for their historical context, as we all do. But Bezos and Scott were the ones who saw the opportunity and took advantage of it. None of the rest of us did.

“Took advantage” has a double meaning, of course. But the Amazon customers and workers Bezos thanked have not been conscripted or press-ganged. They have interacted with Amazon on a voluntary basis. And the mountain of money he has made he has made honestly — though antitrust authorities in various jurisdictions naturally have made their inquiries. If, say, 10 per cent of what he has made has come from what ultimately will be judged to have been anti-competitive practices, that still leaves him with way more than he needs to run the Washington Post and spend the billion dollars a year he reportedly devotes to space.

It’s his money. He wants to spend it this way. It’s a free country. More freedom to him.

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William Watson: Four cheers for Jeff Bezos

Business Insider 27 July, 2021 - 10:00am

All of that may be true. Or not. One funny thing about the human condition is that none of us can predict the future — though for some reason most of us keep trying. When someone undertakes a major enterprise, which Bezos is certainly doing, nobody actually knows what will happen. It may succeed beyond anyone’s wildest expectations, as Bezos’ first major project, Amazon, did. Time was when Amazon was a river. Not any more, not after Bezos and his ex-wife, MacKenzie Scott, started selling books out of their garage just 26 years ago.

Even after the fact it’s hard to assess influence. The Apollo program certainly changed the world, even beyond giving us Teflon, Tang and Velcro (none of which NASA actually invented though it used them a lot and in so doing helped promote them). But how and how much it changed the world are impossible to say without re-running history, which for the time being the human condition does not allow.

Let me pause for a second and get the obligatory identity stuff out of the way. I am a male of a certain age and spent a good part of my childhood and teen years glued to black-and-white broadcasts of American space launches, first Mercury, then Gemini and finally Apollo. And though I’m skeptical of visions of lunar and Mars colonization — the distances and lift requirements are just too great and we’d have to find another word than “colonization” — I think just about everything space-related is fascinating.

But what I or anyone else thinks is not the point. The point is that, unlike the authoritarians who oppose us, we are the free society. We’re the society built on the assumption that no one person or party has access to the truth or understands how the future will unfold. So we let people try things and see how it goes. We welcome, we embrace individual initiative. We are the system of free enterprise. If you want to undertake something, be our guest. Give it a try. Pursue your vision and/or dream. See how, or if, it works out.

Columnists and other boo-birds will issue catcalls and dismissive tweets. That’s our system, too. Everybody gets their say. If you can’t stand the heat, get away from the launch pad. But we don’t shut you down for dreaming and daring.

But if you’re fit, willing and able, as the regulatory jargon has it, and can satisfy the rules designed to protect innocent third parties from having your space junk fall on their heads, then go for it.

Bezos had the humility and, I thought, good grace after returning to Earth conscious and intact to thank Amazon customers and workers “because you guys paid for all of this” — a sentiment for which he naturally got pilloried on social media. Pilloried is his usual position on social media.

But he was merely recognizing reality. Without Amazon Bezos would never have been the richest man in the world. But without Bezos and MacKenzie Scott there would never have been an Amazon. Sure, given the new technology, somebody eventually would have figured out you could sell just about everything online. So Bezos and Scott have to be thankful for their historical context, as we all do. But Bezos and Scott were the ones who saw the opportunity and took advantage of it. None of the rest of us did.

“Took advantage” has a double meaning, of course. But the Amazon customers and workers Bezos thanked have not been conscripted or press-ganged. They have interacted with Amazon on a voluntary basis. And the mountain of money he has made he has made honestly — though antitrust authorities in various jurisdictions naturally have made their inquiries. If, say, 10 per cent of what he has made has come from what ultimately will be judged to have been anti-competitive practices, that still leaves him with way more than he needs to run the Washington Post and spend the billion dollars a year he reportedly devotes to space.

It’s his money. He wants to spend it this way. It’s a free country. More freedom to him.

A welcome email is on its way. If you don't see it, please check your junk folder.

The next issue of Financial Post Top Stories will soon be in your inbox.

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Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user you follow comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.

© 2021 Financial Post, a division of Postmedia Network Inc. All rights reserved. Unauthorized distribution, transmission or republication strictly prohibited.

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