Speaking at a NY Times conference yesterday, Bill Gates diplomatically suggested Elizabeth Warren’s wealth tax might be taking things too far. Asked about the proposal, Gates said he’d like to see someone find a middle-ground.
“I think the span of the two parties, in terms of where they are on taxation, has never been so broad,” Gates said. He continued, “You have one party reducing corporate taxes, still supporting carried interest, taxes on capital are way, way less than on labor, and the estate tax they’re still talking about ‘Hey, that’s a bad thing that a dead person should pay part of their weatlh…And now on the other side you have, as you say, a six percent wealth tax.
“I happen to believe something in the middle.” Gates added that he was “all for super-progressive tax systems” but also cautioned that “if you tax too much you do risk the capital formation, innovation…I do think you risk that.”
Gates went on to say that he’d paid more than $10 billion in taxes. “I’ve paid more than anyone in taxes,” he suggested, which brought a laugh from the crowd. “If I’d had to pay $20 billion, it’s fine. But when you say I should pay $100 billion, okay, then I’m starting to do a little math about what I have left over,” he said but then added he was “kidding.” “You really want the incentive system to be there and you can go a long ways without threatening that,” Gates concluded.
Asked if he’d be willing to meet with Elizabeth Warren, Gates’ replied, “You know I’m not sure how open minded she is or that she’d even be willing to sit down with someone who has large amounts of money.”
Warren responded to that statement on Twitter yesterday afternoon. Like any good socialist, she wants the chance to play teacher.
I'm always happy to meet with people, even if we have different views. @BillGates, if we get the chance, I'd love to explain exactly how much you'd pay under my wealth tax. (I promise it's not $100 billion.) https://t.co/m6G20hDNaV
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) November 7, 2019
Gates replied to Warren offering a mostly positive take on her efforts but not offering to become her pupil on taxes.
I greatly respect your commitment to finding ways to address wealth inequality and poverty at home. While we may disagree about some of the ways to get there, we certainly agree we need a lot of smart people committed to finding the path forward.
— Bill Gates (@BillGates) November 7, 2019
He did say he was willing to talk about creative solutions though:
I’m always willing to talk about creative solutions to these problems.
— Bill Gates (@BillGates) November 7, 2019
So how much would Gates actually pay under Warren’s wealth tax? During the conference, Andrew Ross Sorkin suggested it would amount to about $6 billion per year in addition to what he already pays. However, this CNBC clip suggests there’s more to it than that. When you add in other parts of Warren’s tax plan the total for Gates would be about $15 billion this year alone:
Obviously that amount could change year to year, but it’s not hard to imagine Gates paying a substantial part of his fortune over a decade under this sort of tax system. Even so, there’s no reason to think it would come close to paying for her agenda which will cost trillions of dollars per year.
Here’s the interview with Gates at the NY Times’ conference. After the question about Warren’s wealth tax, Sorkin put Gates on the spot. Noting that Gates has been critical of Trump he asked, “If Warren was the other candidate, what would you do?”
Gates hesitated a moment and then said, “I’m not going to make political declarations but I do think that no matter what policy somebody has in mind, a professional approach—as much as I disagree with some of the policy things that are out there, I do think a professional approach to the office—whoever I decide would have the more professional approach in the current situation…”
The audience began chuckling at that point because he’s clearly talking about Trump as the less than professional approach. Still, I wonder if lots of other people won’t reach a different conclusion if the choice is between Trump and an approach that would be considered left-wing even in Scandinavia where it’s a given that a big social safety net means big taxes on the middle class.