How to Solve America's Billionaire Problem

Image: Pixabay

Image: Pixabay

My research team has analyzed the apocalyptic array of calamities facing our country (income inequality, stagnant wages, climate change, mosquito-born illnesses, too many labradoodles, etc.) and concluded that the fundamental problem in American society—the common denominator to all of these issues—boils down this: Rich people have gotten lazy.

The ultra-rich, multi-billionaire class in particular has succumbed to the seductions of sloth, and their indolence is imperiling the very foundations of American life.

Sure, the mega-rich may have worked hard for a while, toiling twenty hours a day to invent revolutionary products and technologies, overcoming obstacles with their indomitable spirit and entrepreneurial zeal, amassing their giant fortunes in relentless pursuit of the American Dream. Once they achieve The Dream, however, rich people tend to slow down. When their goals have been met and their wildest fantasies realized, they begin basking in luxury, coasting along on a plush carpet of cash, as if their work is done and they are now free to enjoy the fruits of their labor. Slowly but surely, their once-vibrant hunger to succeed is replaced by the insidious satisfaction of success itself, a condition of the soul that's as addictive as it is dangerous.

The symptoms are obvious. Once-vital captains of industry start sleeping late and hiring other people to serve them. They begin enjoying “leisure” time—i.e., time when they are not working—looking for ever-more-exotic ways to amuse themselves. After they’ve bought everything they want, and traveled everywhere there is to go, they end up shuffling around their mansions all day, their eyes glazed with boredom, unsure what eccentric pastime to take up next.

It’s quite sad. After their first billion, many tycoons gain twenty or thirty extra pounds (the so-called “billionaire bump”) and start taking long vacations on private islands where there isn’t much incentive to do anything. The more time they spend in these places, the less inclined they are to get back to work, creating a destructive cycle of inactivity and, ultimately, despair. The fire in their belly gradually dies out, and the energy and ideas that once sustained them—that once made them feel alive—become nothing more than fond memories.

The mega-rich aren’t the only ones suffering, though. Indeed, this epidemic of laziness among those larded with lucre is hurting us all. 

Consider: The mega-rich entrepreneurial and business elite are the most productive people in the world. They’ve created millions of jobs, built our modern society, kept the economy humming, and represent for all of us the virtue of hard work and the rewards that come with a well-funded, highly diversified stock portfolio. But now that a whole class of our most productive citizens are coasting, taking the foot off the gas pedal that got them there, they are slowing the rest of us down as well. The only remedy for this problem is to get our most productive citizens back in the game, doing what they do best: inventing products, providing solutions, building companies, and creating the glorious wealth to which all American citizens are entitled.

But how?

The solution to all of these problems (not to mention a few others) is deceptively simple. It lies in an innovative approach to capitalism called “re-capitalism,” which involves a radical restructuring of economic incentives that focuses on one essential goal: putting rich people back to work. 

The first step toward a re-capitalist society is to identify everyone in America who has a net worth of more than one-billion dollars.

The second step is to take all their money away. And I mean all of it—every last penny. Cash out all their stock options, liquidate all their assets, empty all of their bank accounts, and render them completely and utterly broke.

The last step in this innovative program is to give former billionaires a cardboard sign and a knapsack, drop them off at various freeway exits throughout the country, and wish them good luck.

I know what you’re thinking: Whoa there, cowboy, that’s income redistribution!

No, it’s not—it’s income re-capitalization. There’s a huge difference. If the income of billionaires were simply redistributed, there is a chance they could keep some of it. Income re-capitalization closes that loophole to ensure that former billionaires are stripped of everything, so that they can start over fresh, unencumbered by the baggage of their previous successes.

That’s ridiculous, you might say. Rich people would never go for it. And you’d be right, because, as I’ve been saying all along, rich people have gotten too soft and comfortable. But before you dismiss the idea entirely, ask yourself: Who is likely to be more motivated—a billionaire floating around on his yacht trying to figure out how to make his next billion, or a former billionaire who has lost it all and desperately wants to get it back?

This isn’t as cruel a proposition as it might seem. Remember, rich people are extremely smart and resourceful. They got rich once; they can do it again. And they don’t need luck, because they are goal-oriented self-starters who make their own luck. The only problem is that they are already rich, so they have no incentive to get rich. They’ve lost their can-do attitude because they’ve gone and done it. Re-capitalism simply puts the incentives back in the right place, giving rich people the motivation to go out and do what they do best—get rich, again.

They may protest at first, but trust me, the mega-rich will eventually embrace re-capitalism. By forcing rich people to once again pull themselves up by their bootstraps, they would rediscover the entrepreneurial spirit that once gave their lives meaning and purpose. And, by broadcasting their path out of poverty and back into the billionaire winner’s circle on the Internet, these über-citizens would provide us all with inspiring examples of how one person with no money and resources can, with the right attitude, get rich by sheer force of will.

The benefits to society would be immense. Just think what Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg might accomplish if they gave more than a portion of their wealth away, but instead were forced to cough up all of their money and start all over again? Gates might invent a computer operating system that never needs upgrading. Zuckerberg might invent an entirely new form of social interaction in which people abandon their computers altogether and gather in the same room to talk.

Imagine how inspiring it would be for aging baby boomers who can’t afford retirement to see Warren Buffett and Sheldon Adelson standing on the side of the road, strategizing bold plans to recapture the glory of their younger years.

Think of all the good that could happen if all six members of the Walton family—who have more money than the bottom 42 percent of Americans combined—gave all their money away to the bottom 42 percent and started over? Almost half of all Americans would see their income double instantaneously, and then they’d be able to witness firsthand how the Waltons use their wit and guile to scratch their way up from the bottom and once again become the richest people in the country—as they inevitably would.

Following their lead, the rest of America would be inspired to work harder and be more productive, just like the Waltons. The Waltons themselves would rediscover the value of hard work (a value they have likely forgotten), and would be seen as heroes for leading the greatest productivity surge in American history—simply by showing poor people how it’s done!

Of course, implementing such a plan would not be easy. The rich have gotten much lazier than they are willing to admit, and have become addicted to the creature comforts and privileges of great wealth. And, like all addicts, they’ll do anything they can think of to avoid going back to work. And believe me, they’ve come up with some howlers.

For instance, most rich people like to argue that income and capital-gains taxes are way too high, and that if they go much higher, super-productive rich people will have no incentive to work. But that’s patently ridiculous, a) because they already don’t work, and b) because—as every conservative knows—handing people money to work harder is absurd. You wouldn’t give a homeless person $200 million and expect them to go out and bust their ass at a job for eighteen hours a day. No, the only thing that gives people an incentive to work is the fear of grinding poverty—and that fear is precisely what the mega-moneyed billionaire class has lost.

For the good of the country, it’s time to pull our most productive citizens out of their palatial estates, jolt them out of their diamond-studded bliss, and put them back to work. The fact is, society is not getting enough value out of its most capable capitalists, and that needs to change. They are the ones who got society where it is today, after all. They invented all these fantastic cars, mesmerizing gizmos, and shiny kitchen appliances, giving us all an intoxicating glimpse at utopia. Which is great. But in their zeal to serve the public interest, a few of our most magnificent magnates of money-dom forgot to clean up after themselves. They can’t just abandon us now, in our time of need, when the planet is in peril and life as we know it is on the brink of extinction. The job isn’t finished. In order to get out of all the messes we’ve gotten ourselves into, we need these paragons of productivity to work some more of their entrepreneurial magic—to sprinkle the pixie dust of prosperity on everyone, so that we can all shop at Whole Foods and feel good about the future.

Certainly, losing everything might sting at first, but remember: these are positive, resilient, extraordinary people. In no time they would realize that they didn’t “lose” all their money at all; rather, they gained an opportunity to reinvent themselves and rediscover the joy of building a business from the ground up, starting with nothing. In a matter of years, they would all be billionaires again anyway—because that’s not only what they do; it’s who they are—and experiencing the satisfaction of success the second time around would be that much sweeter.

Through the miracle of re-capitalism, the rich and lazy receive a reward much more valuable than money: they get to re-experience the sense of self-worth that comes from amassing so much wealth that most people can’t even imagine it. When the rush of economic victory courses through their veins once again, there is little doubt that the crazy rich will embrace a “new normal” by voluntarily giving all their money away every time they reach the billionaire mark, and happily start over again with a cardboard sign and a knapsack.

Once re-capitalism re-energizes the economy and everyone in America has a chance to learn from the masters, new forms of status will inevitably take hold. The size of one’s bank account will no longer matter; what will say, “I am filthy rich,” is the number of times a person has reached the billion-dollar-mark and had to start over, without so much as a hot shower to wipe the stink off.

Another added benefit to this program is that the next time you see some scruffy-looking fellow at a freeway intersection holding up a cardboard sign, you might not feel so bad for him. You could say to yourself: There’s one of those former billionaires. I can’t wait to see how he succeeds.

And you, of course, would feel inspired, not depressed, as you roll through the light and leave them in your dust.