Sir: There has been much debate over various forms of wealth tax, and I thought that my long experience as a teacher of fifth-grade arithmetic at Blandville Elementary might be of some service in forming sound notions of correct public policy.
First of all, we must define our terms. Every good American will agree that there is nothing wrong with being rich. A million or two here or there will help pay the bills and keep the wolf from the door. Even a hundred million can have its uses; one might buy a butler and a housekeeper to keep one’s house running smoothly, paying each of them a few million a year to keep them contented. But I think we can all agree that anything over a billion dollars is just too much for one person. A billionaire may be considered by definition obscenely rich. No one could ever spend a billion dollars on personal comfort.
Now, the obscenely rich form a large pool of wealth from which the government might make an occasional withdrawal without materially affecting their comfort. Here is where arithmetic is of great utility. Elon Musk, for example, is estimated to have a net worth of $217 billion. Plainly, he is obscenely rich. Now, should we punish him for his wealth? By no means. Doubtless he came by it honestly, as all billionaires do. But let us say, hypothetically, that we wish to make use of his wealth, without affecting his personal comfort at all. If we remove $216 billion from his assets, he is still obscenely rich. As my fifth-graders could demonstrate to your satisfaction, $217 billion minus $216 billion leaves 1 billion—an amount that we have previously agreed exceeds every possible human want.
What shall we do with this knowledge we have gained through the art of arithmetic? That will be up to the wisdom of our legislators. I take it for granted that no one can be elected to Congress without a thorough understanding of human nature and an almost supernatural intelligence. I content myself with knowing that I have contributed a salient fact to their discussion from the realm of my own little specialty.