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Hammertime: Moore’s National Resources

Photo of Mary Katharine Ham
Mary Katharine Ham
Contributor

This week, Michael Moore offered a simple and elegant solution to our debt problem.

Calling the assets of wealthy Americans a “national resource,” he suggested our problems would all be solved if we could just have access to all that money.

“What’s happened is that we’ve allowed the vast majority of that cash to be concentrated in the hands of just a few people, and they’re not circulating that cash. They’re sitting on the money,” Moore said. “That’s not theirs, that’s a national resource, that’s ours. We all have this… we all benefit from this or we all suffer as a result of not having it.”

“America’s not broke,” he told a cheering crowd of pro-union protesters in Wisconsin.

So, we decided to try Moore’s solution. Laying aside the moral objections to the government simply appropriating the wealth of private citizens, could it work?

The United States of America has about 400 billionaires. Moore calls them “400 little Mubaraks.” About half of those have less than $2 billion each, and those with a net worth in the double-digit billions is an exclusive club of about 30.

Still, as Moore says, “there’s a ton of cash out there.”

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The grand total of the combined net worth of every single one of America’s billionaires is roughly $1.3 trillion. It does indeed sound like a “ton of cash” until one considers that the 2011 deficit alone is $1.6 trillion. So, if the government were to simply confiscate the entire net worth of all of America’s billionaires, we’d still be $300 billion short of making up this year’s deficit.

That’s before we even get to dealing with the long-term debt of $14 trillion, which if you’re keeping score at home, is between 10 to 14 times the entire net worth of all of the country’s billionaires, combined. That includes the all-powerful Koch brothers ($40 billion between them), the all-powerful George Soros ($14.5 billion), all the Walton family (of the Wal-Mart fortune), Steve Jobs, Oprah (at a paltry $2.7 billion), the Google Founders, Michael Bloomberg, and the Mars family (of the candy bar empire).

So, what if we try to solve a smaller problem? Across the nation, 45 states are projecting over $100 billion in shortfalls, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. If the government just redistributed the wealth of the top three American billionaires—Bill Gates ($54B), Warren Buffet ($45B), and Larry Ellison ($27B)— it could solve that problem in a jiffy.

Of course, the 260-275,000 people employed by Berkshire Hathaway, the 105,000 employed by Oracle, and the 100,000 or so employed by Microsoft, might have something to say about that (to say nothing of the thousands of non-profits, charities, and causes that benefit from Gates’, Buffet’s and Ellison’s fortunes). That’s over 400,000 people out of a job.

Moore would argue, of course, that those jobs would simply be nationalized and “belong to all of us” after the wealth of their creators is sapped, but who exactly would have an incentive to make Berkshire Hathaway, Microsoft, or Oracle profitable if all of the money they made was considered a “national resource?”

One could also close the state budget gap with the wealth of the bottom 100 or so billionaires, who have but $1 billion and change each. But good luck processing the payment because you’ve just wiped out Paypal’s founder (Peter Thiel, No. 365). Also, the owners/founders of the Colts, the Eagles, the Redskins, the Saints, Campbell’s Soup, Home Depot, and the entire ironic t-shirt empire of Urban Outfitters. Those products, brought to you by the country’s billionaires and currently enjoyed by all of us, would be sacrificed to Moore’s plan to almost pay for the 2011 deficit.

So, Michael Moore, you’ve wiped out the country’s richest Americans, millions of jobs, and billions to charity. What are you going to do next? Go to Disney World?

Nope, that’s gone too. The Mouse makes billions, and that money is ours, not theirs.