The author of a book on the ultrawealthy says billionaires ‘have taken their winnings and used them to stack the deck against everybody else’ — but the solution isn’t complicated
- NY Times global economic correspondent Peter Goodman’s new book dives deep on billionaire wealth.
- “Davos Man: How the Billionaires Devoured the World,” chronicles how soaring wealth has negative repercussions.
- Goodman told Insider the solution is simple: Progressive taxation, antitrust, and labor power.
“None of that is an accident — it was engineered,” Peter Goodman, the global economics correspondent for The New York Times and the author of “Davos Man: How the Billionaires Devoured the World,” told Insider.
Goodman’s new book is the latest entry into the canon of how the world’s wealth became so concentrated and the measures they’ve taken to maintain that. It examines the “Davos Man,” a moniker created by political scientist Samuel P. Huntington, that, Goodman writes, describes those who are “so enriched by globalization and so native to its workings that they were effectively stateless, their interests and wealth flowing across borders, their estates and yachts sprinkled across continents, their arsenal of lobbyists and accountants straddling jurisdictions, eliminating loyalty to any particular nation.”
According to Oxfam, the ten richest people in the world — all men — have more than doubled their wealth during the pandemic. Goodman says the story of billionaires over the last half century is the “story of rigging the game.” It’s happened through the tax code as well as hacking away at antitrust regulations that seek to prevent monopolies and encourage competition. Billionaires have undermined labor organizing, with collective bargaining a “shadow of its former self” and everything workers get at the discretion of the boss, according to Goodman.
“The result of that is just that there’s fewer opportunities for everybody else to get a piece of the action,” Goodman said. “Capitalism is still a great bountiful system. It’s the best thing we got in terms of how to organize an economy, but it needs regulation, progressive taxation, antitrust enforcement, and the billionaires have very effectively defenestrated all of that.”
Goodman’s book traces how the rise of the Davos Man fueled the rise of right-wing populists and turned working-class workers against the world. Rampant inequality is an issue that’s become especially prescient during the pandemic, as millions of Americans found themselves suddenly jobless as billionaires notched huge gains — and vaccine inequality contributing to the rise of the omicron variant.
Without fixing inequality, things could get “dark,” Goodman said — but the solution is pretty straightforward
“It’s totally fixable. The problem is that to fix it means we have to take on the people who run the system,” Goodman said. He said it’s not complicated, and it’s been done before.
For instance, the 19th-century robber barons, who crafted monopolies of their industries often at the expense of workers, got hit with antitrust enforcement, he said. That resulted in major firms being broken up.
And, from the end of World War Two until the mid-1970’s, there was much more progressive taxation, with the top marginal tax rate climbing above 90%. In 2018, it was 37%. Recent efforts to raise taxes — including instituting a tax on billionaires’ unrealized gains — have been shot down by lawmakers. America’s wealthiest have propped up a whole industry devoted to defending and hiding away wealth.
Union membership has also been on the decline for decades, which the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute notes tracks alongside an increasingly larger share of income going to the top 10%. The latest data release from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed union membership numbers sliding yet again.
“We have a template there, which is antitrust enforcement, labor power, and progressive taxation,” Goodman said. “If we take care of those things, we can have an economy that actually functions pretty well for an awful lot of people. The polls say this is what Americans actually want. This is not some kind of radical agenda.”
But what happens if the situation goes unaddressed?
“It’s very difficult to imagine that we’re going to marshal an effective response to really serious issues like climate change,” or the continued persistence of institutional racism and the “huge numbers” of people who don’t have healthcare, Goodman said.
“These are huge problems that need to be solved, and it’s very hard to see how we can solve them if huge numbers of people understand in their gut that the wealthiest people aren’t willing to make any sacrifice at all.”