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Billionaires In Space Are Costing Lives On Earth

Jeff Bezos speaks after receiving the 2019 International Astronautical Federation (IAF) Excellence in Industry Award during the the 70th International Astronautical Congress at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, DC on October 22, 2019. (Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)
Jeff Bezos speaks after receiving the 2019 International Astronautical Federation (IAF) Excellence in Industry Award during the the 70th International Astronautical Congress at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, DC on October 22, 2019. (Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

The magic of space exploration is undeniable, as are the advances in science and technology that often come with it. But there is something deeply wrong with our society when three of the wealthiest men on Earth, including Jeff Bezos, spend billions of dollars on an ego-fueled race to space, while the world is reeling from a global pandemic and people on our planet are quite literally starving. A new Oxfam report finds 11 people are likely dying every minute from hunger and malnutrition, outpacing COVID-19 fatalities. This, as Jeff Bezos prepares for his 11-minute thrill ride.

Bezos, who takes flight on July 20, is now the wealthiest man on Earth, worth about $200 billion dollars. His wealth could more than address some of the country’s and world’s most pressing problems. How this came to be is not rocket science. It is our backwards and corrupt tax system that has allowed Jeff Bezos to pay next to no federal income tax — even claim the child tax credit one year — while at the same time pour $7.5 billion into his own private aerospace company.

Imagine the true heights we could achieve if he, along with other billionaires, paid their fair share of taxes.

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A recent bombshell IRS leak from ProPublica revealed that America’s 25 richest billionaires — including Bezos — paid only 3% in income tax between 2014 and 2018. Meanwhile the average U.S. worker pays a tax rate of 22%.  Here’s the truth: we have built a tax system with inequality at its core, one that deliberately favors the wealthy while squeezing working families who can least afford it.

This space race is also an affront to the Amazon workers who struggle to make a living, are denied basic rights like collective bargaining and report being treated like robots, constantly watched to ensure they work every single second, faster and faster. These are the very workers who have helped make Bezos the richest man on Earth. In fact, if Bezos gave each of Amazon’s 1.3 million workers a $65,000 bonus with the profits he made during the pandemic, he would still be left with the $113 billion fortune that he had before the pandemic began.

As we grapple with how to control the still-deadly pandemic and pay for a fair and equitable recovery — one that would make desperately needed investments in well-paying jobs, childcare and efforts to combat the climate crisis — we must consider what a fair tax system would look like.

If Amazon paid the current U.S. corporate tax rate of 21%, it would pay an additional $2.5 billion in taxes a year — enough to provide food assistance to 1.7 million Americans facing hunger. A 3% wealth tax on Jeff Bezos would generate $6 billion in revenue on his $200 billion fortune, enough to provide high-quality childcare to every child under 4-years-old in Amazon’s home state of Washington — 440,000 kids.

A pandemic profits tax, to ensure that companies like Amazon — that profited during the pandemic — are taxed fairly on their windfall gains, would yield $11 billion in additional revenue just from Amazon. That’s enough to vaccinate 580 million people around the world against COVID-19.

The real innovation we need is not a business plan for space tourism, it is a fair tax system

So where do we go from here? We have a chance to level the playing field in front of us right now. President Biden’s American Jobs Plan and American Families Plan would go a long way to unrigging the rules that have allowed so many corporations and wealthy individuals to get away with paying so little.

The American Jobs Plan would raise the corporate tax rate and close offshore tax loopholes. The American Families Plan would raise the marginal rate for those earning more than $400,000, increase the capital gains rate for the wealthiest Americans, and provide much-needed resources to the IRS to make sure tax cheats pay their fair share. No one making less than $400,000 would pay more tax than they do now, and most would pay less.

We will never achieve a fair and equitable recovery from COVID-19 if we continue to have a system where corporations and the wealthy get richer while everyone else is left behind.

The real innovation we need is not a business plan for space tourism, it is a fair tax system to curb runaway inequality, ensure we reward work, not wealth, and invest in the health, safety and education of people on Earth — our one and only home.

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Abby Maxman Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Abby Maxman is the president and CEO of Oxfam America, an international organization working to end the injustice of poverty.

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