Speaking in conversation with Andrew Ross Sorkin at the New York Times DealBook Conference, Microsoft founder and multi-billionaire Bill Gates expressed concern about the "wealth tax" proposed by Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren. Bill Gates is one of the wealthiest men in the world; his current net worth lies around $108 billion, which is an unthinkable amount of money.
Yet when confronted with the possibility of paying more taxes, he bristled at the notion and even refused to say that he would back Elizabeth Warren over Donald Trump if they were the two candidates in the 2020 election. When Sorkin asked about his thoughts on the "wealth tax," Gates said, "I've paid over $10 billion in taxes. I've paid more than anyone in taxes. If I had to pay $20 billion, it's fine. But when you say I should pay $100 billion, then I'm starting to do a little math over what I have leftover."
That may seem like a reasonable statement to the average person, but let's take a second to talk about how much a billion dollars actually is. Because it's not just a million with a "b" in front.
One billion dollars is an obscene amount of money. It's 1,000 million dollars. As one Twitter user wrote, "I don't think people fully understand how much one billion is. If your salary was 100K with no tax it would take you ten years to become a millionaire but 10,000 years to reach a billion. It is unethical for one person to be hoarding this much money when others cannot eat."
And Bill Gates isn't worth just one billion dollars. He's worth over 100 billion dollars. Yet he didn't want to entertain the idea of paying "$100 billion" in taxes. Even if Elizabeth Warren's wealth tax were to require Gates to pay $100 billion — which it wouldn't — he'd still have $8 billion left. 8,000 million dollars. He'd be fine. And the country would be better off. But Bill Gates is so against paying more taxes that he wouldn't commit to voting for Warren over Trump if the time came.
Although Gates hasn't exactly been a supporter of Trump in the past, it seems now that Bill Gates would rather hoard his billions than vote for someone who doesn't incite racism and violence and hate of all kinds in this country.
In fact, when Sorkin asked him if he would even sit down and talk to Elizabeth Warren, he turned it back on her, saying, "I'm not sure how open-minded she is, or that she'd even be willing to sit down with somebody who has large amounts of money." You better believe she had a response to that.
Sorkin then asked Bill Gates if we should abolish billionaires. His response? "Maybe I'm just too biased to think that if you create a company that's super valuable, that at least some part of that you should be able to have — a little bit for consumption, and the balance to do philanthropic things."
Sure. Fine. But Bill Gates could do all of that if he had $500 million. And that is one-half of one billion dollars. No one needs a billion dollars to do what he's talking about, let alone over $100 billion.
Most reactions to Gates' comments weren't exactly favorable. Surgeon and scientist Dr. Eugene Gu tweeted, "Since I don't have more than 50 million dollars, I really don't care if Elizabeth Warren wants to charge a 2 percent wealth tax on those who do. I do care that Bill Gates, the supposedly liberal philanthropist, may vote for Trump over Warren simply because of that wealth tax. Selfish."
Vox founder Matthew Yglesias is concerned about the weight we as a country give the words of Bill Gates and others with extreme wealth. "The fact that each random billionaire's thoughts on Elizabeth Warren is a news story is itself a powerful demonstration of the disproportionate political influence of the very rich," he tweeted. Yes, I am aware of the irony of including this tweet in this article but isn't self-awareness preferable to the opposite?
You can watch the whole conversation between Sorkin and Gates above. But please know that no matter how much Bill Gates wears a purple sweater, slouches in a chair, and talks about how he washes the dishes, he is not a regular person. He is a person with unimaginable, inconceivable wealth who feels comfortable entertaining the thought of compromising the health of the nation and putting people in danger to hoard his billions.