Our colleague Wayne Winegarden wrote a marvelous piece for his Forbes column on “Bernie’s Math Problem.” To fund free health care, free housing, free college and so on, the Democrat frontrunner plans to make “billionaires pay their fair share of taxes.” Why not cut to the chase, thought Winegarden, “Instead of only taxing a portion of the rich’s wealth, imagine that Senator Sanders imposed a tax that expropriated all of it.”
To fund Bernie’s Medicare-for-All plan alone, Winegarden concludes, would take the entire wealth of Forbes’ list of America’s 607 billionaires to pay for just the first year. The 607 billionaires, according to Forbes, are worth a combined $3.1 trillion, shy of the $3.4 trillion to pay for the first year.
“The damage created by Senator Sanders’ ideas are easy to see under this ridiculous policy scenario,” wrote Winegarden. After wiping out all of America’s billionaires in the first year, Bernie would have to tax everyone else the second year and for years to come.
And that’s just to pay for Medicare-for-All.
For our idea of fun (think tank humor that is), we worked up our spreadsheets and came up with a parody of the old light bulb riddle game. In this case: How many billionaires would it take to fund Bernie’s [Insert] program? Here’s what we came up with:
The Green New Deal? At $16.3 trillion over 10 years, it would take the combined net worth of the nation’s richest 70 billionaires to fund the first year alone.
Forgive college debt? At $1.6 trillion, it would also take the wealth of America’s richest 70 billionaires to eliminate student debt.
Free tuition? Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google ($49.8 billion according to Forbes), could handily cover the first year, but to fund the next 10 years (estimated cost of $480 billion), it would take the wealth of the America’s six richest billionaires: Bezos, Gates, Buffet, Ellison, Zuckerberg, and Bloomberg to pay for it.
Build 10 million housing units over 10 years? The Big 3: Bezos, Gates, and Buffett can pay for it the first year, but it would take the richest 275 of the U.S.’s billionaires to cover the rest.
Federal job guarantees? At $7.5 trillion over 10 years, or $750 billion the first year, the richest dozen billionaires can pay for it in year one, or all 607 of America’s billionaires can fund it for eight years until Bernie has to tax everyone else.
CNN’s Ronald Brownstein, whose excellent article this blog relied on, did the heavy lifting in compiling the costs of Bernie’s plan. Based on Brownstein’s calculations, Bernie’s plan could cost as much as $60 trillion over the decade. Even if we lured all the world’s 2,153 Forbes billionaires to the U.S. and confiscated all they have, at $8.7 trillion in combined wealth, the haul would not be enough.
Rowena Itchon is senior vice president of the Pacific Research Institute.